Visualize Router Result using d3.js

This is another post about how we are using d3.js for our visualization needs in our Coursera course. As part of the last programming assignment for the course, we are asking students to design and implement a router. The core algorithm for the router resembles the A Star Search Algorithm, with a few more constraints. Students are supposed to take a file describing the grid that they are operating on (along with its constraints and cost model) and a list of nets (with starting and ending positions) that they are supposed to route. They produce an output file describing the paths to take to route each net.

Of course, with any path routing assignment, it makes sense to provide some form of visualization. It is just more rewarding and intuitive to see the final routing than to try to imagine it by looking at a text file with numbers.

A simple example on a 6x5 grid with two nets is shown above. The blue cells show obstacles on the first layer (yes, this is a 3D problem) and the orange cells show obstacles on the second layer. If you squint, you can also see some gray cells – those are cells that have some cost associated with them. I’d like to show a bigger example but because this is an assignment, I don’t want to reveal any of the answers.

A blue route specifies a path through the first layer. Correspondingly, an orange route specifies a path through the second layer. Paths can go up and down layers. When they do, we denote this using the cross symbol. A green square denotes the start of a route; a red square denotes the end of a path.

So far we have tried it up to a 500 x 500 grid with about 20 paths and it has been pretty responsive. This just shows how far SVG performance has come in modern web browsers and how suitable it is for medium scale visualization. Of course, real routing problems for industrial benchmarks are much larger, but with the right tweaking, it is probably possible to use Javascript and SVG to handle most of the visualization.

The code is available from this gist (it’s about 600 lines of code so it’s not wise to embed it here) and it is licensed under the Illinois/NCSA Open Source license. d3.js was quite instrumental in producing this form of visualization. Using d3.js, I was able to incrementally add features as we went along. It was easy (taking less than an hour) to add a new feature as we were using the tool itself when we implement our own version of the router. It was also easy to tweak the layout to meet our exact needs – something that would have been quite hard or impossible to do if we were using a library.

You can see a video of the tool in action below:

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