An introduction to the Plotly Dash Library

Plotly is celebrated for its beautiful interactive graphs, figures and tables. Cufflinks brings in the finance tools. Dash let you combine all those to powerful web apps.

Posted by Oliver Kahl on Tue, Nov 27, 2018
Tags: python, plotly, cufflinks, dash, visualisation, quant trading, technical analysis


During my Continuous Futures project I was already impressed by the capabilities of Plotly with regards to all the nice interactivity it brings to data visualisation. In combination with Cufflinks it turned out to be an even more powerful tool for handling financial data. A little drawback, at least for somebody who is a trader in the first place, was the tricky embedding of those Plotly objects into web based environments. Later, when I was designing on more complex visualisations, with different tables, graphs etc. that are all linked together and therefore causing a lot of dependencies, I was obviously missing a powerful tool to achieve that. The solution, Dash, was such a good fit that I decided to write this article as a little introduction to it.

What makes Dash so powerful in financial applications?

Basically you can create web apps that completely run in the browser without any knowledge of HTML or JavaScript. The range of capabilities is quite impressive as it goes from simply hosting a Plotly graph up to building a front-end for an algorithmic trading system with dozens of dependencies, different tabs, real-time charts, PnL monitoring etc. It can also make those tons of circulating financial market research in PDF format much more interactive. Just imagine you could tweak those reports a little: like substitute one time-series for another, zoom-in to a particular area of a chart or simply hover over it to get the precise data reading. You could even make whole text phrases dependent on what assumptions the reader is making (e. g. growth rates, inflation or FX rates in a macroeconomic model).

But let’s see all this in a little example…​

…​based on my previous work on Continuous Futures. This series was about the implication of price gaps between subsequent futures contracts and how to take care of them when it comes to trading and research. Now we let the user explore the dataset on his own by letting him choose a futures position and then giving him immediate feedback with all the analytics from the original research article. For our Dash app, we therefore implement functionality along the following lines:

  • User inputs

    • Futures contract type

    • Buy or sell Futures

    • Amount of contracts

    • Investment period

  • Output of the following figures with and without roll adjustment

    • PnL differences

    • Closing price chart over investment period

    • Candlestick charts with technical trading indicators

    • Trading signal differences

But before we dive into the technical details of how to deploy such an app, let’s take a look at it:

The basic structure of a Dash app

Typically the first thing you would take care of in deploying a Dash app is getting a broad idea of how the layout would look like. For me the most convenient way to deal with that is using an external style sheet that breaks the appearance on the screen down into rows and columns. Styling within that style sheet is then feasible with a Dash component called HTML Components. The content or the data you want to visualize will also be embedded along the coordinates of the style sheet, but sits in another part of the Dash library: the Dash Core Components. Those are for example drop-down menus, sliders, text fields, graphs, tables and many more. Now the part that links everything together and brings all the interactivity to it are Callbacks. Callbacks have (multiple) inputs, an automatically called function for the processing, and finally an output that updates the dashboard. This typically involves interaction with a Plotly object like a graph or a table. The nice thing about that is, if you are familiar with Plotly, the new dimension with Dash is just structuring how Plotly objects behave and how they interact in the context of the dashboard. The object itself is identical to what you already have done with Plotly. Now we look at the outlined building blocks of the app in more detail.

Library imports

Libraries to run Dash:

import dash
from dash.dependencies import Input, Output, State, Event
import dash_core_components as dcc
import dash_html_components as html

Additional libraries for our app:

import plotly
import cufflinks as cf
import flask
import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import pickle
from datetime import datetime as dt
from pandas.tseries.offsets import DateOffset

Styling the app

Embedding the external style sheet:

app.css.append_css({'external_url': ''})

The above CSS style sheet gives our app structure that is best thought of as dividing everthing into rows and columns. While rows are simply appended, columns have to add up to 12 (e.g. 3 + 9, 5 + 5 + 2, …​). On each intersection of row y and column x you typically find an object like a graph. The illustrations below will shed some light on how CSS styling was utilized in our app.

CSS Styling for Dash
Figure 1. CSS Styling for Dash.

We open the styling as follows (we make use of "Dash HTML Components" here):

app.layout = html.Div([
    # Title + Description
                'Futures Carry Analytics',
                style={'font-family': 'Helvetica',
                       "margin-top": "25",
                       "margin-bottom": "0"},
                'Futures are often analysed with series of spliced front contracts. This interactive dashboard shows the importance of incorporating Future rolls for PnL and technical trading analytics.',
                style={'font-family': 'Helvetica',
                       "font-size": "120%",
                       "width": "100%"},

The above code piece represents the first row of our app. All other rows are simply appended to the one that was defined before. We now skip row number two and directly go to the third one because that is a user input utilizing one of the Dash Core Components, a radio item in this case.

User chooses contract:

                    html.P('Choose Contract:'),
                            {'label': 'Bund', 'value': 'FGBL'},
                            {'label': 'Bobl', 'value': 'FGBM'},
                            {'label': 'Schatz', 'value': 'FGBS'}
                        id = 'radioitem_future'
                        className = 'two columns',
                        style = {'margin-top': '10'}

The code above represents the first two columns in row number three. The graph responding to the inputs in row three is located one row below.

Graph updating according to the user inputs:

                    id='Futures Graph',

All other objects are inserted into the style sheet in a similar fashion.

Adding interactivity with callbacks

Now we add a layer to our code that connects user inputs with applying the needed updates on our output objects. This is done with a callback decorator that automatically calls a function whenever the state of a pre-defined input changes. The called function itself then updates the property of the output object. The callback below updates two time-series in the graph we have seen above that was dependent on the selection of an underlying future along with a selected start and end date.

    Output('Futures Graph', 'figure'),
    [Input('radioitem_future', 'value'),
     Input('date_range_future', 'start_date'),
     Input('date_range_future', 'end_date')])
def update_graph(value, start_date, end_date):
        'data': [
            {'x': data_dict[value]['Front'][start_date:end_date].index,
                'y': data_dict[value]['Front'][start_date:end_date]['CLOSE'],
                'type': 'line', 'name': 'Spliced Future'},
            {'x': data_dict['%s_pan' % value][start_date:end_date].index,
                'y': data_dict['%s_pan' % value][start_date:end_date]['CLOSE'],
                'type': 'line', 'name': 'Roll Adjusted Future'}
            'layout': {
                'title': 'Spliced vs. Roll Adjusted Futures',
                'xaxis': {'title': 'Date'},
                'yaxis': {'title': 'Futures Price'}
    return figure

Now we have already everything together to make our app work.

Advanced Dash features

Although the above steps are fully sufficient to get our app going, we will make use of some more advanced techniques to make it computationally more efficient. For that purpose we will focus on Buttons which enable controlling the launch of "expensive" computations via a dependency called State. Another efficiency gain is sharing time-consuming calculations between callbacks with a Hidden Div.


Regular Dash inputs recognise a (user) change of the input object immediately and then kick-off the associated callback(s). In many cases the user specifies multiple inputs and a computation is only needed when all inputs are completed. The dependency State makes it now possible to fire callbacks dependent on pressing a Button. In our app we use this concept to let the user specify a futures position completely and only then submit it for the needed calculations. Below you can see how the button was added to the inputs area of the dashboard:

html.Button('Submit', id='button', style={'margin-top': '30'}),
    className = 'two columns',
    style = {'margin-top': '10'}

To make a callback reactive to pushing the button, we have to change it a bit:

    Output('Futures Graph', 'figure'),
    [Input('button', 'n_clicks')],
    state=[State('radioitem_future', 'value'),
     State('date_range_future', 'start_date'),
     State('date_range_future', 'end_date')])

Maybe you have already noticed that this is the new version of the graph callback from above. We have simply changed Input to the button and the items that have been inputs before, are now type State. That is just holding back the execution of the function belonging to the callback until the button was hit.

Sharing Data between Callbacks

At a first glance it might look appealing to use global variables for shared data. As Dash is used in multi-user environments and is also able to run with multiple Python workers, global variables can be critical and should never be modified by callbacks. A better way is using a Hidden Div that uses a callback to provide calculation tasks that other callbacks can also use without the need for them to replicate those calculations themselves. The information shared is of type JSON. Here is the Hidden Div as specified in the layout section:

html.Div(id='pre-processing', style={'display': 'none'}),

Now we make our "complex" calculations in a single callback:

Output('pre-processing', 'children'),
[Input('button', 'n_clicks')],
 State('radioitem_future', 'value'),
 State('date_range_future', 'end_date')])
def preparation(n_clicks, future, end_date):
  '''Now the complex calculation....'''
    return json.dumps(tech_charts, cls=plotly.utils.PlotlyJSONEncoder)

Other callbacks now make use of it as simple as that:

    Output('Spliced Technical Graph', 'figure'),
    [Input('pre-processing', 'children')])
def update_graph(json_file):
    figure = json.loads(json_file)
    figure = figure['spliced']
    return figure

Deploying Dash Apps

By default your Dash app runs on Localhost. This means it is only available on your own machine. Typically you will use this mode in development and for testing. As soon as you want to make your app public, it has to sit on a server that is open for outside access. To make this happen, Dash uses Flask which in turn is supported by a wide range of cloud server providers. On the Dash website you can find a nice tutorial on how to "deploy" with Heroku.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this little tutorial and you are more than welcome to get in touch via the comment section or a personal message.