Misc scribbles

Creating a JBrowse plugin


I have been very impressed with peoples creativity and willingness to dig into all the details of JBrowse to customize it's features. One great way to do this in a modular way is to create a "JBrowse plugin". This concept sounds hard but you can set up a simple couple of files and refresh your browser and it will "just work"!

#Introduction to the plugin mindset

In a plugin, you can define new things like custom track types, custom adaptors to new file types, new track selectors, or something really different. A key insight about the custom types of tracks and things though is that you can put the name of your new custom class in the jbrowse config file which will then find the code in your plugin and run it. Plugins can do other things, but the ability to just swap out track types or other components in the config file is a great benefit.

#A scenario

One example that was talked about on the mailing list might involve adding new menu items for a given track. We might consider a plugin that defines a custom track type to add that functionality.

Basically, we can use object- oriented principles to "inherit" from some existing track type like CanvasFeatures and then extend its functionality by overriding the functions.

If you are not familiar with object-oriented javascript, dojo makes it pretty easy (but, especially get a background on this if you need to, see footnotes below).

We can inherit a new track type by using the "define" function to include the dependencies needed in a file, and they are listed in an array at the top of your file.

Then the "declare" function creates a new class. The first argument to declare is the is your parent class, like CanvasFeatures, and we type "return declare" because we are returning our new track class from the module.

define(['dojo/_base/declare', 'JBrowse/View/Track/CanvasFeatures'], function (
) {
  return declare(CanvasFeatures, {
    _trackMenuOptions: function () {
      var opts = this.inherited(arguments) //call the parent classes function
        // add an extra menu item to the array returned from parent class function
          label: 'Custom item',
          type: 'dijit/CheckedMenuItem',
          onClick: function (event) {
          iconClass: 'dijitIconPackage',
      return opts

Code listing 1. an example custom track type, MyTrack.js, that adds an extra track menu item

#Now how do we make this a plugin?

In the above section, we created a new track subclass with a custom menu option. How do we use this track? We want to turn it into part of afine the boilerplate code from the Writing plugins guide.

define(['dojo/_base/declare', 'JBrowse/Plugin'], function (
) {
  return declare(
    JBrowsePlugin, // this line says our plugin's main.js derives from the "JBrowse/Plugin" base class
      constructor: function (args) {
        //don't necessarily have to do any initializing here, but you
        //can get a handle to various jbrowse components if any initialization
        //is needed from the args.browser variable

Code listing 2. Our plugin's main.js

After this, we create the plugin directory structure





Then we can add our new plugin to a config file like jbrowse_conf.json as "plugins": ["MyPlugin"] and then make a track in trackList.json have "type": "MyPlugin/MyTrack" instead of for example "type": "CanvasFeatures". That will tell jbrowse to load the MyTrack class from your plugin instead of the normal CanvasFeatures class.

That's about it!

Note that the bin/new-plugin.pl script can automatically initialize some of this directory structure too. Try running bin/new-plugin.pl MyPlugin and see what happens.


It is important to understand the module format (AMD) which is what the "define" function is about and the dojo way of defining classes using the "declare" function. Together, this allows the dojo to create object-oriented programs that are modular in javascript. See http://dojotoolkit.org/reference-guide/1.10/dojo/_base/declare.html and http://dojotoolkit.org/documentation/tutorials/1.9/modules/ (understanding this helps you understand the "preamble" for declaring a jbrowse plugin)