Bradley Gram-Hansen

Chief Technology Officer & Co-founder of Intelligent Networks . Previously completed my doctorate at the University of Oxford in Machine Learning.

bradley [AT]

How to use loader and finder objects in Python

In our current project we are creating a fully fledge probabilistic programming environment (PPE) in python for implementing an improved Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC) algorithm. This enables one to perform inference (inference is just another way of saying prediction, or to infer something in the future) in models that have a mixture of discrete, continuous and branching latent variables, or simply either just continuous or just discrete latent variables. Branching is more complicated and we shall leave that discussion for another time. Just in case you were unaware, HMC can only be used with continuous latent variables, but is a highly effective inference algorithm for dealing with models of a high dimensionality.


One aspect of our PPE is that it takes a directed graphical model written in clojure and compiles it into an interface format in python code. One could equally just write the model in python according to the interface, however, this requires substantially more work as you would have to manually write out the log of the probability density function, among other things. Imagine that we have the following simple model:

$$ \begin{align} x &\sim \mathcal{N}(1,\sqrt 5) \tag{1}\\ x | y=7 &= \mathcal{N}(7| 2, \sqrt 2) \tag{2} \end{align} $$

We can write this model in clojure as follows:

        (let [x (sample (normal 1.0 5.0))]
            (observe (normal x 2.0) 7.0)

which you may save as model.clj or one_gaussian.clj or whatever else, as long as you keep the .clj suffix. This then needs compiling into python. To avoid the user having to install multiple different dependencies, having to manually run a separate script to compile the output and then import the outputted python script which matches our designed interface. We instead built our own importer module, which implements a finder and a loader and then compiles the clojure code to python code and imports that as module into the users main inference script.

The imports module

Here is the current importer module, located at pyfo.pyfoppl.foppl.imports :

from import Loader as _Loader, MetaPathFinder as _MetaPathFinder
from .compiler import compile
from .model_generator import Model_Generator

import sys
PATH = sys.path[0]

def compile_module(module, input_text):
    graph, expr = compile(input_text)
    model_gen = Model_Generator(graph)
    code = model_gen.generate_class()
    exec(code, module.__dict__)
    module.graph = graph
    module.code = code
    return module

class Clojure_Loader(_Loader):

    def create_module(self, spec):
        return None

    def exec_module(self, module):
        with open(module.__name__) as input_file:
            input_text = '\n'.join(input_file.readlines())
            compile_module(module, input_text)

class Clojure_Finder(_MetaPathFinder):

    def find_module(self, fullname, path=PATH):
        return self.find_spec(fullname, path)

    def find_spec(self, fullname, path, target = None):
        import os.path
        from importlib.machinery import ModuleSpec
        fullname = fullname.split(sep='.')[-1]
        if '.' in fullname:
            raise NotImplementedError()

        if os.path.exists(fullname + ".clj"):
            return ModuleSpec(os.path.realpath(fullname + ".clj"), Clojure_Loader())
            return None



Before we walk through this, let us first see what the user has to do to invoke the PPE. We assume that the user has pip installed pyfo, so it exists on the PYTHONPATH.

Let us say that the users working directory is: /Users/bradley/Documents/Models/ Within that directory they create the one_gaussian.clj script. The user would then write the following python script, which would be saved within this directory:

from pyfo.pyfoppl.foppl import imports # this uses a loader and finder module.
import one_gaussian # when we do this `imports` is triggered, compiles the mode; automatically and loads it as a module.
from pyfo.inference.dhmc import DHMCSampler as dhmc  # inference algorithm

burn_in = 100
n_samples = 10 ** 3
stepsize_range = [0.03,0.15]
n_step_range = [10, 20]

dhmc_    = dhmc(one_gaussian.model, n_chains)
stats = dhmc_.sample(n_samples, burn_in, stepsize_range, n_step_range) # MCMC sampling begins
samples = stats['samples'] # returns dataframe of all samples.
means = stats['means'] # returns dictionary key:value, where key - parameter , value = mean of parameter

The user would then run this script, say either via the terminal or their favourite IDE.

They require no knowledge of how to compile their model and they require no knowledge of how the inference is performed. We believe that this adds a lot more flexibility to pyfo, as it requires very little knowledge to get up and running. It simply requires the user to write the model and run. As compared to languages such as: Stan, PyMC3 and pyro, which require the user to understand more technical aspects of the process. Although, they are incredibly well developed and powerful packages, especially the former two.

How the pyfo.pyfoppl.foppl.imports module works

Now that we have introduced the basic premice of the outcome, let us now delve into the details of how the imports module works.

When imports is invoked in the users script, it invokes python’s sys.meta_path(), which takes the Clojure_finder() class as an argument. The following description of sys.meta_path is taken largely from python docs, however, it explains it better than I could have myself. sys.meta_path contains a list of meta path finder objects. These finders are queried in order to see if they know how to handle the named module (the one_guassian file in this case). Meta path finders must implement a method called find_spec() which takes three arguments: a name, an import path, and (optionally) a target module. The meta path finder can use any strategy it wants to determine whether it can handle the named module or not.

If the meta path finder knows how to handle the named module, it returns a spec object. If it cannot handle the named module, it returns None. If sys.meta_path processing reaches the end of its list without returning a spec, then a ModuleNotFoundError is raised. Any other exceptions raised are simply propagated up, aborting the import process.

The find_spec() method of meta path finders is called with two or three arguments. The first is the fully qualified name of the module being imported, here that would be fullname = /Users/bradley/Documents/Models/ The second argument is the path entries to use for the module search, which in this instance is path = sys.path[0]. For top-level modules, the second argument is None, but for submodules or subpackages, the second argument is the value of the parent package’s __path__ attribute. If the appropriate __path__ attribute cannot be accessed, a ModuleNotFoundError is raised. The third argument is an existing module object that will be the target of loading later. The import system passes in a target module only during reload.

The first piece of magic

As the module doesn’t know where the user has stored the one_gaussian.clj model and as we thought it would be too laborious for the user to enter the absolute path, we instead take advantage of the sys.path function. This function actually creates a list, where the list contains as a first element the path to the script in which the python interpreter is first invoked, in this instance the first element of sys.path[0] =Users/bradley/Documents/Models/. This path does not include the script name, just the directory to the script. Using this technique enables us to tell the finder, through the find_spec() function, where to look for the module, the .clj file.

Now within the Clojure_Finder() class, if our finder finds the module, that is if os.path.exists(fullname +'.clj') evaluates to true, then we are returning ModuleSpec(<absolute_path_to_model>) and an instantiation of the class Clojure_Loader() to the users original python script saved in Users/bradley/Documents/Models/. Where ModuleSpec() returns all the required information for the loader to load the module.

The final piece of magic

When import one_gaussian is called it automatically invokes Clojure_Loader(), as this class inherits a _loader object. This then invokes the method exec_module(self, module), where module = ModuleSpec(), which has an attribute __name__, the absolute path to the module. We then read in the clojure code within the module, our model, and pass this to the compile_module() function which generates python code from the clojure script, that fits the interface that we have designed. We could have returned the module before passing it through compile_module(), but in our use case we need to compile the clojure code. This is then returns the compiled code as the module.

I hope this is useful for anyone from a non-coding background like me, as it is only recently that I have had to learn how to do things such as this. If anything is unclear, or you see any typos, please feel free to e-mail me :-).