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Elm Line Charts Part I: Times and Timezones

functional programming enthusiast and civic tech nerd.
Originally published at on ・3 min read

Elm has a very fine third-party line chart library which I've enjoyed using in my passion project, Chicago Test Out. It's well-documented as a library, but if I haven't used it in a while, I find myself struggling to get started with it. I end up starting at the middle or near the end and then clumsily working backwards from where I want to end up. For this reason,I'm working on writing a step-by-step guide for working with terezka/line-charts based on my own preferences and assuming a high-degree of customization apart from the defaults, using Chicago Test Out as a model.

One of my preferences is that a line chart almost always be used with time on the x-axis, and you can't use a time without knowing the time zone, so we'll start there.

Step 1: Add a Time.Zone field to your model.

Time zones have to be fetched asynchronously, which means

  1. Open the file that has your model record in it and, if you have not already, import Time.
  2. Add a field of type Time.Zone to your Model type record.
  3. In your model initialization, initialize your time zone field to Time.utc.
  4. Compile.

If you haven't already used elm/time somewhere, the elm compiler may object and insist that you install the dependency, which it will walk you through Assuming you don't have a lot of different functions that initialize a new model, this should bring your code to a compiling state. I am including the full source for src/Models.elm from Chicago Test out below for reference.

module Models exposing (..) 

import Hospitalization exposing (Hospitalization) 
import TestDay exposing (TestDay) 
import Time 

type alias Model = 
{ days : List TestDay 
, hospitalizations : List Hospitalization 
, mode : Mode 
, zone: Time.Zone 

type Mode = Test | HospitalizationMode

init : Model
init = 
{ days = [] 
, hospitalizations = [] 
, mode = Test 
, zone = Time.utc 

Step 2: Add a time zone update message

  1. Open the file containing your Elm messages. (Mine is in src/Msg.elm.)
  2. If you haven't already, import Time into that module.
  3. Add an UpdateZone type that takes a Time.Zone parameter, like so:
module Msg exposing (..)

import Hospitalization exposing (Hospitalization)
import Httpimport Json.Encode
import Models exposing (Mode(..))
import RawTestDay exposing (RawTestDay)
import Timetype 

Msg = GotRawTestDays (Result Http.Error (List RawTestDay)) 
| SetMode Mode 
| UpdateHospitalizationDays Json.Encode.Value 
| UpdateZone Time.Zone
  1. Implement your new message in your update method of your elm application,likely located in src/Main.elm. (You may need to import Time here as well.)
  2. Compile.

Your code should be once again in a compiling state.

Get the Timezone from a Task

Now, just hook a Task to into your new message, and you should be up and running with time zones.

This example shows how to do it from init, but in Chicago Test Out, I want to fetch the time zone after I've run a fetch, so I'm going to hook in from the end of my fetch event.This is what I mean:

update : Msg -> Model -> (Model, Cmd Msg)
update msg model = 
  case msg of GotRawTestDays result -> 
    case result of Ok response -> 
      TestDay.fromRaws response |> \days -> 
        ({model | days = days} 
         , Task.perform UpdateZone 
      Err e -> case e of 

That's a lot to look at, but as you can see I'm calling Task.perform if the response from GotRawTestDays is Ok. If the Task is success full, the current time zone, will be passed to the message handler ofUpdateZone.

A word on modelling times in Elm

As a reminder, Elm rejects ISO 8601 as a standard for dates. If you want dates along the x-axis of your chart, you need to have those dates passed as a posix number. For line charts, this should be a Float type. The steps to get your data will vary, so I won't enumerate them here, but keep that in mind as you work on fetching your line chart dataset: You need a Float for a date.

In Conclusion

This pretty well covers our prerequisites for working with line charts. In the next post, I'll start to scaffold a real chart.

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