ctapipe is not stable yet, so expect large and rapid changes to structure and functionality as we explore various design choices before the 1.0 release.

Code Guidelines#

Coding should follow the CTA coding guidelines from the CTA Code Standards document.

Here, we list useful guidelines for the logical structure of code (see also the style-guide for code style). This guide is subject to change as we further develop the framework, so it should be checked regularly.

References for Good Coding Practices#

Checking for Logistic Errors#

Several static analysis packages exist to help look for common coding errors, and these should be used frequently.

% pip install hacking  # installs all checker tools

% pyflakes file.py # checks for code errors
% flake8 file.py   # checks style and code errors
% flake8           # checks code in all subdirs

If you use PyCharm as an IDE, there is also a GUI function to find and review all common code errors and style issues.


A unit test is a piece of code that tests a single functionality of a library (e.g. a function, method, or class).

All code your write should have associated unit tests to ensure the code works, gives reasonable results, handles error cases properly, and to keep bugs at a minimum

Unit tests in ctapipe uses pytest . Each module should put tests in a [module_name]/test subdirectory, which can contain one or more files called test_[X] containing tests to run, which are then automatically discovered.

To run the test suite, you can run make test from the top-level ctapipe directory (which is just an alias to python -m pytest). You can also run tests in subdirectories to limit which ones are run.

Follow these basic guidelines:

  1. There should be at least a unit test that executes all functions/classes/methods that you have written (minimally just runs them)

  2. You should write tests that give simple inputs and check that the expected output is returned

  3. Make sure to test edge and error cases for your functions (e.g. test what happens if an unexpected but still valid input is given)

  4. Any time you fix a bug, it is good practice to add a unit test to make sure that bug does not appear again in the future (this is called regression testing)

Data Structures#

Python is very flexible with data structures: data can be in classes, dictionaries, lists, tuples, and numpy NDArrays. Furthermore, the structure of a class or dict is flexible: members can be added or removed at runtime. Therefore, we should be careful to follow some basic guidelines:

  • basic array-like data should be in an numpy.NDArray, with a suitable dtype (fixed data type)

  • for complex sets of arrays, each with a column name and unit, can be managed via an astropy.table.Table object (which also provides methods to read and write such a table to/from nearly any file format, including FITS and HDF5). Other packages like pandas or dask may be explored.

  • ctapipe.core.Container should be used for any high-level data structures that you want to be able to write to disk (they are not necessary for simple function return values)

Logging and Debugging#

  • do not use the print() function to output text. Instead use the common logging failities of ctapipe. Log messages should be simple, and no not include the filename, function name, time, or any other metadata (which can be attached automatically by the logging system). See https://docs.python.org/3/howto/logging.html for more info

  • Logging within a Tool or Component subclass: use the self.log logger instance

  • logging in a library file that is not part of Tool or Component: define a logger at the top of the python file, and name it by using __name__ as follows:

# at the top of your file:

import logging
logger = logging.getLogger(__name__)

Python logging works as follows:

logger.warning("this might be a problem")
logger.info("basic status")
logger.debug("debugging message")
logger.error("a serious problem")
logger.critical("this should never happen!")

And which messages print out and in what logging format can be defined at run-time, along with filtering capabilities (e.g. only show log messages from a particular file or class).

Some logging guidelines:

  • you should not include the name of your function/class, line number, name of the file, or similar info in a log message. That information can be added automatically by the logger by changing the log format if needed (all log messages come with an attached LogRecord which contains all of the necessary metadata: name, level, pathname, filename, line number, message, arguments,exc_info (for exceptions), function name, stack info, process name, and optional user-defined fields.

  • the log message should be human-readable and explain to a user not fully familiar with the code what is happening.

  • if the message refers to a value, you can insert it into the message using format logger.debug("some message: {}".format(val)") or the log syntax logger.debug("some message: %d", val)

Function or Method Input/Output#

Functions and methods should not modify input parameters. Therefore any data you pass in should be independent of what is output (do not e.g. fill in a large data structure with several algorithms). The reason for this is to allow for parallelization and flow-based chaining of algorithms, which is impossible if one algorithm modifies the input to another.

Unit Quantities#

When appropriate (e.g. in high-level algorithms APIs), use astropy.units for any quantity where the unit may be ambiguous or where units need to be transformed. Internally in a function, this is not necessary since the coder can ensure unit consistency, but for public APIs (function inputs, etc), units are useful. You can even enforce a function to have particular unit inputs:

from astropy import units as u
from astropy.units.decorators import quantity_input

def my_function_that_should_enforce_units(width: u.m , length:u.m, angle:u.deg):
        print(width.value, "is in meters") # no need for further conversion

With this decorator, the inputs will be automatically converted to the given units, or an exception will be thrown if they cannot. So one can call this like:

# works:

# throws exception
my_function_that_should_enforce_units(width=12,   # no units, fails
# throws exception
my_function_that_should_enforce_units(width=12*u.TeV, # bad conversion, fails

Note however, that this introduces some overhead as the units are tested and converted for each function call. For functions that are called frequently, it’s best to enforce a unit earlier (e.g when the parameters are defined), and assume it.

Writing Algorithms#

Note that if you write an algorithm, it may be used in many ways: in a command-line tool used in a batch-based system, in a server that processes events or data in real-time on-line, or in a variety of other data processing systems (map-reduce, Spark, dask, etc). Therefore the main request of ctapipe managers is that algorithms should be written as simply as possible without depending on any particular data flow mechanism. The following guidelines can help when writing algorithms:

  • Keep the design of algorithm code as simple as possible. Inputs and outputs should be simple values or arrays, avoiding complex structures if possible.

  • Separate algorithms cleanly from the framework: Do not try to implement any framework features in your algorithm: - do not parse command-line or other options - do not make a way to choose a method from input parameters - do not write data streams to disk yourself (use framework features, or just print() until they are available) data flow between algorithms, etc). - If a framework feature is missing, request it via the issue tracker.

  • If the algorithm needs no state to be stored between calls, use a simple function with explicit parameters as keyword arguments.

    def mangle_signal(signal, px, py, center_point=(0, 0), setpoint=2.0 * u.m):
    Mangles an image
    signal : np.ndarray
        array of signal values for each point in space
    px,py  : np.ndarray
        arrays of x and y values of each signal value
    centerpoint : (x,y)
        center value in pixel coordinates
    setpoint : float quantity
        a parameter in meters
  • if the algorithm must maintain some state information between calls (loaded tables, etc) or needs some common initialization parameters, a class may be used to facilitate this. Again, use keyword arguments.

    class SignalMangler:
        def __init__(self, px, py, lookup_table_filename):
            self.transform_table = Table.read(lookup_table_filename)
            self.px = px
            self.py = py
        def mangle(self, signal):
  • if there are multiple implementations of the same generic algorithm, a class hierarchy should be use where the base class defines the common interface to all algorithm instances.

  • Algorithms that need user-definable parameters (that end up in a config file or as command-line parameters), need to use ctapipe.core.Component as a base class, and follow its guidelines (see related documentation)

  • When writing example or integration test code for an algorithm, keep it simple: use a basic for loop to chain your algorithms together. An algorithm test (not unit test, but integration test) should look roughly like this:

    # these should become user-defined parameters:
    filename = "events.tar.gz"
    tel_id = 1
    # initialize any algorithms
    source = EventSource(filename)
    geom = source.subarray.tel[tel_id].camera.geometry
    ImageMangler = mangler(geom.pix_x, geom.pix_y, "transformtable.fits")
    # simple loop over events, calling each algorithm and directly
    # passing data
    for event in source:
        image = event.dl1.tel[tel_id].image
        mangled_image = mangler.mangle(image)
        image_parameters = parameterize_image(mangled_image)
  • When your algorithm test code (as above) works well and you are happy with the results, you should convert your test code into a set of ctapipe.core.Component or ctapipe.core.Tool so that it is usable with the configuration system or becomes a command-line program released with ctapipe.