Basic usage


The UCSC Cell Browser tool set consists of a number of different scripts to help you set up your own. The primiary utility being the Python script cbBuild that will import a set of existing single-cell data from a directory of tab-separated files and configuration files to generate a directory of html, json, and css files that can be viewed on the web. The rest of the utilities will produce output than can be fed directly into cbBuild.

The utilities cbSeurat and cbScanpy run a very basic single-cell pipeline on your expression matrix and will output all the files needed to create a cell browser visualization. The cbImport* (cbImportCellranger, cbImportScanpy, etc.) tools convert files produced by Cellranger, Seurat, and Scanpy into a set of files that you can create a Cell Browser visualization from. Both the pipeline and import tools are covered in more detail under their respective sections (With Scanpy, With Seurat, and With Cellranger). There is also a collection of small tools (cbTool) to combine cell annotation files from different pipelines or convert expression matrices.

Using cbBuild to set up a Cell Browser

The main utility for building your own cell browser is cbBuild. It takes in a gene expression matrix and a set related files and converts them JSON and binary files outputting them to directory which can be put onto a web server or used with the built-in webserver. At this time, there is no backend server needed for a cell browser. You can place the output of cbBuild on any static web server at your University or the ones you can rent from companies will do.

After the installation, you should be able to run the cbBuild command and see the usage message:


Example Minimal Cell Browser

Below are some instructions to set up a cell browser using a small example dataset based on data from Nowakowski et al. 2017. and the cortex-dev dataset on The expression matrix only includes 100 genes, but it does show off many of the features of the cell browser.

First, download and extract it to the directory mini with:

curl -s | tar xvz

Next, build a browser consisting of html and other files into the directory ~/public_html/cells/ and serve that directory on port 8888:

cd mini
cbBuild -o ~/public_html/cells/ -p 8888

Lastly, point your web browser to http://localhost:8888 to view your minimal cell browser. If you’re running this on a server and not your own computer, replace localhost with the address of your server. To stop the cbBuild web server, press Ctrl-C. To keep it running in the background, press Ctrl-Z and put it into the background with bg. If you have stopped the web server, you can always run the same cbBuild command to restart it. Restarting the web server will not re-export the entire expression matrix again if there is already one under ~/public_html/cells/sample.

The optional to specify the port, -p PORT, is optional. If you only want to build html files and serve them with your own web server, do not specify this option and cbBuild will only build the output files, but won’t start a web server.

The example cellbrowser.conf explains all the various settings that are available in this config file. Things you can change include the colors for different metadata attributes, explain cluster acronyms used in your cluster names, add file names, add alternative dimensionality reduction layouts, add more marker gene tables, and more.

One of the most important settings in cellbrowser.conf is the dataset name. For example, in this ‘mini’ example, the dataset name is ‘sample’. When you run cbBuild, its output files will be written to ~/public_html/cells/sample. You can go to another directory with a different cellbrowser.conf file and a different dataset name, and if you run the same cbBuild command as above, the cell browser output files will be copied into a new subdirectory within ~/public_html/cells/. A single cbBuild output directory can contain multiple datasets.