December 16, 2018 / Swizec Teller

Let's build a Sankey diagram

"Have you ever tried making a sankey diagram with d3+react, I can't seem to make it work for some reason.:/" ~Emil

Dataset: Download dataset ๐Ÿ—ณ

My solution ๐Ÿ‘‡

How it works โš™๏ธ

Have you ever tried making a sankey diagram with d3+react, I can't seem to make it work for some reason.:/


No Emil, I have not. Let's give it a shot! Thanks for finding us a dataset that fits :)

What is a Sankey diagram?

Sankey diagrams are flow diagrams. They're often used to show flows of money and other resources between different parts of an organization. Or between different organizations. Sankey originally designed them to show energy flows in factories.

Vertical rectangles represent nodes in the flow, lines connecting the rectangles show how each node contributes to the inputs of the next node. Line thickness correlates to flow magnitude.

One of the most famous Sankey diagrams in history is this visualization of Napoleon's invasion into Russia.

No I'm not quite sure how to read that either. But it's cool and it's old โœŒ๏ธ

How do you make a sankey with React and D3?

Turns out building a Sankey diagram with React and D3 isn't terribly difficult. A D3 extension library called d3-sankey provides a generator for them. Your job is to fill it with data, then render.

The dataset Emil found for us was specifically designed for Sankey diagrams so that was awesome. Thanks Emil. ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป

I don't know what our data represents, but you gotta wrangle yours into nodes and links.

  1. nodes are an array of representative keys, names in our case
  2. links are an array of objects mapping a source inex to a target index with a numeric value
  "nodes": [
      "name": "Universidad de Granada"
      "name": "De Comunidades Autรณnomas"
  "links": [
      "source": 19,
      "target": 26,
      "value": 1150000
      "source": 0,
      "target": 19,
      "value": 283175993

Turn data into a Sankey layout

We can keep things simple with a functional component that calculates the Sankey layout on the fly with every render. We'll need some color stuff too. That was actually the hardest, lol.

import { sankey, sankeyLinkHorizontal } from "d3-sankey";

const MysteriousSankey = ({ data, width, height }) => {
  const { nodes, links } = sankey()
    .extent([[1, 1], [width - 1, height - 5]])(data);
  const color = chroma.scale("Set3").classes(nodes.length);
  const colorScale = d3
    .domain([0, nodes.length])
    .range([0, 1]);

It's called MysteriousSankey because I don't know what our dataset represents. Takes a width, a height, and a data prop.

We get the sankey generator from d3-sankey, initialize a new generator with sankey(), define a width for our nodes and give them some vertical padding. Extent defines the size of our diagram with 2 coordinates: the top left and bottom right corner.

Colors are a little trickier. We use chroma to define a color scale based on the predefined Set3 brewer category. We split it up into nodes.length worth of colors - one for each node. But this expects inputs like 0.01, 0.1 etc.

To make that easier we define a colorScale as well. It takes indexes of our nodes and translates them into those 0 to 1 numbers. Feed that into the color thingy and it returns a color for each node.

Render your Sankey

A good approach to render your Sankey diagram is using two components:

  1. <SankeyNode> for each node
  2. <SankeyLink> for each link between them

You use them in two loops in the main <MysteriousSankey> component.

return (
  <g style={{ mixBlendMode: 'multiply' }}>
    {nodes.map((node, i) => (
    {links.map((link, i) => (

Here you can see a case of inconsistent API design. SankeyNode gets node data splatted into props, SankeyLink prefers a single prop for all the link info. There's a reason for that and you might want to keep to the same approach in both anyway.

Both also get a color prop with the messiness of translating a node index into a [0, 1] number passed into the chroma color scale, translated into a hex string. Mess.


const SankeyNode = ({ name, x0, x1, y0, y1, color }) => (
  <rect x={x0} y={y0} width={x1 - x0} height={y1 - y0} fill={color}>

SankeyNodes are rectangles with a title. We take top left and bottom right coordinates from the sankey generator and feed them into rect SVG elements. Color comes form the color prop.


const SankeyLink = ({ link, color }) => (
      fill: 'none',
      strokeOpacity: '.3',
      stroke: color,
      strokeWidth: Math.max(1, link.width),

SankeyLinks are paths. We initialze a sankeyLinkHorizontal path generator instance, feed it link info and that creates the path shape for us. This is why it was easier to get everything in a single link prop. No idea which arguments the generator actually uses.

Styling is tricky too.

Sankey links are lines. They don't look like lines, but that's what they are. You want to make sure fill is set to nothing, and use strokeWidth to get that nice volume going.

The rest is just colors and opacities to make it look prettier.

A sankey diagram comes out ๐Ÿ‘‡


You can make it betterer with some interaction on the nodes or even links. They're components so the world is your oyster. Anything you can do with components, you can do with these.