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Subplots in R

How to graph subplots and small multiples in R with Plotly.

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New to Plotly?

Plotly is a free and open-source graphing library for R. We recommend you read our Getting Started guide for the latest installation or upgrade instructions, then move on to our Plotly Fundamentals tutorials or dive straight in to some Basic Charts tutorials.

Basic Subplots

The subplot() function provides a flexible interface for merging plotly objects into a single object (i.e., view).

fig1 <- plot_ly(economics, x = ~date, y = ~unemploy)
fig1 <- fig1 %>% add_lines(name = ~"unemploy")
fig2 <- plot_ly(economics, x = ~date, y = ~uempmed)
fig2 <- fig2 %>% add_lines(name = ~"uempmed")
fig <- subplot(fig1, fig2)


Scaled Subplots

Although subplot() accepts an arbitrary number of plot objects, passing a list of plots can save typing and redundant code when dealing with a large number of plots. For example, you can share the x-axis by utlising shareX, set axis ID, and and specify the number of of rows with nrows.

fig <- economics
fig <- fig %>% tidyr::gather(variable, value, -date)
fig <- fig %>% transform(id = as.integer(factor(variable)))
fig <- fig %>% plot_ly(x = ~date, y = ~value, color = ~variable, colors = "Dark2",
          yaxis = ~paste0("y", id))
fig <- fig %>% add_lines()
fig <- fig %>% subplot(nrows = 5, shareX = TRUE)


Recursive Subplots

The subplot() function returns a plotly object so it can be modified like any other plotly object. This effectively means that subplots work recursively (i.e., you can have subplots within subplots).

plotList <- function(nplots) {
  lapply(seq_len(nplots), function(x) plot_ly())
s1 <- subplot(plotList(6), nrows = 2, shareX = TRUE, shareY = TRUE)
s2 <- subplot(plotList(2), shareY = TRUE)
fig <- subplot(s1, s2, plot_ly(), nrows = 3, margin = 0.04, heights = c(0.6, 0.3, 0.1))


For more information on subplots check the plotly book

What About Dash?

Dash for R is an open-source framework for building analytical applications, with no Javascript required, and it is tightly integrated with the Plotly graphing library.

Learn about how to install Dash for R at

Everywhere in this page that you see fig, you can display the same figure in a Dash for R application by passing it to the figure argument of the Graph component from the built-in dashCoreComponents package like this:


fig <- plot_ly() 
# fig <- fig %>% add_trace( ... )
# fig <- fig %>% layout( ... ) 


app <- Dash$new()

app$run_server(debug=TRUE, dev_tools_hot_reload=FALSE)