Pyface DataViews

The Pyface DataView API allows visualization of hierarchical and non-hierarchical tabular data.


As of Pyface 7.1.0, the public API for DataView is provisional and may change in the future minor releases through until Pyface 8.0


The DataView API has a consistent way of indexing that uses tuples of integers to represent the rows and columns, as illustrated below:

an illustration of data view indices

How DataView Indexing Works.

A row index corresponds to a list of integer indexes at each level of the hierarchy, so the empty tuple () represents the root of the hierarchy, the tuples (0,) and (1,) give the two child rows of the root, while (0, 1) is the second child row of the first child of the root, and so on.

Column indices follow a similar pattern, but only have the root and one level of child indices.

When interpreting these values, the root row () corresponds to the column headers, the root column () corresponds to the row headers. The root row and column indices together refer to the cell in the top-left corner.


Implementers of the IDataViewWidget interface provide a selection trait that holds a list of tuples of selected row and column index values. This trait is settable, so changes made to the trait are reflected in the selection in the view.

The selection_type trait describes what gets selected when a user clicks on a cell. It defaults to row, which selects entire rows with one click, but implementations may optionally support item and column selection as well.

In row selection type, the column values are all equal () (in other words, the indices of the appropriate row header), and users setting the values should adhere to that expectation.

an illustration of row selection type

Row selection type.

This corresponds to the selection being set equal to [((0,), ()), ((1, 0), ()), ((1, 2), ())].

The column selection type only selects the column values that are children of a particular parent row, and so the row provided is that parent row. Code which sets the value of the selection should adhere to that expectation.

an illustration of column selection type

Column selection type.

This corresponds to the selection being set equal to [((), (2,)), ((0,), (0,)), ((1,), (3,))].

The item selection type potentially allows any index, specified by both, row and column indices. This can include row and column headers provided that the view supports selecting them (which is likely dependent on the underlying toolkit and platform’s capabilities); in these cases the selected values are just the values in the header cells, not the entire row or column.

The selection_mode trait describes the behaviour of selections as the user interacts with them. It defaults to extended, which allows the user to extend the selection by shift-clicking or other similar platform-dependent interactions, but can also take the value single, which restricts the user to at most one selected thing.

A change to either the selection_type or the selection_mode results in the selection be cleared.

Note: with the current implementations, the selection list should not be mutated, rather the entire list should be replaced on every change. This restriction may be relaxed in the future.

Drag and Drop

The IDataViewWidget interface provides hooks to support dragging the selected values out of the table, or dropping objects onto the data view. To provide cross-platform and cross-toolkit compatibility, drag and drop operations require the data that is being exported or imported to be converted to or from a bytestring in some MIME type.

The DataView infrastructure provides a DataFormat named tuple to encapsulate the process of converting different data objects to bytes. For string objects this conversion might be as simple as encoding the text as UTF-8 and declaring it to be a text/plain MIME type, but for more complex structures there is serialization and deserialization which needs to occur. The DataFormat objects are expected to provide the mimetype of the data, a function to serialize an object, and a function to deserialize bytes.

In practice the sorts of objects being dragged and dropped, can be classified as simple scalar values (such as might occur when the selection is a single item), 1D collections of values (such as might occur when multiple items are selected, or a single row or column is selected), or 2D collections of values (such as might occur for extended row or column selections).

The DataView api provides a standard data formats for plain text, CSV, and .npy format for scalar, 1D and 2D exports; HTML and JSON formats for scalar values, as well as standard serializers and deserializers for users to create build their own DataFormat instances if the defaults do not match the needs.


To allow dragging the selection, the exporters trait should hold a list of AbstractDataExporter instances. This class provides methods to access the values to be exported from the selected indices, as well as a reference to a DataFormat that will perform the actual serialization and provides the MIME type.

In practice, users will usually use a standard data exporter, such as the ItemExporter or RowExporter. Some care should be taken that the data exporter provides data in the shape that the DataFormat expects. For example, the ItemExporter works best when paired with scalar data formats. In many cases all that is needed to enable dragging data from a DataViewWidget is to configure it appropriately:

control = DataViewWidget(

When multiple exporters are provided, _all_ of the supported formats are exported as part of the drag operation, and it is up to the target program to decide which of the supplied formats it can best handle, if any.


The IDataViewWidget supports dropping of objects via the IDropHandler interface supported by other widgets. Developers using DataViews can handle dropped data by providing a list of IDropHandler instances which tell the underlying code whether the objects being dropped can be dropped, and if so, how to handle the drop operation.

For example, to handle files being dropped onto the DataView, a DataView could use the generic FileDropHandler class, coupled with a callback to load the data from the dropped file.

control = DataViewWidget(
           extensions=['.csv', '.tsv', '.npy'],

When multiple drop handlers are supplied, the first one which says it can handle the dropped objects is the one which is used.

There are currently no specific drop handlers for supporting dragging data within the table, but this can be supported by custom drop handlers that use toolkit code to interact with the underlying toolkit objects.

Index Managers

These indices need to be converted to and from whatever system the backend toolkit uses for indexing and tracking rows. This conversion is handled by an AbstractIndexManager instance. Pyface provides two of these which efficiently handle the two common cases: TupleIndexManager is designed to handle general hierarchical models, but needs to cache mementos for all rows with children (and on Wx, for all rows); the IntIndexManager can only handle non-hierarchical tables, but does so without needing any additional memory allocation.

Unless you are creating a toolkit model or widget that uses the DataView infrastructure it is sufficient to simply know to use the IntIndexManager when you know that the data will always be a flat table, and TupleIndexManager otherwise.

Data Models

Data to be viewed needs to be exposed to the DataView infrastructure by creating a data model for it. This is a class that implements the interface of AbstractDataModel to display values from a dictionary.

an illustration of the DictDataModel

The DictDataModel example.

The basic traits for the model might look like this:

class DictDataModel(AbstractDataModel):
    """ A data model that provides data from a dictionary. """

    #: The dictionary containing the data.
    data = Dict(comparison_mode=ComparisonMode.identity)

    #: The index manager.  Because the data is flat, we use the
    #: IntIndexManager.
    index_manager = Instance(IntIndexManager, ())

The base AbstractDataModel class requires you to provide an index manager so we use an IntIndexManager because the data is non-hierarchical for this model.

Data Structure

The get_column_count() method needs to be implemented to tell the toolkit how many columns are in the data model. For the dict model, keys are displayed in the row headers, so there is just one column displaying the value:

    def get_column_count(self):
        return 1

We can signal to the toolkit that certain rows can never have children via the can_have_children() method. The dict data model is non-hierarchical, so the root has children but no other rows will ever have children:

    def can_have_children(self, row):
        return len(row) == 0

We need to tell the toolkit how many child rows a particular row has, which is done via the get_row_count() method. In this example, only the root has children, and the number of child rows of the root is the length of the dictionary:

    def get_row_count(self, row):
        if len(row) == 0:
            return len(
        return 0

Data Values

The get_value() method is used to return the raw value for each location. To get the values of the dict data model, we need to determine from the row and column index whether or not the cell is a column header and whether it corresponds to the keys or the values. The code looks like this:

    def get_value(self, row, column):
        if len(row) == 0:
            # this is a column header
            if len(column) == 0:
                # title of the row headers
                return self.keys_header
                return self.values_header
            row_index = row[0]
            key, value = list([row_index]
            if len(column) == 0:
                # the is a row header, so get the key
                return key
                return value

Conversion of values into data channels is done by providing a value type for each cell that implements the AbstractValueType interface. The get_value() method is expected to provide an appropriate data type for each item in the table. For this data model we have three value types: the column headers, the keys and the values.

    #: The header data channels.
    header_value_type = Instance(AbstractValueType)

    #: The key column data channels.
    key_value_type = Instance(AbstractValueType)

    #: The value column data channels.
    value_type = Instance(AbstractValueType)

The default values of these traits are defined to be TextValue instances. Users of the model can provide different value types when instantiating, for example if the values are known to all be integers then IntValue could be used instead for the value_type trait:

model = DictDataModel(value_type=IntValue())

The get_value() method uses the indices to select the appropriate value types:

    def get_value_type(self, row, column):
        if len(row) == 0:
            return self.header_value_type
        elif len(column) == 0:
            return self.key_value_type
            return self.value_type

The AbstractValueType interface provides getters (and in some cases setters) for various data channels the most obvious of these is the text to display in an item, but channels allow checked state, image, color and tooltips to also be associated with a value. How (or even if) these values are displayed or used is up to the implementation of the IDataViewWidget.

As noted above, the DataView API provides a number of pre-definited value type implementations that cover common cases, but where they do not meet the needs of a particular design, developers should create their own implementations with the desired properties.

Invalid Values

If no valid value can be generated for some expected reason, value generation code can raise a DataViewGetError exception. This error will be handled and silently ignored by the DataView code, and no value will be displayed. Any other errors raised by value generation are assumed to be unexpected and will be logged and re-raised, which is likely to cause an application crash.

Handling Updates

The AbstractDataModel class expects that when the data changes, one of two trait Events are fired. If a value is changed, or the value type is updated, but the number of rows and columns is unaffected, then the values_changed trait should be fired with a tuple:

(start_row_index, start_column_index, end_row_index, end_column_index)

If a major change has occurred, or if the size, shape or layout of the data has changed, then the structure_changed event should be fired with a simple True value.

While it is possible that a data model could require users of the model to manually fire these events (and for some opaque, non-traits data structures, this may be necessary), where possible it makes sense to use trait observers to automatically fire these events when a change occurs.

For example, we want to listen for changes in the dictionary and its items. It is simplest in this case to just indicate that the entire model needs updating by firing the structure_changed event 1:

    def data_updated(self, event):
        self.structure_changed = True

Changes to the value types also should fire update events, but usually these are simply changes to the data, rather than changes to the structure of the table. All value types have an updated event which is fired when any state of the type changes. We can observe these, compute which indices are affected, and fire the appropriate event.

    def header_values_updated(self, event):
        self.values_changed = ([], [], [], [0])

    def key_values_updated(self, event):
        self.values_changed = ([0], [], [len( - 1], [])

    def values_updated(self, event):
        self.values_changed = ([0], [0], [len( - 1], [0])

Editing Values

A model can flag values as being modifiable by implementing the can_set_value() function. The default implementation simply returns False for all items, but subclasses can override this to permit modification of the values. For example, to allow modification of the values of the dictionary, we could write:

    def can_set_value(self, row, column):
        return len(row) != 0 and len(column) != 0

A corresponding set_value() method is needed to actually perform the changes to the underlying values. If for some reason it is impossible to set the value (eg. an invalid value is supplied, or set_value() is called with an inappropriate row or column value, then a DataViewSetError should be raised:

    def set_value(self, row, column, value):
        if self.can_set_value(row, column):
            row_index = row[0]
            key = list([row_index]
  [key] = value
            raise DataViewSetError()

Even though a data value may be modifiable at the data model level, the value types also have the ability to control whether or not the value is editable. For example, subclasses of EditableValue, such as TextValue and IntValue have an is_editable trait that controls whether the value should be editable in the view (presuming that the underlying value can be set). Other value types can simply prevent editing by ensuring that the has_editor_value() method returns False.



A more sophisticated implementation might try to work out whether the total number of items has changed, and if not, the location of the first and last changes in at least some of the change events, and then fire values_changed. For simplicty we don’t try to do that in this example.