Using the BIRT Chart Engine in Your Plug-in


The BIRT Chart Engine is a powerful business chart generation tool that can be used as a standalone charting component. This article introduces the basic concepts of BIRT Chart Engine, explains what BIRT Chart Engine is composed of, and illustrates how to create a chart and use it as widget.

By Qi Liang, IBM
May 14, 2007


Charts are a common and important way to display data in business intelligence and other applications. Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT), an Eclipsed-based reporting tool, provides not only a nice report designing tool, but a powerful charting engine. The BIRT Chart Engine is a good choice for displaying charts in your Eclipse plug-ins, Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP) applications, Java™ applications, and more. It supports numerous chart types, and can be rendered on SWT/Swing widgets and image files of many formats. In this article, we show you some of the capabilities the BIRT Chart Engine provides, and how to use it on an SWT widget in your plug-in.

What the BIRT Chart Engine can provide

The BIRT Chart Engine supports a variety of chart types. Here, we take a look at some of the available chart choices. Note that only basic and important charts are listed here; you can refer to BIRT documentation for more details.

Bar Chart
Multi-Bar Chart
Line Chart
Pie Chart
Stacked Chart
Scatter Chart
Stock Chart
Area Chart

Figure 1. Chart Samples


This article uses Eclipse SDK 3.2.2 and BIRT 2.1.1. The Eclipse Callisto Discovery Site can be used to install BIRT and its prerequisite plug-ins by selecting "Help > Software Updates > Find and Install..." and choosing "Search for new features to install" in the update dialog. After selecting a mirror update site, you can see all features under Callisto Discovery Site as follows.

Figure 2. The Callisto Update Site

In this dialog box, select "Eclipse BIRT Report Designer Framework 2.1.2" and click "Select Required". Now BIRT and all its dependency features are selected to install. Then click "Next", and install all these features.

BIRT contains about fifty plug-ins, but if you use BIRT Chart Engine in your application, you only need four of them (along with several EMF prerequisite plug-ins). They are listed in the following table. So you just need include these four when distributing your application.

Plug-in Name
org.eclipse.birt.chart.device.extension Allows third parties to extend the chart render device


Allows third parties to extend the chart engine.
org.eclipse.birt.chart.engine Renders charts.
org.eclipse.birt.core Provides basic functionalities for all BIRT plug-ins.

Table 1. BIRT Chart Engine Plug-ins

You will find all the code snippets shown in this article in the sample code that you can download at


Before we start to use the chart engine, let's go through the basic concepts, which can help to understand the chart engine API better. The following is a simple bar chart, which contains the basic elements, like the title, axes, and so on.

Figure 3. Concepts in a Bar Chart

Concept Description
Title Area The area containing the chart's title.
Plot Area The area with red border, containing X and Y axes, the axes titles, and bars.
Legend Area The area that is reserved to host the legend.
Legend Client Area The area containing the legend to explain the meaning of each bar with different series.
Title Describes the data that the chart displays.
Major Grid Indicates the major scale (minor Grid is supported, but not displayed here).
X/Y Title Describes the meaning of X/Y axis
X/Y Axis Provides the label or scale value of X/Y axis
Series Defines how to display data, bar, line, or pie, for example

Table 2. Some Concepts in Chart.

Most charts have two or more axes, but some have none. One example of a chart with no axis is pie chart. The horizontal axis is called base axis. The base axis can be category axis or value axis. The category axis just contains a sequence of labels, while the value axis contains numeric or datetime values. The vertical axis is an orthogonal axis, and it is always a value axis. The BIRT Chart Engine supports one base axis, and one or more orthogonal axes, but only one orthogonal axis is primary. The series determines how to show data. For example, a bar series will show data with a bar graph, and a pie series shows data with a pie chart. The series definition defines the color palette, label displaying format, and the associated series. Each axis can have more than one series definition, but typically only one series definition is used. A series definition can itself have more than one series.

Create Your First Chart

Let's see how to create a simple bar chart to understand the above concepts. This bar chart has one category base axis, and one orthogonal value axis. It also contains a title and legend as follows:

Figure 4. A Sample Bar Chart.

The complete source can be found in

  1. Create chart instance
             chart = ChartWithAxesImpl.create();

    A bar chart has two axes, so we call ChartWithAxesImpl.create() to create it. The second statement sets dimension with ChartDimension.TWO_DIMENSIONAL_WITH_DEPTH_LITERAL, so that the bar is shaded, which looks prettier.

  2. Set background color of plot

    The background color of a plot or a plot's client area can be changed. The above code sets the plot's background to orange, and sets the client area's background to yellow.

  3. Enable legend

    By default, the legend is disabled, so you need use Legend.setVisible(true) to enable it. There are two legend types, LegendItemType.CATEGORIES_LITERAL and LegendItemType.SERIES_LITERAL. The former shows a different legend icon for each category, and the later shows different icon for each series.

  4. Set the chart title

    Setting the chart title is very simple, as the first line shows. You can also set other attributes, like the font size, font name, font style, and more.

  5. Create axes
         xAxis = ((ChartWithAxes) chart).getPrimaryBaseAxes()[0];
         yAxis = ((ChartWithAxes) chart).getPrimaryOrthogonalAxis(xAxis);

    We get the first primary base axis as the X axis, while the Y axis is orthogonal to the X axis. By default, the title of the axis is not visible, so we enable that for both axes and set their titles. Finally, we specify the scale step on Y axis as 1.

  6. Create the X series
         TextDataSet categoryValues = TextDataSetImpl.create(dataSet.getCities());
         Series seCategory = SeriesImpl.create();
         SeriesDefinition sdX = SeriesDefinitionImpl.create();

    The first thing to create the X series is to create the data set to bind. There are four types of data set: they are DataTimeDataSet, NumberDataSet, StockDataSet, and TextDataSet. In this example, the X axis is a category axis, so we use TextDataSet. Then, we create a series, and bind the data set to it. In order to define what the series looks like, we need to create a series definition. The BIRT Chart Engine predefines two color palettes. Here we choose the first series palette. Finally, we add the series definition to X axis, and add the series to the series definition.

  7. Create the Y series
         NumberDataSet orthoValuesDataSet1 = NumberDataSetImpl.create(dataSet.getTechnitians());
            BarSeries bs1 = (BarSeries) BarSeriesImpl.create();
            SeriesDefinition sdY = SeriesDefinitionImpl.create();

    Creation of the Y series is similar to that of the X series. Here, the Y axis must be a value axis, so we use a NumberDataSet.

In the next section, we will see how to make this chart display on an SWT canvas.

Create the Chart Canvas

The BIRT Chart Engine doesn't provide a SWT chart widget that can be used directly, so we need create it by ourselves if we want to display a chart in an editor or view. In the following example, we create the ChartCanvas class, which extends from Canvas.

        public class ChartCanvas extends Canvas {


public ChartCanvas(Composite parent, int style) { super(parent, style); // initialize the SWT rendering device try { PluginSettings ps = PluginSettings.instance(); render = ps.getDevice("dv.SWT"); } catch (ChartException pex) { DefaultLoggerImpl.instance().log(pex); } ...

In the constructor, we need to get the device renderer for SWT. The device renderer is responsible for rendering a chart onto a target device. The target device can be an image file or widget toolkit like SWT or Swing. The BIRT Chart Engine defines nine device renderers in org.eclipse.birt.chart.util.PluginSettings; they are shown below:

Device Name Description
dv.SWING Renders a charts using Swing's java.awt.Graphics2D.
dv.SWT Renders a chart using SWT's
dv.PNG24 Renders a chart to a 24-bit PNG file (deprecated).
dv.GIF8 Renders a chart to an 8-bit GIF file (deprecated).
dv.PNG Renders a chart to a PNG file.
dv.GIF Renders a chart to GIF file.
dv.JPEG/dv.JPG Renders a chart to a JPEG file.
dv.BMP Renders a chart to a BMP file
dv.SVG Renders a chart to an SVG file (requires the org.eclipse.birt.chart.device.svg plug-in).

Table 3. Available Device Renderers.

We selected dv.SWT as our device renderer, since we will render chart on an SWT widget. In the constructor, we add one paint listener to do the actual painting work.

         addPaintListener(new PaintListener() {

                public void paintControl(PaintEvent e) {
                    Composite co = (Composite) e.getSource();
                    final Rectangle rect = co.getClientArea();

                    if (cachedImage == null) {

buildChart(); drawToCachedImage(rect); }
e.gc.drawImage(cachedImage, 0, 0, cachedImage.getBounds().width, cachedImage.getBounds().height, 0, 0, rect.width, rect.height); } });

We use double-buffering to draw the chart on the canvas to avoid flickering while the chart is being drawn. In the paint listener , if this is the first time to get paint event, we build the chart via the buildChart() method, and then draw the chart on an named cachedImage through the drawToCachedImage(...) method.. Thereafter, the cached image is used to draw the chart with a call to GC.drawImage(...) to draw the cached image on the widget. The buildChart(), and drawToCachedImage(...) follow:

            private void buildChart() {
Point size = getSize();
Bounds bo = BoundsImpl.create(0, 0, size.x, size.y);
int resolution = render.getDisplayServer().getDpiResolution();
bo.scale(72d / resolution);
try {
Generator gr = Generator.instance();
state =,
} catch (ChartException ex) {

The buildChart() method is responsible for building the runtime chart state with the render display server. One important thing to do is to scale the bounds of chart from pixel to point. SWT and other screen based renders always use pixels as the logical unit. However, the BIRT Chart Engine uses points, which is an absolute unit (1 point = 1/72 inch). We need to scale the bounds of chart from pixels to points. Another important step is to get a Generator instance and build the runtime chart state with the given chart model and display server. So the generated runtime chart state takes all necessary information to render, which includes the DisplayServer, chart model, and the bounds. The DisplayServer provides rendering-related information, like DPI (Dots Per Inch) resolution. The bounds define the area that the generated chart will be drawn on.

            public void drawToCachedImage(Rectangle size) {
GC gc = null;
try {
if (cachedImage != null)
cachedImage = new Image(Display.getCurrent(), imageData);
gc = new GC(cachedImage);
render.setProperty(IDeviceRenderer.GRAPHICS_CONTEXT, gc);
Generator gr = Generator.instance();
gr.render(render, state);
} catch (ChartException ex) {
} finally {
if (gc != null)

In the drawToCachedImage(...) method we draw the generated runtime chart state on the cached image. First, we create a GC for the cached image, and set it into the renderer with the property name IDeviceRenderer.GRAPHICS_CONTEXT. Then, generator asks the renderer to perform actual rendering with the generated runtime chart state. Finally, we dispose the GC to ensure that underlying system resources are released.

Next, we get a SWT canvas widget to display chart and also go through the process to render the chart to a specific device. Now you can create an instance of ChartCanvas, assign a chart instance to it, and insert this canvas into the view.


Render Chart to File

The BIRT Chart Engine also supports the rendering of a charts directly to a file. The process is similar to the above. The difference is the render device and you needn't use a cached image. First, get the render device for PNG files. Then, set the render property, IDeviceRender.FILE_IDENTIFIER, with file name. The other steps are as same as rendering chart on screen.

            try {
                PluginSettings ps = PluginSettings.instance();
                render = ps.getDevice("dv.PNG");
                render.setProperty(IDeviceRenderer.FILE_IDENTIFIER, "chart.png");
            } catch (ChartException ex) {


This article introduces the whole process of using the BIRT Chart Engine in plug-in development. BIRT Chart Engine supports almost all types of chart, including bar charts, pie charts, and more. It also has good abstraction for device renderers, and supports many rendering devices, including SWT widgets, SWING components, numerous file formats (JPEG, GIF, and PNG), and more. Although this article focuses on rendering chart on SWT canvas, the concepts and process to render on other devices are similar.


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