We can't put python-matplotlib in main because of *its* dependencies.
As a digression, I think the python-matplotlib dependencies could be
significantly reduced. For a number of use cases (this is one of them,
but there are others), you don't need any GUI backend. Independent of
this issue, it would be great to be able to install python-matplotlib
in a headless server environment without pulling in all of those GUI
bits. Looking at the list of the hard dependencies, I don't understand
why half of them are there.
This web page lists several "dependencies" that are optional. Just flipping through the list, I can see several packages that I know that I do not have, and several more that I have never heard of. "Never heard of" could mean that it is in my linux distro and I don't know it, but I am certain that I have machines that do not have cairo or gtk+ or qt.
A matplotlib application selects one of the available backends to draw the graphics. If I remember correctly _all_ backends are optional in matplotlib, but there is at least one ("agg") that is available everywhere.
When you install matplotlib, it builds support for any backends that it can. A backend that depends on a missing library does not get a C extension built. BUT the python code is still installed. The only way to know that a backend is not supported in this installation is to try to use it.
>>> import matplotlib.backends.backend_qt
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
File "/usr/stsci/pyssgdev/2.7/matplotlib/backends/backend_qt.py", line 19, in <module>
raise ImportError("Qt backend requires pyqt to be installed.")
ImportError: Qt backend requires pyqt to be installed.
Ok - I don't have qt on this machine.
So, you can try this: Get a build machine that has all the packages required by the various backends. Build a binary distribution of matplotlib. Install it on a machine that has only some of the libraries required by the backends.
The result is a copy of matplotlib with _some_ working backends and some that fail because of missing libraries. As you install other supporting packages, additional backends can start working because their shared library is now present.
So, if I install matplotlib and pyqt is not there I get a working matplotlib without QT support. If I use a package installer to install pyqt, presumably it will also install the QT libraries, resulting in matplotlib that does have qt support.
I'm not saying you want to do this, but it is an option. If you want to experiment in this direction, there is a list that breaks out requirements for the core and requirements for each of the backends at http://matplotlib.sourceforge.net/users/installing.html .