Implementing CFSFDP

Version information: New tutorial for ELKI 0.8

In this tutorial, we will implement the CFSFDP clustering algorithm.

Rodriguez, A., & Laio, A. (2014). Clustering by fast search and find of density peaks. Science, 344(6191), 1492-1496.

The first thing to do is of course to read the article and understand the algorithm in detail. Since the Science paper is very short on some details, it may also be necessary to check the supplementary material.

Some key takeaways from the CFSFDP method:

Note: this tutorial uses new class names and new APIs of upcoming ELKI 0.8. It will not apply to the previous release of ELKI.

Code frame

Because CFSFDP is a clustering algorithm, we implement the ClusteringAlgorithm interface. This interface has a generic, which is the clustering kind returned.

While in other tools such as scikit-learn, clusterers return arrays of integers as result, ELKI uses an object oriented approach that is also able to capture hierarchies of clusters - which we do not need for CFSFDP - and additional information on each cluster besides the cluster members. Because CFSFDP uses the most dense points of each clusters, the clustering model we chose here is a SimplePrototypeModel.

ELKI algorithms can be used with many different data types. There is no reason to restrict our implementation to numeric vectors in Euclidean space. Instead, we will use a generic O (for “Object”). This will commonly be a vector in an Euclidean vector space, but not necessarily so.

Eclipse now generates the following class for us:

public class CFSFDP<O> implements
    ClusteringAlgorithm<Clustering<SimplePrototypeModel<DBID>>> {
  public TypeInformation[] getInputTypeRestriction() {
    // TODO Auto-generated method stub
    return null;

Because the CFSFDP algorithm is distance based, we add a distance function field to our class. This distance needs to accept data of type O, but it may also be defined on any supertype of this, too:

   * Distance function used.
  protected Distance<? super O> distance;

We need our input data to satisfy this type, and we create a “run” method. For this, we request data that satisfies our input requirements - which happen to be exactly the input requirements of the distance function. With CFSFDP, we can cluster any data that our distance function accepts. Next we need to create (and this cannot be auto-generated by Eclipse, unfortunately) a run method that receives the requested relation. Either the user can call run with a data relation directly, or he can use autorun(Database) and that method will find a suitable relation in the database, using the information from getInputTypeRestriction.

  public TypeInformation[] getInputTypeRestriction() {
    return TypeUtil.array(distance.getInputTypeRestriction());
   * Perform CFSFDP clustering.
   * @param relation data relation
   * @return clustering
  public Clustering<SimplePrototypeModel<DBID>> run(Relation<O> relation) {
    // TODO

Now we can almost begin implementing CFSFDP, except that we still need a number of parameters. The obvious parameter is the distance cutoff dc. But this will not yet yield clusters: the authors of CFSFDP require manual inspection of a bivariate plot to select density peaks. This may be difficult to use, and users usually want a more automated approach. At the end of the article, the authors suggest a heuristic, which we will implement for this tutorial: they select the top k points based on gamma=rho*delta. Therefore, we also add a parameter k.

We now add these fields and a constructor:

   * Distance cutoff.
  protected double dc;

   * Number of clusters to find.
  protected int k;

   * Constructor.
   * @param distance distance function
   * @param dc distance cutoff
   * @param k number of clusters
  protected CFSFDP(Distance<? super O> distance, double dc, int k) {
    this.distance = distance;
    this.dc = dc;
    this.k = k;

Density estimation

For this kind of density estimation, we would usually employ range queries with a search radius of dc. But later CFSFDP will use a different type of search, and hence we get a new API of ELKI that is called a priority search, that can be used for both. In some cases, this search can be faster, but in many cases it will be slightly slower because of the more complex code (that hence is a bit harder to optimize by the compiler).

To get a priority search, we use the QueryBuilder helper. This class will check for available data indexes to accelerate such a query, and it may automatically add such an index to the database (or it may decide to compute a pairwise distance matrix, if memory permits). We leave such decisions to the query optimizer of ELKI, and we just specify what we need: a priority search, on our data relation, for our distance query.

    PrioritySearcher<DBIDRef> searcher =
      new QueryBuilder<>(relation, distance).priorityByDBID();

Densities used by CFSFDP are integer values, namely the number of points within radius dc. To store the densities, we use a WritableIntegerDataStore (in many cases, ELKI will optimize this to be an int[], but it can also be a map to integers for non-continuous database ids). While this is “rho” in the original paper, we use the more meaningful name density in our code.

    DBIDs ids = relation.getDBIDs();
    WritableIntegerDataStore density = DataStoreFactory.FACTORY.makeIntegerStorage(
      ids, DataStoreFactory.HINT_HOT | DataStoreFactory.HINT_TEMP);

Next we iterate over all database objects (from the ids collection) and count matching neighbors. ELKI uses a special kind of iterator, DBIDIter that uses much less memory than a Java Iterator<DBID> would use.

    for(DBIDIter it = ids.iter(); it.valid(); it.advance()) {
      int found = 0;

For each point, we reset our search using, dc). We want to select all points with searcher.computeExactDistance() <= dc, but we can perform some optimization here because we do not need to know the exact distance here: Some indexes have upper bounds on the distance to a point, this may allow us to identify true positives without computing the exact distances using searcher.getUpperBound() <= dc (if there is no lower bound, the NaN value will make this expression false). We could also compare the lower bound, but usually this filtering is already performed by the searcher if we pass a cutoff value to the search function. We then store the resulting density for each point

      for(, dc); searcher.valid(); searcher.advance()) {
        if(searcher.getUpperBound() <= dc
            || searcher.computeExactDistance() <= dc) {
      density.put(it, found);

For this part, we could have used the simple range search API of ELKI instead (using rangeByDBID() to get a RangeSearcher), but we will need the priority searcher for again in the next step.

Finding the Nearest Denser Point

Next, we need to compute delta, the distance to the nearest denser point. Again, there is a subtle detail missing in the paper - since our densities are integer, we may be seeing duplicates here. The authors assumed there is a unique maximum, but this is not necessarily so. We also divert from the original paper by using positive infinity for points with no denser neighbors, as we do not want to have to find the largest distance of the entire data set (which could be expensive).

For each point, we will store the distance to the next nearest point, and the DBID of that point. Hence we create two more data stores, and a temporary reference var and a heap we will discuss below.

    WritableDoubleDataStore nextdist = DataStoreFactory.FACTORY.makeDoubleStorage(
      ids, DataStoreFactory.HINT_TEMP);
    WritableDBIDDataStore nextn = DataStoreFactory.FACTORY.makeDBIDStorage(
      ids, DataStoreFactory.HINT_TEMP);
    DBIDVar tmp = DBIDUtil.newVar();
    DoubleMinHeap heap = new DoubleMinHeap(k);

Now we can iterate over all points again, and search for the next denser point. This time, we do not pass the dc cutoff to the searcher, as we may need to search outside this radius. Once we have found a more dense point, we will use searcher.decreaseCutoff to reduce the search radius.

    for(DBIDIter it = ids.iter(); it.valid(); it.advance()) {
      final int dens = density.intValue(it);
      double dist = Double.POSITIVE_INFINITY;
      for(; searcher.valid(); searcher.advance()) {

For each neighbor, we have to check whether it has a higher density, and keep the minimum distance each, again we can try to avoid distance computations by first checking the density.

        if(density.intValue(searcher) > dens) {
          double d = searcher.computeExactDistance();
          if(d < dist) {
            dist = d;

We store the best values in the storages allocated above. To find the k largest values, we also maintain a heap of the k largest values.

      nextdist.put(it, dist);
      nextn.put(it, tmp);
      heap.add(dist * dens, k); // gamma

Building the Clusters

We can now construct the clusters easily by adopting a top-down approach, beginning with the most dense point. We first determine the threshold for gamma to determine the cluster modes, then we process points descending by density. The motivation for this is that the nearest more dense point must already have been processed, i.e., must already have a cluster.

    final double gammath = heap.peek();
    ArrayModifiableDBIDs sorted = DBIDUtil.newArray(ids);
    sorted.sort(new DataStoreUtil.DescendingByIntegerDataStore(density));

To store the resulting clustering, we create a Clustering object, and we use a temporary data store to map objects to clusters.

    WritableDataStore<ArrayModifiableDBIDs> cluster = DataStoreFactory.FACTORY.makeStorage(ids, DataStoreFactory.HINT_TEMP, ArrayModifiableDBIDs.class);
    Clustering<SimplePrototypeModel<DBID>> clustering = new Clustering<>();

We can now iterate over all objects (descending by density), and either create a new cluster for them, or add them to the cluster of their nearest denser neighbor. When creating a new cluster, we use the current object as cluster prototype:

    for(DBIDIter it = sorted.iter(); it.valid(); it.advance()) {
      double gamma = density.intValue(it) * nextdist.doubleValue(it);
      ArrayModifiableDBIDs c = gamma >= gammath ? null :
          cluster.get(tmp.from(nextn, it));
      if(c == null) {
        c = DBIDUtil.newArray();
        clustering.addToplevelCluster(new Cluster<>(c,
            new SimplePrototypeModel<>(DBIDUtil.deref(it))));
      cluster.put(it, c);
    return clustering;

Adding a Parameterizer

In order to make the class usable from the command line and MiniGUI, we need to add parameter definitions, default values, and constraints. For this we create an inner class named Par that implements the interface Parameterizer:

  public static class Par<O> implements Parameterizer {
    public void configure(Parameterization config) {
      // TODO: parameters

    public CFSFDP<O> make() {
      // TODO: create CFSFDP instance

We first define two (public and static) options, for dc and k (we are going to reuse and existing parameter name for the distance function).

    public static final OptionID DC_ID = new OptionID("cfsfdp.dc",
        "Distance cutoff for density estimation");
    public static final OptionID K_ID = new OptionID("cfsfdp.k",
        "Extract the top k clusters by gamma (on ties, there may be more).");

We need three fields to hold the parameter values and implement the make method:

    protected Distance<? super O> distance;
    protected double dc;
    protected int k;

    public CFSFDP<O> make() {
      return new CFSFDP<O>(distance, dc, k);

And now we can get the parameters and map them to these fields:

    public void configure(Parameterization config) {
      new ObjectParameter<Distance<? super O>>(
              Distance.class, EuclideanDistance.class) //
          .grab(config, x -> distance = x);
      new DoubleParameter(DC_ID) //
          .addConstraint(CommonConstraints.GREATER_EQUAL_ZERO_DOUBLE) //
          .grab(config, x -> dc = x);
      new IntParameter(K_ID) //
          .addConstraint(CommonConstraints.GREATER_EQUAL_ONE_INT) //
          .grab(config, x -> k = x);

Now the algorithm should be runnable from the command line and MiniGUI.

It will not yet show up in the drop-down of the packaged version, because it is not included in the service files. For this, we need to add the class name to the files src/main/resources/META-INF/elki/elki.clustering.ClusteringAlgorithm and src/main/resources/META-INF/elki/elki.clustering.Algorithm, since we implemented these two interfaces.

You can browse the full source code online, in the tutorial folder, or check out the full implementation in the clustering package.