[Numpy-discussion] NEP 31 — Context-local and global overrides of the NumPy API

Ralf Gommers ralf.gommers at gmail.com
Wed Sep 11 19:17:32 EDT 2019

On Tue, Sep 10, 2019 at 10:59 AM Stephan Hoyer <shoyer at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Tue, Sep 10, 2019 at 6:06 AM Hameer Abbasi <einstein.edison at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> On 10.09.19 05:32, Stephan Hoyer wrote:
>> On Mon, Sep 9, 2019 at 6:27 PM Ralf Gommers <ralf.gommers at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> I think we've chosen to try the former - dispatch on functions so we can
>>> reuse the NumPy API. It could work out well, it could give some long-term
>>> maintenance issues, time will tell. The question is now if and how to plug
>>> the gap that __array_function__ left. It's main limitation is "doesn't work
>>> for functions that don't have an array-like input" - that left out ~10-20%
>>> of functions. So now we have a proposal for a structural solution to that
>>> last 10-20%. It seems logical to want that gap plugged, rather than go back
>>> and say "we shouldn't have gone for the first 80%, so let's go no further".
>> I'm excited about solving the remaining 10-20% of use cases for flexible
>> array dispatching,
>> Great! I think most (but not all) of us are on the same page here.
Actually now that Peter came up with the `like=` keyword idea for array
creation functions I'm very interested in seeing that worked out, feels
like that could be a nice solution for part of that 10-20% that did look
pretty bad before.

> but the unumpy interface suggested here (numpy.overridable) feels like a
>> redundant redo of __array_function__ and __array_ufunc__.
A bit of context: a big part of the reason I advocated for
numpy.overridable is that library authors can use it *only* for the parts
not already covered by the protocols we already have. If there's overlap
there's several ways to deal with that, including only including part of
the unumpy API surface. It does plug all the holes in one go (although you
can then indeed argue it does too much), and there is no other coherent
proposal/vision yet that does this. What you wrote below comes closest, and
I'd love to see that worked out (e.g. the like= argument for array
creation). What I don't like is an ad-hoc plugging of one hole at a time
without visibility on how many more protocols and new workaround functions
in the API we would need. So hopefully we can come to an apples-to-apples
comparison of two design alternatives.

Also, we just discussed this whole thread in the community call, and it's
clear that it's a complex matter with many different angles. It's very hard
to get a full overview. Our conclusion in the call was that this will
benefit from an in-person discussion. The sprint in November may be a
really good opportunity for that.

In the meantime we can of course keep working out ideas/docs. For now I
think it's clear that we (the NEP authors) have some homework to do - that
may take some time.

>> I would much rather continue to develop specialized protocols for the
>> remaining usecases. Summarizing those I've seen in this thread, these
>> include:
>> 1. Overrides for customizing array creation and coercion.
>> 2. Overrides to implement operations for new dtypes.
>> 3. Overriding implementations of NumPy functions, e.g., FFT and ufuncs
>> with MKL.
>> (1) could mostly be solved by adding np.duckarray() and another function
>> for duck array coercion. There is still the matter of overriding np.zeros
>> and the like, which perhaps justifies another new protocol, but in my
>> experience the use-cases for truly an array from scratch are quite rare.
>> While they're rare for libraries like XArray; CuPy, Dask and
>> PyData/Sparse need these.
>> (2) should be tackled as part of overhauling NumPy's dtype system to
>> better support user defined dtypes. But it should definitely be in the form
>> of specialized protocols, e.g., which pass in preallocated arrays to into
>> ufuncs for a new dtype. By design, new dtypes should not be able to
>> customize the semantics of array *structure*.
>> We already have a split in the type system with e.g. Cython's buffers,
>> Numba's parallel type system. This is a different issue altogether, e.g.
>> allowing a unyt dtype to spawn a unyt array, rather than forcing a re-write
>> of unyt to cooperate with NumPy's new dtype system.
> I guess you're proposing that operations like np.sum(numpy_array,
> dtype=other_dtype) could rely on other_dtype for the implementation and
> potentially return a non-NumPy array? I'm not sure this is well motivated
> -- it would be helpful to discuss actual use-cases.
> The most commonly used NumPy functionality related to dtypes can be found
> only in methods on np.ndarray, e.g., astype() and view(). But I don't think
> there's any proposal to change that.
>> 4. Having default implementations that allow overrides of a large part of
>> the API while defining only a small part. This holds for e.g.
>> transpose/concatenate.
> I'm not sure how unumpy solve the problems we encountered when trying to
> do this with __array_function__ -- namely the way that it exposes all of
> NumPy's internals, or requires rewriting a lot of internal NumPy code to
> ensure it always casts inputs with asarray().
> I think it would be useful to expose default implementations of NumPy
> operations somewhere to make it easier to implement __array_function__, but
> it doesn't make much sense to couple this to user facing overrides. These
> can be exposed as a separate package or numpy module (e.g.,
> numpy.default_implementations) that uses np.duckarray(), which library
> authors can make use of by calling inside their __aray_function__ methods.
>> 5. Generation of Random numbers (overriding RandomState). CuPy has its
>> own implementation which would be nice to override.
> I'm not sure that NumPy's random state objects make sense for duck arrays.
> Because these are stateful objects, they are pretty coupled to NumPy's
> implementation -- you cannot store any additional state on RandomState
> objects that might be needed for a new implementation. At a bare minimum,
> you will loss the reproducibility of random seeds, though this may be less
> of a concern with the new random API.
>> I also share Nathaniel's concern that the overrides in unumpy are too
>> powerful, by allowing for control from arbitrary function arguments and
>> even *non-local* control (i.e., global variables) from context managers.
>> This level of flexibility can make code very hard to debug, especially in
>> larger codebases.
>> Backend switching needs global context, in any case. There isn't a good
>> way around that other than the class dundermethods outlined in another
>> thread, which would require rewrites of large amounts of code.
> Do we really need to support robust backend switching in NumPy? I'm not
> strongly opposed, but what use cases does it actually solve to be able to
> override np.fft.fft rather than using a new function?

I don't know, but that feels like an odd question. We wanted an FFT backend
system. Now applying __array_function__ to numpy.fft happened without a
real discussion, but as a backend system I don't think it would have met
the criteria. Something that works for CuPy, Dask and Xarray, but not for
Pyfftw or mkl_fft is only half a solution.

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