Preprocesssing data from a file

When working with large amounts of data it is more convenient to store it somewhere else than in a JavaScript. Highcharts does not come with any predefined stucture for storing data other than directly in the options object, so the data needs to be parsed by a function to be plotted correctly. Below are examples on how to preprocess data from CSV, XML and JSON. Another option is to use databases, see Database connection for a tutorial.

Preprocess data using CSV

This example shows how to set up the basic chart options first, then do an Ajax call for the data, parse the data and add them in the proper format to the options. In this example, jQuery is used for handling Ajax, but you could just as well use MooTools' or Prototype's similar functions. All of the code runs in the $(document).ready event handler. The example can be seen live at data-from-csv.htm.

  1. Create an external CSV file containing only the data. In this example, the file looks like below. The first line lists the categories with a dummy name in the first position. The subsequent lines list the data series name in the first position and values in the subsequent positions. In real life, you will often create the contents of this file using PHP or other server side programming languages. Or you may choose to use other markup formats like XML or JSON. In those cases, jQuery can also parse the data for you natively.
  1. Define the initial, basic options. Note that we create empty arrays for the categories and series objects, so that we can just push values to them later.
var options = {
    chart: {
        renderTo: 'container',
        defaultSeriesType: 'column'
    title: {
        text: 'Fruit Consumption'
    xAxis: {
        categories: []
    yAxis: {
        title: {
            text: 'Units'
    series: []
  1. Put it all together. We use the jQuery.get method to get the contents of the data.csv file. In the success callback function, we parse the returned string, add the results to the categories and series members of the options object, and create the chart. Note that we can't create the chart outside the Ajax callback, as we have to wait for the data to be returned from the server.
$.get('data.csv', function(data) {
    // Split the lines
    var lines = data.split('\n');
    // Iterate over the lines and add categories or series
    $.each(lines, function(lineNo, line) {
        var items = line.split(',');
        // header line containes categories
        if (lineNo == 0) {
            $.each(items, function(itemNo, item) {
                if (itemNo > 0) options.xAxis.categories.push(item);
        // the rest of the lines contain data with their name in the first 
// position else { var series = { data: [] }; $.each(items, function(itemNo, item) { if (itemNo == 0) { = item; } else {; } }); options.series.push(series); } }); // Create the chart var chart = new Highcharts.Chart(options); });

Preprocess data using XML

Loading data from an XML file is similar to the CSV approach. Since Highcharts does not come with a predefined XML data syntax, it is entirely up to you to write the XML and to define a parsing function for it. The downside of using XML over CSV is that it adds some markup to the data, leaving a larger footprint. How large the extra footprint is depends on how you mark up your data. For example, if you wrap each point with a <point> tag and load 1000 points, it will add some weight. If however you add a comma separated list of point values, it doesn't. The upside to using XML, at least for small data sets, is that you don't have to manually parse the incoming data. You can utilize jQuery's existing DOM parsing abilities to access the XML tree. We set up a live example for this at data-from-xml.htm. The data can be viewed at data.xml. Below is the function used to parse the XML data and adding it to the options object.

// Load the data from the XML file 
$.get('data.xml', function(xml) {
    // Split the lines
    var $xml = $(xml);

    // push categories
    $xml.find('categories item').each(function(i, category) {

    // push series
    $xml.find('series').each(function(i, series) {

        var seriesOptions = {
            name: $(series).find('name').text(),
            data: []

        // push data points
        $(series).find('data point').each(function(i, point) {

        // add it to the options

    var chart = new Highcharts.Chart(options);

Preprocess data using JSON

JSON has the advantage of already being JavaScript, meaning that in many cases no preprocessing is needed. Another advantage to using JSON is that PHP has a built in function called json_encode(); which returns a JavaScript array that can be used directly in Highcharts.

Here is a basic example with a JSON file containing the data shown and using the jQuery .getJSON function to load it.

  • The JSON file
  • Using getJSON to preprocess the options and then create the chart.
$(document).ready(function() {

    var options = {
        chart: {
            renderTo: 'container',
            type: 'spline'
        series: [{}]

    $.getJSON('data.json', function(data) {
        options.series[0].data = data;
        var chart = new Highcharts.Chart(options);


There are two things to note here:

  1. The data from the external JSON file should be loaded into the chart options before the chart is created. This is a best practice suggestion, since creating the chart and then loading the data into it requires means drawing the chart twice.
  2. The data.json file in the example is on the same domain as the chart itself, the .getJSON function does not work cross domains. To load JSON files cross domain, JSONP needs to be used, see Cross domain data.