Parameterization in ELKI

ELKI includes a generic parameterization API that is used for the command line and graphical user interfaces.

Key features of this approach:

The API for this has gone through several iterations already, and it keeps on getting easier to use for the developers as well as more powerful for the user interface.


  1. Why don’t you just throw an exception on errors?

    This way, the first error will abort, and we cannot get a complete list of options. In order to set all parameters, a user may need many iterations to get everything right. Reporting multiple errors in one run is much more useful.

  2. Why don’t you use introspection and inspect the class constructor?

    This is significantly slower, and we still don’t have any parameter descriptions, constraints, etc. that we need for a good user interface. We are considering this as a fallback option, though.

  3. Why don’t you just use String[] everywhere?

    This way, we cannot pass existing instances for parameters. Plus, when configuring internally, we can avoid lots of string operations this way.

  4. But I just want to call it from Java!

    Actually you become a bit less dependant on the other class when you use the parameterization API, since the addition of a new option with a default value will not affect you. ListParameterization is an easy to use API for this. However, forth generation API will allow you to use regular Java constructors. As examples for usage within Java, check the unit tests (e.g. in elki/src/test/java/de/lmu/ifi/dbs/elki/algorithm). An example containing many use-cases is elki/src/test/java/de/lmu/ifi/dbs/elki/algorithm/

  5. Why does this change every version?

    Because we’re still discovering ways to make it easier to use. Our UIs are getting more powerful, and new applications require new functionality. This is why we are using 0.x version numbers! But by version 1.0 we’re expecting to have something stable for you. And in fact, this didn’t change much since 0.4 anymore.

  6. What is this if (config.grab(param)) ... I see all the time?

    This serves two purposes. First of all, it adds the parameter to the configuration for the UIs. Secondly, when the method returns true, the parameter is guaranteed to have a valid value. This actually is a shorthand for config.grab(param); if (param.isDefined()) ...).


This is the parameterization API as of version 0.4.0 onwards.

Classes are now encouraged to offer a classic java constructor. Parameterization is delegated to an inner class derived from AbstractParameterizer (or Super.Parameterizer) that will read the parameters and then produce an instance.


A benefit is that classes can now also return a subclass (this was already possible with static methods in 3.5 generation), as can be seen in this example from LPNormDistanceFunction

// NOTE: this is a STATIC INNER class of LPNormDistanceFunction!

 * Parameterization class.
 * @author Erich Schubert
public static class Parameterizer extends AbstractParameterizer {
   * The value of p.
  protected double p = 0.0;

  protected void makeOptions(Parameterization config) {
    // While our superclass doesn't add any options,
    // we formally should always call the super class!
    // Add a parameter for the value of "p"
    DoubleParameter paramP = new DoubleParameter(P_ID);
    paramP.addConstraint(new GreaterConstraint(0));
    if(config.grab(paramP)) {
      // The value of p is now available, otherwise, an error is reported
      p = paramP.getValue();

  // This method will only be called when parameterization succeeded,
  // and thus "p" is defined. This is checked by the abstract class.
  protected LPNormDistanceFunction makeInstance() {
    // Return optimized implementations for common values.
    if(p == 1.0) {
      return ManhattanDistanceFunction.STATIC;
    if(p == 2.0) {
      return EuclideanDistanceFunction.STATIC;
    if(p == Double.POSITIVE_INFINITY) {
      return MaximumDistanceFunction.STATIC;
    return new LPNormDistanceFunction(p);

Note that when using the regular Java API, the optimization for Euclidean and Manhattan distances will not be used, since the constructor of LPNormDistanceFunction cannot just return the static instance of EuclideanDistanceFunction.

Parameterless version

If your class does not have parameters, and you do not mean to use optimizations such as static instances, a public and parameterless constructor is also allowed:

/** Parameterless, public constructor */
public MyClass() {

However, the constructor must be public, otherwise Java policy disallows instantiation.