Run/train/fit a model

Lace is a Bayesian tool so we do posterior sampling via Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC). A typical machine learning model will use some sort of optimization method to find one model that fits best; the objective for fitting is different in Lace.

In Lace we use a number of states (or samples), each running MCMC independently to characterize the posterior distribution of the model parameters given the data. Posterior sampling isn't meant to maximize the fit to a dataset, it is meant to help understand the conditions that created the data.

When you fit to your data in Lace, you have options to run a set number of states for a set number of iterations (limited by a timeout). Each state is a posterior sample. More states is better, but the run time of everything increases linearly with the number of states; not just the fit, but also the OracleT operations like logp and simulate. As a rule of thumb, 32 is a good default number of states. But if you find your states tend to strongly disagree on things, it is probably a good idea to add more states to fill in the gaps.

As for number of iterations, you will want to monitor your convergence plots. There is no benefit of early stopping like there is with neural networks. MCMC will usually only do better the longer you run it and Lace is not likely to overfit like a deep network.

A state under MCMC

The above figure shows the MCMC algorithm partitioning a dataset into views and categories.

A (potentially useless) analogy comparing MCMC to optimization

At the risk of creating more confusion than we resolve, let us make an analogy to mountaineering. You have two mountaineers: a gradient ascent (GA) mountaineer and an MCMC mountaineer. You place each mountaineer at a random point in the Himalayas and say "go". GA's goal is to find the peak of Everest. Its algorithm for doing so is simply always to go up and never to go down. GA is guaranteed to find a peak, but unless it is very lucky in its starting position, it is unlikely ever to summit Everest.

MCMC has a different goal: to map the mountain range (posterior distribution). It does this by always going up, but sometimes going down if it doesn't end up too low. The longer MCMC explores, the better understanding it gains about the Himalayas: an understanding which likely includes a good idea of the position of the peak of Everest.

While GA achieves its goal quickly, it does so at the cost of understanding the terrain, which in our analogy represents the information within our data.

In Lace we place a troop of mountaineers in the mountain range of our posterior distribution. We call individuals mountaineers states or samples, or chains. Our hope is that our mountaineers can sufficiently map the information in our data. Of course the ability of the mountaineers to build this map depends on the size of the space (which is related to the size of the data) and the complexity of the space (the complexity of the underlying process)

In general the posterior of a Dirichlet process mixture is indeed much like the Himalayas in that there are many, many peaks (modes), which makes the mountaineer's job difficult. Certain MCMC kernels do better in certain circumstances, and employing a variety of kernels leads to better result.

Our MCMC Kernels

The vast majority of the fitting runtime is updating the row-category assignment and the column-view assignment. Other updates such as feature components parameters, CRP parameters, and prior parameters, take an (relatively) insignificant amount of time. Here we discuss the MCMC kernels responsible for the vast majority of work in Lace: the row and column reassignment kernels:

Row kernels

  • slice: Proposes reassignment for each row to an instantiated category or one of many new, empty categories. Slice is good for small tweaks in the assignment, and it is very fast. When there are a lot of rows, slice can have difficulty creating new categories.
  • gibbs: Proposes reassignment of each row sequentially. Generally makes larger moves than slice. Because it is sequential, and accesses data in random order, gibbs is very slow.
  • sams: Proposes mergers and splits of categories. Only considers the rows in one or two categories. Proposes large moves, but cannot make the fine tweaks that slice and gibbs can. Since it proposes big moves, its proposals are often rejected as the run progresses and the state is already fitting fairly well.

Column kernels

The column kernels are generally adapted from the row kernels with some caveats.

  • slice: Same as the row kernel, but over columns.
  • gibbs: The same structurally as the row kernel, but uses random seed control to implement parallelism.

Gibbs is a good choice if the number of columns is high and mixing is a concern.

Fitting models in code

Though the CLI is a convenient way to fit models and generate metadata files outside of python or rust, you may often times find yourself wanting to fit in code. Lace gives you a number of options in both rust and python.


We first initialize a new Engine:

use rand::SeedableRng;
use rand_xoshiro::Xoshiro256Plus;
use polars::prelude::{CsvReader, SerReader};
use lace::prelude::*;
use lace::examples::Example;

// Load an example file
let paths = Example::Satellites.paths().unwrap();
let df = CsvReader::from_path(

// Create the default codebook
let codebook = Codebook::from_df(&df, None, None, false).unwrap();

// Build an rng
let rng = Xoshiro256Plus::from_entropy();

// This initializes 32 states from the prior
let mut engine = Engine::new(

Now we have two options for fitting. We can use the Engine::run method, which uses a default set of transition operations that prioritizes speed.;

We can also tell lace exactly which transitions to run.

// Run for 1000 iterations. Use the Gibbs column reassignment kernel, and
// alternate between the merge-split (Sams) and slice row kernels
let run_config = EngineUpdateConfig::new()

engine.update(run_config.clone(), ()).unwrap();

Note the second argument to engine.update. This is the update handler, which allows users to do things like attach progress bars, handle Ctrl+C, and collect additional diagnostic information. There are a number a built-ins for common use case, but you can implement UpdateHandler for your own types if you need extra capabilities. () is the null update handler.

If we wanted a simple progressbar

use lace::prelude::update_handler::ProgressBar;

engine.update(run_config.clone(), ProgressBar::new()).unwrap();

Or if we wanted a progress bar and a Ctrl+C handler, we can use a tuple of UpdateHandlers.

use lace::prelude::update_handler::CtrlC;

    (ProgressBar::new(), CtrlC::new())


Let's load an Engine from an example and run it with the default transitions for 1000 iterations.

from lace.examples import Satellites

engine = Satellites()

As in rust, we can control which transitions are run. Let's just update the row assignments a bunch of times.

from lace import RowKernel, StateTransition

    timeout=10,              # each state can run for at most 10 seconds
    checkpoint=250,          # save progress every 250 iterations


When training a neural network, we monitor for convergence in the error or loss. When, say, we see diminishing returns in our loss function with each epoch, or we see overfitting in the validation set, it is time to stop. Convergence in MCMC is a bit different. We say our Markov Chain has converged when it has settled into a situation in which it is producing draws from the posterior distribution. In the beginning state of the chain, it is rapidly moving away from the low probability area in which it was initialized and into the higher probability areas more representative of the posterior.

To monitor convergence, we observe the score (which is proportional to the likelihood) over time. If the score stops increasing and begins to oscillate, one of two things has happened: we have settled into the posterior distribution, or the Markov Chain has gotten stuck on an island of high likelihood. When a model is identifiable (meaning that each unique parameter set creates a unique model) the posterior distribution is unimodal, which means there is only one peak, which is easily mapped.