Visualizing Moore's Law with React & D3

Last updated: October 2019 👉 livestreamed every last Sunday of the month. Join live or subscribe by email 💌

Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a chip roughly doubles every two years. But how does that stack up against reality?

I was inspired by this data visualization of Moore’s law from @datagrapha going viral on Twitter and decided to replicate it in React and D3.

Some data bugs break it down in the end and there’s something funky with Voodoo Rush, but those transitions came out wonderful 👌

You can watch me build it from scratch, here 👇

First 30min eaten by a technical glitch 🤷‍♀️

Try it live in your browser, here 👉 https://moores-law-swizec.swizec-react-dataviz.now.sh

And here’s the full source code on GitHub.

How it works

At its core Moore’s Law in React & D3 is a bar chart flipped on its side.

We started with fake data and a React component that renders a bar chart. Then we made the data go through time and looped through. The bar chart jumped around.

So our next step was to add transitions. Made the bar chart look smooth.

Then we made our data gain an entry each year and created an enter transition to each bar. Makes it smoother to see how new entries fly in.

At this point we had the building blocks and it was time to use real data. We used wikitable2csv to download data from Wikipedia’s Transistor Count page and fed it into our dataviz.

Pretty much everything worked right away 💪

Start with fake data

Data visualization projects are best started with fake date. This approach lets you focus on the visualization itself. Build the components, the transitions, make it all fit together … all without worrying about the exact shape of your data.

Of course it’s best if your fake data looks like your final dataset will. Array, object, grouped by year, that sort of thing.

Plus you save time when you aren’t waiting for large datasets to parse :)

Here’s the fake data generator we used:

// src/App.js

const useData = () => {
  const [data, setData] = useState(null)

  // Replace this with actual data loading
  useEffect(() => {
    // Create 5 imaginary processors
    const processors = d3.range(10).map(i => `CPU ${i}`),
      random = d3.randomUniform(1000, 50000)

    let N = 1

    // create random transistor counts for each year
    const data = d3.range(1970, 2026).map(year => {
      if (year % 5 === 0 && N < 10) {
        N += 1
      }

      return d3.range(N).map(i => ({
        year: year,
        name: processors[i],
        transistors: Math.round(random()),
      }))
    })

    setData(data)
  }, [])

  return data
}

Create 5 imaginary processors, iterate over the years, and give them random transistor counts. Every 5 years we increase the total N of processors in our visualization.

We create data inside a useEffect to simulate that data loads asynchronously.

Driving animation through the years

A large part of visualizing Moore’s Law is showing its progression over the years. Transistor counts increased as new CPUs and GPUs entered the market.

Best way to drive that progress animation is with a useEffect and a D3 timer. We do that in our App component.

// src/App.js

function App() {
    const data = useData();
    const [currentYear, setCurrentYear] = useState(1970);

    const yearIndex = d3
        .scaleOrdinal()
        .domain(d3.range(1970, 2025))
        .range(d3.range(0, 2025 - 1970));

    // Drives the main animation progressing through the years
    // It's actually a simple counter :P
    useEffect(() => {
        const interval = d3.interval(() => {
            setCurrentYear(year => {
                if (year + 1 > 2025) {
                    interval.stop();
                }

                return year + 1;
            });
        }, 2000);

        return () => interval.stop();
    }, []);

useData() runs our data generation custom hook. We useState for the current year. A linear scale helps us translate from meaningful 1970 to 2026 numbers to indexes in our data array.

The useEffect starts a d3.interval, which is like a setInterval but more reliable. We update current year state in the interval callback.

Remember that state setters accept a function that gets current state as an argument. Useful trick in this case where we don’t want to restart the effect on every year change.

We return interval.stop() as our cleanup function so React stops the loop when our component unmounts.

The basic render

Our main component renders a <Barchart> inside an <Svg>. Using styled components for size and some layout.

// src/App.js

return (
    <Svg>
        <Title x={"50%"} y={30}>
            Moore's law vs. actual transistor count in React & D3
        </Title>
        {data ? (
            <Barchart
                data={data[yearIndex(currentYear)]}
                x={100}
                y={50}
                barThickness={20}
                width={500}
            />
        ) : null}
        <Year x={"95%"} y={"95%"}>
            {currentYear}
        </Year>
    </Svg>

Our Svg is styled to take up the entire viewport and the Year component is a big text.

The <Barchart> is where our dataviz work happens. From the outside it’s a component that takes “current data” and handles the rest. Positioning and sizing props make it more reusable.

A smoothly transitioning Barchart

Our goal with the Barchart component was to:

  • always render current state
  • have smooth transitions on changes
  • follow React-y principles
  • easy to use from the outside

You can watch the video to see how it evolved. Here I explain the final state 😇

The component

The Barchart component takes in data, sets up vertical and horizontal D3 scales, and loops through data to render individual bars.

// src/Barchart.js

// Draws the barchart for a single year
const Barchart = ({ data, x, y, barThickness, width }) => {
    const yScale = useMemo(
        () =>
            d3
                .scaleBand()
                .domain(d3.range(0, data.length))
                .paddingInner(0.2)
                .range([data.length * barThickness, 0]),
        [data.length, barThickness]
    );

    // not worth memoizing because data changes every time
    const xScale = d3
        .scaleLinear()
        .domain([0, d3.max(data, d => d.transistors)])
        .range([0, width]);

    const formatter = xScale.tickFormat();

D3 scales help us translate between datapoints and pixels on a screen. I like to memoize them when it makes sense.

Memoizing is particularly important with large datasets. You don’t want to waste time looking for the max in 100,000 elements on every render.

We were able to memoize yScale because data.length and barThickness don’t change every time.

xScale on the other hand made no sense to memoize since we know <Barchart> gets a new data object for every render. At least in theory.

We borrow xScale’s tick formatter to help us render 10000 as 10,000. Built into D3

Rendering our Barchart component looks like this:

// src/Barchart.js

return (
  <g transform={`translate(${x}, ${y})`}>
    {data
      .sort((a, b) => a.transistors - b.transistors)
      .map((d, index) => (
        <Bar
          data={d}
          key={d.name}
          y={yScale(index)}
          width={xScale(d.transistors)}
          endLabel={formatter(d.transistors)}
          thickness={yScale.bandwidth()}
        />
      ))}
  </g>
)

A grouping element holds our bars together and moves them into place. Using a group element changes the internal coordinate system so individual bars don’t have to know about overall positioning.

Just like in HTML when you position a div and its children don’t need to know :)

We sort data by transistor count and render a <Bar> element for each. Individual bars get all needed info via props.

The component

Individual <Bar> components render a rectangle flanked on each side by a label.

return (
  <g transform={`translate(${renderX}, ${renderY})`}>
    <rect x={10} y={0} width={renderWidth} height={thickness} fill={color} />
    <Label y={thickness / 2}>{data.name}</Label>
    <EndLabel y={thickness / 2} x={renderWidth + 15}>
      {data.designer === 'Moore'
        ? formatter(Math.round(transistors))
        : formatter(data.transistors)}
    </EndLabel>
  </g>
)

A grouping element groups the 3 elements, styled components style the labels, and a rect SVG element creates the rectangle. Simple React markup stuff

Where the <Bar> component gets interesting is the positioning. We use renderX and renderY even though the vertical position comes from props as y and x is static.

That’s got to do with transitions.

Transitions

The <Bar> component uses the hybrid animation approach from my React For DataViz course.

A key insight is that we use independent transitions on each axis to create a coordinated transition. Both for entering into the chart and for moving around later.

Special case for the Moore's Law bar itself where we also transition the label so it looks like it’s counting.

We created a useTransition custom hook to make our code easier to understand and cleaner to read.

useTransition

The useTransition custom hook helps us move values from props to state. State becomes the staging area and props are the target we want to reach.

To run a transition we create an effect and set up a D3 transition. On each tick of the animation we update state proportionately to time spent animating.

const useTransition = ({ targetValue, name, startValue, easing }) => {
  const [renderValue, setRenderValue] = useState(startValue || targetValue)

  useEffect(() => {
    d3.selection()
      .transition(name)
      .duration(2000)
      .ease(easing || d3.easeLinear)
      .tween(name, () => {
        const interpolate = d3.interpolate(renderValue, targetValue)
        return t => setRenderValue(interpolate(t))
      })
  }, [targetValue])

  return renderValue
}

State update happens inside that custom .tween method. We interpolate between the current value and the target value.

D3 handles the rest.

Using useTransition

We can reuse that same transition approach for each independent axis we want to animate. D3 makes sure all transitions start at the same time and run at the same pace. Any dropped frames or browser slow downs are handled for us.

// src/Bar.js
const Bar = ({ data, y, width, thickness, formatter, color }) => {
    const renderWidth = useTransition({
        targetValue: width,
        name: `width-${data.name}`,
        easing: data.designer === "Moore" ? d3.easeLinear : d3.easeCubicInOut
    });
    const renderY = useTransition({
        targetValue: y,
        name: `y-${data.name}`,
        startValue: -500 + Math.random() * 200,
        easing: d3.easeCubicInOut
    });
    const renderX = useTransition({
        targetValue: 0,
        name: `x-${data.name}`,
        startValue: 1000 + Math.random() * 200,
        easing: d3.easeCubicInOut
    });
    const transistors = useTransition({
        targetValue: data.transistors,
        name: `trans-${data.name}`,
        easing: d3.easeLinear
    });

Each transition returns the current value for the transitioned axis. renderWidth, renderX, renderY, and even transistors.

When a transition updates, its internal useState setter runs. That triggers a re-render and updates the value in our <Bar> component, which then re-renders.

Because D3 transitions run at 60fps, we get a smooth animation

Yes that’s a lot of state updates for each frame of animation. At least 4 per frame per datapoint. About 4*60*298 = 71,520 per second at max.

And React can handle it all. At least on my machine, I haven’t tested elsewhere yet :)

Conclusion

And that’s how you can combine React & D3 to get a smoothly transitioning barchart visualizing Moore’s Law through the years.

Key takeaways:

  • React for rendering
  • D3 for data loading
  • D3 runs and coordinates transitions
  • state updates drive re-rendering animation
  • build custom hooks for common setup

Cheers,
~Swizec

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Swizec Teller. I help coders become software engineers.

Story time 👇

React+D3 started as a bet in April 2015. A friend wanted to learn React and challenged me to publish a book. A month later React+D3 launched with 79 pages of hard earned knowledge.

In April 2016 it became React+D3 ES6. 117 pages and growing beyond a single big project it was a huge success. I kept going, started live streaming, and publishing videos on YouTube.

In 2017, after 10 months of work, React + D3v4 became the best book I'd ever written. At 249 pages, many examples, and code to play with it was designed like a step-by-step course. But I felt something was missing.

So in late 2018 I rebuilt the entire thing as React for Data Visualization — a proper video course. Designed for busy people with real lives like you. Over 8 hours of video material, split into chunks no longer than 5 minutes, a bunch of new chapters, and techniques I discovered along the way.

React for Data Visualization is the best way to learn how to build scalable dataviz components your whole team can understand.

Some of my work has been featured in 👇