This section gives a tutorial of the main functionality of Spyke Viewer. To follow the examples, you need to download and unpack the sample data file. It contains simulated data for two tetrodes over 4 trials. For each tetrode, there are 5 simulated neurons with corresponding spike trains and prototypical template waveforms included.

When you start Spyke Viewer for the first time, you will see the following layout:


All elements of the user interface are contained in docks and can be rearranged to suit your needs. Their layout is saved when you close Spyke Viewer. The “View” menu shows all available docks and panels, you can also hide and show them from this menu.

Loading Data

The first thing you want to do when using Spyke Viewer is to load your data. The Files dock contains a view of all the files on your system. You can use it to select one or more files, then click on the “Load” button below to load the selected files into Spyke Viewer. Single files can also be loaded with a double click (this does not work for directories, they will just be expanded. If you want to load a directory, you need to use the “Load” button). Alternatively, you can use the “Load Data...” option in the “File” menu to open a dialog that allows you to select files to load. Now find and select the file “sample.h5” that you just unpacked (an HDF5 File) and load it.

The data file input/output is based on neo and supports formats that have a Neo IO class. For each selected file, the filetype and corresponding IO class is selected automatically from the file extension. If you want to specify which IO class to use, you can do so in the “Format” list in the Files dock. When you select a format with read or write parameters, you can click “Configure selected IO” to change the parameters. The IO and parameters you choose in the Files dock are also used when loading files using the “File” menu. If you want to use a file format that is not supported by Neo, you can write a plugin: IO plugins.

Spyke Viewer and Neo include some features to handle very large data sources that are larger than the main memory or take very long to load. If you want to learn about these features, go to Lazy Features.


Now that a file was loaded, some entries have appeared in the Navigation dock. To understand how to navigate data with Spyke Viewer, you need to know the Neo object model. The following picture is a complete representation:


The rectangular objects are containers, rounded corners indicate a data object. The arrows represent a “contains zero or more” relationship. Note that all data objects belong to a segment and some also belong to other objects. For example, a SpikeTrain is referenced by both Segment and Unit. A unit often represents a single neuron (it is named unit because putative neurons from spike sorting are called units), but it could also represent the results of a spike detection algorithm and therefore include multiple neurons. Each SpikeTrain is specific to one Segment and one Unit, and each Segment or Unit could contain many SpikeTrains. For more detailed information on the Neo object model, see the Neo documentation.

In Spyke Viewer, you use the Navigation dock to select container objects. There is a list for each type of container where you can select an arbitrary set of entries. You can select multiple entries by clicking and dragging or using the control key when clicking. Each list will only show those objects of the respective type that are contained in selected objects further up in the hierarchy. For example, try selecting a different recording channel group and observe how the channels and units list change. To help you navigate, all objects in the Navigation dock are automatically assigned a unique identifier which includes the identifier of containing objects. The identifiers are shown in parentheses after the objects name (if an object has no name, only the identifier is shown). Blocks use capital letters; recording channel groups use small letters; recording channels, units and segments use numbers. For example, a unit might have an identifier “A-b-2”: This denotes unit number 2 of recording channel group “b” of block “A”. The identifiers are recreated whenever the structure of the loaded data changes - they are just a visual aid to help with navigation and ensure that unnamed objects have a reasonable label.

Each list in the Navigation dock has a context menu accessed by right-clicking or control-clicking on OS X. You can use it to remove the selected objects (they will only be removed from Spyke Viewer, not from the loaded files) or open an annotation editor for the current object. The annotation editor can also be opened by double-clicking a list entry.

The sets of selected objects from all container types is called a selection. The selected items you see in the Navigation dock are called the current selection. Selections determine which data will be analyzed by plugins (see Plugins) and can be accessed by the internal console (see Using the Console). You can save a selection using the “Selections” menu: Click on the menu and then on “New”. An additional entry in the “Selections” menu called “Selection 1” will appear. Each selection entry has a submenu where you can load, save, rename or delete the selection. Try selecting something else in the Navigation dock and creating a new selection again. Now try to load your first selection and observe how the Navigation dock changes to reflect what you have loaded. If you use the entry “Save” from a selection, it will be overwritten with the current selection. You can also change the order of the saved selections by dragging the entries in the “Selections” menu:


All saved selections together with the current selection are called a selection set. You can save your current selection set as a file (in JSON format, so it can easily be read and edited by humans or other software) using “Save Selection Set...” in the “File” menu. When you load a selection set, your current selection is replaced by the current selection from the file. The other selections in the file are added to your current saved selections. If a selection set includes files that are not currently loaded, they are opened automatically. When you exit Spyke Viewer, your current selection set is saved and will be restored on your next start.

Exporting Data

If you want to export your data, Spyke Viewer offers two entries in the “File” menu: “Save selected data...” exports all data in your current selection. “Save all data...” exports all loaded data. When you click on one of the items, a dialog will open asking you where you want to save the data and in which format. HDF5 and Matlab are available. It is strongly recommended to save your data in HDF5, since the Neo IO for Matlab currently does not support the whole object model – RecordingChannelGroups, RecordingChannels and Units are not saved.

Matlab has an interface for loading HDF5 files as well, so if you want to load your data in Matlab without losing some of the structure, you can use HDF5. On the other hand, if you want to get your data into Matlab quickly or it is structured with segments only, the Matlab export could be the right choice.



When dealing with large datasets, it can be inconvenient to create a selection from the full lists of containers. The filter system provides a solution to this problem. By creating filters, you can determine what objects are shown in the Navigation dock. For example, you might want to temporarily exclude RecordingChannelGroups that have no attached units or only display Segments with a certain stimulus. Creating filters requires basic knowledge of Python and the Neo object model.

You can manage your filters with the Filter dock and toolbar (which is positioned on the upper left in the initial layout). When you start Spyke Viewer for the first time, the Filter dock will be empty. You can create a new filter by clicking on “New Filter” in the toolbar (right-clicking the Filter dock also brings up a menu with available actions). You can choose what kind of container objects the filter applies to, the name of the filter and its content: a simple Python function.

There are two kinds of filters: single or combined. Single filters (created when the “Combined” checkbox is unchecked) get a single Neo object and return True if the object should be displayed and False if not. Combined filters get a list of Neo objects and return a list containing only objects that should displayed. The order of the returned list is used for subsequent filters and displaying, so combined filters can also be used to sort the object lists.

For both kinds of filters, the signature of the function is fixed and shown at the top of the window, so you only have to write the function body. The “True on exception” checkbox determines what happens when the filter function raises an exception: If it is checked, an exception will not cause an element to be filtered out, otherwise it will. The following picture shows how you would create a filter that hides all units that do not have at least two SpikeTrains attached:


As another example, to reverse the order of Segments, you could create combined Segment filter with the following line:

return segments[::-1]

You can also create filter groups. They can be used to organize your filters, but also have an important second function: You can define groups in which only one filter can be active. If another filter in the group is activated, the previously active filter will be deactivated. You can choose which filters are active in the Filter dock. The Navigation dock will be updated each time the set of active filters changes. You can also drag and drop filters inside the Filter dock. Their order in the Filter dock determines the order in which they are applied. All filters and their activation state are saved when you exit Spyke Viewer.

Using Plugins

Once you have selected data, it is time to analyze it. Spyke Viewer includes a number of plugins that enable you to create various plots from your data. Select the Plugins dock (located next to the Filter dock in the initial layout) to see the list of available plugins. To start a plugin, simply double-click it or select it and then click on “Run Plugin” in the plugin toolbar or menu (there is also a context menu available when you right-click a plugin). You can also start a plugin in a different process (so that you can continue using Spyke Viewer while the plugin is busy) by selecting “Start with Remote Script” in the “Plugins” menu.

For example, if you start the “Signal Plot” plugin, it will create a plot of selected analog signals. Try selecting Segment 3, Tetrode 2 and Channels 3 and 4. When you now start the plugin, you will see the signals of the selected channels in Segment 3. Now select some units and then open the plugin configuration by clicking on “Configure Plugin” on the plugin toolbar or menu. Select “Show Spikes” and set “Display” to “Lines”. When you now start the plugin, you will see the analog signals and the spike times of your selected units. Go to the configuration again, set “Display” to “Waveforms” and check “Use first spike as template”. After another run of the plugin, you will see the template spike waveforms overlaid on the analog signals. The configuration of all plugins is saved when you close Spyke Viewer and will be restored on the next start. To set the configurations of all plugins back to their default values, use “Restore Plugin configurations” from the “Plugins” menu.

To learn more about the included plugins and how to use them, go to Plugins. When you want to create your own plugins, go to Analysis plugins.

Using the Console

With the integrated console, you can use the full power of Python in Spyke Viewer, with access to your selected data. Open the Console dock by clicking on the “View” menu and selecting “Console”. You can explore your workspace using the Variable Explorer dock and view your previous commands with the Command History dock. Some packages like scipy and neo are imported on startup, the message in the console shows which. The console features autocompletion (press the Tab key to complete with the selected entry) and docstring popups.

The most important objects in the console environment are current and selections. current gives you access to your currently selected data, selections contains all stored selections (which you can manage using the “Selections” menu, see selections). For example,

>>> current.spike_trains()

gives a list of your currently selected spike trains. Both current and the entries of selections are spykeutils.plugin.data_provider.DataProvider objects, refer to the documentation for details of the methods provided by this class.

As an example, to view the total amount of spikes in your selected spike trains for each segment, enter the following lines:

>>> trains = current.spike_trains_by_segment()
>>> for s, st in trains.iteritems():
...     print, '-', sum((len(train) for train in st)), 'spikes'

Note that the variables used in these lines have now appeared in the Variable Explorer dock.


If you have at least IPython 0.12 and the corresponding Qt console installed, Spyke Viewer will include an IPython dock (accessible under the “View” menu). It can be used as an alternative to the integrated console if you prefer IPython. The current and selections objects are defined as in the integrated console, but no imports are predefined. You can enter the “magic command”:


to use the PyLab environment (you can safely ignore the warning message about matplotlib backends). Note that the Variable Explorer and Command History docks, as well as exceptions from plugins, are only available on the internal console.


The Spyke Viewer settings can be accessed by opening the “File” menu and selecting “Settings” (on OS X, open the “Spyke Viewer” menu and select “Preferences”). You can adjust various paths in the settings:

Selection path
The path where your selections are stored when you exit Spyke Viewer. This is also the default directory when using “Save Selection Set...” or “Load Selection Set...” in the “File” menu.
Filter path
The directory where your filter hierarchy and activation states are stored when you exit Spyke Viewer. Your filters are stored as regular Python files with some special annotation comments, so you can edit them in your favourite editor or share them with other users of Spyke Viewer.
Data path
This directory is important when you are using the data storage features of spykeutils.plugin.analysis_plugin.AnalysisPlugin.
Remote script
A script file that is executed when you use “Start with remote script” action for a plugin. The default script simply starts the plugin locally, but you can write a different script for other purposes, e.g. starting it on a server.
Plugin paths

These are the search paths for plugins. They will be recursively searched for Python files containing AnalysisPlugin classes. Subdirectories will be displayed as nodes in the Plugins dock.

In addition, your IO plugins also have to stored be in one of the plugin paths. The search for IO plugins is not recursive, so you have to put them directly into one of the paths in this list.

More configuration options can be set using the API, for example in the Startup script.