18.2 Single components

Each component of a ggplot plot is an object. Most of the time you create the component and immediately add it to a plot, but you don’t have to. Instead, you can save any component to a variable (giving it a name), and then add it to multiple plots:

bestfit <- geom_smooth(
  method = "lm", 
  se = FALSE, 
  colour = alpha("steelblue", 0.5), 
  size = 2
ggplot(mpg, aes(cty, hwy)) + 
  geom_point() + 
#> `geom_smooth()` using formula 'y ~ x'
ggplot(mpg, aes(displ, hwy)) + 
  geom_point() + 
#> `geom_smooth()` using formula 'y ~ x'

That’s a great way to reduce simple types of duplication (it’s much better than copying-and-pasting!), but requires that the component be exactly the same each time. If you need more flexibility, you can wrap these reusable snippets in a function. For example, we could extend our bestfit object to a more general function for adding lines of best fit to a plot. The following code creates a geom_lm() with three parameters: the model formula, the line colour and the line size:

geom_lm <- function(formula = y ~ x, colour = alpha("steelblue", 0.5), 
                    size = 2, ...)  {
  geom_smooth(formula = formula, se = FALSE, method = "lm", colour = colour,
    size = size, ...)
ggplot(mpg, aes(displ, 1 / hwy)) + 
  geom_point() + 
ggplot(mpg, aes(displ, 1 / hwy)) + 
  geom_point() + 
  geom_lm(y ~ poly(x, 2), size = 1, colour = "red")

Pay close attention to the use of “...”. When included in the function definition “...” allows a function to accept arbitrary additional arguments. Inside the function, you can then use “...” to pass those arguments on to another function. Here we pass “...” onto geom_smooth() so the user can still modify all the other arguments we haven’t explicitly overridden. When you write your own component functions, it’s a good idea to always use “...” in this way.

Finally, note that you can only add components to a plot; you can’t modify or remove existing objects.

18.2.1 Exercises

  1. Create an object that represents a pink histogram with 100 bins.

  2. Create an object that represents a fill scale with the Blues ColorBrewer palette.

  3. Read the source code for theme_grey(). What are its arguments? How does it work?

  4. Create scale_colour_wesanderson(). It should have a parameter to pick the palette from the wesanderson package, and create either a continuous or discrete scale.