[Numpy-discussion] Low-level API for Random

Robert Kern robert.kern at gmail.com
Thu Sep 19 23:25:21 EDT 2019

On Thu, Sep 19, 2019 at 11:04 PM Ralf Gommers <ralf.gommers at gmail.com>

> On Thu, Sep 19, 2019 at 4:53 PM Robert Kern <robert.kern at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Thu, Sep 19, 2019 at 5:24 AM Ralf Gommers <ralf.gommers at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> On Thu, Sep 19, 2019 at 10:28 AM Kevin Sheppard <
>>> kevin.k.sheppard at gmail.com> wrote:
>>>> There are some users of the NumPy C code in randomkit.  This was never
>>>> officially supported.  There has been a long open issue to provide this
>>>> officially.
>>>> When I wrote randomgen I supplied .pdx files that make it simpler to
>>>> write Cython code that uses the components.  The lower-level API has not
>>>> had much scrutiny and is in need of a clean-up.   I thought this would also
>>>> encourage users to extend the random machinery themselves as part of their
>>>> project or code so as to minimize the requests for new (exotic)
>>>> distributions to be included in Generator.
>>>> Most of the generator functions follow a pattern random_DISTRIBUTION.
>>>> Some have a bit more name mangling which can easily be cleaned up (like
>>>> ranomd_gauss_zig, which should become PREFIX_standard_normal).
>>>> Ralf Gommers suggested unprefixed names.
>>> I suggested that the names should match the Python API, which I think
>>> isn't quite the same. The Python API doesn't contain things like "gamma",
>>> "t" or "f".
>> As the implementations evolve, they aren't going to match one-to-one
>> 100%. The implementations are shared by the legacy RandomState. When we
>> update an algorithm, we'll need to make a new function with the better
>> algorithm for Generator to use, then we'll have two C functions roughly
>> corresponding to the same method name (albeit on different classes). C
>> doesn't give us as many namespace options as Python. We could rely on
>> conventional prefixes to distinguish between the two classes of function
>> (e.g. legacy_normal vs random_normal).
> That seems simple and clear
> There are times when it would be nice to be more descriptive about the
>> algorithm difference (e.g. random_normal_polar vs random_normal_ziggurat),
> We decided against versioning algorithms in NEP 19, so an update to an
> algorithm would mean we'd want to get rid of the older version (unless it's
> still in use by legacy). So AFAICT we'd never have both random_normal_polar
> and random_normal_ziggurat present at the same time?

Well, we must because one's used by the legacy RandomState and one's used
by Generator. :-)

> I may be missing your point here, but if we have in Python
> `Generator.normal` and can switch its implementation from polar to ziggurat
> or vice versa without any deprecation, then why would we want to switch
> names in the C API?

I didn't mean to suggest that we'd have an unbounded number of functions as
we improve the algorithms, just that we might have 2 once we decide to
change something about the algorithm. We need 2 to support both the
improved algorithm in Generator and the legacy algorithm in RandomState.
The current implementation of the C function would be copied to a new name
(`legacy_foo` or whatever), then we'd make RandomState use that frozen
copy, then we make the desired modifications to the main function that
Generator is referencing (`random_foo`).

Or we could just make those legacy copies now so that people get to use
them explicitly under the legacy names, whatever they are, and we can feel
more free to modify the main implementations. I suggested this earlier, but
convinced myself that it wasn't strictly necessary. But then I admit I was
more focused on the Python API stability than any promises about the
C/Cython API.

We might end up with more than 2 implementations if we need to change
something about the function signature, for whatever reason, and we want to
retain C/Cython API compatibility with older code. The C functions aren't
necessarily going to be one-to-one to the Generator methods. They're just
part of the implementation. So for example, if we wanted to, say,
precompute some intermediate values from the given scalar parameters so we
don't have to recompute them for each element of the `size`-large requested
output, we might do that in one C function and pass those intermediate
values as arguments to the C function that does the actual sampling. So
we'd have two C functions for that one Generator method, and the sampling C
function will not have the same signature as it did before the modification
that refactored the work into two functions. In that case, I would not be
so strict as to require that `Generator.foo` is one to one with

To your point, though, we don't have to use gratuitously different names
when there _is_ a one-to-one relationship. `random_gauss_zig` should be

Robert Kern
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