Getting started


This "tutorial" part of the documentation presents a step-by-step guide to the main algorithms and utility functions provided by BetaML and comparisons with the leading packages in each field. Aside this page, the tutorial is divided in the following sections:

  • Regression tutorial - Arguments: Decision trees, Random forests, neural networks, hyper-parameter tuning, continuous error measures
  • Classification tutorial - Arguments: Decision trees and random forests, neural networks (softmax), pre-processing workflow, confusion matrix
  • Clustering tutorial - Arguments: k-means, kmedoids, generative (gaussian) mixture models (gmm), cross-validation

Detailed information on the algorithms can be instead found in the API (Reference manual) of the individual modules. The following modules are currently implemented: Perceptron (linear and kernel-based classifiers), Trees (Decision Trees and Random Forests), Nn (Neural Networks), Clustering (Kmean, Kmenoids, Expectation-Maximisation, Missing value imputation, ...) and Utils.

Finally, theoretical notes describing most of these algorithms can be found at the companion repository

The overall "philosophy" of BetaML is to support simple machine learning tasks easily and make complex tasks possible. An the most basic level, the majority of algorithms have default parameters suitable for a basic analysis. A great level of flexibility can be already achieved by just employing the full set of model parameters, for example changing the distance function in kmedoids to l1_distance (aka "Manhattan distance"). Finally, the greatest flexibility can be obtained by customising BetaML and writing, for example, its own neural network layer type (by subclassing AbstractLayer), its own sampler (by subclassing AbstractDataSampler) or its own mixture component (by subclassing AbstractMixture), In such a case, while not required by any means, please consider to give it back to the community and open a pull request to integrate your types in BetaML.

If you are looking for an introductory book on Julia, you could have a look on "Julia Quick Syntax Reference" (Apress,2019).

A few miscellaneous notes:

  • Functions and type names use the so-called "CamelCase" convention, where the words are separated by a capital letter rather than _;
  • While some functions provide a dims parameter, most BetaML algorithms expect the input data layout with observations organised by rows and fields/features by columns. Almost everywhere we call N the number of observations/records, and D the number of dimensions;
  • While some algorithms accept as input DataFrames, the usage of standard arrays is encourages (if the data is passed to the function as dataframe, it may be converted to standard arrays somewhere inside inner loops, leading to great inefficiencies).

Using BetaML from other programming languages

Thanks to respectively PyJulia and JuliaCall, using BetaML in Python or R is almost as simple as using a native library. In both cases we need first to download and install the Julia binaries for our operating system from Be sure that Julia is working by opening the Julia terminal and e.g. typing println("hello world") (JuliaCall has an option to install a private-to-R version of Julia from within R). Also, in both case we do not need to think to converting Python/R objects to Julia objects when calling a Julia function and converting back the result from the Julia object to a Pytoh or R object, as this is handled automatically by PyJulia and JuliaCall, at least for simple types (arrays, strings,...)

Use BetaML in Python

$ python3 -m pip install --user julia   # the name of the package in `pip` is `julia`, not `PyJulia`

For the sake of this tutorial, let's also install in Python a package that contains the dataset that we will use:

$ python3 -m pip install --user sklearn # only for retrieving the dataset in the python way

We can now open a Python terminal and, to obtain an interface to Julia, just run:

>>> import julia
>>> julia.install() # Only once to set-up in julia the julia packages required by PyJulia
>>> jl = julia.Julia(compiled_modules=False)

If we have multiple Julia versions, we can specify the one to use in Python passing julia="/path/to/julia/binary/executable" (e.g. julia = "/home/myUser/lib/julia-1.1.0/bin/julia") to the install() function.

The compiled_module=False in the Julia constructor is a workaround to the common situation when the Python interpreter is statically linked to libpython, but it will slow down the interactive experience, as it will disable Julia packages pre-compilation, and every time we will use a module for the first time, this will need to be compiled first. Other, more efficient but also more complicate, workarounds are given in the package documentation, under the[Troubleshooting section].

Let's now add to Julia the BetaML package. We can surely do it from within Julia, but we can also do it while remaining in Python:

>>> jl.eval('using Pkg; Pkg.add("BetaML")') # Only once to install BetaML

While jl.eval('some Julia code') evaluates any arbitrary Julia code (see below), most of the time we can use Julia in a more direct way. Let's start by importing the BetaML Julia package as a submodule of the Python Julia module:

>>> from julia import BetaML

As you can see, it is no different than importing any other Python module.

For the data, let's load it "Python side":

>>> from sklearn import datasets
>>> iris = datasets.load_iris()
>>> X =[:, :4]
>>> y = + 1 # Julia arrays start from 1 not 0

Note that X and y are Numpy arrays.

We can now call BetaML functions as we would do for any other Python library functions. In particular, we can pass to the functions (and retrieve) complex data types without worrying too much about the conversion between Python and Julia types, as these are converted automatically:

 >>> (Xs,ys) = BetaML.shuffle([X,y]) # X and y are first converted to julia arrays and then the returned julia arrays are converted back to python Numpy arrays
 >>> cOut    = BetaML.kmeans(Xs,3)
 >>> y_hat   = cOut[0]
 >>> acc     = BetaML.accuracy(y_hat,ys)
 >>> acc

Note: If we are using the jl.eval() interface, the objects we use must be already known to julia. To pass objects from Python to Julia, import the julia Main module (the root module in julia) and assign the needed variables, e.g.

>>> X_python = [1,2,3,2,4]
>>> from julia import Main
>>> Main.X_julia = X_python
>>> jl.eval('BetaML.gini(X_julia)')

Use BetaML in R

We start by installing the JuliaCall R package:

> install.packages("JuliaCall")
> library(JuliaCall)
> julia_setup(installJulia = FALSE) # use installJulia = FALSE to let R download and install a private copy of julia

Note that, differently than PyJulia, the "setup" function needs to be called every time we start a new R section, not just when we install the JuliaCall package. If we don't have julia in the path of our system, or if we have multiple versions and we want to specify the one to work with, we can pass the JULIA_HOME = "/path/to/julia/binary/executable/directory" (e.g. JULIA_HOME = "/home/myUser/lib/julia-1.1.0/bin") parameter to the julia_setup call. Or just let JuliaCall automatically download and install a private copy of julia.

JuliaCall depends for some things (like object conversion between Julia and R) from the Julia RCall package. If we don't already have it installed in Julia, it will try to install it automatically.

As in Python, let's start from the data loaded from R and do some work with them in Julia:

> library(datasets)
> X <- as.matrix(sapply(iris[,1:4], as.numeric))
> y <- sapply(iris[,5], as.integer)

Let's install BetaML. As we did in Python, we can install a Julia package from Julia itself or from within R:

> julia_eval('using Pkg; Pkg.add("BetaML")')

We can now "import" the BetaML julia package (in julia a "Package" is basically a module plus some metadata that facilitate its discovery and integration with other packages, like the reuired set) and call its functions with the julia_call("juliaFunction",args) R function:

> julia_eval("using BetaML")
> yencoded <- julia_call("integerEncoder",y)
> ids      <- julia_call("shuffle",1:length(y))
> Xs       <- X[ids,]
> ys       <- yencoded[ids]
> cOut     <- julia_call("kmeans",Xs,3L)    # kmeans expects K to be an integer
> y_hat    <- sapply(cOut[1],as.integer)[,] # We need a vector, not a matrix
> acc      <- julia_call("accuracy",y_hat,ys)
> acc
[1] 0.8933333

As alternative, we can embed Julia code directly in R using the julia_eval() function:

kMeansR  <- julia_eval('
    function accFromKmeans(x,k,y_true)
      cOut = kmeans(x,Int(k))
      acc = accuracy(cOut[1],y_true)
      return acc

We can then call the above function in R in one of the following three ways:

  1. kMeansR(Xs,3,ys)
  2. julia_assign("Xs_julia", Xs); julia_assign("ys_julia", ys); julia_eval("accFromKmeans(Xs_julia,3,ys_julia)")
  3. julia_call("accFromKmeans",Xs,3,ys).

While other "convenience" functions are provided by the package, using julia_call or julia_assign followed by julia_eval should suffix to accomplish any task we may need with BetaML.

Dealing with stochasticity

All BetaML models with a stochastic components support a rng parameter, standing for Random Number Generator. A RNG is a "machine" that streams a flow of random numbers. The flow itself however is deterministically determined for each "seed" (an integer number) that the RNG has been told to use. Normally this seed changes at each running of the script/model, so that stochastic models are indeed stochastic and their output differs at each run.

If we want to obtain reproductible results we can fix the seed at the very beginning of our model with Random.seed!([AnInteger]). Now our model or script will pick up a specific flow of random numbers, but this flow will always be the same, so that its results will always be the same.

However the default Julia RNG guarantee to provide the same flow of random numbers, conditional to the seed, only within minor versions of Julia. If we want to "guarantee" reproducibility of the results with different versions of Julia, or "fix" only some parts of our script, we can call the individual functions passing FIXEDRNG, an instance of StableRNG(FIXEDSEED) provided by BetaML, to the rng parameter. Use it with:

  • myAlgorithm(;rng=FIXEDRNG) : always produce the same sequence of results on each run of the script ("pulling" from the same rng object on different calls)
  • myAlgorithm(;rng=StableRNG(SOMEINTEGER)) : always produce the same result (new rng object on each call)

In particular, use rng=StableRNG(FIXEDSEED) or rng=copy(FIXEDRNG) with FIXEDSEED to retrieve the exact output as in the documentation or in the unit tests.

Most of the stochasticity appears in training a model. However in few cases (e.g. decision trees with missing values) some stochasticity appears also in predicting new data using a trained model. In such cases the model doesn't restrict the random seed, so that you can choose at predict time to use a fixed or a variable random seed.