How to Write Custom Gen Distributions

Custom distributions

Users can extend Gen with new probability distributions, which can then be used to make random choices within generative functions. Simple transformations of existing distributions can be created using the @dist DSL. For arbitrary distributions, including distributions that cannot be expressed in the @dist DSL, users can define a custom distribution by implementing Gen's Distribution interface directly, as defined below.

Probability distributions are singleton types whose supertype is Distribution{T}, where T indicates the data type of the random sample.

abstract type Distribution{T} end

A new Distribution type must implement the following methods:

By convention, distributions have a global constant lower-case name for the singleton value. For example:

struct Bernoulli <: Distribution{Bool} end
const bernoulli = Bernoulli()

Distribution values should also be callable, which is a syntactic sugar with the same behavior of calling random:

bernoulli(0.5) # identical to random(bernoulli, 0.5) and random(Bernoulli(), 0.5)

Custom Generative Functions

We recommend the following steps for implementing a new type of generative function, and also looking at the implementation for the DynamicDSLFunction type as an example.

Define a trace data type
struct MyTraceType <: Trace
Decide the return type for the generative function

Suppose our return type is Vector{Float64}.

Define a data type for your generative function

This should be a subtype of GenerativeFunction, with the appropriate type parameters.

struct MyGenerativeFunction <: GenerativeFunction{Vector{Float64},MyTraceType}

Note that your generative function may not need to have any fields. You can create a constructor for it, e.g.:

function MyGenerativeFunction(...)
Decide what the arguments to a generative function should be

For example, our generative functions might take two arguments, a (of type Int) and b (of type Float64). Then, the argument tuple passed to e.g. generate will have two elements.

NOTE: Be careful to distinguish between arguments to the generative function itself, and arguments to the constructor of the generative function. For example, if you have a generative function type that is parametrized by, for example, modeling DSL code, this DSL code would be a parameter of the generative function constructor.

Decide what the traced random choices (if any) will be

Remember that each random choice is assigned a unique address in (possibly) hierarchical address space. You are free to design this address space as you wish, although you should document it for users of your generative function type.

Implement methods of the Generative Function Interface

At minimum, you need to implement the following methods:

If you want to use the generative function within models, you should implement:

If you want to use MCMC on models that call your generative function, then implement:

If you want to use gradient-based inference techniques on models that call your generative function, then implement:

If your generative function has trainable parameters, then implement: