Python Interface to GrADS

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The Python interface to GrADS is an alternative method of scripting GrADS that can take advantage of the unique capabilities of Python, and gives you access to a wealth of numerical and scientific software available for this platform. Here are few reasons for scripting GrADS in Python:

  • You are an experienced Python programmer new to GrADS and do not want to spend the time learning a new scripting language.
  • You need some GrADS functionality inside your regular Python script, say, parse the contents of a GrADS readable dataset or want to store your metadata in a mySQL database.
  • You want to query your OPeNDAP server and figure out which is the latest forecast available before actually opening the dataset.
  • You would like to use TKinter or any other toolkit to write a Graphical User Interface for GrADS from within Python.
  • Your script is getting too complex and you could use an object oriented approach to better organize and reuse your code.
  • You would like to explore GrADS ability to slice and dice a meteorological dataset or OpenDAP URL, but prefer to use Matplotlib/PyLab to perform further analysis and visualization of your dataset.

The Python interface to GrADS, which is similar to the Perl interface, enables full scripting capability for GrADS in Python, and can be used together with the classic GrADS scripting language.


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The Python interface to GrADS is implemented in package grads which contains the following modules:

The module gacore provides the basic GrADS client class which allows you to start GrADS, send commands to it and to retrieve the text output produced by GrADS in response to such command. This is a Pure Python module, although it requires the GrADS binaries to have been installed on your system.
If you have NumPy installed, the module ganum will be loaded. This module extends the GrADS client class in gacore by providing methods for exchanging n-dimensional NumPy array data between Python and GrADS. It also provides methods for computing EOFs and least square estimation.
If PyLab/Matplotlib/Basemap is available, the module galab is loaded. This module adds Matplotlib/Basemap specific methods for contours, images and other graphical functionality. This class provides high level methods operating directly on GrADS expressions (or fields) while retaining all the configurability that Matplotlib has to offer.
This module provides a simple container class to collect output for query() operations.
This modules provides additional colormaps, as well as an extension of the Colormaps class which allows for the definition of color look-up takes with an alpha channel. It also extends the LinearSegmentedColormap with the ability of create derived color tables which are either reversed or provide an arbitrary scaling by means of a lambda function.
This module defines GaField, a class for representing GrADS variables in Python. It consists of a NumPy masked array with a grid containing coordinate/dimension information attached to it.

The grads Package at a Glance[edit]

The GrADS client class provided in gacore allows you to start any of the GrADS executables ( grads, gradsnc, gradshdf, gradsdods, gradsdap ), send commands to it, and retrieve its standard output. Here is a simple example

  from grads.gacore import GaCore
  ga = GaCore(Bin='gradsnc')
  fh ="")
  ga("display ps")

If you have NumPy installed, you can exchange array data between GrADS and python with module ganum,

  from grads.ganum import GaNum 
  ga = GaNum(Bin='gradsnc')
  ts = ga.exp("ts")  # export variable ts from GrADS
  ts = ts - 273      # convert ts to Celsius
  ga.imp("tc",ts)    # send the NumPy array to GrADS
  ga("display tc")   # display the just imported variable

If you have Matplotlib installed you can do the plotting in python. For example you can produce a simple contour plot of the tc above with the commands.

  from pylab import contourf

In addition, when the Matplotlib/Basemap toolkit is available the module galab provides methods to display your data with a map background, and provides a wealth of map transformations useful for display satellite imagery.

  from grads.galab import GaLab
  ga = GaLab(Bin='gradsnc')
  ga("set lon -180 180)
  title('Zonal Wind')

Indeed, the combination of GrADS/Matplotlib/PyLab is a very powerfull one. In addition, the numerical capabilities of NumPy allows one to extend the GrADS capabilties in areas such statistical data analysis. As a proof of concept we have implement a method of computing empirical ortoghonal functions. Here is a simple example:"")
 ga("set t 1 41")
 v, d, pc = ga.eof('slp')

where v contains the eigenvectors, d the eigenvalues and pc the principal components (EOF coefficients). These eigenvectors can be displayed with GrADS or Matplotlib. A method for computation of multiple regression is also available. For additional information, consult the grads package Reference Manual.

IPython Based Interactive Shell[edit]

Ipy console.png

IPython is an enhanced Python shell designed for efficient interactive work. It includes many enhancements over the default Python shell, including the ability for controlling interactively all major GUI toolkits in a non-blocking manner. The script pygrads is a wrapper script which starts IPython with a number of aliases and customizations convenient for interactive GrADS work. In particular, it starts PyLab bringing together all the GrADS and Matplotlib capabilities. Here is a sample pygrads session

  [] ga-> xx ts                 # export ts
  [] ga-> ts = ts - 273         # convert to Celsius
  [] ga-> c                     # clear the screen
  [] ga-> sh                    # shortcut for "set gxout shaded'
  [] ga-> dd ts                 # import modiefied ts into Grads and display it
  [] ga-> cb                    # add a color bar
  [] ga-> . draw title Surface Temperature (Celsius)

For additonal information on pygrads consult the PyGrADS Interactive Shell documentation.

Using PyGrADS with Jython and IronPython[edit]

Jython is an implementation of the Python language written in 100% Pure Java. Jython scripts can access Java classes, the same way Java programs can access Jython classes. However, any Python extension written in C cannot be run under Jython. Although PyGrADS is written in 100% Python, some of its dependencies are not. For this reason only the gacore module works under Jython. It is conceivable that the JNumeric package could be used for implementing a Jython compatible version of ganum. The VisAD Java component library could provide some of the display capabilities that Matplotlib offers under CPython.

As of this writing, gacore has been shown to run under Jython v2.2.1, with the very basic jython shell. Currently, the Jython development team is working on Jython 2.5, an upgrade that will likely permit the interactive shell IPython to run under it. A new package called JyGrADS, which is based on the PyGrADS sources, includes additional Java and Matlab classes allowing a GrADS interface from these languages. JyGrADS also includes a self contained jar (Java Archive) containing Jython, PyGrADS and support Java classes.

IronPython is an implementation of the Python language running under Microsoft's .NET framework. As of this writing I am not aware of any attempt to run PyGrADS under IronPython, but I would be interested in hearing about it. Please drop a note at the open-discussion forum if you have tried PyGrADS under IronPython, or whether you would like to develop something similar to JyGrADS but for .NET.

Getting Started: Downloading and Installing[edit]


For the basic functionality provided by module gacore you need the following

  • Python Version 2.3 or later, or Jython
  • GrADS. Either
    • Version 1.9.0-rc1 or later, or any OpenGrADS release. It does not work with v1.9b4
    • Version 2.0.a3 or later. For previous versions of GrADS 2.0 only the basic class GaCore works.

If you would like GrADS to exchange array data with Python, module ganum requires

  • For exporting n-dimensional arrays from GrADS you will need:
  • For importing/exporting data from GrADS you will need in addition:

For high quality graphics in Python, including map backgrounds and transformations,

If you will be working with satellite images it is recommended that you install

  • PIL, the Python Imaging Library

The additional color tables provided by module gacm require both Matplotlib and PIL. And finally, it is highly recommended that you also install

for a more enjoyable interactive experience. Although not a requirement, the following package is highly recommended:

These packages are available for most Linux distributions, MacOS X and Microsoft Windows, as well as in many flavors of Unix. Consult the Platform Specific Notes for additional information.

When you import package grads the following attributes are defined, depending on which of the modules were successfully imported: HAS_GALAB, HAS_GANUM, HAS_GACM. An ImportError exception will be raised if gacore cannot be imported. Therefore, provided you have Python or Jython installed you will always have the functionality to start GrADS and interact with it. Whether you will have the extra functionality to exchange array data with GrADS and do your plotting in Python will depend on the other packages you have installed on your python environment. When you import the package grads, the class GrADS is aliaded to GaLab if galab can be imported, otherwise it is aliased to GaNum. Failing that, GrADS is aliased to GaCore. Use the HAS_* attributes to determine which functionality is available to you.

Downloading the software and sample datasets[edit]

The PyGrADS modules can be downloaded from the OpenGrADS download area at SourceForge. Examples datasets and satellite images are included in the tarball.


You will need at least PyGrADS 1.1.0 (released in the Summer of 2008) for Matplotlib v0.98.1 and later. Use Matplotlib v0.91.x with PyGrADS v1.0.8 and earlier.


The official Python installation guide can be found at Installing Python Modules. A brief summary is presented here.

Microsoft Windows[edit]

There are 3 Win32 related packages in the download area:

a) pygrads-x.y.z.win32_superpack.exe
This is your best choice if you have no Python whatsoever installed on your Windows box and would like to get started with Python and PyGrADS. This self installing package has Python 2.5 proper, as well as PyGrADS itself and all the dependencies you need for a fully functional PyGrADS. Installation of each package is optional, so you can use this installation option if you need to install just some of the required packages. Important: If you install "basemaps" be sure to install "httplib2" as well, also included in the superpack; at this point the installer does not enforce this.
b) pygrads-x.y.z.win32.exe
Now, if you have Python 2.5 and the other required packages already installed on your Windows box, you can install PyGrADS only with this self installing file. No dependencies are provided.
c) pygrads-x.y.z.tar.gz
Or else, get this tarball and do a standard python install (see next subsection). Note that PyGrADS is 100% pure Python, so no compilation is necessary. Again, you will need the dependencies for full functionality, though.

Linux, Mac OS X and Unix[edit]

a) If you have administrative privileges
Install it the usual way
  % tar xvfz pygrads-x.y.z.tar.gz
  % cd pygrads-x.y.z
  % python install
b) As a regular user
Install it anywhere you have write permission, using the options --prefix or --home to specify the directory base name:
  % python install --prefix=/path/to/some/dir

setting the environment variable PYTHONPATH to point to the location of your Python scripts. For example, to install it off your home directory:

  % python install --home=$HOME

In this case, two directories will be created (if they do not exist already), and the PyGraDS files installed there:


(The python2.5 in the directory name above may vary from system to system depending on your installed Python version.) For this example, you will need set the following environment variables; if using bash and variants:

  % export PATH=$HOME/bin:$PATH
  % export PYTHONPATH=$HOME/lib/python2.5/site-packages:$PYTHONPATH

or with the csh and variants:

  % setenv PATH       $HOME/bin:$PATH
  % setenv PYTHONPATH $HOME/lib/python2.5/site-packages:$PYTHONPATH

(Do not include $PYTHONPATH after the : if it complains that $PYTHONPATH is not defined.)

For additional information,

  % python --help

Checking your Installation[edit]

a) First things first: is GrADS working?[edit]

Before everything make sure you have a functioning GrADS installation:

 % cd data
 % grads -u
 ga> sdfopen
 ga> display ts

You should see a contour plot of surface temperature. If you intend to import data back into GrADS using GaNum, make sure the IPC extension is functioning:

 ga> q udct

This should list:

   ipc_verb ---> cmd_Verb() from <>
   ipc_open ---> cmd_Open() from <>
  ipc_close ---> cmd_Close() from <>
   ipc_save ---> cmd_Save() from <>
 ipc_define ---> cmd_Define() from <>
  ipc_error ---> cmd_Error() from <>

If not, make sure you have installed the IPC extension and that your GAUDXT environment variable is set properly. To actually test the IPC extension type

 ga> ipc_save ts ts.bin

This should create a binary file called ts.bin of size 14 kilobytes. If ipc_save cannot find, make sure you have set your LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable appropriately. For more information consult the User Defined Extensions documentation.

b) Running the examples[edit]

First check the core functionality:

  % cd examples
  % ./ | grep OK

If you have NumPy installed you can check your installation by running the ganum_examples

  % ./          # will produce a bunch of PNG images
  % animate -delay 300 *.png     # you can use ImageMagick to look at them

Likewise, if you have Matplotlib with the basemaps installed you can run the galab_examples

 % rm *.png                      # remove images from previous examples
 % ./           # will produce a bunch of PNG images
 % animate -delay 300 *.png      # you can use ImageMagick animate to look at them

The output of these examples can be found at GaNum Examples and GaLab Examples.

Win32 Tip: You need to download the tarball pygrads-x.x.x.tar.gz for getting the example files. Once you untar the this file, open a cmd.exe window and type something like this:

 cd \some\path\pygrads-x.x.x\examples

taking a look at the output PNG files. You can also open the examples folder with Windows Explorer and click on galab_examples to run it.

Examples and Tutorials[edit]

Additional References[edit]

Platform Specific Notes[edit]

These section summarizes the experience of users installing PyGrADS on different platforms. Please help us keep this page complete and up to date. Drop us a note at the Open Discussion forum if you would like to make a contribution.

Microsoft Windows[edit]

Your best option is to install the PyGrADS Superpack. During installation you have the chance to install Python itself and all the dependencies or only the dependencies you don't have. Remember that the PyGrADS Superpack does not include the Win32 GrADS binaries, you will need to download and install it separately from Sourceforge.

Mac OS X[edit]

Arlindo da Silva has had good luck with the Mac OS X binaries from svn from Chris Fonnesbeck's page.

  • Make sure you are using OSX 10.5 Leopard's preinstalled Python 2.5.1, ActivePython 2.5 or MacPython 2.5. Note: The Superpack's version detection may fail with other Python distributions (e.g., fink, Darwin Ports), and it will refuse to install.
  • Download the SciPy Superpack for Python 2.5
  • NumPy is included in the Superpack. For best compatibility, make sure you use the version in the Superpack.
  • Note that the Chris Fonnesbeck's Superpacks are based on recent SVN code, and not the latest official release.

Important Update: Quoting from Chris Fonnesbeck site:

A recent post on the Enthought Blog announces the availability of the Enthought Python Distribution (EPD) for OSX. Previously only available on Windows, the EPD is a “batteries-included” distribution of Python, geared toward scientific applications. This distro includes the following essentials:

  • Python - Core Python
  • NumPy - Multidimensional arrays and fast numerics for Python
  • SciPy - Scientific Library for Python
  • Enthought Tool Suite (ETS) - A suite of tools including: Traits - Manifest typing, validation, visualization, delegation, etc. Mayavi - 3D interactive data exploration environment. Chaco - Advanced 2D plotting toolkit for interactive 2D visualization. Kiva - 2D drawing library in the spirit of DisplayPDF. Enable - Object-based canvas for interacting with 2D components and widgets.
  • Matplotlib - 2D plotting library
  • wxPython - Cross-platform windowing and widget library.
  • Visualization Toolkit (VTK) - 3D visualization framework

These sorts of bundles are very attractive for scientists that would rather not invest the time in compiling each of these packages from scratch, particularly in the case of the visualisation packages, which can be rather fussy to build.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux/Cent OS[edit]

Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux (EPEL) is a volunteer-based community effort from the Fedora project to create a repository of high-quality add-on packages that complement the Fedora-based Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and its compatible spinoffs such as CentOS or Scientific Linux. RPMS can be found at this URL

The following packages are needed by PyGrADS:

  • python-matplotlib
  • python-matplotlib-tk
  • python-basemap
  • python-basemap-data

I have not found *ipython* and the *Python Imaging Library* (PIL) on the EPEL repository. However, Dag Wieers maintains another repository ( where you can find these packages:

  • ipython
  • python-imaging

(I am not sure if you can combine packages from these repositories; let me know either way so that I can update this page;


Numpy, Matplotlib and PIL (Python Imaging Library) are available through the Synaptic Package Manager. However, the required Basemap package is not, and you will need to build it from sources. Make sure your Basemap version is compatible with your Numpy/Matplotlib: you'll need Basemap 0.99 to use with Matplotlib 0.98; with Ubuntu 8.04 and earlier you will need Basemap v0.98 since it uses an earlier Matplotlib. Before installing Basemap from sources, make sure to install the libgeos package from Synaptic (or using apt-get at the command line) or else build it from sources - it is bundled with the Basemap sources.


The Ports subsystem has all the required dependencies. Make sure to install the following packages:

  • py-matplotlib
  • py-basemap
  • py-basemap-data
  • py-imaging

Under Desktop BSD you can use the Package Manager under the KDE [Main Menu]/[System]/[Software Management] to search for and install these packages.