Basic network analysis on a directed network using NetworkX

This post is a follow up from my last one, where I’ll be demonstrating some of the basic network analysis capabilities of the Python library NetworkX. I will be using the same data and all my scripts can be found in the same repository. The data we’re using represent flows of food between US counties, which I am limiting to the 95th percentile of largest flows so the network is of a reasonable size for this simple analysis. Given that these are flows (i.e., from one place to another) this is referred to as a directed network, with every edge (link) having a source and a destination. NetworkX allows the analysis and visualization of several types of networks, illustrated below.


Undirected Networks: Edges have no direction, the relationships are always reciprocal or symmetric, for example A is friends with B.
Directed Networks: Edges have direction and relationships don’t have to be reciprocal, for example B sends an email to A.
Weighted Networks: Edges contain some quantitative information indicating the weight of a relationship, for example A owes $6 dollars to B, B owes $13 dollars to C, etc.
Signed Networks: Edges in these networks also carry information about the type of interaction between the two nodes, positive or negative, for example A and B are friends but B and C are enemies.
Multi Networks: Several connections or attributes might exist between two nodes, for example A gave some 6 apples and 3 pears to B, B gave 4 pears and 8 peaches to C, etc.

I will use the rest of this blogpost to demonstrate some simple analysis that can be performed on a directed network like this one. This analysis is only demonstrative of the capabilities – obviously, US counties have several other connections between them in real life and the food network is only used here as a demonstration testbed, not to solve actual connectivity problems.

We’ll be answering questions such as:

  • How connected are counties to others?
  • Are there counties that are bigger ‘exporters’ than ‘importers’ of goods?
  • Can I send something from any one county to any other using only the already established connections in this network?
  • If yes, what is the largest number of connections that I would need? Are there counties with no connections between them?

Node connectivity is typically measured by the node’s degree. In undirected networks, this is simply the number of connections a node has. In directed networks, we can also distinguish between connections where the node is the source and where the node is the destination. To estimate them using NetworkX, we can use G.out_degree() and G.in_degree(), respectively. We can also calculate the average (in or out) degree by dividing by the total number of nodes. In this case they’re both around 3.08, i.e., on average, every node has three connections. Of course this tells us very little about our network, which is why most often people like to see the distribution of degrees. This is easily generated by sorting the degree values and plotting them with matplotlib.

nnodes = G.number_of_nodes()
degrees_in = [d for n, d in G.in_degree()]
degrees_out = [d for n, d in G.out_degree()]
avrg_degree_in = sum(degrees_in) / float(nnodes)
avrg_degree_out = sum(degrees_out) / float(nnodes)

in_values = sorted(set(degrees_in))
in_hist = [degrees_in.count(x) for x in in_values]
out_values = sorted(set(degrees_out))
out_hist = [degrees_out.count(x) for x in out_values]

plt.plot(in_values,in_hist,'ro-') # in-degree
plt.plot(out_values,out_hist,'bo-') # out-degree
plt.ylabel('Number of nodes')
plt.title('Food distribution network')

This shows that this network is primarily made up of nodes with few connections (degree<5) and few nodes with larger degrees. Distributions like this are common for real-world networks [1, 2], often times they follow an exponential or a log-normal distribution, sometimes a power law distribution (also referred to as “scale free”).

We can also compare the in- and out-degrees of the nodes in this network which would give us information about counties that export to more counties than they import from and vice versa. For example, in the figure below, points below the diagonal line represent counties that import from more places than they export to.

To address the last two prompt questions, we are essentially concerned with network connectness. In directed networks such as this one, we can distinguish between strongly connected and weakly connected notions. A network is weakly connected if there is an undirected path between any pair of nodes (i.e., ignoring edge direction), and strongly connected if there is a directed path between every pair of vertices (i.e., only following edge direction) [3]. The networks below are all weakly but not strongly connected:

NetworkX can help answer these questions for our network, using existent and intuitive functionality. Executing:


will return False for both. This means that using the already established connections and directions, not all nodes can be reached by all other nodes. If we ignore the directions (weak connectedness) this remains the case. This implies that our network is made up of more than one components, i.e., connected subgraphs of our network. For example the undirected graph below has three components:

Strongly connected components in directed graphs also consider the direction of each edge. For example the directed graph below also has three components:

Weakly connected components in directed graphs are identified by ignoring the direction of the edges, so in the above example, the graph has one weakly connected component.

To examine these components for our network we can use nx.strongly_connected_components(G) and nx.weakly_connected_components(G) which would produce lists of all strongly or weakly connected components in the network, respectively, in this case 1156 strongly connected and 111 weakly connected components. In both cases this includes one giant component including most of the network nodes, 1220 in the strongly connected and 2348 in the weakly connected case, and hundreds of small components with fewer than 10 nodes trading between them.

Finally, we can draw these strongly and weakly connected components. In the top row of figure below, I show the largest components identified by each definition and in the bottom row all other components in the network, according to each definition.

[1] Broido, A.D., Clauset, A. Scale-free networks are rare. Nat Commun 10, 1017 (2019).
[3] Skiena, S. “Strong and Weak Connectivity.” §5.1.2 in Implementing Discrete Mathematics: Combinatorics and Graph Theory with Mathematica. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, pp. 172-174, 1990.

How to make horizon plots in Python

Horizon plots were invented about a decade ago to facilitate visual comparison between two time series. They are not intuitive to read right away, but they are great for comparing and presenting many sets of timeseries together. They can take advantage of a minimal design by avoiding titles and ticks on every axis and packing them close together to convey a bigger picture. The example below shows percent changes in the price of various food items in 25 years.

The way they are produced and read is by dividing the values along the y axis in bands based on ranges. The color of each band is given by a divergent color map. By collapsing the bands to the zero axis and layering the higher bands on top, one can create a time-varying heatmap of sorts.


I wasn’t able to find a script that could produce this in Python, besides some code in this github repository, that is about a decade old and cannot really run in Python 3. I cleaned it up and updated the scripts with some additional features. I also added example data comparing USGS streamflow data with model simulation data for the same locations for 38 years. The code can be found here and can be used with any two datasets that one would like to compare with as many points of comparison as needed (I used eight below, but the script can accept larger csv files with more or less comparison points, which will be detected automatically). The script handles the transformation of the data to uniform bands and produces the following figure, with every subplot comparing model output with observations at eight gauges, i.e. model prediction error. When the model is over predicting the area is colored blue, when the area is underpredicting, the area is colored red. Darker shades indicate further divergence from the zero axis. The script automatically uses three bands for both positive or negative divergence, but more can be added, as long as the user defines additional colors to be used.

Using this type of visualization for these data allows for time-varying comparisons of multiple locations in the same basin. The benefit of it is most exploited with many subplots that make up a bigger picture.

Future extensions in this repository will include code to accept more file types than csv, more flexibility in how the data is presented and options to select different colormaps when executing.

Lower dimensional visualizations of many-objective Pareto Fronts

Understanding the geometry of a many-objective Pareto front can be challenging due to the high dimensionality of many-objective problems. Often, we use tools such as parallel coordinate plots, glyph plots and pairwise scatter plot matrices to identify trade-offs and select candidate alternatives. While these tools are useful to decision making, they don’t always capture patterns or geometric properties that may be embedded withing many-objective Pareto fronts.

Mathematical tools for visualizing high dimensional data on lower dimensional manifolds have existed for decades, and in recent years they have been applied in many-objective contexts (Filipac and Tusar, 2018). In this post I’ll overview four common methods for representing Pareto fronts on lower dimensional manifolds and demonstrate them on two many-objective test problems: the four objective DTLZ 2 and four objective DTLZ 7 (Deb et al., 2005).

Parallel coordinate plots of the two test problems can be found in Figure 1. DTLZ 2 has a continuous Pareto front, while DTLZ 7 has a highly disconnected Pareto front. Both Pareto fronts visualized here are the analytical true Pareto fronts from the MOEAFramework.

I’ve added the code to produce the plots in this post to my repository on many-objective visualization, which can be found here.

Figure 1: Parallel coordinate plots of the four objective DTLZ 2 (left) and DTLZ 7 (right)

1. Multidimensional Scaling

Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) refers to a family of techniques that seek low dimensional representations of high dimensional spaces by preserving pairwise distances between points (Kruskal, 1978). Classic MDS attempts to preserve the euclidean distance between each pair of points by minimizing a stress function defined as:

stress = (\frac{\sum_i \sum_j (f(x_{ij}) - d_{ij})^2}{\sum_i \sum_j d_{ij}^2})^{1/2}


f(x_{ij}) is the euclidean distance between points x_i and x_j in the full dimensional space. (Note: extensions of MDS have been developed that substitute this distance for a weakly monotonic transformation of the original points)

d_{ij} is the euclidean distance between points x_i and x_j in the lower dimensional representation

To perform MDS on the test problem Pareto Fronts, I used the Manifold tool from the Yellowbrick package, a machine learning visualization module associated with sklearn. MDS representations of four objective DTLZ 2 and DTLZ 7 and shown in Figure 2. For the highly disconnected DTLZ 7 problem, MDS clearly distinguishes the 8 clusters within the Pareto Front.

Figure 2: MDS representations of the four objective DTLZ 2 (left) and DTLZ 7 (right)

2. IsoMaps

IsoMaps are an extension of MDS that first clusters points using K-nearest neighbors, then maps the points to a lower dimensional space by minimizing the geodesic distances between clusters. To create IsoMap visualizations for the test problems, I again utilized the Yellowbrick manifold function. IsoMap projections for four objective DTLZ 2 and DTLZ 7 are shown in Figure 3. Like MDS, IsoMapping is able to clearly demonstrate the disconnected nature of the DTLZ 7 Pareto front. I should mention that I had to use 30 neighbors to achieve this, which is much higher than the 8-12 neighbors recommended as an unofficial rule of thumb. This could be a result of the highly disconnected nature of DTLZ 7, which may cause problems for IsoMap.

Figure 3: IsoMap representations of the four objective DTLZ 2 (left) and DTLZ 7 (right)

3. Sammon Mapping

Like MDS and IsoMapping, Sammon Mapping (Sammon, 1969) seeks to find a lower dimensional representation that preserves the the distances between each point in the Pareto front from the high dimensional space. Sammon Mapping uses a modified version of stress known as “Sammon Stress”, defined as:

S =\sum_{i} \sum_{j>i} \frac{(d^{*}_{ij} - d_{ij})^2}{d^{*}_{ij}}


d^{*}_{ij}: is the distance between points x_i and x_j in the full objective space

d_{ij}: is the distance between points x_i and x_j in the lower dimensional space

The key difference between Sammon Stress and the classic MDS stress is that Sammon Stress is normalized by the distance in the high dimensional space rather than the low dimensional representation. This function is usually minimized by gradient descent.

I coded the Sammon maps for the two test problems using an open source implementation from tompollard on Github. Like the other two methods, Sammon mapping highlights the disconnected nature of DTLZ 7 while showing a relatively continuous representation of DTLZ 2 that suggests its spherical shape.

Figure 4: Sammon mapping representations of the four objective DTLZ 2 (left) and DTLZ 7 (right)

4. Self Organizing Maps

Self Organizing Maps (SOM; Kohonen, 1982) use an artificial neural network to create a discrete, low dimensional representation of a high dimensional space. SOMs are a form of unsupervised machine learning that are used in both classification and dimensional reduction applications.

To map the high dimensional data, SOMs start with a uniformly spaced grid of neurons, then implement a competitive learning algorithm to associate each neuron with a set of Pareto front solutions. This video has the best explanation I’ve seen on how SOMs work (thanks to Rohini for sharing it with me). I also found this Gif from Wikicommons to be helpful in understanding SOMs.

Pareto front visualizations using SOMs plot the the original uniform grid of neurons on an x-y plane, and the distance between neurons of the final map as the color. Grid points with dark shading (long distance between final neurons) indicate boundaries between clusters in the high dimensional space. SOMs for the four objective DTLZ 2 and DTLZ 7 problems are shown in Figure 5. The disconnected clusters in DTLZ 7 are clearly apparent while no real structure is shown for DTLZ 2.

Figure 5: SOM representations of the four objective DTLZ 2 (left) and DTLZ 7 (right)

Concluding thoughts

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think that any of the methods described in this post are particularly useful for understanding many-objective optimization results if used on their own. However, they may be a useful complement when exploring solution sets and finding patterns that may not be apparent when visualizing the full dimensional space. Additionally, they are all fairly straight forward to code and can easily be included in an exploratory analysis.


Deb, K., Thiele, L., Laumanns, M., & Zitzler, E. (2005). Scalable test problems for evolutionary multiobjective optimization. In Evolutionary multiobjective optimization (pp. 105-145). Springer, London.

Filipič, B., & Tušar, T. (2018, July). A taxonomy of methods for visualizing pareto front approximations. In Proceedings of the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (pp. 649-656).

Kohonen, T. (1982). Self-organized formation of topologically correct feature maps. Biological cybernetics, 43(1), 59-69.

Kruskal, J. B. (1978). Multidimensional scaling (No. 11). Sage.

Sammon, J. W. (1969). A nonlinear mapping for data structure analysis. IEEE Transactions on computers, 100(5), 401-409.

Spatial and temporal visualization of water demands in a basin

One of my main projects in the last couple years has been in the Upper Colorado River Basin, where we’ve been investigating how hundreds of water users in the basin might be affected by a variety of different changes and uncertainties that might take place in the region. Being in Colorado, water allocation in the basin follows prior-appropriation, where every user has a certain water right, defined by its seniority (where more senior = better) and its decree (i.e. how much water the right is granted for extraction). For the different users in the basin to receive water for their respective uses, prior-appropriation determines who gets X amount of water first based on seniority and given water availability, and then repeats down the seniority order until all requested water has been allocated. Hence, no user can extract water in a manner that affects any senior to them user.

During this investigation, we’ve been interested in seeing how this actually plays out through time and space in the basin, with the aim of potentially better understanding any consequential relationships that might exist between different users, as well as any emerging patterns that might be missed by looking at the data in a different manner. I tried to write a little script to do this in Python. I will be visualizing how users along the basin requested for some water at some historical month (the demand) and how much of that demand was actually met (the shortage), based on their right seniority and water availability in the basin.

There have been multiple posts in the blog on generating maps in Python (as well as in other languages), and they all use a module called Basemap which has been the most popular for these things, but it’s kinda buggy, and kinda a pain to install, and kinda a pain to get working, and I spent the better part of an entire workday to re-set it up on my machine and couldn’t. Enter Cartopy. After Basemap was announced deprecated, Cartopy was meant to be its replacement so I decided to transition. It was super easy to install and start generating maps within a couple minutes and the code I’ll be sharing today will be using that. I will also be using matplotlib’s animation classes to capture the water allocation to the different users through time in a video or a GIF.

First, I load up all necessary packages and data. structures contains the X and Y coordinates of all the diversion points; demands and shortages contain monthly data of water demand and shortage for each diversion point.

import numpy as np
import cartopy.feature as cpf
import as ccrs
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import as cimgt
import pandas as pd
import matplotlib.animation as animation
import math

structures = pd.read_csv('modeled_diversions.csv',index_col=0)
demands = pd.read_csv('demands.csv',index_col=0)
shortages = pd.read_csv('shortages.csv',index_col=0)

Then, I set up the extent of my map (i.e., the region I would like to show). rivers_10m loads the river “feature” at a 10m resolution. There’s a lot of different features that can be added (coastlines, borders, etc.). Finally, I load the tiles which is basically the background map image (many other options also).

extent = [-109.069,-105.6,38.85,40.50]
rivers_10m = cpf.NaturalEarthFeature('physical', 'rivers_lake_centerlines', '10m')
tiles = cimgt.StamenTerrain()

I draw the figure more or less as I would in matplotlib, using the matplotlib scatter to draw my demand and shortage points. The rest of the lines are basically legend customization by creating dummy artists to show max demands and shortages in the legend.

fig = plt.figure(figsize=(12, 6))
ax = plt.axes(
ax.add_feature(rivers_10m, facecolor='None', edgecolor='b')
ax.add_image(tiles, 9, interpolation='none')
dem_points = ax.scatter(structures['X'], structures['Y'], marker = '.', s = demands['0']/50, c = 'dodgerblue', transform=ccrs.Geodetic())
short_points = ax.scatter(structures['X'], structures['Y'], marker = '.', s = shortages['0']/50, c = 'coral' ,transform=ccrs.Geodetic())
l2 = ax.scatter(-110,37, s=demands.values.max()/50, c = 'dodgerblue', transform=ccrs.Geodetic())
l4 = ax.scatter(-110,37, s=shortages.values.max()/50, c = 'coral',transform=ccrs.Geodetic())
dem_label = ax.scatter(-110,37, s=0, transform=ccrs.Geodetic())
short_label = ax.scatter(-110,37, s=0, transform=ccrs.Geodetic())
labels = ['Max Demand' , str(demands.values.max()) + ' af', 
          'Max Shortage' , str(shortages.values.max()) + ' af']
legend = ax.legend([dem_label, l2, short_label, l4], labels, ncol=2, loc = 'upper left', title = 'Month: '+ str((0 + 10) % 12 +1) + '/' + str(int(math.floor(0/12))+1908)+'\n', fontsize=10, title_fontsize = 14, borderpad=2, handletextpad = 1.3)

This code should produce something like the following, which shows the relative demand across users in blue, as well as how much of that demand was not met (shortage) in orange for November 1908. The large circles in the legend show the max demand and shortage across all users across all months in the record for reference.

To animate this, it’s very simple. All we need to create is another function (in this case update_points) that will define what changes at every frame of the animation. I’ve defined my function to adjust the size of every circle according to the timestep/frame, as well as change the title of the legend to the correct month. Matplotlib’s FuncAnimation then uses that and my figure to update it repeatedly (in this case for 120 steps). Finally, the animation can be saved to a video.

def update_points(num, dem_points, short_points, legend):
    legend.set_title('Month: '+ str((num + 10) % 12 +1) + '/' + str(int(math.floor(num/12))+1908))
    return dem_points, short_points, legend 
anim = animation.FuncAnimation(fig, update_points, 120, fargs=(dem_points, short_points, legend),
                                   interval=200, blit=False)'basin_animation.mp4', fps=10,  dpi=150, extra_args=['-vcodec', 'libx264'])
WordPress reduces resolution, full res can be found here:

There’s a lot to be added and improved, but from this simple version we can immediately see certain diversions popping out as well as geographical regions that exhibit frequent shortage. I will continue working on this and hopefully share improved versions in the future.