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D3.js vs WebGL: What are the differences?

Introduction

D3.js and WebGL are both powerful tools used for creating interactive visualizations on the web. However, they have some key differences that set them apart in terms of their capabilities and use cases. In this article, we will explore the main differences between D3.js and WebGL.

  1. Rendering Approach: D3.js is primarily a data-driven library that uses HTML, SVG, and CSS to render visual elements on the web. It provides a high-level, declarative approach to building visualizations, allowing developers to define the desired outcome without specifying the detailed steps to achieve it. On the other hand, WebGL is a low-level JavaScript API that directly interacts with the graphics card, enabling developers to create high-performance 3D graphics and animations using hardware acceleration. It requires specifying all the rendering operations explicitly, providing more control over the rendering process.

  2. 3D Capabilities: D3.js is mainly focused on 2D visualizations and provides a rich set of tools for creating various types of charts, graphs, and maps. While it does support some limited 3D effects and interactions, its primary strength lies in 2D data visualization. In contrast, WebGL is specifically designed for 3D graphics rendering and provides full access to the GPU's capabilities. It allows developers to create complex 3D scenes, apply shaders and textures, and implement various lighting and material effects.

  3. Performance: D3.js is optimized for handling large amounts of data and enables smooth transitions and animations in real-time. However, it operates at a higher level of abstraction, which can sometimes result in slower rendering performance compared to lower-level graphics libraries. WebGL, on the other hand, excels in performance-critical scenarios and is capable of achieving high frame rates even with complex 3D scenes. Its direct interaction with the GPU allows for efficient parallel processing and optimized rendering performance.

  4. Learning Curve: D3.js, being a higher-level library, has a steeper learning curve due to its emphasis on data manipulation and visualization concepts. While it provides a wide range of features and customization options, mastering D3.js requires a good understanding of JavaScript, CSS, SVG, and data manipulation techniques. In contrast, WebGL has a lower-level API, which requires more knowledge of computer graphics programming, including vertex and fragment shaders, matrices, and 3D transformations.

  5. Browser Support: D3.js is compatible with a wide range of browsers, as it mainly relies on HTML, SVG, and CSS, which are well-supported web technologies. It gracefully degrades on browsers that do not fully support SVG or CSS properties, providing a consistent experience across different platforms. WebGL, however, is a lower-level technology that relies on the presence of the WebGL API in the browser. While most modern browsers support WebGL, some older or less popular browsers may not have full or stable support for it.

  6. Library Ecosystem: D3.js has a large and thriving community that has contributed a vast number of reusable visualizations, plugins, and extensions. It provides a rich ecosystem of resources, tutorials, and examples, making it easier to get started and find solutions for common visualization tasks. WebGL, being a lower-level graphics API, has a smaller community and a narrower scope of resources. While there are frameworks and libraries built on top of WebGL, the ecosystem is not as extensive as D3.js.

In summary, D3.js is a powerful data visualization library that excels at 2D visualizations and provides a high-level, declarative approach to building interactive charts and graphs. WebGL, on the other hand, is a low-level graphics API specifically designed for 3D rendering, offering unparalleled control, performance, and flexibility in creating complex 3D graphics and animations.

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Pros of D3.js
Pros of WebGL
  • 195
    Beautiful visualizations
  • 103
    Svg
  • 92
    Data-driven
  • 81
    Large set of examples
  • 61
    Data-driven documents
  • 24
    Visualization components
  • 20
    Transitions
  • 18
    Dynamic properties
  • 16
    Plugins
  • 11
    Transformation
  • 7
    Makes data interactive
  • 4
    Open Source
  • 4
    Enter and Exit
  • 4
    Components
  • 3
    Exhaustive
  • 3
    Backed by the new york times
  • 2
    Easy and beautiful
  • 1
    Highly customizable
  • 1
    Awesome Community Support
  • 1
    Simple elegance
  • 1
    Templates, force template
  • 1
    Angular 4
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    Cons of D3.js
    Cons of WebGL
    • 11
      Beginners cant understand at all
    • 6
      Complex syntax
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      - No public GitHub repository available -

      What is D3.js?

      It is a JavaScript library for manipulating documents based on data. Emphasises on web standards gives you the full capabilities of modern browsers without tying yourself to a proprietary framework.

      What is WebGL?

      It is integrated completely into all the web standards of the browser allowing GPU accelerated usage of physics and image processing and effects as part of the web page canvas. Its elements can be mixed with other HTML elements.

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      Blog Posts

      Sep 8 2017 at 2:54PM

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      What are some alternatives to D3.js and WebGL?
      three.js
      It is a cross-browser JavaScript library and Application Programming Interface used to create and display animated 3D computer graphics in a web browser.
      Plotly.js
      It is a standalone Javascript data visualization library, and it also powers the Python and R modules named plotly in those respective ecosystems (referred to as Plotly.py and Plotly.R). It can be used to produce dozens of chart types and visualizations, including statistical charts, 3D graphs, scientific charts, SVG and tile maps, financial charts and more.
      Highcharts
      Highcharts currently supports line, spline, area, areaspline, column, bar, pie, scatter, angular gauges, arearange, areasplinerange, columnrange, bubble, box plot, error bars, funnel, waterfall and polar chart types.
      Python
      Python is a general purpose programming language created by Guido Van Rossum. Python is most praised for its elegant syntax and readable code, if you are just beginning your programming career python suits you best.
      Tableau
      Tableau can help anyone see and understand their data. Connect to almost any database, drag and drop to create visualizations, and share with a click.
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