21 Oct 2019

feedPlanet Python

Stack Abuse: Introduction to PyTorch for Classification

PyTorch and TensorFlow libraries are two of the most commonly used Python libraries for deep learning. PyTorch is developed by Facebook, while TensorFlow is a Google project. In this article, you will see how the PyTorch library can be used to solve classification problems.

Classification problems belong to the category of machine learning problems where given a set of features, the task is to predict a discrete value. Predicting whether a tumour is cancerous or not, or whether a student is likely to pass or fail in the exam, are some of the common examples of classification problems.

In this article, given certain characteristics of a bank customer, we will predict whether or not the customer is likely to leave the bank after 6 months. The phenomena where a customer leaves an organization is also called customer churn. Therefore, our task is to predict customer churn based on various customer characteristics.

Before you proceed, it is assumed that you have intermediate level proficiency with the Python programming language and you have installed the PyTorch library. Also, know-how of basic machine learning concepts may help. If you have not installed PyTorch, you can do so with the following pip command:

$ pip install pytorch

The Dataset

The dataset that we are going to use in this article is freely available at this Kaggle link. Let's import the required libraries, and the dataset into our Python application:

import torch
import torch.nn as nn
import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import seaborn as sns
%matplotlib inline

We can use the read_csv() method of the pandas library to import the CSV file that contains our dataset.

dataset = pd.read_csv(r'E:Datasets\customer_data.csv')

Let's print the shape of our dataset:



(10000, 14)

The output shows that the dataset has 10 thousand records and 14 columns.

We can use the head() method of the pandas dataframe to print the first five rows of our dataset.




You can see the 14 columns in our dataset. Based on the first 13 columns, our task is to predict the value for the 14th column i.e. Exited. It is important to mention that the values for the first 13 columns are recorded 6 months before the value for the Exited column was obtained since the task is to predict customer churn after 6 months from the time when the customer information is recorded.

Exploratory Data Analysis

Let's perform some exploratory data analysis on our dataset. We'll first predict the ratio of the customer who actually left the bank after 6 months and will use a pie plot to visualize.

Let's first increase the default plot size for the graphs:

fig_size = plt.rcParams["figure.figsize"]
fig_size[0] = 10
fig_size[1] = 8
plt.rcParams["figure.figsize"] = fig_size

The following script draws the pie plot for the Exited column.

dataset.Exited.value_counts().plot(kind='pie', autopct='%1.0f%%', colors=['skyblue', 'orange'], explode=(0.05, 0.05))



The output shows that in our dataset, 20% of the customers left the bank. Here 1 belongs to the case where the customer left the bank, where 0 refers to the scenario where a customer didn't leave the bank.

Let's plot the number of customers from all the geographical locations in the dataset:

sns.countplot(x='Geography', data=dataset)



The output shows that almost half of the customers belong to France, while the ratio of customers belonging to Spain and Germany is 25% each.

Let's now plot number of customers from each unique geographical location along with customer churn information. We can use the countplot() function from the seaborn library to do so.

sns.countplot(x='Exited', hue='Geography', data=dataset)



The output shows that though the overall number of French customers is twice that of the number of Spanish and German customers, the ratio of customers who left the bank is the same for French and German customers. Similarly, the overall number of German and Spanish customers is the same, but the number of German customers who left the bank is twice that of the Spanish customers, which shows that German customers are more likely to leave the bank after 6 months.

In this article, we will not visually plot the information related to the rest of the columns in our dataset, but if you want to do so, you check my article on how to perform exploratory data analysis with Python Seaborn Library.

Data Preprocessing

Before we train our PyTorch model, we need to preprocess our data. If you look at the dataset, you will see that it has two types of columns: Numerical and Categorical. The numerical columns contains numerical information. CreditScore, Balance, Age, etc. Similarly, Geography and Gender are categorical columns since they contain categorical information such as the locations and genders of the customers. There are a few columns that can be treated as numeric as well as categorical. For instance, the HasCrCard column can have 1 or 0 as its values. However, the HasCrCard columns contains information about whether or not a customer has credit card. It is advised that the column that can be treated as both categorical and numerical, are treated as categorical. However, it totally depends upon the domain knowledge of the dataset.

Let's again print all the columns in our dataset and find out which of the columns can be treated as numerical and which columns should be treated as categorical. The columns attribute of a dataframe prints all the column names:



Index(['RowNumber', 'CustomerId', 'Surname', 'CreditScore', 'Geography',
       'Gender', 'Age', 'Tenure', 'Balance', 'NumOfProducts', 'HasCrCard',
       'IsActiveMember', 'EstimatedSalary', 'Exited'],

From the columns in our dataset, we will not use the RowNumber, CustomerId, and Surname columns since the values for these columns are totally random and have no relation with the output. For instance, a customer's surname has no impact on whether or not the customer will leave the bank. Among the rest of the columns, Geography, Gender, HasCrCard, and IsActiveMember columns can be treated as categorical columns. Let's create a list of these columns:

categorical_columns = ['Geography', 'Gender', 'HasCrCard', 'IsActiveMember']

All of the remaining columns except the Exited column can be treated as numerical columns.

numerical_columns = ['CreditScore', 'Age', 'Tenure', 'Balance', 'NumOfProducts', 'EstimatedSalary']

Finally, the output (the values from the Exited column) are stored in the outputs variable.

outputs = ['Exited']

We have created lists of categorical, numeric, and output columns. However, at the moment the type of the categorical columns is not categorical. You can check the type of all the columns in the dataset with the following script:



RowNumber            int64
CustomerId           int64
Surname             object
CreditScore          int64
Geography           object
Gender              object
Age                  int64
Tenure               int64
Balance            float64
NumOfProducts        int64
HasCrCard            int64
IsActiveMember       int64
EstimatedSalary    float64
Exited               int64
dtype: object

You can see that the type for Geography and Gender columns is object and the type for HasCrCard and IsActive columns is int64. We need to convert the types for categorical columns to category. We can do so using the astype() function, as shown below:

for category in categorical_columns:
    dataset[category] = dataset[category].astype('category')

Now if you again plot the types for the columns in our dataset, you should see the following results:



RowNumber             int64
CustomerId            int64
Surname              object
CreditScore           int64
Geography          category
Gender             category
Age                   int64
Tenure                int64
Balance             float64
NumOfProducts         int64
HasCrCard          category
IsActiveMember     category
EstimatedSalary     float64
Exited                int64
dtype: object

Let's now see all the categories in the Geography column:



Index(['France', 'Germany', 'Spain'], dtype='object')

When you change a column's data type to category, each category in the column is assigned a unique code. For instance, let's plot the first five rows of the Geography column and print the code values for the first five rows:



0    France
1     Spain
2    France
3    France
4     Spain
Name: Geography, dtype: category
Categories (3, object): [France, Germany, Spain]

The following script plots the codes for the values in the first five rows of the Geography column:



0    0
1    2
2    0
3    0
4    2
dtype: int8

The output shows that France has been coded as 0, and Spain has been coded as 2.

The basic purpose of separating categorical columns from the numerical columns is that values in the numerical column can be directly fed into neural networks. However, the values for the categorical columns first have to be converted into numeric types. The coding of the values in the categorical column partially solves the task of numerical conversion of the categorical columns.

Since we will be using PyTorch for model training, we need to convert our categorical and numerical columns to tensors.

Let's first convert the categorical columns to tensors. In PyTorch, tensors can be created via the numpy arrays. We will first convert data in the four categorical columns into numpy arrays and then stack all the columns horizontally, as shown in the following script:

geo = dataset['Geography'].cat.codes.values
gen = dataset['Gender'].cat.codes.values
hcc = dataset['HasCrCard'].cat.codes.values
iam = dataset['IsActiveMember'].cat.codes.values

categorical_data = np.stack([geo, gen, hcc, iam], 1)


The above script prints the first five records from the categorical columns, stacked horizontally. The output is as follows:


array([[0, 0, 1, 1],
       [2, 0, 0, 1],
       [0, 0, 1, 0],
       [0, 0, 0, 0],
       [2, 0, 1, 1],
       [2, 1, 1, 0],
       [0, 1, 1, 1],
       [1, 0, 1, 0],
       [0, 1, 0, 1],
       [0, 1, 1, 1]], dtype=int8)

Now to create a tensor from the aforementioned numpy array, you can simply pass the array to the tensor class of the torch module. Remember, for the categorical columns the data type should be torch.int64.

categorical_data = torch.tensor(categorical_data, dtype=torch.int64)


tensor([[0, 0, 1, 1],
        [2, 0, 0, 1],
        [0, 0, 1, 0],
        [0, 0, 0, 0],
        [2, 0, 1, 1],
        [2, 1, 1, 0],
        [0, 1, 1, 1],
        [1, 0, 1, 0],
        [0, 1, 0, 1],
        [0, 1, 1, 1]])

In the output, you can see that the numpy array of categorical data has now been converted into a tensor object.

In the same way, we can convert our numerical columns to tensors:

numerical_data = np.stack([dataset[col].values for col in numerical_columns], 1)
numerical_data = torch.tensor(numerical_data, dtype=torch.float)


tensor([[6.1900e+02, 4.2000e+01, 2.0000e+00, 0.0000e+00, 1.0000e+00, 1.0135e+05],
        [6.0800e+02, 4.1000e+01, 1.0000e+00, 8.3808e+04, 1.0000e+00, 1.1254e+05],
        [5.0200e+02, 4.2000e+01, 8.0000e+00, 1.5966e+05, 3.0000e+00, 1.1393e+05],
        [6.9900e+02, 3.9000e+01, 1.0000e+00, 0.0000e+00, 2.0000e+00, 9.3827e+04],
        [8.5000e+02, 4.3000e+01, 2.0000e+00, 1.2551e+05, 1.0000e+00, 7.9084e+04]])

In the output, you can see the first five rows containing the values for the six numerical columns in our dataset.

The final step is to convert the output numpy array into a tensor object.

outputs = torch.tensor(dataset[outputs].values).flatten()


tensor([1, 0, 1, 0, 0])

Let now plot the shape of our categorial data, numerical data, and the corresponding output:



torch.Size([10000, 4])
torch.Size([10000, 6])

There is a one very important step before we can train our model. We converted our categorical columns to numerical where a unique value is represented by a single integer. For instance, in the Geography column, we saw that France is represented by 0 and Germany is represented by 1. We can use these values to train our model. However, a better way is to represent values in a categorical column is in the form of an N-dimensional vector, instead of a single integer. A vector is capable of capturing more information and can find relationships between different categorical values in a more appropriate way. Therefore, we will represent values in the categorical columns in the form of N-dimensional vectors. This process is called embedding.

We need to define the embedding size (vector dimensions) for all the categorical columns. There is no hard and fast rule regarding the number of dimensions. A good rule of thumb to define the embedding size for a column is to divide the number of unique values in the column by 2 (but not exceeding 50). For instance, for the Geography column, the number of unique values is 3. The corresponding embedding size for the Geography column will be 3/2 = 1.5 = 2 (round off).

The following script creates a tuple that contains the number of unique values and the dimension sizes for all the categorical columns:

categorical_column_sizes = [len(dataset[column].cat.categories) for column in categorical_columns]
categorical_embedding_sizes = [(col_size, min(50, (col_size+1)//2)) for col_size in categorical_column_sizes]


[(3, 2), (2, 1), (2, 1), (2, 1)]

A supervised deep learning model, such as the one we are developing in this article, is trained using training data and the model performance is evaluated on the test dataset. Therefore, we need to divide our dataset into training and test sets as shown in the following script:

total_records = 10000
test_records = int(total_records * .2)

categorical_train_data = categorical_data[:total_records-test_records]
categorical_test_data = categorical_data[total_records-test_records:total_records]
numerical_train_data = numerical_data[:total_records-test_records]
numerical_test_data = numerical_data[total_records-test_records:total_records]
train_outputs = outputs[:total_records-test_records]
test_outputs = outputs[total_records-test_records:total_records]

We have 10 thousand records in our dataset, of which 80% records, i.e. 8000 records, will be used to train the model while the remaining 20% records will be used to evaluate the performance of our model. Notice, in the script above, the categorical and numerical data, as well as the outputs have been divided into the training and test sets.

To verify that we have correctly divided data into training and test sets, let's print the lengths of the training and test records:





Creating a Model for Prediction

We have divided the data into training and test sets, now is the time to define our model for training. To do so, we can define a class named Model, which will be used to train the model. Look at the following script:

class Model(nn.Module):

    def __init__(self, embedding_size, num_numerical_cols, output_size, layers, p=0.4):
        self.all_embeddings = nn.ModuleList([nn.Embedding(ni, nf) for ni, nf in embedding_size])
        self.embedding_dropout = nn.Dropout(p)
        self.batch_norm_num = nn.BatchNorm1d(num_numerical_cols)

        all_layers = []
        num_categorical_cols = sum((nf for ni, nf in embedding_size))
        input_size = num_categorical_cols + num_numerical_cols

        for i in layers:
            all_layers.append(nn.Linear(input_size, i))
            input_size = i

        all_layers.append(nn.Linear(layers[-1], output_size))

        self.layers = nn.Sequential(*all_layers)

    def forward(self, x_categorical, x_numerical):
        embeddings = []
        for i,e in enumerate(self.all_embeddings):
        x = torch.cat(embeddings, 1)
        x = self.embedding_dropout(x)

        x_numerical = self.batch_norm_num(x_numerical)
        x = torch.cat([x, x_numerical], 1)
        x = self.layers(x)
        return x

If you have never worked with PyTorch before, the above code may look daunting, however I will try to break it down into for you.

In the first line, we declare a Model class that inherits from the Module class from PyTorch's nn module. In the constructor of the class (the __init__() method) the following parameters are passed:

  1. embedding_size: Contains the embedding size for the categorical columns
  2. num_numerical_cols: Stores the total number of numerical columns
  3. output_size: The size of the output layer or the number of possible outputs.
  4. layers: List which contains number of neurons for all the layers.
  5. p: Dropout with the default value of 0.5

Inside the constructor, a few variables are initialized. Firstly, the all_embeddings variable contains a list of ModuleList objects for all the categorical columns. The embedding_dropout stores the dropout value for all the layers. Finally, the batch_norm_num stores a list of BatchNorm1d objects for all the numerical columns.

Next, to find the size of the input layer, the number of categorical and numerical columns are added together and stored in the input_size variable. After that, a for loop iterates and the corresponding layers are added into the all_layers list. The layers added are:

After the for loop, the output layer is appended to the list of layers. Since we want all of the layers in the neural networks to execute sequentially, the list of layers is passed to the nn.Sequential class.

Next, in the forward method, both the categorical and numerical columns are passed as inputs. The embedding of the categorical columns takes place in the following lines.

embeddings = []
for i, e in enumerate(self.all_embeddings):
x = torch.cat(embeddings, 1)
x = self.embedding_dropout(x)

The batch normalization of the numerical columns is applied with the following script:

x_numerical = self.batch_norm_num(x_numerical)

Finally, the embedded categorical columns x and the numeric columns x_numerical are concatenated together and passed to the sequential layers.

Training the Model

To train the model, first we have to create an object of the Model class that we defined in the last section.

model = Model(categorical_embedding_sizes, numerical_data.shape[1], 2, [200,100,50], p=0.4)

You can see that we pass the embedding size of the categorical columns, the number of numerical columns, the output size (2 in our case) and the neurons in the hidden layers. You can see that we have three hidden layers with 200, 100, and 50 neurons, respectively. You can choose any other size if you want.

Let's print our model and see how it looks:



  (all_embeddings): ModuleList(
    (0): Embedding(3, 2)
    (1): Embedding(2, 1)
    (2): Embedding(2, 1)
    (3): Embedding(2, 1)
  (embedding_dropout): Dropout(p=0.4)
  (batch_norm_num): BatchNorm1d(6, eps=1e-05, momentum=0.1, affine=True, track_running_stats=True)
  (layers): Sequential(
    (0): Linear(in_features=11, out_features=200, bias=True)
    (1): ReLU(inplace)
    (2): BatchNorm1d(200, eps=1e-05, momentum=0.1, affine=True, track_running_stats=True)
    (3): Dropout(p=0.4)
    (4): Linear(in_features=200, out_features=100, bias=True)
    (5): ReLU(inplace)
    (6): BatchNorm1d(100, eps=1e-05, momentum=0.1, affine=True, track_running_stats=True)
    (7): Dropout(p=0.4)
    (8): Linear(in_features=100, out_features=50, bias=True)
    (9): ReLU(inplace)
    (10): BatchNorm1d(50, eps=1e-05, momentum=0.1, affine=True, track_running_stats=True)
    (11): Dropout(p=0.4)
    (12): Linear(in_features=50, out_features=2, bias=True)

You can see that in the first linear layer the value of the in_features variable is 11 since we have 6 numerical columns and the sum of embedding dimensions for the categorical columns is 5, hence 6+5 = 11. Similarly, in the last layer, the out_features has a value of 2 since we have only 2 possible outputs.

Before we can actually train our model, we need to define the loss function and the optimizer that will be used to train the model. Since, we are solving a classification problem, we will use the cross entropy loss. For the optimizer function, we will use the adam optimizer.

The following script defines the loss function and the optimizer:

loss_function = nn.CrossEntropyLoss()
optimizer = torch.optim.Adam(model.parameters(), lr=0.001)

Now we have everything that is needed to train the model. The following script trains the model:

epochs = 300
aggregated_losses = []

for i in range(epochs):
    i += 1
    y_pred = model(categorical_train_data, numerical_train_data)
    single_loss = loss_function(y_pred, train_outputs)

    if i%25 == 1:
        print(f'epoch: {i:3} loss: {single_loss.item():10.8f}')


print(f'epoch: {i:3} loss: {single_loss.item():10.10f}')

The number of epochs is set to 300, which means that to train the model, the complete dataset will be used 300 times. A for loop executes for 300 times and during each iteration, the loss is calculated using the loss function. The loss during each iteration is appended to the aggregated_loss list. To update the weights, the backward() function of the single_loss object is called. Finally, the step() method of the optimizer function updates the gradient. The loss is printed after every 25 epochs.

The output of the script above is as follows:

epoch:   1 loss: 0.71847951
epoch:  26 loss: 0.57145703
epoch:  51 loss: 0.48110831
epoch:  76 loss: 0.42529839
epoch: 101 loss: 0.39972275
epoch: 126 loss: 0.37837571
epoch: 151 loss: 0.37133673
epoch: 176 loss: 0.36773482
epoch: 201 loss: 0.36305946
epoch: 226 loss: 0.36079505
epoch: 251 loss: 0.35350436
epoch: 276 loss: 0.35540250
epoch: 300 loss: 0.3465710580

The following script plots the losses against epochs:

plt.plot(range(epochs), aggregated_losses)



The output shows that initially the loss decreases rapidly. After around the 250th epoch, there is a very little decrease in the loss.

Making Predictions

The last step is to make predictions on the test data. To do so, we simply need to pass the categorical_test_data and numerical_test_data to the model class. The values returned can then be compared with the actual test output values. The following script makes predictions on the test class and prints the cross entropy loss for the test data.

with torch.no_grad():
    y_val = model(categorical_test_data, numerical_test_data)
    loss = loss_function(y_val, test_outputs)
print(f'Loss: {loss:.8f}')


Loss: 0.36855841

The loss on the test set is 0.3685, which is slightly more than 0.3465 achieved on the training set which shows that our model is slightly overfitting.

It is important to note that since we specified that our output layer will contain 2 neurons, each prediction will contain 2 values. For instance, the first 5 predicted values look like this:



tensor([[ 1.2045, -1.3857],
        [ 1.3911, -1.5957],
        [ 1.2781, -1.3598],
        [ 0.6261, -0.5429],
        [ 2.5430, -1.9991]])

The idea behind such predictions is that if the actual output is 0, the value at the index 0 should be higher than the value at index 1, and vice versa. We can retrieve the index of the largest value in the list with the following script:

y_val = np.argmax(y_val, axis=1)


Let's now again print the first five values for the y_val list:



tensor([0, 0, 0, 0, 0])

Since in the list of originally predicted outputs, for the first five records, the the values at zero indexes are greater than the values at first indexes, we can see 0 in the first five rows of the processed outputs.

Finally, we can use the confusion_matrix, accuracy_score, and classification_report classes from the sklearn.metrics module to find the accuracy, precision, and recall values for the test set, along with the confusion matrix.

from sklearn.metrics import classification_report, confusion_matrix, accuracy_score

print(accuracy_score(test_outputs, y_val))


[[1527   83]
 [ 224  166]]
              precision    recall  f1-score   support

           0       0.87      0.95      0.91      1610
           1       0.67      0.43      0.52       390

   micro avg       0.85      0.85      0.85      2000
   macro avg       0.77      0.69      0.71      2000
weighted avg       0.83      0.85      0.83      2000


The output shows that our model achieves an accuracy of 84.65% which is pretty impressive given the fact that we randomly selected all the parameters for our neural network model. I would suggest that you try to change the model parameters i.e. train/test splits, number and size of hidden layers, etc. to see if you can get better results.


PyTorch is a commonly used deep learning library developed by Facebook which can be used for a variety of tasks such as classification, regression, and clustering. This article explains how to use PyTorch library for the classification of tabular data.

21 Oct 2019 2:33pm GMT

Real Python: Arduino With Python: How to Get Started

Microcontrollers have been around for a long time, and they're used in everything from complex machinery to common household appliances. However, working with them has traditionally been reserved for those with formal technical training, such as technicians and electrical engineers. The emergence of Arduino has made electronic application design much more accessible to all developers. In this tutorial, you'll discover how to use Arduino with Python to develop your own electronic projects.

You'll cover the basics of Arduino with Python and learn how to:

Free Bonus: 5 Thoughts On Python Mastery, a free course for Python developers that shows you the roadmap and the mindset you'll need to take your Python skills to the next level.

The Arduino Platform

Arduino is an open-source platform composed of hardware and software that allows for the rapid development of interactive electronics projects. The emergence of Arduino drew the attention of professionals from many different industries, contributing to the start of the Maker Movement.

With the growing popularity of the Maker Movement and the concept of the Internet of Things, Arduino has become one of the main platforms for electronic prototyping and the development of MVPs.

Arduino uses its own programming language, which is similar to C++. However, it's possible to use Arduino with Python or another high-level programming language. In fact, platforms like Arduino work well with Python, especially for applications that require integration with sensors and other physical devices.

All in all, Arduino and Python can facilitate an effective learning environment that encourages developers to get into electronics design. If you already know the basics of Python, then you'll be able to get started with Arduino by using Python to control it.

The Arduino platform includes both hardware and software products. In this tutorial, you'll use Arduino hardware and Python software to learn about basic circuits, as well as digital and analog inputs and outputs.

Arduino Hardware

To run the examples, you'll need to assemble the circuits by hooking up electronic components. You can generally find these items at electronic component stores or in good Arduino starter kits. You'll need:

  1. An Arduino Uno or other compatible board
  2. A standard LED of any color
  3. A push button
  4. A 10 KOhm potentiometer
  5. A 470 Ohm resistor
  6. A 10 KOhm resistor
  7. A breadboard
  8. Jumper wires of various colors and sizes

Let's take a closer look at a few of these components.

Component 1 is an Arduino Uno or other compatible board. Arduino is a project that includes many boards and modules for different purposes, and Arduino Uno is the most basic among these. It's also the most used and most documented board of the whole Arduino family, so it's a great choice for developers who are just getting started with electronics.

Note: Arduino is an open hardware platform, so there are many other vendors who sell compatible boards that could be used to run the examples you see here. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to use the Arduino Uno.

Components 5 and 6 are resistors. Most resistors are identified by colored stripes according to a color code. In general, the first three colors represent the value of a resistor, while the fourth color represents its tolerance. For a 470 Ohm resistor, the first three colors are yellow, violet, and brown. For a 10 KOhm resistor, the first three colors are brown, black, and orange.

Component 7 is a breadboard, which you use to hook up all the other components and assemble the circuits. While a breadboard is not required, it's recommended that you get one if you intend to begin working with Arduino.

Arduino Software

In addition to these hardware components, you'll need to install some software. The platform includes the Arduino IDE, an Integrated Development Environment for programming Arduino devices, among other online tools.

Arduino was designed to allow you to program the boards with little difficulty. In general, you'll follow these steps:

  1. Connect the board to your PC
  2. Install and open the Arduino IDE
  3. Configure the board settings
  4. Write the code
  5. Press a button on the IDE to upload the program to the board

To install the Arduino IDE on your computer, download the appropriate version for your operating system from the Arduino website. Check the documentation for installation instructions:

Note: You'll be using the Arduino IDE in this tutorial, but Arduino also provides a web editor that will let you program Arduino boards using the browser.

Now that you've installed the Arduino IDE and gathered all the necessary components, you're ready to get started with Arduino! Next, you'll upload a "Hello, World!" program to your board.

"Hello, World!" With Arduino

The Arduino IDE comes with several example sketches you can use to learn the basics of Arduino. A sketch is the term you use for a program that you can upload to a board. Since the Arduino Uno doesn't have an attached display, you'll need a way to see the physical output from your program. You'll use the Blink example sketch to make a built-in LED on the Arduino board blink.

Uploading the Blink Example Sketch

To get started, connect the Arduino board to your PC using a USB cable and start the Arduino IDE. To open the Blink example sketch, access the File menu and select Examples, then 01.Basics and, finally, Blink:

Blink example sketch on Arduino IDE

The Blink example code will be loaded into a new IDE window. But before you can upload the sketch to the board, you'll need to configure the IDE by selecting your board and its connected port.

To configure the board, access the Tools menu and then Board. For Arduino Uno, you should select Arduino/Genuino Uno:

Selecting board on Arduino IDE

After you select the board, you have to set the appropriate port. Access the Tools menu again, and this time select Port:

Selecting port on Arduino IDE

The names of the ports may be different, depending on your operating system. In Windows, the ports will be named COM4, COM5, or something similar. In macOS or Linux, you may see something like /dev/ttyACM0 or /dev/ttyUSB0. If you have any problems setting the port, then take a look at the Arduino Troubleshooting Page.

After you've configured the board and port, you're all set to upload the sketch to your Arduino. To do that, you just have to press the Upload button in the IDE toolbar:

Buttons for verify and upload on Arduino IDE

When you press Upload, the IDE compiles the sketch and uploads it to your board. If you want to check for errors, then you can press Verify before Upload, which will only compile your sketch.

The USB cable provides a serial connection to both upload the program and power the Arduino board. During the upload, you'll see LEDs flashing on the board. After a few seconds, the uploaded program will run, and you'll see an LED light blink once every second:

Arduino buit-in LED blinking

After the upload is finished, the USB cable will continue to power the Arduino board. The program is stored in flash memory on the Arduino microcontroller. You can also use a battery or other external power supply to run the application without a USB cable.

Connecting External Components

In the previous section, you used an LED that was already present on the Arduino board. However, in most practical projects you'll need to connect external components to the board. To make these connections, Arduino has several pins of different types:

Arduino Uno Ports

Although these connections are commonly called pins, you can see that they're not exactly physical pins. Rather, the pins are holes in a socket to which you can connect jumper wires. In the figure above, you can see different groups of pins:

To get started using external components, you'll connect an external LED to run the Blink example sketch. The built-in LED is connected to digital pin #13. So, let's connect an external LED to that pin and check if it blinks. (A standard LED is one of the components you saw listed earlier.)

Before you connect anything to the Arduino board, it's good practice to disconnect it from the computer. With the USB cable unplugged, you'll be able to connect the LED to your board:

Circuit for blink sketch

Note that the figure shows the board with the digital pins now facing you.

Using a Breadboard

Electronic circuit projects usually involve testing several ideas, with you adding new components and making adjustments as you go. However, it can be tricky to connect components directly, especially if the circuit is large.

To facilitate prototyping, you can use a breadboard to connect the components. This is a device with several holes that are connected in a particular way so that you can easily connect components using jumper wires:


You can see which holes are interconnected by looking at the colored lines. You'll use the holes on the sides of the breadboard to power the circuit:

Then, you can easily connect components to the power source or the ground by simply using the other holes on the red and blue lines. The holes in the middle of the breadboard are connected as indicated by the colors. You'll use these to make connections between the components of the circuit. These two internal sections are separated by a small depression, over which you can connect integrated circuits (ICs).

You can use a breadboard to assemble the circuit used in the Blink example sketch:

Circuit for blink sketch on breadboard

For this circuit, it's important to note that the LED must be connected according to its polarity or it won't work. The positive terminal of the LED is called the anode and is generally the longer one. The negative terminal is called the cathode and is shorter. If you're using a recovered component, then you can also identify the terminals by looking for a flat side on the LED itself. This will indicate the position of the negative terminal.

When you connect an LED to an Arduino pin, you'll always need a resistor to limit its current and avoid burning out the LED prematurely. Here, you use a 470 Ohm resistor to do this. You can follow the connections and check that the circuit is the same:

For a more detailed explanation, check out How to Use a Breadboard.

After you finish the connection, plug the Arduino back into the PC and re-run the Blink sketch:

Arduino built-in and external LEDs blinking

As both LEDs are connected to digital pin 13, they blink together when the sketch is running.

"Hello, World!" With Arduino and Python

In the previous section, you uploaded the Blink sketch to your Arduino board. Arduino sketches are written in a language similar to C++ and are compiled and recorded on the flash memory of the microcontroller when you press Upload. While you can use another language to directly program the Arduino microcontroller, it's not a trivial task!

However, there are some approaches you can take to use Arduino with Python or other languages. One idea is to run the main program on a PC and use the serial connection to communicate with Arduino through the USB cable. The sketch would be responsible for reading the inputs, sending the information to the PC, and getting updates from the PC to update the Arduino outputs.

To control Arduino from the PC, you'd have to design a protocol for the communication between the PC and Arduino. For example, you could consider a protocol with messages like the following:

With the protocol defined, you could write an Arduino sketch to send messages to the PC and update the states of the pins according to the protocol. On the PC, you could write a program to control the Arduino through a serial connection, based on the protocol you've designed. For this, you can use whatever language and libraries you prefer, such as Python and the PySerial library.

Fortunately, there are standard protocols to do all this! Firmata is one of them. This protocol establishes a serial communication format that allows you to read digital and analog inputs, as well as send information to digital and analog outputs.

The Arduino IDE includes ready-made sketches that will drive Arduino through Python with the Firmata protocol. On the PC side, there are implementations of the protocol in several languages, including Python. To get started with Firmata, let's use it to implement a "Hello, World!" program.

Uploading the Firmata Sketch

Before you write your Python program to drive Arduino, you have to upload the Firmata sketch so that you can use that protocol to control the board. The sketch is available in the Arduino IDE's built-in examples. To open it, access the File menu, then Examples, followed by Firmata, and finally StandardFirmata:

Firmata example sketch on Arduino IDE

The sketch will be loaded into a new IDE window. To upload it to the Arduino, you can follow the same steps you did before:

  1. Plug the USB cable into the PC.
  2. Select the appropriate board and port on the IDE.
  3. Press Upload.

After the upload is finished, you won't notice any activity on the Arduino. To control it, you still need a program that can communicate with the board through the serial connection. To work with the Firmata protocol in Python, you'll need the pyFirmata package, which you can install with pip:

$ pip install pyfirmata

After the installation finishes, you can run an equivalent Blink application using Python and Firmata:

 1 import pyfirmata
 2 import time
 4 board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')
 6 while True:
 7     board.digital[13].write(1)
 8     time.sleep(1)
 9     board.digital[13].write(0)
10     time.sleep(1)

Here's how this program works. You import pyfirmata and use it to establish a serial connection with the Arduino board, which is represented by the board object in line 4. You also configure the port in this line by passing an argument to pyfirmata.Arduino(). You can use the Arduino IDE to find the port.

board.digital is a list whose elements represent the digital pins of the Arduino. These elements have the methods read() and write(), which will read and write the state of the pins. Like most embedded device programs, this program mainly consists of an infinite loop:

Now that you know the basics of how to control an Arduino with Python, let's go through some applications to interact with its inputs and outputs.

Reading Digital Inputs

Digital inputs can have only two possible values. In a circuit, each of these values is represented by a different voltage. The table below shows the digital input representation for a standard Arduino Uno board:

Value Level Voltage
0 Low 0V
1 High 5V

To control the LED, you'll use a push button to send digital input values to the Arduino. The button should send 0V to the board when it's released and 5V to the board when it's pressed. The figure below shows how to connect the button to the Arduino board:

Circuit for digital input

You may notice that the LED is connected to the Arduino on digital pin 13, just like before. Digital pin 10 is used as a digital input. To connect the push button, you have to use the 10 KOhm resistor, which acts as a pull down in this circuit. A pull down resistor ensures that the digital input gets 0V when the button is released.

When you release the button, you open the connection between the two wires on the button. Since there's no current flowing through the resistor, pin 10 just connects to the ground (GND). The digital input gets 0V, which represents the 0 (or low) state. When you press the button, you apply 5V to both the resistor and the digital input. A current flows through the resistor and the digital input gets 5V, which represents the 1 (or high) state.

You can use a breadboard to assemble the above circuit as well:

Circuit for digital input on breadboard

Now that you've assembled the circuit, you have to run a program on the PC to control it using Firmata. This program will turn on the LED, based on the state of the push button:

 1 import pyfirmata
 2 import time
 4 board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')
 6 it = pyfirmata.util.Iterator(board)
 7 it.start()
 9 board.digital[10].mode = pyfirmata.INPUT
11 while True:
12     sw = board.digital[10].read()
13     if sw is True:
14         board.digital[13].write(1)
15     else:
16         board.digital[13].write(0)
17     time.sleep(0.1)

Let's walk through this program:

pyfirmata also offers a more compact syntax to work with input and output pins. This may be a good option for when you're working with several pins. You can rewrite the previous program to have more compact syntax:

 1 import pyfirmata
 2 import time
 4 board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')
 6 it = pyfirmata.util.Iterator(board)
 7 it.start()
 9 digital_input = board.get_pin('d:10:i')
10 led = board.get_pin('d:13:o')
12 while True:
13     sw = digital_input.read()
14     if sw is True:
15         led.write(1)
16     else:
17         led.write(0)
18     time.sleep(0.1)

In this version, you use board.get_pin() to create two objects. digital_input represents the digital input state, and led represents the LED state. When you run this method, you have to pass a string argument composed of three elements separated by colons:

  1. The type of the pin (a for analog or d for digital)
  2. The number of the pin
  3. The mode of the pin (i for input or o for output)

Since digital_input is a digital input using pin 10, you pass the argument 'd:10:i'. The LED state is set to a digital output using pin 13, so the led argument is 'd:13:o'.

When you use board.get_pin(), there's no need to explicitly set up pin 10 as an input like you did before with pyfirmata.INPUT. After the pins are set, you can access the status of a digital input pin using read(), and set the status of a digital output pin with write().

Digital inputs are widely used in electronics projects. Several sensors provide digital signals, like presence or door sensors, that can be used as inputs to your circuits. However, there are some cases where you'll need to measure analog values, such as distance or physical quantities. In the next section, you'll see how to read analog inputs using Arduino with Python.

Reading Analog Inputs

In contrast to digital inputs, which can only be on or off, analog inputs are used to read values in some range. On the Arduino Uno, the voltage to an analog input ranges from 0V to 5V. Appropriate sensors are used to measure physical quantities, such as distances. These sensors are responsible for encoding these physical quantities in the proper voltage range so they can be read by the Arduino.

To read an analog voltage, the Arduino uses an analog-to-digital converter (ADC), which converts the input voltage to a digital number with a fixed number of bits. This determines the resolution of the conversion. The Arduino Uno uses a 10-bit ADC and can determine 1024 different voltage levels.

The voltage range for an analog input is encoded to numbers ranging from 0 to 1023. When 0V is applied, the Arduino encodes it to the number 0. When 5V is applied, the encoded number is 1023. All intermediate voltage values are proportionally encoded.

A potentiometer is a variable resistor that you can use to set the voltage applied to an Arduino analog input. You'll connect it to an analog input to control the frequency of a blinking LED:

Circuit for analog input

In this circuit, the LED is set up just as before. The end terminals of the potentiometer are connected to ground (GND) and 5V pins. This way, the central terminal (the cursor) can have any voltage in the 0V to 5V range depending on its position, which is connected to the Arduino on analog pin A0.

Using a breadboard, you can assemble this circuit as follows:

Circuit for analog input on breadboard

Before you control the LED, you can use the circuit to check the different values the Arduino reads, based on the position of the potentiometer. To do this, run the following program on your PC:

 1 import pyfirmata
 2 import time
 4 board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')
 5 it = pyfirmata.util.Iterator(board)
 6 it.start()
 8 analog_input = board.get_pin('a:0:i')
10 while True:
11     analog_value = analog_input.read()
12     print(analog_value)
13     time.sleep(0.1)

In line 8, you set up analog_input as the analog A0 input pin with the argument 'a:0:i'. Inside the infinite while loop, you read this value, store it in analog_value, and display the output to the console with print(). When you move the potentiometer while the program runs, you should output similar to this:


The printed values change, ranging from 0 when the position of the potentiometer is on one end to 1 when it's on the other end. Note that these are float values, which may require conversion depending on the application.

To change the frequency of the blinking LED, you can use the analog_value to control how long the LED will be kept on or off:

 1 import pyfirmata
 2 import time
 4 board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')
 5 it = pyfirmata.util.Iterator(board)
 6 it.start()
 8 analog_input = board.get_pin('a:0:i')
 9 led = board.get_pin('d:13:o')
11 while True:
12     analog_value = analog_input.read()
13     if analog_value is not None:
14         delay = analog_value + 0.01
15         led.write(1)
16         time.sleep(delay)
17         led.write(0)
18         time.sleep(delay)
19     else:
20         time.sleep(0.1)

Here, you calculate delay as analog_value + 0.01 to avoid having delay equal to zero. Otherwise, it's common to get an analog_value of None during the first few iterations. To avoid getting an error when running the program, you use a conditional in line 13 to test whether analog_value is None. Then you control the period of the blinking LED.

Try running the program and changing the position of the potentiometer. You'll notice the frequency of the blinking LED changes:

Led controlled by an analog input

By now, you've seen how to use digital inputs, digital outputs, and analog inputs on your circuits. In the next section, you'll see how to use analog outputs.

Using Analog Outputs

In some cases, it's necessary to have an analog output to drive a device that requires an analog signal. Arduino doesn't include a real analog output, one where the voltage could be set to any value in a certain range. However, Arduino does include several Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) outputs.

PWM is a modulation technique in which a digital output is used to generate a signal with variable power. To do this, it uses a digital signal of constant frequency, in which the duty cycle is changed according to the desired power. The duty cycle represents the fraction of the period in which the signal is set to high.

Not all Arduino digital pins can be used as PWM outputs. The ones that can be are identified by a tilde (~):

Arduino Uno PWM ports

Several devices are designed to be driven by PWM signals, including some motors. It's even possible to obtain a real analog signal from the PWM signal if you use analog filters. In the previous example, you used a digital output to turn an LED light on or off. In this section, you'll use PWM to control the brightness of an LED, according to the value of an analog input given by a potentiometer.

When a PWM signal is applied to an LED, its brightness varies according to the duty cycle of the PWM signal. You're going to use the following circuit:

Circuit for analog output

This circuit is identical to the one used in the previous section to test the analog input, except for one difference. Since it's not possible to use PWM with pin 13, the digital output pin used for the LED is pin 11.

You can use a breadboard to assemble the circuit as follows:

Circuit for analog output on breadboard

With the circuit assembled, you can control the LED using PWM with the following program:

 1 import pyfirmata
 2 import time
 4 board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')
 6 it = pyfirmata.util.Iterator(board)
 7 it.start()
 9 analog_input = board.get_pin('a:0:i')
10 led = board.get_pin('d:11:p')
12 while True:
13     analog_value = analog_input.read()
14     if analog_value is not None:
15         led.write(analog_value)
16     time.sleep(0.1)

There are a few differences from the programs you've used previously:

  1. In line 10, you set led to PWM mode by passing the argument 'd:11:p'.
  2. In line 15, you call led.write() with analog_value as an argument. This is a value between 0 and 1, read from the analog input.

Here you can see the LED behavior when the potentiometer is moved:

PWM output on oscilloscope

To show the changes in the duty cycle, an oscilloscope is plugged into pin 11. When the potentiometer is in its zero position, you can see the LED is turned off, as pin 11 has 0V on its output. As you turn the potentiometer, the LED gets brighter as the PWM duty cycle increases. When you turn the potentiometer all the way, the duty cycle reaches 100%. The LED is turned on continuously at maximum brightness.

With this example, you've covered the basics of using an Arduino and its digital and analog inputs and outputs. In the next section, you'll see an application for using Arduino with Python to drive events on the PC.

Using a Sensor to Trigger a Notification

Firmata is a nice way to get started with Arduino with Python, but the need for a PC or other device to run the application can be costly, and this approach may not be practical in some cases. However, when it's necessary to collect data and send it to a PC using external sensors, Arduino and Firmata make a good combination.

In this section, you'll use a push button connected to your Arduino to mimic a digital sensor and trigger a notification on your machine. For a more practical application, you can think of the push button as a door sensor that will trigger an alarm notification, for example.

To display the notification on the PC, you're going to use Tkinter, the standard Python GUI toolkit. This will show a message box when you press the button. For an in-depth intro to Tkinter, check out the library's documentation.

You'll need to assemble the same circuit that you used in the digital input example:

Circuit for digital input

After you assemble the circuit, use the following program to trigger the notifications:

 1 import pyfirmata
 2 import time
 3 import tkinter
 4 from tkinter import messagebox
 6 root = tkinter.Tk()
 7 root.withdraw()
 9 board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')
11 it = pyfirmata.util.Iterator(board)
12 it.start()
14 digital_input = board.get_pin('d:10:i')
15 led = board.get_pin('d:13:o')
17 while True:
18     sw = digital_input.read()
19     if sw is True:
20         led.write(1)
21         messagebox.showinfo("Notification", "Button was pressed")
22         root.update()
23         led.write(0)
24     time.sleep(0.1)

This program is similar to the one used in the digital input example, with a few changes:

To extend the notification example, you could even use the push button to send an email when pressed:

 1 import pyfirmata
 2 import time
 3 import smtplib
 4 import ssl
 6 def send_email():
 7     port = 465  # For SSL
 8     smtp_server = "smtp.gmail.com"
 9     sender_email = "<your email address>"
10     receiver_email = "<destination email address>"
11     password = "<password>"
12     message = """Subject: Arduino Notification\n The switch was turned on."""
14     context = ssl.create_default_context()
15     with smtplib.SMTP_SSL(smtp_server, port, context=context) as server:
16         print("Sending email")
17         server.login(sender_email, password)
18         server.sendmail(sender_email, receiver_email, message)
20 board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')
22 it = pyfirmata.util.Iterator(board)
23 it.start()
25 digital_input = board.get_pin('d:10:i')
27 while True:
28     sw = digital_input.read()
29     if sw is True:
30         send_email()
31         time.sleep(0.1)

You can learn more about send_email() in Sending Emails With Python. Here, you configure the function with email server credentials, which will be used to send the email.

Note: If you use a Gmail account to send the emails, then you need to enable the Allow less secure apps option. For more information on how to do this, check out Sending Emails With Python.

With these example applications, you've seen how to use Firmata to interact with more complex Python applications. Firmata lets you use any sensor attached to the Arduino to obtain data for your application. Then you can process the data and make decisions within the main application. You can even use Firmata to send data to Arduino outputs, controlling switches or PWM devices.

If you're interested in using Firmata to interact with more complex applications, then try out some of these projects:


Microcontroller platforms are on the rise, thanks to the growing popularity of the Maker Movement and the Internet of Things. Platforms like Arduino are receiving a lot of attention in particular, as they allow developers just like you to use their skills and dive into electronic projects.

You learned how to:

You also saw how Firmata may be a very interesting alternative for projects that demand a PC and depend on sensor data. Plus, it's an easy way to get started with Arduino if you already know Python!

Further Reading

Now that you know the basics of controlling Arduino with Python, you can start working on more complex applications. There are several tutorials that can help you develop integrated projects. Here are a few ideas:

Lastly, there are other ways of using Python in microcontrollers besides Firmata and Arduino:

[ Improve Your Python With 🐍 Python Tricks 💌 - Get a short & sweet Python Trick delivered to your inbox every couple of days. >> Click here to learn more and see examples ]

21 Oct 2019 2:00pm GMT

qutebrowser development blog: Current qutebrowser roadmap and next crowdfunding

More than half a year ago, I posted a qutebrowser roadmap - I thought it's about time for an update on how things are looking at the moment!

Upcoming crowdfunding

I finished my Bachelor of Science in September at the University of Applied Sciences in Rapperswil.

Now I'm employed around 16h …

21 Oct 2019 1:50pm GMT

10 Nov 2011


OSDir.com - Java: Oracle Introduces New Java Specification Requests to Evolve Java Community Process

From the Yet Another dept.:

To further its commitment to the Java Community Process (JCP), Oracle has submitted the first of two Java Specification Requests (JSRs) to update and revitalize the JCP.

10 Nov 2011 6:01am GMT

OSDir.com - Java: No copied Java code or weapons of mass destruction found in Android

From the Fact Checking dept.:

ZDNET: Sometimes the sheer wrongness of what is posted on the web leaves us speechless. Especially when it's picked up and repeated as gospel by otherwise reputable sites like Engadget. "Google copied Oracle's Java code, pasted in a new license, and shipped it," they reported this morning.

Sorry, but that just isn't true.

10 Nov 2011 6:01am GMT

OSDir.com - Java: Java SE 7 Released

From the Grande dept.:

Oracle today announced the availability of Java Platform, Standard Edition 7 (Java SE 7), the first release of the Java platform under Oracle stewardship.

10 Nov 2011 6:01am GMT

28 Oct 2011

feedPlanet Ruby

O'Reilly Ruby: MacRuby: The Definitive Guide

Ruby and Cocoa on OS X, the iPhone, and the Device That Shall Not Be Named

28 Oct 2011 8:00pm GMT

14 Oct 2011

feedPlanet Ruby

Charles Oliver Nutter: Why Clojure Doesn't Need Invokedynamic (Unless You Want It to be More Awesome)

This was originally posted as a comment on @fogus's blog post "Why Clojure doesn't need invokedynamic, but it might be nice". I figured it's worth a top-level post here.

Ok, there's some good points here and a few misguided/misinformed positions. I'll try to cover everything.

First, I need to point out a key detail of invokedynamic that may have escaped notice: any case where you must bounce through a generic piece of code to do dispatch -- regardless of how fast that bounce may be -- prevents a whole slew of optimizations from happening. This might affect Java dispatch, if there's any argument-twiddling logic shared between call sites. It would definitely affect multimethods, which are using a hand-implemented PIC. Any case where there's intervening code between the call site and the target would benefit from invokedynamic, since invokedynamic could be used to plumb that logic and let it inline straight through. This is, indeed, the primary benefit of using invokedynamic: arbitrarily complex dispatch logic folds away allowing the dispatch to optimize as if it were direct.

Your point about inference in Java dispatch is a fair one...if Clojure is able to infer all cases, then there's no need to use invokedynamic at all. But unless Clojure is able to infer all cases, then you've got this little performance time bomb just waiting to happen. Tweak some code path and obscure the inference, and kablam, you're back on a slow reflective impl. Invokedynamic would provide a measure of consistency; the only unforeseen perf impact would be when the dispatch turns out to *actually* be polymorphic, in which case even a direct call wouldn't do much better.

For multimethods, the benefit should be clear: the MM selection logic would be mostly implemented using method handles and "leaf" logic, allowing hotspot to inline it everywhere it is used. That means for small-morphic MM call sites, all targets could potentially inline too. That's impossible without invokedynamic unless you generate every MM path immediately around the eventual call.

Now, on to defs and Var lookup. Depending on the cost of Var lookup, using a SwitchPoint-based invalidation plus invokedynamic could be a big win. In Java 7u2, SwitchPoint-based invalidation is essentially free until invalidated, and as you point out that's a rare case. There would essentially be *no* cost in indirecting through a var until that var changes...and then it would settle back into no cost until it changes again. Frequently-changing vars could gracefully degrade to a PIC.

It's also dangerous to understate the impact code size has on JVM optimization. The usual recommendation on the JVM is to move code into many small methods, possibly using call-through logic as in multimethods to reuse the same logic in many places. As I've mentioned, that defeats many optimizations, so the next approach is often to hand-inline logic everywhere it's used, to let the JVM have a more optimizable view of the system. But now we're stepping on our own feet...by adding more bytecode, we're almost certainly impacting the JVM's optimization and inlining budgets.

OpenJDK (and probably the other VMs too) has various limits on how far it will go to optimize code. A large number of these limits are based on the bytecoded size of the target methods. Methods that get too big won't inline, and sometimes won't compile. Methods that inline a lot of code might not get inlined into other methods. Methods that inline one path and eat up too much budget might push out more important calls later on. The only way around this is to reduce bytecode size, which is where invokedynamic comes in.

As of OpenJDK 7u2, MethodHandle logic is not included when calculating inlining budgets. In other words, if you push all the Java dispatch logic or multimethod dispatch logic or var lookup into mostly MethodHandles, you're getting that logic *for free*. That has had a tremendous impact on JRuby performance; I had previous versions of our compiler that did indeed infer static target methods from the interpreter, but they were often *slower* than call site caching solely because the code was considerably larger. With invokedynamic, a call is a call is a call, and the intervening plumbing is not counted against you.

Now, what about negative impacts to Clojure itself...

#0 is a red herring. JRuby supports Java 5, 6, and 7 with only a few hundred lines of changes in the compiler. Basically, the compiler has abstract interfaces for doing things like constant lookup, literal loading, and dispatch that we simply reimplement to use invokedynamic (extending the old non-indy logic for non-indified paths). In order to compile our uses of invokedynamic, we use Rémi Forax's JSR-292 backport, which includes a "mock" jar with all the invokedynamic APIs stubbed out. In our release, we just leave that library out, reflectively load the invokedynamic-based compiler impls, and we're off to the races.

#1 would be fair if the Oracle Java 7u2 early-access drops did not already include the optimizations that gave JRuby those awesome numbers. The biggest of those optimizations was making SwitchPoint free, but also important are the inlining discounting and MutableCallSite improvements. The perf you see for JRuby there can apply to any indirected behavior in Clojure, with the same perf benefits as of 7u2.

For #2, to address the apparent vagueness in my blog post...the big perf gain was largely from using SwitchPoint to invalidate constants rather than pinging a global serial number. Again, indirection folds away if you can shove it into MethodHandles. And it's pretty easy to do it.

#3 is just plain FUD. Oracle has committed to making invokedynamic work well for Java too. The current thinking is that "lambda", the support for closures in Java 7, will use invokedynamic under the covers to implement "function-like" constructs. Oracle has also committed to Nashorn, a fully invokedynamic-based JavaScript implementation, which has many of the same challenges as languages like Ruby or Python. I talked with Adam Messinger at Oracle, who explained to me that Oracle chose JavaScript in part because it's so far away from Java...as I put it (and he agreed) it's going to "keep Oracle honest" about optimizing for non-Java languages. Invokedynamic is driving the future of the JVM, and Oracle knows it all too well.

As for #4...well, all good things take a little effort :) I think the effort required is far lower than you suspect, though.

14 Oct 2011 2:40pm GMT

07 Oct 2011

feedPlanet Ruby

Ruby on Rails: Rails 3.1.1 has been released!

Hi everyone,

Rails 3.1.1 has been released. This release requires at least sass-rails 3.1.4










You can find an exhaustive list of changes on github. Along with the closed issues marked for v3.1.1.

Thanks to everyone!

07 Oct 2011 5:26pm GMT

21 Mar 2011

feedPlanet Perl

Planet Perl is going dormant

Planet Perl is going dormant. This will be the last post there for a while.

image from planet.perl.org

Why? There are better ways to get your Perl blog fix these days.

You might enjoy some of the following:

Will Planet Perl awaken again in the future? It might! The universe is a big place, filled with interesting places, people and things. You never know what might happen, so keep your towel handy.

21 Mar 2011 2:04am GMT

improving on my little wooden "miniatures"

A few years ago, I wrote about cheap wooden discs as D&D minis, and I've been using them ever since. They do a great job, and cost nearly nothing. For the most part, we've used a few for the PCs, marked with the characters' initials, and the rest for NPCs and enemies, usually marked with numbers.

With D&D 4E, we've tended to have combats with more and more varied enemies. (Minions are wonderful things.) Numbering has become insufficient. It's too hard to remember what numbers are what monster, and to keep initiative order separate from token numbers. In the past, I've colored a few tokens in with the red or green whiteboard markers, and that has been useful. So, this afternoon I found my old paints and painted six sets of five colors. (The black ones I'd already made with sharpies.)

D&D tokens: now in color

I'm not sure what I'll want next: either I'll want five more of each color or I'll want five more colors. More colors will require that I pick up some white paint, while more of those colors will only require that I re-match the secondary colors when mixing. I think I'll wait to see which I end up wanting during real combats.

These colored tokens should work together well with my previous post about using a whiteboard for combat overview. Like-type monsters will get one color, and will all get grouped to one slot on initiative. Last night, for example, the two halfling warriors were red and acted in the same initiative slot. The three halfling minions were unpainted, and acted in another, later slot. Only PCs get their own initiative.

I think that it did a good amount to speed up combat, and that's even when I totally forgot to bring the combat whiteboard (and the character sheets!) with me. Next time, we'll see how it works when it's all brought together.

21 Mar 2011 12:47am GMT

20 Mar 2011

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Perl Vogue T-Shirts

Is Plack the new Black?In Pisa I gave a lightning talk about Perl Vogue. People enjoyed it and for a while I thought that it might actually turn into a project.

I won't though. It would just take far too much effort. And, besides, a couple of people have pointed out to be that the real Vogue are rather protective of their brand.

So it's not going to happen, I'm afraid. But as a subtle reminder of the ideas behind Perl Vogue I've created some t-shirts containing the article titles from the talk. You can get them from my Spreadshirt shop.

20 Mar 2011 12:02pm GMT