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Real-Time Charts on the Java Desktop

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Devoxx, and all similar conferences, is a place where you make new discoveries, continually. One of these, in my case, at last week's Devoxx, started from a discussion with Jaroslav Bachorik from the VisualVM team. He had presented VisualVM's extensibility in a session at Devoxx. I had heard that, when creating extensions for VisualVM, one can also create new charts using VisualVM's own charting API. Jaroslav confirmed this and we created a small demo together to prove it, i.e., there's a charting API in VisualVM. Since VisualVM is based on the NetBeans Platform, I went further and included the VisualVM charts in a generic NetBeans Platform application.

Then I wondered what the differences are between JFreeChart and VisualVM charts, so asked the VisualVM chart architect, Jiri Sedlacek. He sent me a very interesting answer:

JFreeCharts are great for creating any kind of static graphs (typically for reports). They provide support for all types of existing chart types. The benefit of using JFreeChart is fully customizable appearance and export to various formats. The only problem of this library is that it's not primarily designed for displaying live data. You can hack it to display data in real time, but the performance is poor.

That's why I've created the VisualVM charts. The primary (and so far only) goal is to provide charts optimized for displaying live data with minimal performance and memory overhead. You can easily display a fullscreen graph and it will still scroll smoothly while running and adding new values (when running on physical hardware, virtualized environment may give slightly worse results). There's a real rendering engine behind the charts which ensures that only the changed areas of the chart are repainted (no full-repaints because of a 1px change). Scrolling the chart means moving the already rendered image and only painting the newly displayed area. Last but not least, the charts are optimized for displaying over a remote X session - rendering is automatically switched to low-quality ensuring good response times and interactivity.

The Tracer engine introduced in VisualVM 1.3 further improves performance of the charts. I've intensively profiled and optimized the charts to minimize the cpu cycles/memory allocations for each repaint. As of now, I believe that the VisualVM charts are the fastest real time Java charts with the lowest cpu/memory footprint.

Best of all is that everything described above is in the JDK. That's because VisualVM is in the JDK. Here's a small NetBeans Platform application (though you could also use the VisualVM chart API without using the NetBeans Platform, just include these JARs on your classpath: org-netbeans-lib-profiler-charts.jar, com-sun-tools-visualvm-charts.jar, com-sun-tools-visualvm-uisupport.jar and org-netbeans-lib-profiler-ui.jar) that makes use of the VisualVM chart API outlined above:


The chart that you see above is updated in real time and you can change to full screen and you can scroll through it and, at the same time, there is no lag and it is very performant. Below is all the code (from the unit test package in the VisualVM sources) that you see in the JPanel above:

public class Demo extends JPanel {

    private static final long SLEEP_TIME = 500;
    private static final int VALUES_LIMIT = 150;
    private static final int ITEMS_COUNT = 8;
    private SimpleXYChartSupport support;

    public Demo() {
        setLayout(new BorderLayout());
        add(support.getChart(), BorderLayout.CENTER);

    private void createModels() {
        SimpleXYChartDescriptor descriptor =
                SimpleXYChartDescriptor.decimal(0, 1000, 1000, 1d, true, VALUES_LIMIT);

        for (int i = 0; i < ITEMS_COUNT; i++) {
            descriptor.addLineFillItems("Item " + i);

        descriptor.setDetailsItems(new String[]{"Detail 1", "Detail 2", "Detail 3"});
        descriptor.setChartTitle("<html><font size='+1'><b>Demo Chart</b></font></html>");
        descriptor.setXAxisDescription("<html>X Axis <i>[time]</i></html>");
        descriptor.setYAxisDescription("<html>Y Axis <i>[units]</i></html>");

        support = ChartFactory.createSimpleXYChart(descriptor);

        new Generator(support).start();

    private static class Generator extends Thread {

        private SimpleXYChartSupport support;

        public void run() {
            while (true) {
                try {
                    long[] values = new long[ITEMS_COUNT];
                    for (int i = 0; i < values.length; i++) {
                        values[i] = (long) (1000 * Math.random());
                    support.addValues(System.currentTimeMillis(), values);
                    support.updateDetails(new String[]{1000 * Math.random() + "",
                                1000 * Math.random() + "",
                                1000 * Math.random() + ""});
                } catch (Exception e) {

        private Generator(SimpleXYChartSupport support) {
            this.support = support;



Here is the related Javadoc. To get started using the VisualVM charts in your own application, read this blog, and then look in the "lib" folder of the JDK to find the JARs you will need.

And then have fun with real-time data in your Java desktop applications.


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