Design Guide: Syncopy Compute Classes

A compute class represents the centerpiece of a Syncopy analysis routine. The abstract base class ComputationalRoutine is the concrete realization of a general-purpose computing object. This class provides a blueprint for implementing algorithmic strategies in Syncopy. Every computational method in Syncopy consists of a core routine, the computeFunction(), which can be executed either sequentially or fully parallel. To unify common instruction sequences and minimize code redundancy, Syncopy’s ComputationalRoutine manages all pre- and post-processing steps necessary during preparation and after termination of a calculation. This permits developers to focus exclusively on the implementation of the actual algorithmic details when including a new computational method in Syncopy.

Designing a computeFunction()

For enabling ComputationalRoutine to perform all required computational management tasks, a computeFunction() has to satisfy a few basic requirements. Syncopy leverages a hierarchical parallelization paradigm whose low-level foundation is represented by trial-based parallelism (its open-ended higher levels may constitute by-object, by-experiment or by-session parallelization). Thus, with computeFunction() representing the computational core of an (arbitrarily complex) superseding algorithm, it has to be structured to support trial-based parallel computing. Specifically, this means the scope of work of a computeFunction() is a single trial. Note that this also implies that any parallelism integrated in computeFunction() has to be designed with higher-level parallel execution in mind (e.g., concurrent processing of sessions on top of trials).

Technically, a computeFunction() is a regular stand-alone Python function (not a class method) that accepts a numpy.ndarray as its first positional argument and supports (at least) the two keyword arguments chunkShape and noCompute. The numpy.ndarray represents aggregate data from one trial (only data, no meta-information). Any required meta-info (such as channel labels, trial definition records etc.) has to be passed to computeFunction() either as additional (2nd an onward) positional or named keyword arguments (chunkShape and noCompute are the only reserved keywords).

The return values of computeFunction() are controlled by the noCompute keyword. In general, computeFunction() returns exactly one numpy.ndarray representing the result of processing data from a single trial. The noCompute keyword is used to perform a ‘dry-run’ of the processing operations to propagate the expected numerical type and memory footprint of the result to ComputationalRoutine without actually performing any calculations. To optimize performance, ComputationalRoutine uses the information gathered in the dry-runs for each trial to allocate identically-sized array-blocks accommodating the largest (by shape) result-array across all trials. In this manner a global block-size is identified, which can subsequently be accessed inside computeFunction() via the chunkShape keyword during the actual computation.

Summarized, a valid computeFunction(), cfunc, meets the following basic requirements:

  • Call signature

    >>> def cfunc(arr, arg1, arg2, ..., argN, chunkShape=None, noCompute=None, **kwargs)

    where arr is a numpy.ndarray representing trial data, arg1, …, argN are arbitrary positional arguments and chunkShape (a tuple if not None) as well as noCompute (bool if not None) are reserved keywords.

  • Return values

    During the dry-run phase, i.e., if noCompute is True, the expected output shape and its numpy.dtype are returned, otherwise the result of the computation (a numpy.ndarray) is returned:

    >>> def cfunc(arr, arg1, arg2, ..., argN, chunkShape=None, noCompute=None, **kwargs)
    >>> # determine expected output shape and numerical type...
    >>> if noCompute:
    >>>     return outShape, outdtype
    >>> # the actual computation is happening here...
    >>> return res

    Note that dtype and shape of res have to agree with outShape and outdtype specified in the dry-run.

A simple instance of a computeFunction() illustrating these concepts is given in Examples.

The Algorithmic Layout of ComputationalRoutine

Technically, Syncopy’s ComputationalRoutine wraps an external computeFunction() by executing all necessary auxiliary routines leading up to and post termination of the actual computation (memory pre-allocation, generation of parallel/sequential instruction trees, processing and storage of results, etc.). Specifically, ComputationalRoutine is an abstract base class that can represent any trial-concurrent computational tree. Thus, any arbitrarily complex algorithmic pattern satisfying this single criterion can be incorporated as a regular class into Syncopy with minimal implementation effort by simply inheriting from ComputationalRoutine.

Internally, the operational principle of a ComputationalRoutine is encapsulated in two class methods:

  1. initialize()

    The class is instantiated with (at least) the positional and keyword arguments of the associated computeFunction() minus the trial-data array (the the first positional argument of computeFunction()) and the reserved keywords chunkShape and noCompute. Further, an additional keyword is reserved at class instantiation time: keeptrials controls whether data is averaged across trials after calculation (keeptrials = False). Thus, let Algo be a concrete subclass of ComputationalRoutine, and let cfunc, defined akin to above

    >>> def cfunc(arr, arg1, arg2, argN, chunkShape=None, noCompute=None, kwarg1="this", kwarg2=False)

    be its corresponding computeFunction(). Then a valid instantiation of Algo may look as follows:

    >>> algorithm = Algo(arg1, arg1, arg2, argN, kwarg1="this", kwarg2=False)

    Now algorithm is a regular Python class instance that inherits all required attributes from the parent base class ComputationalRoutine. Note: ComputationalRoutine uses regular Python class attributes (__dict__ keys, not slots) to ensure maximal design flexibility for implementing novel computational strategies while keeping memory overhead limited due to the encapsulation of the actual computational workload in the static method computeFunction().

    Before the algorithm instance of Algo can be used, a dry-run of the actual computation has to be performed to determine the expected dimensionality and numerical type of the result,

    >>> algorithm.initialize(data)

    where data is a Syncopy data object representing the input quantity to be processed by algorithm.

  2. compute()

    This management method constitutes the functional core of ComputationalRoutine. It handles memory pre-allocation, storage provisioning, the actual computation and processing of meta-information. Theses tasks are encapsulated in distinct class methods which are designed to perform the respective operations independently from the concrete computational procedure. Thus, most of these methods do not require any problem-specific adaptions and act as stand-alone administration routines. The only exception to this design-concept is process_metadata(), which is intended to attach meta-information to the final output object. Since modifications of meta-data are highly dependent on the nature of the performed calculation, process_metadata() is the only abstract method of ComputationalRoutine that needs to be supplied in addition to computeFunction().

    Several keywords control the workflow in ComputationalRoutine:

    • Depending on the parallel keyword, processing is done either sequentially trial by trial (parallel = False) or concurrently across all trials (if parallel is True). The two scenarios are handled by separate class methods, compute_sequential() and compute_parallel(), respectively, that use independent operational frameworks for processing. However, both compute_sequential() and compute_parallel() call an external computeFunction() to perform the actual calculation.

    • The parallel_store keyword controls the employed storage mechanism: if True, the result of the computation is written in a fully concurrent manner where each worker saves its locally held data segment on disk leveraging the distributed access capabilities of virtual HDF5 datasets. If parallel_store = False, and parallel is True, a mutex is used to lock a single HDF5 file for sequential writing. If parallel = parallel_store and parallel is False, the computation result is saved using standard single-process HDF writing.

    • The method keyword can be used to override the default selection of the processing function (compute_parallel() if parallel is True or compute_sequential() otherwise). Refer to the docstrings of compute_parallel() or compute_sequential() for details on the required structure of a concurrent or serial processing function.

    • The keyword log_dict can be used to provide a dictionary of keyword-value pairs that are passed on to process_metadata() to be attached to the final output object.

    Going back to the exemplary algorithm instance of Algo discussed above, after initialization, the actual computation is kicked off with a single call of compute() with keywords pursuant to the intended computational workflow. For instance,

    >>> algorithm.compute(data, out, parallel=True)

    launches the parallel processing of data using the computational scheme implemented in cfunc and stores the result in the Syncopy object out.

To further clarify these concepts, Examples illustrates how to encapsulate a simple algorithmic scheme in a subclass of ComputationalRoutine that calls a custom computeFunction().


Consider the following example illustrating the implementation of a (deliberately simple) filtering routine by subclassing ComputationalRoutine and designing a computeFunction().

As a first step, a computeFunction() is defined:

>>> import numpy as np
>>> from scipy import signal
>>> def lowpass(arr, b, a, noCompute=None, chunkShape=None):
>>>     if noCompute:
>>>         return arr.shape, arr.dtype
>>>     res = signal.filtfilt(b, a, arr.T, padlen=200).T
>>>     return res

As detailed above, the first positional argument of lowpass is a numpy.ndarray representing numerical data from a single trial, the second and third positional arguments, b and a respectively, represent filter coefficients. The only keyword arguments of lowpass are the mandatory reserved keywords noCompute and chunkShape. With the computeFunction() in place, a subclass of ComputationalRoutine can be implemented:

>>> from syncopy.shared.computational_routine import ComputationalRoutine
>>> class LowPassFilter(ComputationalRoutine):
>>>     computeFunction = staticmethod(lowpass)
>>>     def process_metadata(self, data, out):
>>>         if self.keeptrials:
>>>             out.sampleinfo = np.array(data.sampleinfo)
>>>             out.trialinfo = np.array(data.trialinfo)
>>>             out._t0 = np.zeros((len(data.trials),))
>>>         else:
>>>             trl = np.array([[0, data.sampleinfo[0, 1], 0]])
>>>             out.sampleinfo = trl[:, :2]
>>>             out._t0 = trl[:, 2]
>>>             out.trialinfo = trl[:, 3:]
>>>         out.samplerate = data.samplerate
>>> = np.array(

Note that LowPassFilter simply binds the computeFunction() lowpass as static method - no additional modifications are required. It further provides process_metadata as regular class method for setting all required attributes of the output object out.

Suppose data is a Syncopy AnalogData object holding data to be filtered. To use the introduced filtering routine, the concrete class LowPassFilter has to be instantiated first:

>>> myfilter = LowPassFilter(b, a)

This step performs the actual class initialization and allocates the attributes of ComputationalRoutine. Next, all necessary pre-calculation management tasks need to be performed:

>>> myfilter.initialize(data)

Now, the myfilter instance holds references to the expected shape of the resulting output and its numerical type. The actual filtering is then performed by first allocating an empty Syncopy object for the result

>>> out = spy.AnalogData()

and subsequently invoking

>>> myfilter.compute(data, out)

This call performs several tasks: first, an HDF5 data-set of appropriate dimensions is allocated, then the actual filtering is performed sequentially, in a trial-by-trial succession (results are stored in the created HDF5 data-set, which is subsequently attached to out), and finally meta-data is written to the output object out using the supplied process_metadata class method.

To perform the calculation in a trial-concurrent manner, first launch a dask client (using e.g., syncopy.esi_cluster_setup()), re-initialize the myfilter instance (to reset its attributes) and simply call compute with the parallel keyword set to True:

>>> client = spy.esi_cluster_setup()
>>> myfilter.initialize(data)
>>> myfilter.compute(data, out, parallel=True)

For realizing more complex mechanisms, consult the implementations of syncopy.freqanalysis() or other metafunctions in Syncopy.