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(T) NumPy in Action

The NumPy module provides effecient and convenient handling of large numerical arrays in Python. This module is used by many other libraries and projects and in this sense is a "base" technology. Let's look at some quick examples.

NumPy objects are of type ndarray. There are different ways of creating then. We can create an ndarray by:

  • Converting a Python list
  • Using a library function that returns a populated vector
  • Reading data from a file directly into a NumPy object
The listing that follows shows five different ways to create NumPy objects. First we create one by converting a Python list. Then we show two different factory routines that generate equally spaced grid points. These routines differ in how they interpret the provided boundary values: one routine includes both boundary values, and the other includes one and excludes the other. Next we create a vector filled with zeros and set each element in a loop. Finally, we read data from a text file. (I am showing only the simplest or default cases here—all these routines have many more options that can be used to influence their behavior.)

In the end, all five vectors contain identical data. You should observe that the values in the Python list used to initialize vec1 are floating-point values and that we specified the type desired for the vector elements explicitly when using the arange() function to create vec2. Now that we have created these objects, we can operate with them (see the next listing). One of the major conveniences provided by NumPy is that we can operate with NumPy objects as if they were atomic data types: we can add, subtract, and multiply them (and so forth) without the need for explicit loops. Avoiding explicit loops makes our code clearer. It also makes it faster.

All operations are performed element by element: if we add two vectors, then the corresponding elements from each vector are combined to give the element in the resulting vector. In other words, the compact expression vec1 + vec2 for v1 in the listing is equivalent to the explicit loop construction used to calculate v2. This is true even for multiplication: vec1 * vec2 will result in a vector in which the corresponding elements of both operands have been multiplied element by element. (If you want a true vector or “dot” product, you must use the dot() function instead.) Obviously, this requires that all operands have the same number of elements!

Now we shall demonstrate two further convenience features that in the NumPy documentation are referred to as broadcasting and ufuncs (short for “universal functions”). The term “broadcasting” in this context has nothing to do with messaging. Instead, it means that if you try to combine two arguments of different shapes, then the smaller one will be extended (“cast broader”) to match the larger one. This is especially useful when combining scalars with vectors: the scalar is expanded to a vector of appropriate size and whose elements all have the value given by the scalar; then the operation proceeds, element by element, as before. The term “ufunc” refers to a scalar function that can be applied to a NumPy object. The function is applied, element by element, to all entries in the NumPy object, and the result is a new NumPy object with the same shape as the original one.


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