Migrating from augur v5 to v6

Augur is a versatile bioinformatics toolkit in its own right, but it is developed in conjunction with Auspice, the interactive visualisation tool behind what you see on nextstrain.org. Because of this, build pipelines often finish with augur export which produces JSONs that Auspice can visualise.

As Auspice grows and improves, the format of the JSON files is changing too, to allow more functionality and flexibility. This means Augur’s export function needs to change as well. This page details how the new augur export v2 works and what you need to do to start using it.

Some important points:

  • ‘Old’ JSON files (v1, made with Augur v5) still work with the new (v2) Auspice for the time being - but may not be supported in future versions.

  • When you upgrade to Augur v6, augur export will no longer work. You’ll need to specify which version of Auspice (v1 or v2) your JSON files should be.

Compatibility between Augur & Auspice versions

Augur v5 simply used augur export to produce two JSONs (tree + meta) for Auspice v1 - so we’ll call these JSONs “v1” JSONs.

The new Augur (v6) can still create “v1” JSONS, but can also create JSONs that work with the latest Auspice release - Auspice v2. The new format combines the tree and metadata into one JSON, which we’ll call a “v2” JSON.

This page has the most up-to-date compatibility information between different Augur and Auspice versions.

We understand how important backwards compatibility is - so for the time being “v1” JSONs will continue to work with Auspice v2. However, we recommend switching to v2 JSONs - they have more features, are easier to work with, and future versions of Auspice may not support v1 JSONs!

Motivation behind changing JSON formats

With the release of Auspice v2, we made some breaking changes to the JSON schema. Why change formats? We were motivated by:

  • Compactness: Tree and Meta JSON files are now combined, so you only have to worry about one output file

  • Flexibility: The new v2 JSONs allow us flexibility to include more features and data, and will let us move towards getting in line with existing conventions like GFF and BibTex

  • Ease of use: Users commonly got confused by the ‘config’ file. For basic runs you can now specify everything you need to see your data right in the command-line - no ‘config’ file needed! For more advanced exports, you can still specify a config file with more detail. (See “Using a Config File”)

I just need my old run to work right now!

We completely understand you may not have time to make the change right this second, and that there’s nothing more frustrating than having a run break right before a presentation or deadline!

If you want to keep using the old version for now, replace augur export with augur export v1 - everything else remains the same. You can use Auspice v1 or Auspice v2 (see compatibility).

To use the new version, use augur export v2. You’ll need to make a few small changes, but you’ll be future-proofing your runs. (Future you will thank past you!)

What needs changing to use augur export v2?

Helpful hint: You can always get a full overview of the arguments for export v2 with augur export v2 --help

What’s the same

You still pass in your tree, metadata, and node-data files with --tree, --metadata, and --node-data - just like in export v1. Similarly, you can pass in files containing colors, latitude, and longitude data using --colors and --lat-longs, respectively.

Different outputs

Instead of specifying two output files (--output-tree and --output-meta) you now only need to specify one with --output. For example, if your old files were auspice/virus_AB_tree.json and auspice/virus_AB_meta.json, you might want to call the single output auspice/virus_AB.json - or if you want to tell it apart from your v1 export, you might call it auspice/virus_ABv2.json.

To export the reference sequence relative to which mutations have been identified, specify the --include-root-sequence flag. This flag writes a JSON whose name is relative to the stem of the main output JSON. For VCF input, this file will contain the reference sequence to which the VCF is mapped. For example, if the main output is called auspice/virus_AB.json, the root sequence will be saved to auspice/virus_AB_root-sequence.json.

Other changed arguments

The --tree-name argument has been removed, as auspice v2 no longer uses this. See the auspice docs for more information about how second trees are specified and displayed.

Command Line Options instead of (or in addition to) a config file

One of the biggest changes in augur export v2 is that you can pass much more in using the command-line, meaning ‘config’ files are no longer required. The ‘config’ or ‘Auspice config’ file defines a number of visualisation settings such as title, default displays, and which colorings to use. However, it’s been a source of pain for many users!

Many of these things can now be passed in by the command-line, but some options are only possible using the config file. You can always continue to put most things in the config file if you prefer. If you want to use a config file, you can pass this in with --auspice-config, but the format of this has changed (see the link).

It’s important to note that generally any command line options you use will override the same option in your config file.

Coloring traits is smarter

Previously, anything you wanted to color by had to be in the config file. You always had to include a “gt” and “num_date” entry, and remember to add anything new to the file.

We’ve made this smarter - augur export v2 now automatically detects some traits and you can specify others on the command line. You can also control the color options in more detail using a config file.

We’ll cover how coloring works on the command line and how it works in config files in more detail below.

Traits display exactly how you want

Previously, auspice tried to make traits and locations look ‘pretty’ by auto-capitalizing them and removing underscores (which were required in multi-word traits). Auspice no longer does this for v2 JSONS, so you’ll need to ensure your traits look exactly how you want them to display in auspice. You can read more about that here.



Traits is the general term for certain data associated with nodes in the tree, for example “country”, “serotype”, or “age”. These may have been inferred for internal nodes by Augur functions like augur traits (confusingly named!) and augur clades, or they may only be available for tips and provided by the metadata TSV file.

Geographic Traits

Certain traits have a geographic interpretation, e.g. “country”. Auspice will attempt to display these traits on a map (and provide a drop-down to switch between them if there are more than one).

Make sure that these have corresponding entry in the lat-longs TSV file supplied to export. See how to do this here.

Using command-line options to customise the visualisation

As mentioned above, you can now replace most of the functionality of the “Auspice config” file with command line options. We hope that for most users this means the config file isn’t necessary (but it’s always there is you need its advanced functionality).

Remember that generally any command line options you use will override the same option in your config file.


Set the title displayed by Auspice via --title (previously this was the “title” field in your v1 config file). If running directly from the command line, put your title in quotes (ex: --title "Phylodynamics of my Pathogen"). If you are using Snakemake and passing the value using params, you’ll need to double-quote the title using single and double quotes. For example:

  title = "'Phylodynamics of my Pathogen'"
  "augur export v2 --title {params.title} ..."


The maintainer(s) are displayed in the footer of Auspice and may have associated links. These can be specified with --maintainers and you can now have more than one maintainer associated with your run. Previously this was set by the “maintainer” field in your v1 config file and was limited to a single entry.

If running directly from the command line, put each maintainer in quotes (ex: --maintainers "Jane Doe" "Ravi Kupra"). If you have a URL associated with a maintainer (completely optional), then you can add them like so:

--maintainers "Jane Doe <mailto:jane.doe@...>" "Ravi Kupra <https://github.com/ravikupra"

If you are using Snakemake and passing the value using params, you’ll need to put the whole list in double quotes, and each person in single quotes. For example:

  maints = "'Jane Doe' 'Ravi Kupra <github.com/ravikupra>'"
  "augur export v2 --maintainers {params.maints} ..."

You will need to use quotes in the same way even if you only have one maintainer!

Build URL

Set the build URL displayed by Auspice via --build-url. If running directly from the command line, input your build URL directly (ex: --build-url https://github.com/nextstrain/zika).


Set the description and/or acknowledgments in the footer of Auspice via --description. This option expects a Markdown file containing description to be displayed.


Auspice will, by default, try to show the tree, map, and entropy panels. You can customise this with the --panels option, which was previously the “panels” field in the your v1 config file. Options are “tree”, “map”, “entropy”, and “frequencies” (e.g: --panels tree map entropy).

If you want to display the frequencies panel, you must specify “frequencies” and ensure a tip frequency file is available for auspice to access.


(What’s a trait?) Traits will become coloring options in Auspice. Some are automatically included, and some can be defined on the command line. The following rules are followed for which traits will be exported:

  1. Genotype and date (if present) are always automatically included as coloring options - you don’t need to include them. (Previously these were “gt” and “numdate” in the “color_options” section of your v1 config file.)

  2. Traits contained in the node-data JSONs handed to augur export (using --node-data) will automatically be included. These are often generated from the Augur commands traits, clades or seqtraits.

  3. Traits present in the metadata file can be included by specifying them with metadata-color-by (e.g: --metadata-color-by country age host). (These must match column names of your metadata file.)

The changes hopefully make things a little easier to use – previously, if you had run augur clades, you had to remember to add clade_membership to the config file, and if you’d run augur seqtraits you had to add every resulting option. Now, they’ll be automatically included. If you don’t want them as a coloring option, don’t pass in the files.

Note: You can’t specify the title or type of a colouring option using just command-line - but export v2 will make its best guess using the following rules: Excluding missing data, if a trait contains only ‘True’, ‘False’, ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘0’ or ‘1’, it will be set to ‘boolean.’ If it contains only numbers (integers and/or decimals), it will be set to ‘continuous.’ Otherwise, it will be set as ‘discrete.’ If you want to have more control over how your trait is interpreted, you should use a config file (see below).

Geographic Traits

Specify these traits using --geo-resolutions, e.g. --geo-resolutions country region. Previously these were defined by the “geo” field in your v1 config file.

What’s not possible to set without a config file

The command line arguments cover everything you need to get a basic run working in augur and auspice. However, there are still some features that offer more options or are only available when you use a config file.

Currently, using command line arguments:

  • It is not possible to set the default view options using only command-line arguments in export v2. You can read more about the defaults (and how to change them using a config file) here.

  • When using export v2 with only command-line arguments, every trait that’s a coloring option and is either categorical or boolean will automatically be available to filter by. Find out how to specify what is a filter using a config file here.

Using a config file to customise the visualisation

Traditionally you had to use an “Auspice config file” to customise the visualisation. This is still available as an option, but you can now choose between exporting using just the command-line, or using a combination of the command-line and config file.

Anything you can specify using the command-line arguments above can be done using a config file instead.

This section will detail the config file provided to augur export v2 by the --auspice-config argument. The format of the new config file differs slightly from previous versions of Augur. If you try to use a previous version of the config file it should mostly still work, but will print out warnings where keys have changed.

Config file priority

It is important to remember that if you set an option both in the config file and in the command line, the command line option will override the config file option. For example, if you set "title" in your config file as “A Title About Apples”, and then import this config file using --auspice-config and use --title "Better Title Befitting Bears", the title displayed by Auspice will be “Better Title Befitting Bears”. To use the one in the config file, don’t use --title in the command line.

There are a couple of exceptions to this:

  • There is no way to set default display views using command line only, so using “display_defaults” in your config file will set this.

  • There is no way to modify the default filters displayed when using command line only, so using “filters” in your config file will set this.

  • If you set color-by options in command-line using --metadata-color-by and pass in a config file, only the things listed in --metadata-color-by will be coloring options, but if they have a ‘title’ and ‘type’ set in the config file, these will be used.

Config file format

The config file is a JSON file, and as such it’s important that everything in your config file is enclosed in one pair of curly brackets. These can be on a separate line at the very top and very bottom of your file. Syntax is important - if you are getting errors, ensure all your brackets and quotation marks match up, and that commas separate items in the same pair of brackets.

Export v2 config files are generally very similar to export v1, but there are a few changes. They are explained in detail below, or you can see an example of converting a v1 config to v2. For more details, see the complete JSON schema for v2 config files.

Here are the top-level keys of the config JSON in plain English:


The title to be displayed by Auspice, unchanged from previous versions of the config file. E.g. "title": "Phylodynamics of my Pathogen".


You can now have more than one maintainer associated with your run! Specify one or as many maintainers as you wish via the following structure (urls are optional):

"maintainers": [
  {"name": "Jane Doe", "url": "www.janedoe.com"},
  {"name": "Ravi Kupra", "url": "www.ravikupra.co.uk"}

Previously this was the “maintainer” field in your v1 config file and used a different structure.


The build / repository URL to be displayed by Auspice, a new functionality in augur export v2, e.g. "build_url": "https://github.com/nextstrain/zika". This is an optional field.


Optional and unchanged from previous versions of the config file, this defines the panels that Auspice will display. If not set, Auspice will by default try to show the tree, map, and entropy panels, if data is available. Options are “tree”, “map”, “entropy”, and “frequencies” (e.g: "panels": ["tree", "map"]).

If you want to display the frequencies panel, you must specify “frequencies” and ensure a tip frequency file is available for auspice to access.


These are a list of the traits which Auspice should display as options to color the tree & map. In previous versions of the config file this was “color_options” and the current structure is similar, but hopefully easier to understand!

For each trait you include, you can define:

  • A required “key”, which is used to lookup the values via node-data JSONs or other provided metadata.

  • An optional “title” which will shown by Auspice when referring to this trait – for instance you may have a trait called “ab1” which you want to show as “Age bracket 1” in the drop-down menus, legend, and filter.

  • An optional, but highly recommended “type” which can be either ‘ordinal’, ‘boolean’, ‘continuous’, or ‘categorical’. If you don’t provide a type, augur will try to guess it (see how it guesses here).

Unless you want to change the name displayed, you no longer need to include gt, num_date, clade_membership, or augur seqtraits output (like clade or drug resistance information) in your config file - if that information is present, it will automatically be included. To exclude it, don’t pass in the corresponding file to --node-data.

Remember that if you are using --metadata-color-by on the command-line, only the traits given there will be color-by options! To include everything in your config file, don’t use --metadata-color-by, but include all traits you want as coloring options in “colorings” in the config file.

Put another way, if a trait is listed in --metadata-color-by and not in the config, it will be included. If a trait is in the config but not in --metadata-color-by it will be excluded. If a trait is in both, but has "title" and "type" information in the config file, this information will be used by export v2.

In short, if using a config file and the command line, ensure everything you want as a coloring option is in --metadata-color-by. You only need to also include it "colorings" in the config file if you want to set the "title" and/or "type".


This specifies the geographical traits you want Auspice to use. You can pass this in the same way as in the v1 config file, or you can now specify a title to be displayed by option, using a slightly different structure.

For example, for many users, these might be “country” and “region”, i.e. "geo_resolutions: ["country", "region"]. If you want to give them new titles, use the format "geo_resolutions": [{"key": "country", "title": "Areas"}, {"key": "region", "title": "Global"}].

You can also mix the two, if you just want a title for one location: "geo_resolutions": [ {"key": "country", "title": "Areas"}, "region"]


This specifies which traits you can filter by in Auspice. E.g. "filters": ["country", "region", "symptom", "age"]. If you don’t include this option in your config file, all non-continuous traits that are coloring options will be included as filters. If you don’t want any filter options, include this option with an empty list, i.e. "filters": []. This is the same as the “filters” field in previous config files, but the behavior has changed slightly.


This allows you to specify the default view that users will see when they visualise the data in Auspice. There are five options you can set here – note they are similar to those in the previous config files but we have now standardised them to snake_case:

  • geo_resolution - Sets which of the “geo_resolutions” should be shown. Default is ‘country’

  • color_by - Sets what trait should be used for coloring. Default is ‘country’

  • distance_measure - Sets whether tree branch lengths are in ‘time’ or ‘divergence’. Options are num_date (time, default if available) or div (divergence).

  • layout - Sets how the tree is visualised. Options are rect (rectangular, default), radial, unrooted, and clock, corresponding to the four options normally shown on the left in Auspice.

  • map_triplicate - Sets whether the map is extended / wrapped around, which can be useful if transmissions are worldwide. Set to `true’ or ‘false’. Default ‘false’

Config file examples

Here is an example of how all of the above options would fit into a config file:

  "title": "Phylodynamics of my Pathogen",
  "maintainers": [
    {"name": "Jane Doe", "url": "www.janedoe.com"},
    {"name": "Ravi Kupra", "url": "www.ravikupra.co.uk"}
  "build_url": "https://github.com/nextstrain/zika",
  "colorings": [
      "key": "age",
      "title": "Host age",
      "type": "continuous"
      "key": "hospitalized",
      "type": "boolean"
      "key": "country",
      "type": "categorical"
      "key": "region",
      "type": "categorical"
  "geo_resolutions": [
    {"key":"country", "title": "Areas"},
  "panels": ["tree", "map"],
  "filters": ["country","region","symptom","age"],
  "display_defaults": {
    "color_by": "symptom",
    "geo_resolution": "region",
    "distance_measure": "div",
    "map_triplicate": "true"

If you want some examples of the new config files used in practice, you can see some in these builds:

  • TO DO

Updating your config file

It’s fairly easy to convert old export v1 config files to work with export v2.

Here’s an export v1 config file on the left, and an export v2 config file on the right. We’ve tried to line them up to highlight the differences:

Export v1 config:
  "title": "Phylodynamics of Virus A",
  "color_options": {
    "gt": {
      "menuItem": "genotype",
      "legendTitle": "Genotype",
      "type": "discrete",
      "key": "genotype"
    "num_date": {
      "menuItem": "date",
      "legendTitle": "Sampling date",
      "type": "continuous",
      "key": "num_date"
    "age": {
      "menuItem": "Host age",
      "legendTitle": "Host Age (years)",
      "type": "continuous",
      "key": "age"
    "host": {
      "menuItem": "Animal",
      "legendTitle": "Animal",
      "type": "discrete",
      "key": "host"
    "country": {
      "type": "discrete"
    "region": {
      "type": "discrete"
      "menuItem": "Clade",
      "legendTitle": "Clade",
      "type": "discrete",
      "key": "clade_membership"
  "geo": [
  "maintainer": [
    "Hanna Kukk, Mohammad Fahir",
  "filters": [
    "country", "region"
  "defaults": {
    "layout": "unrooted",
    "colorBy": "age"
Export v2 config:
  "title": "Phylodynamics of Virus A",
  "colorings": [

{ "key": "age",
"title": "Host age",
"type": "continuous"
}, { "key": "host",
"title": "Animal",
"type": "categorical"
}, { "key": "country",
"type": "categorical" }, { "key": "region",
"type": "categorical" }

], "geo_resolutions": [ "country", "region" ], "maintainers": [ {"name": "Hanna Kukk", "url": "http://vamuzlab.org"}, {"name": "Mohammad Fahir", "url": "http://mfahir.co.uk"} ], "filters": [ "country", "region" ], "display_defaults": { "layout": "unrooted", "color_by": "age" } }

Vaccine choices

In previous versions of augur, certain strains could be defined in the config file as vaccine_choices (auspice would display this as a cross over the tip in the tree). This functionality is now specified via a node-data JSON (see the v6 release notes).

Prettifying metadata fields

In Auspice v1, we automatically ‘prettified’ many metadata values. For example, a country value of ‘new_zealand’ would display as ‘New Zealand’, and a metadata column called ‘age_range’ would display as ‘Age Range’.

This worked well most of the time, but meant that users couldn’t intentionally keep underscores or lower-case values. It also meant we had to detect exception cases like turning ‘usa’ into ‘USA’ rather than ‘Usa’.

In Auspice v2, all values are now displayed exactly as they arrive, allowing users to ensure every gene and abbreviation displays just as it should. However, this means that you should ensure your data looks exactly how you’d like it to display - change any ‘new_zealand’s in your metadata to ‘New Zealand’!

Don’t forget to also change them in any custom lat-long and/or coloring files you are using. We’ve also become stricter about the format of the files that pass in color and lat-long information. Previously, it didn’t matter if columns were separated by spaces or tabs - now, they must be separated by tabs.

You can find out more about how to add custom coloring and lat-long values.

If you use the command parse to generate a metadata table from fields in a fasta header, you can use the flag --prettify-fields to apply some prettifying operations to specific metadata entries, see the documentation parse.