Advanced Use

Introspecting Programs

If you wish to learn more about how the evolution process came to the final solution, gplearn provides several means to examine the best programs and their parents. Most of these methods are illustrated in the examples section.

Each of SymbolicRegressor, SymbolicClassifier and SymbolicTransformer overload the print function to output a LISP-style flattened tree representation of the program. Simply print(est) the fitted estimator and the program will be output to your session.

If you would like to see more details about the final programs, you can access the underlying _Program objects which contains several attributes and methods that can yield more information about them.

SymbolicRegressor and SymbolicClassifier have a private attribute _program which is a single _Program object that was the fittest program found in the final generation of the evolution.

SymbolicTransformer on the other hand has a private attribute _best_programs which is a list of _Program objects of length n_components being the least-correlated and fittest programs found in the final generation of the evolution. SymbolicTransformer is also iterable so you can loop through the estimator itself to access each underlying _Program object.

Each _Program object can also be printed as with the estimator themselves to get a readable representation of the programs. They also have several attributes that you can use to further understand the programs:

  • raw_fitness_ : The raw fitness of the individual program.

  • fitness_ : The penalized fitness of the individual program.

  • oob_fitness_ : The out-of-bag raw fitness of the individual program for the held-out samples. Only present when sub-sampling was used in the estimator by specifying max_samples < 1.0.

  • depth_ : The maximum depth of the program tree.

  • length_ : The number of functions and terminals in the program.

For example with a SymbolicTransformer:

for program in est_gp:

    div(div(X11, X12), X10)
    sub(div(mul(X4, X12), div(X9, X9)), sub(div(X11, X12), add(X12, X0)))

Or if you want to access the individual programs:


div(div(X11, X12), X10)

And for a SymbolicRegressor:


add(sub(add(X5, div(X5, 0.388)), X0), div(add(X5, X10), X12))
add(sub(add(X5, div(X5, 0.388)), X0), div(add(X5, X10), X12))

You can also plot the programs as a program tree using Graphviz via the export_graphviz method of the _Program objects. In a Jupyter notebook this is easy using the pydotplus package:

from IPython.display import Image
import pydotplus
graph = est_gp._program.export_graphviz()
graph = pydotplus.graphviz.graph_from_dot_data(graph)

This assumes you are satisfied with only seeing the final results, but the relevant programs that led to the final solutions are still retained in the estimator’s _programs attribute. This object is a list of lists of all of the _Program objects that were involved in the evolution of the solution. The first entry in the outer list is the original naive generation of programs while the last entry is the final generation in which the solutions were found.

Note that any programs in earlier generations that were discarded through the selection process are replaced with None objects to conserve memory.

Each of the programs in the final solution and the generations that preceded them have a attribute called parents. Except for the naive programs from the initial population who have a parents value of None, this dictionary contains information about how that program was evolved. Its contents differ depending on the genetic operation that was performed on its parents to yield that program:

  • Crossover:
    • ‘method’: ‘Crossover’

    • ‘parent_idx’: The index of the parent program in the previous generation.

    • ‘parent_nodes’: The indices of the nodes in the subtree in the parent program that was replaced.

    • ‘donor_idx’: The index of the donor program in the previous generation.

    • ‘donor_nodes’: The indices of the nodes in the subtree in the donor program that was donated to the parent.

  • Subtree Mutation:
    • ‘method’: ‘Subtree Mutation’

    • ‘parent_idx’: The index of the parent program in the previous generation.

    • ‘parent_nodes’: The indices of the nodes in the subtree in the parent program that was replaced.

  • Hoist Mutation:
    • ‘method’: ‘Hoist Mutation’

    • ‘parent_idx’: The index of the parent program in the previous generation.

    • ‘parent_nodes’: The indices of the nodes in the parent program that were removed.

  • Point Mutation:
    • ‘method’: ‘Point Mutation’

    • ‘parent_idx’: The index of the parent program in the previous generation.

    • ‘parent_nodes’: The indices of the nodes in the parent program that were replaced.

  • Reproduction:
    • ‘method’: ‘Reproduction’

    • ‘parent_idx’: The index of the parent program in the previous generation.

    • ‘parent_nodes’: An empty list as nothing was changed.

The export_graphviz also has an optional parameter fade_nodes which can take a list of nodes that should be shown as being altered in the visualization. For example if the best program had this parent:


{'parent_idx': 75, 'parent_nodes': [1, 10], 'method': 'Point Mutation'}

You could plot its parent with the affected nodes indicated using:

idx = est_gp._program.parents['parent_idx']
fade_nodes = est_gp._program.parents['parent_nodes']
graph = est_gp._programs[-2][idx].export_graphviz(fade_nodes=fade_nodes)
graph = pydotplus.graphviz.graph_from_dot_data(graph)

Running Evolution in Parallel

It is easy to run your evolution parallel. All you need to do is to change the n_jobs parameter in SymbolicRegressor, SymbolicClassifier or SymbolicTransformer. Whether this will reduce your run times depends a great deal upon the problem you are working on.

Genetic programming is inherently an iterative process. One generation undergoes genetic operations with other members of the same generation in order to produce the next. When ran in parallel, gplearn splits the genetic operations into equal-sized batches that run in parallel, but the generations themselves must be completed before the next step can begin. For example, with three threads and three generations the processing would look like this:


Until all of the computation in Threads 1, 2 & 3 have completed, the next generation must wait for them all to complete.

Spinning up all these extra processes in parallel is not free. There is a substantial overhead in running gplearn in parallel and because of the iterative nature of evolution one should test whether there is any advantage from doing so for your problem. In many cases the overhead of creating extra processes will exceed the savings of running in parallel.

In general large populations or large programs can benefit from parallel processing. If you have small populations and keep your programs small however, you may actually have your runs go faster on a single thread!


If you want to save your program for later use, you can use the pickle library to achieve this:

import pickle

est = SymbolicRegressor(), y_train)

Optionally, you can reduce the file size of the pickled object by removing the evolution information contained within the _programs attribute. Note though that while the resulting estimator will be able to do predictions, doing this will remove the ability to use warm_start to continue the evolution, or inspection of the final solution’s parents:

delattr(est, '_programs')

Then simply dump your model to a file:

with open('gp_model.pkl', 'wb') as f:
    pickle.dump(est, f)

You can then load it at another date easily:

with open('gp_model.pkl', 'rb') as f:
    est = pickle.load(f)

And use it as if it was the Python session where you originally trained the model.

Custom Functions

This example demonstrates modifying the function set with your own user-defined functions using the functions.make_function() factory function.

First you need to define some function which will return a numpy array of the correct shape. Most numpy operations will automatically do this. The factory will perform some basic checks on your function to ensure it complies with this. The function must also protect against zero division and invalid floating point operations (such as the log of a negative number).

For this example we will implement a logical operation where two arguments are compared, and if the first one is larger, return a third value, otherwise return a fourth value:

def _logical(x1, x2, x3, x4):
    return np.where(x1 > x2, x3, x4)

To make this into a gplearn compatible function, we use the factory where we must give it a name for display purposes and declare the arity of the function which must match the number of arguments that your function expects:

logical = make_function(function=_logical,

Due to the way that the default Python pickler works, by default gplearn wraps your function to be serialised with cloudpickle. This can mean your evolution will run slightly more slowly. If you have no need to export your model after the run, or you are running single-threaded in an interactive Python session you may achieve a faster evolution time by setting the optional parameter wrap=False in functions.make_function().

This can then be added to a gplearn estimator like so:

gp = SymbolicTransformer(function_set=['add', 'sub', 'mul', 'div', logical])

Note that custom functions should be specified as the function object name (ie. with no quotes), while built-in functions use the name of the function as a string.

After fitting, you will see some of your programs will have used your own customized functions, for example:

add(X3, logical(div(X5, sub(X5, X5)), add(X9, -0.621), X8, X4))

In other mathematical relationships, it may be necessary to ensure the function has closure. This means that the function will always return a valid floating point result. Using np.where, the user can protect against invalid operations and substitute problematic values with a default such as 0 or 1. One example is the built-in protected division function where infinite values resulting by divide by zero are replaced by 1:

def _protected_division(x1, x2):
    with np.errstate(divide='ignore', invalid='ignore'):
        return np.where(np.abs(x2) > 0.001, np.divide(x1, x2), 1.)

Or a custom function where floating-point overflow is protected in an exponential function:

def _protected_exponent(x1):
    with np.errstate(over='ignore'):
        return np.where(np.abs(x1) < 100, np.exp(x), 0.)

For further information on the types of errors that numpy can encounter and what you will need to protect against in your own custom functions, see here.

Custom Fitness

You can easily create your own fitness measure to have your programs evolve to optimize whatever metric you need. This is done using the fitness.make_fitness() factory function. Let’s say we wish to measure our programs using MAPE (mean absolute percentage error). First we would need to implement a function that returns this value. The function must take the arguments y (the actual target values), y_pred (the predicted values from the program) and w (the weights to apply to each sample) to work. For MAPE, a possible solution is:

def _mape(y, y_pred, w):
    """Calculate the mean absolute percentage error."""
    diffs = np.abs(np.divide((np.maximum(0.001, y) - np.maximum(0.001, y_pred)),
                             np.maximum(0.001, y)))
    return 100. * np.average(diffs, weights=w)

Division by zero must be protected for a metric like MAPE as it is generally used for cases where the target is positive and non-zero (like forecasting demand). We need to keep in mind that the programs begin by being totally naive, so a negative return value is possible. The np.maximum function will protect against these cases, though you may wish to treat this differently depending on your specific use case.

We then create a fitness measure for use in our evolution by using the fitness.make_fitness() factory function as follows:

mape = make_fitness(function=_mape,

This fitness measure can now be used to evolve a program that optimizes for your specific needs by passing the new fitness object to the metric parameter when creating an estimator:

est = SymbolicRegressor(metric=mape, verbose=1)

As with custom functions, by default gplearn wraps your fitness metric to be serialised with cloudpickle. If you have no need to export your model after the run, or you are running single-threaded in an interactive Python session you may achieve a faster evolution time by setting the optional parameter wrap=False in fitness.make_fitness().

Continuing Evolution

If you are evolving a lot of generations in your training session, but find that you need to keep evolving more, you can use the warm_start parameter in both SymbolicRegressor and SymbolicTransformer to continue evolution beyond your original estimates. To do so, start evolution as usual:

est = SymbolicRegressor(generations=10), y)

If you then need to add further generations, simply change the generations and warm_start attributes and fit again:

est.set_params(generations=20, warm_start=True), y)

Evolution will then continue for a further 10 generations without losing the programs that had been previously trained.