Circos > Documentation > Tutorials > Configuration > Data Files
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Use the latest version of Circos and read Circos best practices—these list recent important changes and identify sources of common problems.
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0 — Configuration and Installation

5. Data Files

Circos uses plain-text data input files. The data format is very simple—arguably the simplest that it could be. Creating data files for Circos is easy.

Chromosome definition, data tracks (<plot> blocks), links (<link> blocks) and highlights (<highlight> blocks) all require external files for their content.

Depending on the track, the format of the input data file is slightly different.

file format

karyotype — biology applications

The karyotype file defines the chromosomes. By default, all chromosomes will be drawn.

Each chromosome has a name, label, start and end position and a color. For example, the human karyotype file looks like this

chr - hs1 1 0 249250621 chr1
chr - hs2 2 0 243199373 chr2
chr - hs3 3 0 198022430 chr3

Circos uses species prefix for chromosome names (e.g. human: hs1, hs2, ... ; mouse: mm1, mm2, ... ) instead of the generic "chr" prefix. Chromosome colors, however, use the "chr" prefix, because they're not meant to be species specific.

The karyotype file can optionally define cytogenetic bands for each chromosome.

band hs1 p36.33 p36.33 0 2300000 gneg
band hs1 p36.32 p36.32 2300000 5400000 gpos25
band hs1 p36.31 p36.31 5400000 7200000 gneg

You can find karyotype files for common reference genomes in data/karyotype in the Circos distribution.

See karyotype tutorial for more details.

karyotype — general applications

If your data is not based on chromosomes, then use the karyotype file to define whatever axes you need to display them.

For example, this will define 3 segments of size 1000, 2000 and 3000 named axis1, axis2 and axis3.

chr - axis1 1 0 1000 black
chr - axis2 1 0 1500 blue
chr - axis3 1 0 2000 green

line, scatter, histogram, heat map

Line, scatter, histogram and heat map tracks are 2D data tracks that associate a value with a genomic position.

#chr start end value [options]
hs5 50 75 0.75


A tile track defines an interval on the same chromosome. It is used to display coverage elements like reads or clones.

#chr start end [options]
hs5 50 75 


A text track associates any string with a genomic position, typically used for text labels.

#chr start end label [options]
hs5 50 75 ABC

If you would like to use multi-word text labels, use a tab as a delimiter (see below).


A connector track two positions on the same chromosome, which are connected by a beveled connector.

#chr start end [options]
hs5 50 1500

A connector must start and end on the same chromosome.


Links associate two intervals between the same or different chromosomes. They can be drawn as lines or ribbons.

# chr1 start1 end1 chr2 start2 end2 [options]
hs1 200 300 hs10 1100 1300
hs7 50 150 hs 5000 6000 color=blue

binlinks, bundlelinks and filterlinks tools (all found in the tools distribution) are used to manipulate and analyze link files.


Any formatting option specific to a data point (shape, size, color, etc) defined in the <plot>, <link>, or <highlight> block individually set for a data point in the input file.

In the file formats shown above, the [options] string is a comma-delimiter set of variable=value pairs.

chr start end var1=value1,var2=value2,...

For options that are passed as a list (e.g. color RGB values), you'll need to delimit the option value with ( and []

chr start end color=(R,G,B)

options with and without data values

Input files that associate a value with a genomic position have the options field in the 5th column

chr start end value options

For files that do not have a value (e.g. tile, highlight), the field is in the 4th column

chr start end options

If you attempt to use a file with values as input to tracks that do not expect values, Circos will attempt to parse the value field (4th column) as an options string and will report an error.

Error parsing data point options. Saw parameter assignment [0.75] but expected it to be in the format x=y.

file delimiter

By default, the delimiter is any whitespace. To change this define file_delim at the root of the configuration file. A good place to put this parameter is in etc/housekeeping.conf

# etc/housekeeping.conf
file_delim = \t

If you want to have multi-word text labels, set the delimiter to a tab. The same delimiter is used for all input files (data files and karyotype).

file location

When you specify the file using an absolute path, Circos will not try to find it anywhere else. For example, in the case of

file = /path/to/file.txt

if file /path/to/file.txt does not exist, an error will be produced.

However, if you specify the file as a relative path

file = data/file.txt

Circos will attempt to look for it in several directories in this order:

  • any directory defined in data_path (see etc/housekeeping.conf)
  • CWD/
  • CWD/etc
  • CWD/data
  • CWD/../
  • CWD/../etc
  • CWD/../data
  • CWD/../..
  • CWD/../../etc
  • CWD/../../data

It is better to use relative paths everywhere in your configuration file. This will make the file portable.

I suggest that you keep the data files in a separate directory (e.g. data/), distinct from your configuration files. See the best practices tutorial for details.