The importance of constraints in data mining

Today, I will discuss an important concept in data mining which is the use of constraints.


Data mining is a broad field incorporating many different kind of techniques for discovering unexpected and new knowledge from data. Some main data mining tasks are: (1) clustering, (2) pattern mining, (3) classification and (4) outlier detection.

Each of these main data mining tasks offers a set of popular algorithms. Generally, the most popular algorithms are defined to handle a general and simple case that can be applied in many domains.

For example, consider the task of sequential pattern mining proposed by Agrawal and Srikant (1995). Without going into details, it consists of discovering subsequences that appear frequently in a set of sequences of symbols. In the original problem definition, a user only has two parameters: (1) a set of sequences and (2) a minimum frequency threshold indicating the minimal frequency that a pattern should have, to be found.

But to apply a data mining algorithm in a real application often require to consider specific characteristics of the application. One way to do that is to add the concept of constraints. For example, in the past, I have done a research project where I have applied a sequential pattern mining algorithm to discover frequent sequences of actions performed by learners using an e-learning system (pdf). I first used a popular classical algorithm named PrefixSpan but I quickly found that the patterns found were uninteresting because. To filter uninteresting patterns, I have modified the algorithm to add several constraints such as:
– the minimum/maximum length of a pattern in sequences where timestamps are used
– the minimum “gap” between two elements of a subsequence
– removing redundancy in results
– adding the notion of annotations and context to sequences
– …

By modifying the original algorithm to add constraints specific to the application domain, I got much better results (and for this work on e-learning, I received the best paper award at MICAI 2008). The lesson from this example is that it is often necessary to adapt existing algorithms by adding constraints or other domain specific ideas to get good results that are tailored to an application domain. In general, it is a good idea to start with a classical algorithm to see how it works and its limitations. Then, one can modify the algorithm or look for some existing modifications that are better suited for the application.

Lastly, another important point is for data mining programmers. There is two ways to integrate constraints in data mining algorithms. First, it is possible to add constraints by performing post-processing on the result of a data mining algorithm. The advantage is that it is easy to implement. Second, it is possible to add constraints directly in the mining algorithms so as to use the constraints to prune the search space and improve the efficiency of the algorithms. This is more difficult to do, but it can provide much better performance in some cases. For example, in most frequent pattern mining algorithms for example, it is well-known that using constraints can greatly increase the efficiency in terms of runtime and memory usage while greatly reducing the number of patterns found.

That is what I wanted to write for today. If you have additional thoughts, please share them in the comment section. If you like this blog, you can subscribe to the RSS Feed or my Twitter account ( to get notified about future blog posts. Also, if you want to support this blog, please tweet and share it!

P. Fournier-Viger is the founder of the Java open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 50 data mining algorithms.

How to measure the memory usage of data mining algorithms in Java?

Today, I will discuss the topic of accurately evaluating the memory usage of data mining algorithms in Java. I will share several problems that I have discovered with memory measurements in Java for data miners and strategies to avoid these problems and get accurate memory measurements.

In Java, there is an important challenge for making accurate memory measurement. It is that the programmer does not have the possibility to control the memory allocation. In Java, when a program does not hold references to an object anymore, there is no guarantee that the memory will be freed, immediately. This is because in Java, the Garbage Collector (GC) is responsible for freeing the memory and he generally use a lazy approach. In fact, during extensive CPU usage, I have often noticed that the GC waits until the maximum memory limit is reached before starting to free memory.  Then, when the GC starts its work, it may considerably slow down the speed of your algorithm thus causing inaccurate execution time measurements.  For example, consider the following charts.

measuring memory of data mining algorithms in Java

In these charts, I have compared the execution time (left) and memory usage (right) of two data mining algorithms named CMRules and CMDeo. When I have performed the experiment, I have noticed that as soon as CMDeo reached the 1 GB memory limit (red line), it suddenly became very slow because of garbage collection. This would create a large increase in execution time on the chart. Because this increase is not due to the algorithm itself but due to the GC, I decided to (1) not include memory measurements for |S| > 100K for CMDeo in the final chart and (2) to mention in the research article that it was because of the GC that no measurement is given.  This problem would not happen with a programming language like C++  because the programmer can decide when the memory is freed (there is no GC).

To avoid the aforementioned problem, the lessons that I have learned is to either (1) add more memory to your computer (or increase the memory allocated to your Java Virtual Machine) or (2) choose an experiment where the maximum memory limit will not be reached to provide a fair comparison of the algorithms.

To increase the memory limit of the JVM (Java Virtual Machine), there is a command line parameter called -xmx that can work or not depending on your Java version.  For example, if you want to launch a Jar file called spmf.jar with 1024 megabytes of RAM, you can do as follows.

java -Xmx1024m -jar spmf.jar

If you are running your algorithms from a development environment such as Eclipse, the XMX parameter can also be used:

  • Go in the menu Run > Run Configurations >  then select the class that you want to run.
  • Go to the “Arguments” tab >  Then paste the following text in the “VM Arguments” field:      -Xmx1024${build_files}m
  • Then press “Run“.

Now that I have discussed the main challenges of memory measurement in Java, I will explain how to measure the memory usage accurately in Java.  There are a few ways to do it and it is important to understand when they are best used.

Method 1. The first way is to measure the memory at  two different times and to subtract the measurements. This can be done as follows:

double startMemory = (Runtime.getRuntime().totalMemory() -  Runtime.getRuntime().freeMemory())
/ 1024d / 1024d;
double endMemory = (Runtime.getRuntime().totalMemory() -  Runtime.getRuntime().freeMemory())
/ 1024d / 1024d

System.out.println(" memory :" + endMemory - startMemory);

This approach provides a very rough estimate of the memory usage. The reason is it does not measure the real amount of memory  used at a given moment because of the GC. In some of my experiments, the amount of memory measured by this method even reached up to 10 times the amount of memory really used. However, when comparing algorithms, this method can still give a good idea of which algorithm has better memory usage. For this reason, I have used this method in a few research articles where the goal was to compare algorithms.

Method 2. The second method is designed to calculate the memory used by a Java object. For data miners, it can be used to assess the size of a data structure, rather than observing the memory usage of an algorithm over a period of time.  For example, consider the FPGrowth algorithm. It uses a large data structure that is named the FPTree.  Measuring the size of an FPTree accurately is very difficult with the first method, for the reason mention previously. A solution is to use Method 2, which is to serialize the data structure that you want to measure as a stream of bytes and then to measure the size of the stream of bytes. This method give a very close estimate of the real size of an object.  This can be done as follows:

MyDataStructure myDataStructure = ....

ByteArrayOutputStream baos = new ByteArrayOutputStream();
ObjectOutputStream oos = new ObjectOutputStream(baos);

System.out.println("size of data structure : " + baos.size() / 1024d / 1024d + " MB");;

With Method 2, I usually get some accurate measurements.For example, recently I wanted to estimate the size of a new data structure that I have developed for data mining. When I was using Method 1, I got a value close to 500 MB after the construction of the data structure.  When I used Method 2, I got a much more reasonable value of 30 MB.  Note that this value can still be a little bit off because some additional information can be added by Java when an object is serialized.

Method 3. There is an alternative to Method 2 that is reported to give a better estimate of the size of an object. It requires to use the Java instrumentation framework. The downside of this approach is that it requires to run an algorithm by using the command line with a Jar file that need to be created for this purpose, which is more complicated to do than the two first methods. This method can be with Java >=  1.5.  For more information on this method, see this tutorial.

Other alternatives: There exists other alternatives such as using a memory profiler for observing in more details the behavior of a Java program in terms of memory usage. I will not discuss it in this blog post.

That is what I wanted to write for today.   If you have additional thoughts, please share them in the comment section. If you like this blog, you can subscribe to the RSS Feed or my Twitter account ( to get notified about future blog posts.  Also, if you want to support this blog, please tweet and share it!

P. Fournier-Viger is the founder of the Java open-source  data mining software SPMF, offering more than 50 data mining algorithms.

How to make good looking charts for research papers?

Charts are often used in research papers to present experimental results. Today, I will discuss how to make good looking charts for presenting research results. I will not cover everything about this topic. But I will explain some key ideas.

If you are using Excel to make charts for your research papers, one of the most common mistakes is to use the default chart style.  The default style is very colorful with large lines. It is thus more appropriate for a PowerPoint presentation than a research paper. Charts appearing in research paper are most of the time printed in black and white and generally have to be small to save space.  For example, below, I show a chart made with the default Excel style (left) and how I have tweaked its appearance to add it in one of my research papers.

how to make chart for research paper

The key modifications that I have made are:

  • Data line size = 0.75 pts  (looks better when printed and can see more clearly the various lines)
  • Change the font size to 8 pts  (enough for a research paper)
  • No fill color for markers
  • Marker line size = 0.75 pts
  • No border line for the whole chart
  • Remove the horizontal lines inside the chart area
  • Everything is black and white (looks better when printed) such as axis lines, markers, data lines, etc.

Besides, it is also important to:

  • Make sure that the units on each axis appear correctly.
  • If necessary, change the interval of minor and major units and the minimum and maximum values for each axis so that no space is wasted and that unit labels appear correctly.
  • Make sure that all axis have labels indicating the units (e.g.  “Execution time (s)”).
  • Make sure that the chart has a legend.
  • If necessary change the number format for each axis. For example, in the previous example, I have previously changed the number format of the X axis to “0 K” in the axis options of Excel, so that numbers such as 1,000,000 appears as 1000K instead. This saves a lot of space.

Do not convert charts to bitmaps. Another common mistake is to convert charts to image files before inserting them in a Word document. Unless, you create a very high resolution image file, the printing quality will not be very good.  A better solution is to directly copy the Excel chart into the Word document. If you do like that, when printing or generating a PDF of your document, the chart will be considered as vector graphics rather than as a bitmap. This will greatly enhance the appearance of your chart when it is printed.

Alternatives to Excel: A reader (Antonio) has sent me a great tutorial about using R for making charts, as an alternative to Excel. I think that it looks like a great alternative, that could also be used with LaTeX. Also, a link about how to use R in Excel (by Antonio), for those interested.

This is what I wanted to wrote for today.  Obviously, more things could be said on this topic. But my goal was to highlight the importance of customizing the appearance of charts. In this post, I have shown an example. However, I recommend to look at charts from other research papers in your field to see what is the most appropriate style  for your field.

If you have additional thoughts, please share them in the comment section. If you like this blog, you can subscribe to the RSS Feed or my Twitter account ( to get notified about future blog posts.  Also, if you want to support this blog, please tweet and share it!

How to search for a research advisor by e-mail?

In this blog post, I will discuss how to search for a research advisor by e-mail.


Today, I received an e-mail from a Ph.D student from abroad asking to work with me as a post-doc on the topic of “Web Services”.  Let’s have a look at the e-mail and then I will discuss the problems with this  e-mail.


Dear Professor Fournier-Viger,

My name is XXXXXX. I am interested in many areas, including but not limited to “XXXXX”. I am very interested in applying for a postdoctoral position in your lab.

I completed my Ph.D XXXXXXXX majored in XXXX, from XXXXX University, in XXXXXX. Before that, I focused on XXXXXXX both in Master and Bachelor studies.

My research goal is to provide a novel service model XXXXXXXXXXX and so on.

I have many years’ experience in service computing research. And the areas I can pursue is as following,
Mulit-agent research;
Services computing research;

I would be grateful if you would give me the opportunity to work in your group. The attached is my CV for your review.
I am eagerly looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

When I read this e-mail, I see right away that this message was probably sent to hundreds or thousands of professors. The reason why I get this impression is that I’m not working on “web services” and that the student write about HIS research interests instead of talking about why he is interested in working with me. When I receive this kind of e-mail, I usually delete it and I know that several other professors in other universities do the same.  On the other hand, if I receive a personalized message from a student that explain why he wants to work for me, I will take the time to read it carefully and answer it.

The advice that I wanted to give in this post is that to be successful when searching for a research advisor by e-mail, it is important to write personalized e-mails to each professor, and to choose professors related to your field. It takes more time. But it will be more successful. This is what I did when looking for a post-doc position when I was a Ph.D. student and it worked very well.

This is what I wanted to write for today.  If you like this blog, you can subscribe to the RSS Feed or my Twitter account ( to get notified about future blog posts.  Also, if you want to support this blog, please tweet and share it!

What are the steps to implement a data mining algorithm?

In this post, I will discuss what are the steps that I follow to implement a data mining algorithm.

steps to implement data mining algorithms

The subject of this post comes from a question that I have received by e-mail recently, and I think that it is interesting to share the answer. The question was :

When we do he programming I’ve observed a good programmer always makes a flow chart, data flow diagram, context diagram etc. to make the programming error free.  (…) In your implementation of XXXX  algorithm, have you performed any procedures as discussed above? (…) Can you explain me what are the basic procedures that you have applied to implement XXXX algorithm?

When I implement a data mining algorithm, I don’t do any flowchart or UML design because I consider that a single data mining algorithm is a small project.  If I was programming  larger software program, I would think about object-oriented design and UML. But for a single algorithm, it does not need to be an object oriented design. Actually, what is the most important for a data mining algorithm is that the algorithm produces the correct result, is fast and preferably that the code is well-documented and clean.

Step 1: understanding the algorithm. For implementing a data mining algorithm, the first step  that I perform is to read the research paper describing it and make sure that I understand it well.  Usually, I need to read the paper a few times to understand it.  If there is an example in the paper I will try to understand it and later I will use this example to test the algorithm to see if my implementation is correct. After I read the paper a few times, I may still not  understand some details about the algorithm. But this is ok. There is often some tricky details that you may only understand when doing the implementation because the authors do not always give all the details in the paper, sometimes due to the lack of space. Especially, it is common that authors do not describe all the optimizations and data structures that they have used in a research paper.

Step 2: implementing a first draft of the algorithm step by step. Then, I start to implement the algorithm.  To implement the algorithm I print the pseudocode and i try to implement it.   For an algorithm that takes a file as input, I will first work on the code for reading the input file.  I will test this code extensively to make sure that I read the input file correctly. Then, I will add additional details to perform the first operations of the algorithm. I will check if the intermediary result is correct by comparing with the example in the paper. If it is not correct I will debug and maybe read the paper again to make sure that I did not make a mistake because I did not understand something in the paper.  Then I will continue until the algorithm is fully implemented.

Step 3: testing with other input files. When my implementation becomes correct, I will try with a few more examples, to make sure that it is not correct for a single example but that it can provide the correct result for other input files.

Step 4: cleaning the code. After that, I will clean my code because the first draft is likely not pretty.

Step 5: optimizing the code. Then I will try to optimize the algorithm in terms of (1) using better data structures, (2) simplifying the code by removing unecessary operations, etc.  For example, for my implementation of PrefixSpan in my SPMF data mining software, I first made a very simple implementation without an optimization called  pseudo-projection that is described in the paper It was very slow. After my implementation was correct, I took a few days to optimize it.  For example, I added the pseudo-projection, I also added code for another optimization which is to remove infrequent items after the first input file scan,  I removed some unnecessary code that I had left,  I reorganized some code,  I added some comments, etc.

Step 6: Comparison of the performance with other implementations of the same algorithm / peer review. After my code is optimized, as an optional sixth step, I may compare the performance of my implementation with other implementations of the same algorithm if some are available on the Internet in the same programming language.If my implementation is slower, I may look at the source code of the other implementation to see if there is some ideas that I have not thought of that could be used to further optimize my code.  I may also ask some of my friends or colleagues to review my code. Another good way is to not show the code to your colleague but just to explain them the main idea to get their feedback. Discussing with other people is a good way to learn.

It takes times… Note that being good at programming data mining algorithms takes time. For example, let me tell you about my story. The first time that I implemented data mining algorithms was in december 2007. I implemented the Apriori algorithm for a course project at university.  My implementation was terrible and slow…  But it generated the correct result.  I then implemented PrefixSpan in 2008.  At that time, my code was better because I was gaining some experience on implementing this kind of algorithms.  Then in 2010, I read my Apriori and PrefixSpan code again and I still found some problems and I optimized them again.  What I want to say here is that it is normal that the first implementation(s) of data mining algorithms that one person makes may not be very good.  But after implementing a few algorithms, it becomes much easier.  Now,  we are in 2013 and I have implemented more than 45 algorithms in my open-source SPMF Java data mining software!

This is what I wanted to write for today.  Hope that you enjoyed this post. If you want to read more on this topic, you may be interested by my post on How to be a good data mining programmer.   Lastly, if you like this blog, you can subscribe to the RSS Feed or my Twitter account ( to get notified about future blog posts.  Also, if you want to support this blog, please tweet and share it!

Choosing data structures according to what you want to do

Today, I write a post about programming. I want to share a simple but important idea for writing optimized code. The idea is to choose data structures according to what you want to do instead of what you want to store. This idea is simple. But I write this post because it addresses a common beginner’s misconception which is to think of data structures solely in terms of what they can store.

For example, a beginner programmer may think that he should use an array or a list because s/he want to store some items in a given order. Or simply because s/he wants to store a set of single values.   To store two dimensional data, a simple idea is to use a two dimensional array, etc. That is a simple reasoning that is fine for implementing a program that works.

However, to write an optimized program, it is important to think further about how the data will be used. For example, consider that you need to write a program where you have to store a long list of integer values that is updated periodically (add and remove) and where you want to quickly find the minimum and maximum value.  If a programmer thinks about what he need to store, s/he may decide to use an array. If the programmer thinks in terms of what he want to do with the data, s/he may decide to use a list (an array that is dynamically resized) because add and remove operations will be performed periodically.  This could be a better solution. However, if the programmer thinks further in terms of what he want to do with the data, he may decide to use a red-black tree, which guarantees a O(log(n)) worst-case time cost for the four operations add, remove, minimum and maximumThis could be a much better solution!

Is it therefore important to take the time to find appropriate data structures if one’s wants to write optimized code.  Also note that the execution time is important but the memory usage is also sometimes very important.

To show you an example of what is the impact of choosing appropriate data structures on performance, I here compare three versions of TopKRules, an algorithm for mining top-k association rules in a transaction database. TopKRules needs to store a list of candidates and a list of k best rules and perform add, remove, minimum and maximum operations.  Furthermore, it needs to be able to quickly perform the intersection of two sets of integers.  The next chart shows a performance comparison in terms of execution times of three versions of TopKRules when a parameter k increases and the problem become more difficult, for a dataset called mushrooms.

  • Version A is TopKRules implemented with lists.
  • Version B is TopKRules implemented with bitsets to quickly perform the intersection by doing the logical AND operation.
  • Version C is TopKRules implemented with bitsets  plus using red-black trees for storing candidates and best k rules for quickly performing add, remove minimum and maximum.
Optimization of TopKRules

Optimization of TopKRules

As you can see from this chart, there is quite a large improvement in performance by using appropriate data structures!

That’s all I wanted to write for today. Hope that you enjoyed this post. If you like this blog, you can subscribe to the RSS Feed or my Twitter account ( to get notified about future blog posts.  Also, if you want to support this blog, please tweet and share it!

Analyzing the source code of the SPMF data mining software

Hi everyone,

In this blog post, I will discuss how I have applied an open-source tool that is named Code Analyzer ( )  to analyze the source code of my open-source data mining software named SPMF.

I have applied the tool on the previous version (0.92c) of SPMF, and the tool prints the following result:

Metric                Value
——————————-    ——–
    Total Files                     360
Total Lines                   50457
Avg Line Length                  30
    Code Lines                   31901
    Comment Lines               13297
Whitespace Lines                6583
Code/(Comment+Whitespace) Ratio        1,60
Code/Comment Ratio                2,40
Code/Whitespace Ratio            4,85
Code/Total Lines Ratio            0,63
Code Lines Per File                  88
    Comment Lines Per File              36
Whitespace Lines Per File              18

Now, what is interesting is the difference when I apply the same tool on the latest version of SPMF (0.93). It gives the following result:

Metric                Value
——————————-    ——–
    Total Files                     280
Total Lines                   53165
Avg Line Length                  32
    Code Lines                   25455
    Comment Lines               23208
Whitespace Lines                5803
Code/(Comment+Whitespace) Ratio        0,88
   Code/Comment Ratio                1,10
Code/Whitespace Ratio            4,39
Code/Total Lines Ratio            0,48
Code Lines Per File                  90
    Comment Lines Per File              82
Whitespace Lines Per File              20

As you can see by these statistics, I have done a lot of refactoring for the latest version. There is now 280 files instead of 360 files. Moreover, I have shrunk the code from 31901 lines to 25455 lines, without removing any functionnalities!

Also, I have added a lot of comments to SPMF.  The “Code/Comment” ratio has thus changed from 2.40  to 1.10, and the “Comment Lines per files” went up from 36 to 82 lines.  Totally, there is now around 10,000 more lines of comments than in the previous version (the number of lines of comments has increased from 13297 to 23208).

That’s all I wanted to write for today!  If you like this blog, you can subscribe to the RSS Feed or my Twitter account ( to get notified about future blog posts.  Also, if you want to support this blog, please tweet and share it!


How to auto-adjust the minimum support threshold according to the data size

Today, I will do a quick post on how to automatically adjust the minimum support threshold of frequent pattern mining algorithms such as Apriori, FPGrowth and PrefixSpan according to the size of the data.

adjust minsup threshold

The problem is simple.  Let’s consider the Apriori algorithm.  The input of this algorithm is a transaction database and a parameter called minsup that is a value in [0,1].  The output of Apriori is a set of frequent patterns. A frequent pattern is a pattern such that its support is higher or equal to minsup. The support of a pattern  (also called “frequency”) is the number of transactions that contains the pattern divided by the total number of transactions in the database.  A key problem for algorithms like Apriori is how to choose a minsup value to find interesting patterns.   There is no really easy way to determine the best minsup threshold. Usually, it is done by trial and error. Now let’s say that you have determined that for your application the best minsup.

Now, consider that the size of your data can change over time.  In this case how can you dynamically adjust the minimum support so that when you don’t have a lot of data the threshold is higher?   and that when you have more data, the threshold becomes lower ?

The solution

A simple solution that I have found is to use a mathematical function for adjusting the minsup threshold automatically according to the database size (the number of transactions for Apriori).  This solution is shown below.

I choose to use the formula minsup(x) = (e^(-ax-b))+c  where x is the number of transactions in the database and a,b,c are positive constants. This allows to set minsup to a high value when there is not a lot of data and then decrease minsup when there is more data.  For example, on the first chart below, minsup value is set to 0.7 if  there is 1 transaction, it becomes 0.4 when there is 3 transactions and then decrease to 0.2 when there is around 9 transactions. This allow the minsup threshold to become more strict when there is less data. Note that the constants a,b and c can be adjusted to make the curve behave differently.

minsup threshold

On the second chart above, I show the relative minsup threshold. It is simply the minsup threshold multiplied by the database size.  It shows the number of transactions in which a pattern need to appear to become frequent according to the database size.

What is the meaning of the constants a, b, and c?

The constant is the smallest value that this function will produce. For example, if c = 0.2, the function will not generate minsup values that are less than 0.2. The constant a and b influences how quickly the curve will decrease when x increases.

How do we call this function?

In mathematics, this type of function is called an exponential decay function as it is exponentially decreasing when x increases. The idea of using this function for pattern mining was first proposed in my Ph.D thesis:

Fournier-Viger, P. (2010), Un modèle hybride pour le support à l’apprentissage dans les domaines procéduraux et mal-définis. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Quebec in Montreal, Montreal, Canada, 184 pages.


Hope this little trick is helpful!

Next time, I will try to talk about some more general data mining topic. I promised that I would do that last time. But today I wanted to talk about this topic, so I will rather do that next time!

Founder of the SPMF data mining software

How to characterize and compare data mining algorithms?

Hi, today, I will discuss how to compare data mining algorithms.  This is an important question for data mining researchers who want to evaluate which algorithm is “better” in general or for a given situation.  This question is also important for researchers who are writing articles proposing new data mining algorithms and want to convince the reader that their algorithms deserve to be published and used.  We can characterize and compare data mining algorithms from several different angles. I will describe them thereafter.


What is the input and output?  For some problems there exists several algorithms. However, some of them have slightly different input and this can make the problem much harder to solve. Often, a person who want to choose a data mining algorithm will look at the most popular algorithms such as ID3, Apriori, etc. But several persons will not try to search for less popular algorithms that could better fit their need.  For example, for  the problem of association rule mining,  the classic algorithm is Apriori.  However, there exists probably hundreds of variations that can be more appropriate for a given situation such as discovering associations with weights, fuzzy associations, indirect associations and rare associations.
Which data structures are used ?   The data structure that are used will often have a great impact on the performance of data mining algorithms in terms of execution time and memory. For example, some algorithms will use less common data structures such as bitsets, KD-trees and heaps.

What is the problem-solving strategy?  There are many way to describe the strategy used by an algorithm for finding a solution such as:   Is it a depth-first search algorithm? a breadth-first search algorithm? a recursive algorithm? an iterative algorithm? is it a brute force algorithm? an exhaustive algorithm?   a divided-and-conquer algorithm?  a greedy algorithm? a linear programming algorithm? etc.  Moreover,

Does the algorithm belong to a well-known class of algorithms? For example, there exists several well-known classes of algorithms for solving problems such as genetic algorithms, quantum algorithms, neural networks and particle swarm optimizations based techniques.

The algorithm is an approximate algorithm or an exact algorithm? An approximate algorithm is an algorithm that will not always guarantee to return the correct answer. An exact algorithm always return the correct answer.

Is it a randomized algorithm ? Does the algorithm uses a random generator? Is it possible that the algorithms will return different results if it is run twice on the same data?

Is it an  interactive, incremental, or a batch algorithm?  A “batch algorithm” is an algorithm that takes as input some data, will perform some processing and will output some data.  An incremental algorithm is an algorithm that will not need to recompute the output from zero, if new data arrives.   An interactive algorithm is an algorithm where the user can influence the processing of the algorithm, while the algorithm is working.

How is the performance? Ideally, one should compare the performance of an algorithm with at least another algorithm for the same problem, if there exists one. To make a good performance comparison, it is important to make a detailed performance analysis.  First, we need to determine what will be measured.  This depends on what kind of algorithms we are evaluating.  In general, it is interesting to measure the maximal memory usage and the execution time of an algorithm.  For other algorithms such as classification algorithms, one will also take other measurements such as the accuracy or recall, for example. Another important decision is what kind of data should be used to evaluate the algorithms.  To compare the performance of algorithms, more than one datasets should be used. Ideally, one should use datasets having various characteristics.  For example, to evaluate frequent itemset mining algorithms, it is important to use sparse and dense datasets, because some algorithms will perform very well on dense datasets but not so well on sparse datasets.  Is is also preferable to use real datasets instead of synthetic datasets.  Another thing that one may want to evaluate is the scalability of the algorithms. This means to measure how  algorithms behave in terms of speed/memory/accuracy when the datasets becomes larger.  To assess the scalability of algorithms, some researchers will use a dataset generator that can generate random datasets of various sizes and having various characteristics.

What is the complexity? One can make a more or less detailed complexity analysis of an algorithm to assess its general performance. It can help gain insights on what is the cost of using the algorithm. However, one should also perform experiments on real data to asses the performance. A reason for not just doing a complexity analysis, is that the performance of many algorithms will vary depending on the data.

The algorithm is easy to implement? One important aspect that can make an algorithm more popular is if it is easy to implement or easy to understand.  I have often observed that some algorithms are more popular than others simply because they are easier to implement although there exists more efficient algorithms that are more difficult to implement. Also, if there exist open-source implementations of the algorithms, it can also be a reason why an algorithm is preferred.

Does the algorithms terminate in a finite amount of time ? For data mining algorithms, this is generally the case.  However, some algorithms does not guarantee this.

The algorithm is a parallel algorithm?  Or could it be easily transformed into a parallel algorithm that could be run on a distributed system or parallel system such as a multiprocessor computer or a cluster of computers?  If an algorithm offers this possibility, it is an advantage for scalability.

What are the applications of the algorithm? One could also talk about what are the potential applications of an algorithm. Can it only be applied to a narrow domain? Or does it add a very general problems that can be found in many domains?

This is all for today. If you have some additional thoughts, please share them in the comment section. By the way, if you like this blog, you can subscribe to the RSS Feed or my Twitter account ( to get notified about future blog posts.  Also, if you want to support this blog, please tweet and share it!

A Map of Data Mining Algorithms (offered in SPMF v092c)


I have made a map to visualize the relationship between the 52 different data mining algorithms offered in the SPMF data mining software.  You can view it in PNG format by clicking on the picture below:


Or you can view it in SVG format :

If you have any comments to improve the map of algorithms, please post your comments in the comment section.