Catalyst + Open Flash Chart: Fancy graphs with minimal fuss

About Open Flash Chart

Open Flash Chart is a flash application that produces some very nice-looking, interactive (and in some cases animated) charts and graphs for your web application. It's also completely free and open source, released under the GNU General Public License.

For examples of the kinds of graphs you can produce, visit the home page at

Getting Started

This tutorial assumes you already have some Catalyst experience, so we won't go into too much detail with the basics of creating an application...

  % AdventOFC
  % cd AdventOFC
  % script/ view TT TTSite

Installing Chart::OFC

The Open Flash Chart application uses a difficult to work with format for it's data structure. Fortunately the perl community has guys like Dave Rolsky, who recently made a nice perl library called Chart::OFC that makes it easier to work with. We're going to install Chart::OFC first, because it includes the pieces you need from Open Flash Chart, so you only need to download once...

Assuming you are using CPANPLUS, you can install it like this...

  % cpanp
  CPAN Terminal> i Chart::OFC

  Installing Chart::OFC (0.02)
  Module 'Chart::OFC' installed successfully
  No errors installing all modules

  CPAN Terminal> q

Once you have it installed, you need to get the .swf file and copy it into your application root directory. If you installed from CPANPLUS, something like the following will work.

  % cd root/static
  % unzip ~/.cpanplus/*/build/Chart-OFC-*/ofc/*.zip open-flash-chart.swf

If you don't have the Chart::OFC source directory any more, you can download the .swf from the Open Flash Chart web site at

Whether you use the copy from the Chart::OFC source directory, or download it from the web site, you will get a .zip file that includes the source as well as adapter libraries for various langages. You only need the .swf file from the archive though, you won't need any of the other files.

Adding Open Flash Chart support to your application

Now that you have a basic application, we'll add some charting capabilities with OpenFlashChart. The HTML code required to embed a chart is long and repetitive, so I like to make a component template to do the boring work for me. Create a file in root/lib called 'ofc_swf_object' with the following contents:

        width    = '500'
        height   = '300'
        id       = 'ofc_chart'
        bgcolor  = '#FFFFFF'
        name     = 'ofc_chart';

    SET swf_url = Catalyst.uri_for( 
            width  = width
            height = height
            data   = data

    # This is just to keep the html below from being
    # too wide for the sake of the demo, you could always
    # just put this inline if you wanted
    SET cab_download = [
  [% FILTER collapse %]
    codebase="[% cab_download.join( '' ) %]"
    width="[% width %]" height="[% height %]"
    id="[% id %]" align="middle">
      <param name="allowScriptAccess" value="sameDomain" />
      <param name="movie" value="[% swf_url %]" />
      <param name="quality" value="high" />
      <param name="bgcolor" value="[% bgcolor %]" />
        src="[% swf_url %]" quality="high"
        bgcolor="[% bgcolor %]" width="[% width %]"
        height="[% height %]" name="[% name %]"
        align="middle" allowScriptAccess="sameDomain"
  [% END %]

You might notice that there are two copies of basically every configuration parameter in this block of code. Like many other things on the web, this is because Internet Explorer does it one way (the object part) and everything else does it differently (with embed.)

Using your new Open Flash Chart tools

Now that you have the support pieces you need, it's time to put them to use. For the purposes of the demo we're just going to add charts to the home page of the application, so we'll be editing the Root controller. To get started, add a method to the root controller for the index page...

  =head2 index

  The index page for our charts.


  sub index : Private {
      my ( $self, $c ) = @_;

      $c->stash->{ 'template' } = 'index.tt2';

Next we need to create a template to go along with the index. Since we took the time to setup a helper template, this one will be rather small. Put this code into your root/src/index.tt2.

  [% INCLUDE ofc_swf_object data = Catalyst.uri_for( '/graph' ) %]

If you run script/ at this point, you should get a nice graph display, although it won't contain any data. In order to get nice charts, we need to move onto the next step, the data!

Generating appropriate data

Next we need to create a controller to produce the appropriate graph information. Edit the root controller again, add a new method for the graph data (make sure you add use Chart::OFC to the top of your controller as well.)

  =head2 graph

  Data provider for Open Flash Chart graphs.


  sub graph : Local {
    my ( $self, $c ) = @_;

Open Flash Chart can display pie charts, lines and/or bars on a grid, and area charts on a grid. You can determine which types of graphs to use by which Chart::OFC::Dataset subclasses you provide your data to. For the purposes of this demo, we'll create a chart with lines, but first we need some sample data.

    my %data = (
        Date    => [ map { "11/$_" } 1 .. 14 ],
        Ninja   => [ map { int( rand( 10 ) ) } 1 .. 14 ],
        Pirate  => [ map { int( rand( 10 ) ) } 1 .. 14 ],

For each data point you want to graph, you create an object that is an instance of one of the Chart::OFC::Dataset subclasses.

    my $ninjas = Chart::OFC::Dataset::LineWithDots->new(
        color       => 'black',
        label       => 'Ninjas',
        solid_dots  => 0,
        values      => $data{ 'Ninja' },
    my $pirates = Chart::OFC::Dataset::LineWithDots->new(
        color       => 'red',
        label       => 'Pirates',
        solid_dots  => 1,
        values      => $data{ 'Pirate' },

Once you have your datasets, you need to create X and Y axis objects that provide the information necessary to label the graph.

    my $x_axis = Chart::OFC::XAxis->new(
        axis_label  => 'Date',
        labels      => $data{ 'Date' },
    my $y_axis = Chart::OFC::YAxis->new(
        axis_label  => 'Sightings',
        max         => 11,
        label_steps => 1,

Now that all the pieces are assembled, we can use them to build a graph.

    my $grid = Chart::OFC::Grid->new(
        title       => 'Observer Reports',
        datasets    => [ $ninjas, $pirates ],
        x_axis      => $x_axis,
        y_axis      => $y_axis,

Then all that is left is to send this data to the browser.

    $c->response->body( $grid->as_ofc_data );


Now just run script/, point your browser at http://localhost:3000/, and celebrate your fancy graphs!


Jason Kohles, <>