Not so very long ago adding a graph or chart to a web page or application required a fair amount of programming knowledge and was rather time consuming for even the most experienced. However with the tools available today it is possible for almost anyone to add graphs and charts to web pages. With just a little bit of HTML, dynamically generated graphs and charts can be added to web pages and/or applications.
Why use Graphs and Charts
The web is about making information available. Today's users tend to be in a hurry and require that information is presented to them clearly and quickly. If your web site has a message to convey, which is currently being presented as a table of figures, then it is highly likely that you will benefit from using graphing and charting functionality. With a table of figures most people find it hard to see the meaning immediately, however if those figures are presented as a picture (i.e. a graph) then almost all will instantly get the point. What's more presenting your information graphically is both colorful and adds a touch of professionalism. People tend to have more confidence in information when it is presented in both a pleasing, clear and professional manner.
The Easy way to create a graph
There are now many graphing and charting packages on the market which make it very quick and easy for you to build in professional quality graph images. The time saved in using an 'out of the box' solution is so great that even the most seasoned professionals are using these packages. In addition most graphing packages are very reasonably priced.
Before choosing a package there are a couple of things to consider. For instance do you simply want to present the graph image to your visitor or would you like some level of interaction. e.g. making certain areas of the graph clickable or pop-up data displays when the mouse passes over certain area's. Another consideration is the source of your data. Is it held in a database, file or somewhere else. Ideally you would want a graphing package that is capable of fetching the data directly from the source itself.
Which Graphing packages are available
At the time of writing there are many graphing solutions on the market which fall into the following technology categories:-
- Java Applet Graphing Solutions
This type of software, in addition to the standard graphical capabilities, also provides interactive features like clickable link area's and mouse-over popup displays. These solutions can be installed on any web server without any server side configuration or set-up.
- Java Servlet Graphing Solutions
These solutions are powerful server side functionality. Although probably not for the beginner they are very beneficial to the 'web application' developer.
- Flash Graphing Solutions
The Flash environment provides some very sophisticated graphics capabilities which has lead to some of the best looking graphing solutions. Unfortunately the technology can only work when the user has flash installed on their browser. Although becoming more widespread there is still a very large proportion of browsers which cannot view flash content.
- PHP Graphing Solutions
These are probably the easiest solutions to use and implement. With these solutions it's possible for a complete novice to add graphing functionality to their web page and applications. But make no mistake they are also very powerful offering very good graphic results. Most web servers today can run this software without any further configuration.
- ASP.NET Graphing Solutions
Again these solutions offer some very good graphical results. At the time of writing the number of web servers capable of running these packages is far less than those of other categories.
Creating a Graph
With the right software package the process of adding a graph to web page involves little more than the following:-
1) Inserting a small piece of HTML into your web page. (usually the code is provided and all you have to do is 'copy and paste')
2) Setting some values in a configuration file (e.g.. setting things like graph colors and titles etc.)
3) Setting some values telling the graph where to acquire the data from
Although this is fairly straight forward sometimes a problem may be encountered. A big advantage of using a good professional package is that help is at hand. If you get stuck at any stage then simply ask for help from the software provider, a good one will always be happy to help. Contrary to popular belief good software companies answer requests for technical help in both a timely and helpful manner.