Chapter 18: Scrolling

One of the most popular ways of animating transitions in web-visualizations is through scrolling. It’s a beautiful way to allow users to dive deeper into a visualization, and there have been some really incredible examples in recent years (both of those are by Tony Chu).

This module introduces two approaches to scrolling. The first is a summary of the pioneering work done by Jim Vallandingham, which uses D3 to track position in the page and fire events. The second approach uses Angular to track and fire events, which I believe is a more direct solution (assuming you know – and like – Angular). In case it wasn’t obvious, these solutions are not intended to be used in tandem. The first is awesome if you’re not using a framework, and the second great if you’re using Angular. Either way, the intuition is the same: determine where you are on the page, and when you get to certain points, fire the appropriate event. It’s not terribly complicated, so depending on what you’re trying to do, you can also just (sc)roll your own.

Helpful links:

18.1 D3 Scrolling

This section outlines how to implement scrolling functionality based on code written for this demo. This post explains the topic in much greater detail, so I suggest you use it as a reference (perhaps instead of this document). In order to leverage the scroller.js functionality, you need to set up the appropriate DOM elements with specific styles.

18.1.1 HTML Elements

First things first, you need to put some elements on the screen. The suggested pattern is to wrap the sections that you wish to scroll through in a div with id #sections, and have a different <section> element for each piece of explanatory text you want to scroll through. Then, below you #sections div, you’ll have a div with id #vis that holds your visualization. Here’s the sample code from the explanatory post:

<div id='graphic'>
  <div id='sections'>
    <section class="step">
      <div class="title">OpenVis Conf 2013</div>
        I did what no presenter should ever do: I watched my own talk...
    <section class="step">
      <!-- another section -->
  <div id='vis'>

Note the assignment of the step class for each one of the <section> elements. For each annotation you wish to make, you’ll simply create another <section> element. There’s no reason that these need to be restricted to only text, but as you add more elements (i.e., <img>, etc.), you may need to adjust the css.

18.1.2 CSS

As in other web applications, we’ll use simple CSS syntax to assign the position and display of different elements. Conceptually, here’s what we’re aiming for:

  • A corpus of text that we’re able to scroll through, positioned on the left of the page
  • A visualization that stays fixed on the top of the page as you scroll through the story

Here’s the relevant CSS from Jim’s tutorial:

#sections {
  position: relative;
  display: inline-block;
  width: 250px;
  top: 0px;
  z-index: 90;

.step {
  margin-bottom: 200px;

#vis {
  display: inline-block;
  position: fixed;
  top: 60px;
  z-index: 1;
  margin-left: 0;
  height: 600px;
  width: 600px;
  background-color: #ddd;

Because both #sections and #vis have a display property set to inline-block, we’re able to assign them width and height attributes, and have them sit in the same horizontal line. The fixed position of the #vis element ensures it stays in place, and the margin-bottom of each section with class .step ensures that there is room to scroll. These components provide a skeleton which we can use to assign interactivity and fire desired events. I’ve found it additionally helpful to add the following margin-bottom to the last .step element:

.step:last-child {
  margin-bottom:calc(100vh - 100px);

18.2 JavaScript

Here, we’ll discuss how to implement the scroller in your JavaScript code. The scroller.js function encapsulates the desired functionality in a reusable function, and if you’re interested in how it does this, see the post, which describes this overall approach:

Given a set of sections, figure out where these elements are located vertically down the page. When the page is scrolled, figure out which of these elements is currently front-and-center in the browser’s viewport. If this element is different than the last ‘active’ element, then switch to this new section and tell the visualization.

In terms of implementing this approach, it really only takes 3 simple steps (note, the scroller function uses the same reusability patter as our D3.js charts):

// 1. Define a new scroller, and use the `.container` method to specify the desired container
var scroll = scroller()

// 2. Pass in a selection of all elements that you wish to fire a step event:
scroll(d3.selectAll('.step')); // each section with class `step` is a new step

// Specify the function you wish to activate when a section becomes active
scroll.on('active', function(index) {

The scroll.on('active') method specifies the index of the element you have scrolled to, which can be used to update the visualization. For example:

// Declare our chart

// Function to execute on scroll
var update = function(index) {
  switch(index) {
    case 1:
      var fillColor = 'blue';
    case 2:
      var fillColor = 'red';
      var fillColor = 'black';

Note, the code also supports tracking the progress between two sections, which is not something supported by the Angular code below (though it wouldn’t be difficult to add…).

For an example, see demo-1.

18.3 Angular Scrolling

After taking the time to integrate a D3 chart into an Angular application, I imagined that there had to be a comparable way to implement a scroller. The concept is the same – after scrolling to a particular location, fire an event with a given parameter. Because Angular does so much of the work for us in terms of firing events and tracking information, an Angular scroller really boils down to a single line of code:

// Determine the current height on scrolling
scope.step = Math.ceil((this.scrollTop - 10)/ scope.sectionHeight);

Ok, it’s not that easy, but that’s the core logic that drives the entire scroller. Here’s a bit more on how to set it up:

18.3.1 Conceptual Approach

There are a few ways in which we can leverage Angular’s structure to make it easier to build our scrolling page. First, we can store all of our annotations as part of $scope, and then use and ng-repeat statement to bind them to the DOM:

// Text for each section
$scope.sectionText = [
  {text:'Section 0'},
  {text:'Section 1'},
  {text:'Section 2'},
  {text:'Section 3'}

And the corresonding HTML:

<!-- Repeat a div and paragrpah for each element in your sectionText -->
<div ng-repeat="section in sectionText">
  <!-- Paragraph for each section of text-->
  <p ng-bind=section.text></p>

We can also store each desired application state as part of scope. For example, you may want to change your font-size and color at each part of the scrolling:

$scope.settings = [
  {color:'red', fontSize:20},
  {color:'blue', fontSize:10},
  {color:'orange', fontSize:100},
  {color:'green', fontSize:30},

We’ll use these settings to update our chart when we scroll to the corresponding section. However, in order to fire events, we’ll need to build a scroll directive.

18.3.2 Scroll Directive

Similarly to how we had a #sections div in the example above, we’ll need a wrapper for all of the content we want to scroll through. My suggestion on how to accomplish this is through building a custom directive that we can bind a scroll event to:

// Scroll directive
app.directive("scroll", function ($window) {
    return {
      restrict:'E', // this directive is specified as an html element <scroll>
      scope:false, // use global scope
      // Create a link function that allows dynamic element creation
      link:function(scope, elem) {
          elem.bind("scroll", function() {
              scope.step = Math.ceil((this.scrollTop - 10)/ scope.sectionHeight);
              scope.$apply(); // propagate change throughout module

The section above creates a new scroll directive that binds a scroll event to the DOM element, and tracks how far the user has scrolled from the top. The step (scope.step) is computed by the distance from the top divided by the height of each section (sectionHeight), which you can specify in your application.

18.3.3 Chart Directive

This structure assumes that you’re using a custom chart directive, as explained in the previous module. Because the scroller directive adjusts the scope.step variable, the chart directive should be set up to use scope.step to build the chart. Using the scope.settings variable, this is fairly straightforward:

// Get parameters for current step
var color = scope.settings[scope.step].color;
var fontSize = scope.settings[scope.step].fontSize;

// Set parameters for chart
var myChart = ParagraphChart().color(color).fontSize(fontSize);

These changes must occur in an event that is executed when the step value changes. Using scope.$watch, we’re able to accomplish this:

// Create a directive 'scatter' that creates scatterplots
.directive('paragraphChart', function($filter, $compile) {
    // Return your directive element
    return {
        restrict:'E', // this directive is specified as an html element <scatter>
        // Create a link function that allows dynamic element creation
            // Use the scope.$watch method to watch for changes to the step, then re-draw your chart
            scope.$watch('step', function() {

        // Instantiate your chart with given settings
        var color = scope.settings[scope.step].color;
        var fontSize = scope.settings[scope.step].fontSize;
        var myChart = ParagraphChart().color(color).fontSize(fontSize);

        // Get the current data
        var currentData =[scope.step].filter);

            // Wrapper element to put your svg (chart) in
            wrapper =[0])

18.3.4 Style

The code sections above are a bit oversimplified. For example, in the HTML section where each annotation is added, we can use ng-style to conditionally apply desired styles. We want the height of each element to be set to the sectionHeight, while we want the last element to be the height of the page minus the sectionHeight

<div ng-repeat="section in sectionText" ng-style="$last == true && {'height':'calc(100vh - ' + sectionHeight + 'px)'} || {'height':sectionHeight + 'px'}">

Similarly, we’ll want to conditionally apply a class to the selected piece of text to indicate the selected section:

<p ng-class="{selected: $index == step}" ng-bind=section.text></p>

Here is the corresponding CSS, which is fairly similar to the CSS in the non-angular implementation:

/* Container for the scroller */
.scroller {
  border:1px solid #d3d3d3;

/* Styles for each paragraph */
.scroller p {

/* Element in which you chart is rendered */
.story   {

/* Selected section at full opacity */
.scroller .selected {

Again, the scroller and the visualization are displayed as inline-block elements, with the visualization (.story) having a fixed position.

While there is a bit more overhead in setting up the Angular scroller, it provides a consistent way to keep track of application state, and fire desired events when scrolling. For an example, see demo-2.