Interactive report

To help visualize and explore experiment results, an interactive report comes with Forward. This report is built on top of the forward.backend.Backend which parses analysis results in standard Python data structures.

Run the server

To run the server, the simplest alternative is to use the provided command-line interface (scripts/

$ report experiment_name


The current working directory needs to contain the experiment folder to use this command.

Alternative method for sharing

If you want to share the report with colleagues, or host it on a website after publication, it is best to use a more robust web server. The following script can be used:

#!/usr/bin/env python

from tornado.wsgi import WSGIContainer
from tornado.httpserver import HTTPServer
from tornado.ioloop import IOLoop

import forward.backend


http_server = HTTPServer(WSGIContainer(
http_server.listen(5000)  # Set the port here

It is also a good idea to use a process control system like supervisord when hosting the report on a server.

Extending the dynamic report


The backend can be used to do your analysis without leaving Python. This can be useful if you’re not interested in the dynamic report or if you want to do something specific without worrying about integration in the web report.

A documented example can be found on Github. It is a Jupyter notebook showing how to do a QQ plot of SKAT p-values using matplotlib. It is very simple and shows how to access data and how to get help interactively.

For the interactive report, we use a Flask binding of most Backend methods. These bindings make the Backend queryable using HTTP requests. The returned data is either HTML (rarely) and json (most of the time).



The interface for the report was built using modern web technologies. It communicates with the backend using the Flask API (described above). The tables are react components that take care of querying the server and re-rendering themselves following user interaction. Most of the plots are generated using d3.js, a JavaScript framework for DOM manipulation that is very popular for data visualization.

The javascript dependencies are managed using Bower. All the files are in the forward/static subdirectory of the repo. If you want to extend the report without adding js dependencies, you don’t need to take care of Bower, because all of the required files are included in the repo. This decision was made to make it easier for developers to play with the frond-end without tedious configuration. If you want to update the js dependencies, you may edit the bower.json file and run bower update.

Nonetheless, front-end developers will need to build their javascript. This is because react code uses JSX which needs to be converted to regular javascript. Documentation for this step is available here. To summarize, you need to install babel:

npm install --global babel

And then run the build command:

cd forward/static/js
babel src --watch --out-dir build

The --watch flag looks at activity on your filesystem and runs the conversion as soon as something changes.


Extending the report is not easy. If you have feature requests, feel free to use the issue tracker. You can also email us (contact information is available through github) with questions or comments.

Rendering Sections

The report’s home page is rendered using jinja2. The template for this page is found in forward/templates/default.html.

This template is fairly empty. It loads some javascript and css, but it has no content whatsoever. Notice the following piece of code:

// Get the tasks.
$.getJSON(window.location.pathname + "/experiment/tasks.json", function(data) {
  var tasks = data.tasks;
  // For every task, fetch the html snippet. {

This snippet (included in the default.html template) queries the tasks that were executed in this experiment and calls the forward.handleTask function to find an appropriate task handler. This function is basically a switch ... case dispatching different handlers based on the task type. Then, the handler is responsible for populating the relavant report section.

Let’s take linear regression as an example. It’s handler is forward._handleLinear. The latter do the following:

  1. Create a new DOM element (a div) with id section_TaskName. It appends it to the results div.
  2. It fetches an html snippet from the backend (in this case, it will request API_ROOT/tasks/linear_section.html from the API which will render forward/templates/lineartest.html). This contains only a couple of DOM elements that are needed to hookup the dynamic tables and plots. The dispatch method will then include this piece of HTML as the innerHTML of the div we created in step 1.
  3. The dispatch method also triggers the javascript rendering function, in this case it is defined in section_glm.js. This function call is finally responsible for rendering everything you see on screen.