Solving the Matplotlib Backend Issue: A Guide to Overcoming the AGG Backend Warning

Matplotlib is a powerful library for creating visualizations in Python, but it can sometimes present challenges that may stump even experienced developers. One such challenge involves a warning that users often encounter: "UserWarning: Matplotlib is currently using AGG, which is a non-GUI backend, so cannot show the figure." This message can be frustrating, especially when your goal is to display plots directly in your interface. This guide will help you understand why this warning occurs and how to resolve it effectively.

Understanding the Problem

The root of this issue lies in the way Matplotlib selects its backend. A backend, in Matplotlib terminology, is the layer that does all the heavy lifting for rendering the plots. It can either be GUI (Graphical User Interface) based for interactive plots or non-GUI based for saving figures to files. AGG is a non-GUI backend, excellent for creating high-quality images, but it doesn't support showing plots interactively in a window.

This warning typically appears when your Python environment is not configured to use a GUI backend or when running scripts in environments that lack GUI support, such as Docker containers or remote servers.

How to Solve It

Step 1: Check Available Backends

First, it's essential to check which backends are available in your environment. You can do this by running the following code snippet:

import matplotlib

This command will list all the backends available in your Matplotlib installation. Look for GUI backends in the list, such as 'TkAgg', 'Qt4Agg', 'Qt5Agg', or 'GTK3Agg'.

Step 2: Selecting a GUI Backend

Once you've identified the available GUI backends, you can explicitly set Matplotlib to use one of them. This can be done in two ways:

Option A: Setting Backend in Your Script

You can set the backend directly in your script before importing pyplot from Matplotlib. This is useful for scripts that will be run in different environments.

import matplotlib
matplotlib.use('TkAgg')  # Replace 'TkAgg' with your preferred backend
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

plt.plot([1, 2, 3], [4, 5, 6])

Option B: Configuring Matplotlib's Configuration File

Matplotlib uses a configuration file named matplotlibrc to customize all sorts of properties. You can set the default backend by editing this file and changing the line that starts with backend : to your preferred GUI backend, like so:

backend : TkAgg

This method is particularly useful if you want to set the backend globally on your machine.

Step 3: Installing GUI Frameworks

Sometimes, the issue might be that the necessary GUI framework is not installed on your system. For example, if you're using the 'TkAgg' backend, you need to have Tkinter installed, which is included with most Python installations. However, for other backends like 'Qt5Agg', you might need to install PyQt5:

pip install PyQt5


The "Matplotlib is currently using AGG" warning is a common hiccup that can easily be resolved by understanding how Matplotlib backends work and how to configure them. By following the steps outlined above, you should be able to display your plots as intended, enhancing your data visualization tasks. Remember, the key is to ensure that your environment is set up with the necessary GUI backend and corresponding GUI framework to render your plots interactively.