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BCC2020 - Plugin development course

Welcome to the BCC2020 plugin development course

This will cover, starting from scratch, how we can develop a JBrowse 2 plugin

Here is a video recording of the presentation that we made

How to write a JBrowse 2 plugin. BCC2020 West Training from Jennifer Vessio onVimeo.

You can also follow along with the text presented below


Please have the following

These links above provide more reliable installation than the apt repositories version, but you can try to install these however you feel comfortable

Install CLI tools

To start, we will install the jbrowse-cli

sudo npm install -g @jbrowse/cli

Depending on your setup you might need to use sudo for this. We will use the CLI to download the latest release from github, this is a convenience tool that saves us some steps from manually downloading it

Create a jbrowse 2 production instance

cd /var/www/html
sudo jbrowse create myfolder

This will create a jbrowse2 instance in a folder named myfolder. We can now visit http://localhost/myfolder and see that this gives us a message that jbrowse2 is not yet configured

Outline for our plugins

Now that we have initialized an instance, we will look at how to use plugins

We are going to create several plugins for this tutorial

  1. Downloading data from the UCSC API
  2. Creating custom drawing code
  3. A template for a custom view type

UCSC API data adapter

Let's start with creating a plugin that accesses the UCSC REST API. See for docs

We will clone a working version of this plugin for brevity and analyze it


The development and build process for plugins has changed since this tutorial was created. See for current instructions.

cd ~/
git clone
cd jbrowse-plugin-ucsc-api
yarn develop --port 9001

This will build the plugin and serve it with a webpack-dev-server on port 9001

We can then load our in-development plugin with our production version of jbrowse http://localhost/myfolder/?config=http://localhost:9001/config_ucsc_api.json

If you had a github clone of jbrowse-components, with the products/jbrowse-web started, you could do this with http://localhost:3000/?config=http://localhost:9001/config_ucsc_api.json instead

Analysis of the UCSC REST API plugin

Notes about the plugin:

Screenshot of the UCSC REST API plugin displaying boxes for the interaction features

Combining the UCSC API plugin with a custom renderer

Interaction data is often displayed using arcs to connect enhancer to gene. We will create a custom renderer to illustrate this

But what is a renderer? It is code that performs drawing. See the renderer docs here for more details on creating renderers

Let's clone a working arc renderer plugin

git clone
cd jbrowse-plugin-arc-renderer
yarn develop --port 9000

This will start the plugin for the arc renderer on port 9000. Now, we will keep the UCSC API plugin running on port 9001, and then visit


This will load the following file

This loads both the UCSCPlugin and the ArcRendererPlugin at the same time, and renders the UCSC GeneHancer interactions as arcs

Making custom view types with plugins

Many new things are possible by making completely custom view types in JBrowse 2

Plugins can basically register a new view type that is a ReactComponent without much else, allowing integration of diverse other view types that are not really constrained at all

Here is a template we can work from

Here is a silly example with a custom Hello world view type. I started this as a "bar chart" concept but only got as far as making it say hello world.

Looking at the code, it is fairly simple and demonstrates that we can basically have any sort of ReactComponent rendered into our view. That means we could have a gene expression heatmap, barchart, get charts dynamically from an R server side component, make a graph genome, etc. The ideas are endless! And we can make it interact with other views!

Debugging your plugins

The examples allowed us to get us quickly setup

In your daily work we encourage you to clone the jbrowse-components repo and run off a dev version of jbrowse 2 e.g. follow the steps below

git clone
cd jbrowse-components
cd products/jbrowse-web
yarn start

Then point your dev version of jbrowse 2 at the dev version of your plugin http://localhost:3000/?config=http://localhost:9001/config_ucsc_api.json

A major benefit to using a github clone of jbrowse 2 compared with the version from jbrowse create myfolder is that you will get better stack traces

Loading a genome and using plugins in production

In the previous examples, we used our sample data from a plugins preconfigured configs

Let's start to create a production instance of JBrowse. We can use the jbrowse CLI tools to load some data. We will refer to an existing genome fasta file on the web, and a refname alias map (tab separated association of chr1->1, etc.)

cd /var/www/html/myfolder
jbrowse add-assembly --refNameAliases

Then we could add a gene track

jbrowse add-track  --config '{"renderer": {"type": "SvgFeatureRenderer"}}'

Or a track from UCSC

jbrowse add-track --config  '{"renderer": {"type": "SvgFeatureRenderer"} }'

Now visit http://localhost/myfolder and open up a new linear genome view with the hg19 assembly and you should see these tracks.

Now you can edit your config to contain runtime plugins and use this in production


This is an initial look into jbrowse 2 plugin development. I strongly encourage reading the developer guide in the main documentation for more info, and let us know if you have any feedback or questions. Thanks!