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The most common datafile modifier is using. It tells the program which columns of data in the input file are to be plotted.


      plot 'file' using <entry> {:<entry> {:<entry> ...}} {'format'}

If a format is specified, it is used to read in each datafile record using the C library ’scanf’ function. Otherwise the record is interpreted as consisting of columns (fields) of data separated by whitespace (spaces and/or tabs), but see ‘datafile separator‘.

Each <entry> may be a simple column number that selects the value from one field of the input file, a string that matches a column label in the first line of a data set, an expression enclosed in parentheses, or a special function not enclosed in parentheses such as xticlabels(2).

If the entry is an expression in parentheses, then the function column(N) may be used to indicate the value in column N. That is, column(1) refers to the first item read, column(2) to the second, and so on. The special symbols $1, $2, ... are shorthand for column(1), column(2) ... The function ‘valid(N)‘ tests whether the value in the Nth column is a valid number.

If each column of data in the input file contains a label in the first row rather than a data value, this label can be used to identify the column on input and/or in the plot legend. The column() function can be used to select an input column by label rather than by column number. For example, if the data file contains

      Height    Weight    Age
      val1      val1      val1
      ...       ...       ...

then the following plot commands are all equivalent

      plot 'datafile' using 3:1, '' using 3:2
      plot 'datafile' using (column("Age")):(column(1)), \
                   '' using (column("Age")):(column(2))
      plot 'datafile' using "Age":"Height", '' using "Age":"Weight"

The full string must match. Comparison is case-sensitive. To use the column labels in the plot legend, use columnhead.

In addition to the actual columns 1...N in the input data file, gnuplot presents data from several "pseudo-columns" that hold bookkeeping information. E.g. $0 or column(0) returns the sequence number of this data record within a dataset. Please see ‘pseudocolumns‘.

An empty <entry> will default to its order in the list of entries. For example, ‘using ::4‘ is interpreted as ‘using 1:2:4‘.

If the using list has only a single entry, that <entry> will be used for y and the data point number (pseudo-column $0) is used for x; for example, "‘plot ’file’ using 1‘" is identical to "‘plot ’file’ using 0:1‘". If the using list has two entries, these will be used for x and y. See style and fit for details about plotting styles that make use of data from additional columns of input.

’scanf’ accepts several numerical specifications but ‘gnuplot‘ requires all inputs to be double-precision floating-point variables, so "%lf" is essentially the only permissible specifier. A format string given by the user must contain at least one such input specifier, and no more than seven of them. ’scanf’ expects to see white space—a blank, tab ("\t"), newline ("\n"), or formfeed ("\f")—between numbers; anything else in the input stream must be explicitly skipped.

Note that the use of "\t", "\n", or "\f" requires use of double-quotes rather than single-quotes.


This creates a plot of the sum of the 2nd and 3rd data against the first: The format string specifies comma- rather than space-separated columns. The same result could be achieved by specifying ‘set datafile separator ","‘.

      plot 'file' using 1:($2+$3) '%lf,%lf,%lf'

In this example the data are read from the file "MyData" using a more complicated format:

      plot 'MyData' using "%*lf%lf%*20[^\n]%lf"

The meaning of this format is:

      %*lf        ignore a number
      %lf         read a double-precision number (x by default)
      %*20[^\n]   ignore 20 non-newline characters
      %lf         read a double-precision number (y by default)

One trick is to use the ternary ‘?:‘ operator to filter data:

      plot 'file' using 1:($3>10 ? $2 : 1/0)

which plots the datum in column two against that in column one provided the datum in column three exceeds ten. ‘1/0‘ is undefined; ‘gnuplot‘ quietly ignores undefined points, so unsuitable points are suppressed. Or you can use the pre-defined variable NaN to achieve the same result.

In fact, you can use a constant expression for the column number, provided it doesn’t start with an opening parenthesis; constructs like ‘using 0+(complicated expression)‘ can be used. The crucial point is that the expression is evaluated once if it doesn’t start with a left parenthesis, or once for each data point read if it does.

If timeseries data are being used, the time can span multiple columns. The starting column should be specified. Note that the spaces within the time must be included when calculating starting columns for other data. E.g., if the first element on a line is a time with an embedded space, the y value should be specified as column three.

It should be noted that ‘plot ’file’‘, ‘plot ’file’ using 1:2‘, and ‘plot ’file’ using ($1):($2)‘ can be subtly different: 1) if ‘file‘ has some lines with one column and some with two, the first will invent x values when they are missing, the second will quietly ignore the lines with one column, and the third will store an undefined value for lines with one point (so that in a plot with lines, no line joins points across the bad point); 2) if a line contains text at the first column, the first will abort the plot on an error, but the second and third should quietly skip the garbage.

In fact, it is often possible to plot a file with lots of lines of garbage at the top simply by specifying

      plot 'file' using 1:2

However, if you want to leave text in your data files, it is safer to put the comment character (#) in the first column of the text lines.


Expressions in the using clause of a plot statement can refer to additional bookkeeping values in addition to the actual data values contained in the input file. These are contained in "pseudocolumns".

      column(0)   The sequential order of each point within a data set.
                  The counter starts at 0 and is reset by two sequential blank
                  records.  The shorthand form $0 is available.
      column(-1)  This counter starts at 0 and is reset by a single blank line.
                  This corresponds to the data line in array or grid data.
      column(-2)  The index number of the current data set within a file that
                  contains multiple data sets.  See index.


Axis tick labels can be generated via a string function, usually taking a data column as an argument. The simplest form uses the data column itself as a string. That is, xticlabels(N) is shorthand for xticlabels(stringcolumn(N)). This example uses the contents of column 3 as x-axis tick labels.

      plot 'datafile' using <xcol>:<ycol>:xticlabels(3) with <plotstyle>

Axis tick labels may be generated for any of the plot axes: x x2 y y2 z. The ‘ticlabels(<labelcol>)‘ specifiers must come after all of the data coordinate specifiers in the using portion of the command. For each data point which has a valid set of X,Y[,Z] coordinates, the string value given to xticlabels() is added to the list of xtic labels at the same X coordinate as the point it belongs to. ‘xticlabels()‘ may be shortened to ‘xtic()‘ and so on.


      splot "data" using 2:4:6:xtic(1):ytic(3):ztic(6)

In this example the x and y axis tic labels are taken from different columns than the x and y coordinate values. The z axis tics, however, are generated from the z coordinate of the corresponding point.


      plot "data" using 1:2:xtic( $3 > 10. ? "A" : "B" )

This example shows the use of a string-valued function to generate x-axis tick labels. Each point in the data file generates a tick mark on x labeled either "A" or "B" depending on the value in column 3.


See ‘plot using xticlabels‘.


See ‘plot using xticlabels‘.


See ‘plot using xticlabels‘.


See ‘plot using xticlabels‘.

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