How Awkward broadcasting works#

Functions that accept more than one array argument need to combine the elements of their array elements somehow, particularly if the input arrays have different numbers of dimensions. That combination is called “broadcasting.” Broadcasting in Awkward Array is very similar to NumPy broadcasting, with some minor differences described at the end of this section.

import awkward as ak
import numpy as np

Broadcasting in mathematical functions#

Any function that takes more than one array argument has to broadcast them together; a common case of that is in binary operators of a mathematical expression:

array1 = ak.Array([[1, 2, 3], [], [4, 5]])
array2 = ak.Array([10, 20, 30])

array1 + array2
[[11, 12, 13],
 [],
 [34, 35]]
---------------------
type: 3 * var * int64

The single 10 in array2 is added to every element of [1, 2, 3] in array1, and the single 30 is added to every element of [4, 5]. The single 20 in array2 is not added to anything in array1 because the corresponding list is empty.

For broadcasting to be successful, the arrays need to have the same length in all dimensions except the one being broadcasted; array1 and array2 both had to be length 3 in the example above. That’s why this example fails:

array1 = ak.Array([[1, 2, 3], [4, 5]])
array2 = ak.Array([10, 20, 30])

array1 + array2
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
ValueError                                Traceback (most recent call last)
Cell In[3], line 4
      1 array1 = ak.Array([[1, 2, 3], [4, 5]])
      2 array2 = ak.Array([10, 20, 30])
----> 4 array1 + array2

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_operators.py:53, in _binary_method.<locals>.func(self, other)
     51 if _disables_array_ufunc(other):
     52     return NotImplemented
---> 53 return ufunc(self, other)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/highlevel.py:1511, in Array.__array_ufunc__(self, ufunc, method, *inputs, **kwargs)
   1509 name = f"{type(ufunc).__module__}.{ufunc.__name__}.{method!s}"
   1510 with ak._errors.OperationErrorContext(name, inputs, kwargs):
-> 1511     return ak._connect.numpy.array_ufunc(ufunc, method, inputs, kwargs)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_connect/numpy.py:466, in array_ufunc(ufunc, method, inputs, kwargs)
    458         raise TypeError(
    459             "no {}.{} overloads for custom types: {}".format(
    460                 type(ufunc).__module__, ufunc.__name__, ", ".join(error_message)
    461             )
    462         )
    464     return None
--> 466 out = ak._broadcasting.broadcast_and_apply(
    467     inputs, action, allow_records=False, function_name=ufunc.__name__
    468 )
    470 if len(out) == 1:
    471     return wrap_layout(out[0], behavior=behavior, attrs=attrs)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_broadcasting.py:968, in broadcast_and_apply(inputs, action, depth_context, lateral_context, allow_records, left_broadcast, right_broadcast, numpy_to_regular, regular_to_jagged, function_name, broadcast_parameters_rule)
    966 backend = backend_of(*inputs, coerce_to_common=False)
    967 isscalar = []
--> 968 out = apply_step(
    969     backend,
    970     broadcast_pack(inputs, isscalar),
    971     action,
    972     0,
    973     depth_context,
    974     lateral_context,
    975     {
    976         "allow_records": allow_records,
    977         "left_broadcast": left_broadcast,
    978         "right_broadcast": right_broadcast,
    979         "numpy_to_regular": numpy_to_regular,
    980         "regular_to_jagged": regular_to_jagged,
    981         "function_name": function_name,
    982         "broadcast_parameters_rule": broadcast_parameters_rule,
    983     },
    984 )
    985 assert isinstance(out, tuple)
    986 return tuple(broadcast_unpack(x, isscalar) for x in out)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_broadcasting.py:946, in apply_step(backend, inputs, action, depth, depth_context, lateral_context, options)
    944     return result
    945 elif result is None:
--> 946     return continuation()
    947 else:
    948     raise AssertionError(result)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_broadcasting.py:915, in apply_step.<locals>.continuation()
    913 # Any non-string list-types?
    914 elif any(x.is_list and not is_string_like(x) for x in contents):
--> 915     return broadcast_any_list()
    917 # Any RecordArrays?
    918 elif any(x.is_record for x in contents):

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_broadcasting.py:614, in apply_step.<locals>.broadcast_any_list()
    612         nextparameters.append(x._parameters)
    613     else:
--> 614         raise ValueError(
    615             "cannot broadcast RegularArray of size "
    616             f"{x.size} with RegularArray of size {dim_size}{in_function(options)}"
    617         )
    618 else:
    619     nextinputs.append(x)

ValueError: cannot broadcast RegularArray of size 2 with RegularArray of size 3 in add

This error occurred while calling

    numpy.add.__call__(
        <Array [[1, 2, 3], [4, 5]] type='2 * var * int64'>
        <Array [10, 20, 30] type='3 * int64'>
    )

The same applies to functions of multiple arguments that aren’t associated with any binary operator:

array1 = ak.Array([[True, False, True], [], [False, True]])
array2 = ak.Array([True, True, False])

np.logical_and(array1, array2)
[[True, False, True],
 [],
 [False, False]]
---------------------
type: 3 * var * bool

And functions that aren’t universal functions (ufuncs):

array1 = ak.Array([[1, 2, 3], [], [4, 5]])
array2 = ak.Array([10, 20, 30])

np.where(array1 % 2 == 0, array1, array2)
[[10, 2, 10],
 [],
 [4, 30]]
---------------------
type: 3 * var * int64

Using ak.broadcast_arrays#

Sometimes, you may want to broadcast arrays to a common shape without performing an additional operation. The ak.broadcast_arrays() function allows you to do this:

array1 = ak.Array([[1, 2, 3], [], [4, 5]])
array2 = ak.Array([10, 20, 30])

ak.broadcast_arrays(array1, array2)
[<Array [[1, 2, 3], [], [4, 5]] type='3 * var * int64'>,
 <Array [[10, 10, 10], [], [30, 30]] type='3 * var * int64'>]

This code would align array1 and array2 into compatible shapes that can be used in subsequent operations, effectively showing how each element corresponds between the two original arrays.

Missing data, heterogeneous data, and records#

One of the ways Awkward Arrays extend beyond NumPy is by allowing the use of None for missing data. These None values are broadcasted like empty lists:

array1 = ak.Array([[1, 2, 3], None, [4, 5]])
array2 = ak.Array([10, 20, 30])

array1 + array2
[[11, 12, 13],
 None,
 [34, 35]]
-----------------------------
type: 3 * option[var * int64]

Another difference from NumPy is that Awkward Arrays can contain data of mixed type, such as different numbers of dimensions. If numerical values can be matched across such arrays, they are:

array1 = ak.Array([[1, 2, 3], 4, 5])
array2 = ak.Array([10, 20, 30])

array1 + array2
[[11, 12, 13],
 24,
 35]
----------------
type: 3 * union[
    var * int64,
    int64
]

Arrays containing records can also be broadcasted, though most mathematical operations cannot be applied to records. Here is an example using ak.broadcast_arrays().

array1 = ak.Array([
    [{"x": 1.1, "y": [1]}, {"x": 2.2, "y": [1, 2]}, {"x": 3.3, "y": [1, 2, 3]}],
    [],
    [{"x": 4.4, "y": [1, 2, 3, 4]}, {"x": 5.5, "y": [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]}],
])
array2 = ak.Array([10, 20, 30])

ak.broadcast_arrays(array1, array2)
[<Array [[{x: 1.1, y: [1]}, ..., {...}], ...] type='3 * var * {x: float64, y...'>,
 <Array [[10, 10, 10], [], [30, 30]] type='3 * var * int64'>]

Differences from NumPy broadcasting#

Awkward Array broadcasting is identical to NumPy broadcasting in three respects:

  1. arrays with the same number of dimensions must match lengths (except for length 1) exactly,

  2. length-1 dimensions expand like scalars (one to many),

  3. for arrays with different numbers of dimensions, the smaller number of dimensions is expanded to match the largest number of dimensions.

Awkward Arrays with fixed-length dimensions—not “variable-length” or “ragged”—broadcast exactly like NumPy.

Awkward Arrays with ragged dimensions expand the smaller number of dimensions on the left, whereas NumPy and Awkward-with-fixed-length expand the smaller number of dimensions on the right, when implementing point 3 above. This is the only difference.

Here’s a demonstration of NumPy broadcasting:

x = np.array([
    [1, 2, 3, 4], [5, 6, 7, 8], [9, 10, 11, 12],
])
y = np.array([
    [[10, 20, 30, 40], [50, 60, 70, 80], [90, 100, 110, 120]],
    [[100, 200, 300, 400], [500, 600, 700, 800], [900, 1000, 1100, 1200]],
])

x + y
array([[[  11,   22,   33,   44],
        [  55,   66,   77,   88],
        [  99,  110,  121,  132]],

       [[ 101,  202,  303,  404],
        [ 505,  606,  707,  808],
        [ 909, 1010, 1111, 1212]]])

And fixed-length Awkward Arrays made from these can be broadcasted the same way:

ak.Array(x) + ak.Array(y)
[[[11, 22, 33, 44], [55, 66, 77, 88], [99, 110, 121, 132]],
 [[101, 202, 303, 404], [505, 606, ..., 808], [909, 1010, 1111, 1212]]]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
type: 2 * 3 * 4 * int64

but only because the latter have completely regular dimensions, like their NumPy counterparts.

print(x.shape)
print(y.shape)
(3, 4)
(2, 3, 4)
print(ak.Array(x).type)
print(ak.Array(y).type)
3 * 4 * int64
2 * 3 * 4 * int64

In both NumPy and Awkward Array, x has fewer dimensions than y, so x is expanded on the left from length-1 to length-2.

However, if the Awkward Array has variable-length type, regardless of whether the actual lists have variable lengths,

print(ak.Array(x.tolist()).type)
print(ak.Array(y.tolist()).type)
3 * var * int64
2 * var * var * int64

this broadcasting does not work:

ak.Array(x.tolist()) + ak.Array(y.tolist())
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
ValueError                                Traceback (most recent call last)
Cell In[15], line 1
----> 1 ak.Array(x.tolist()) + ak.Array(y.tolist())

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_operators.py:53, in _binary_method.<locals>.func(self, other)
     51 if _disables_array_ufunc(other):
     52     return NotImplemented
---> 53 return ufunc(self, other)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/highlevel.py:1511, in Array.__array_ufunc__(self, ufunc, method, *inputs, **kwargs)
   1509 name = f"{type(ufunc).__module__}.{ufunc.__name__}.{method!s}"
   1510 with ak._errors.OperationErrorContext(name, inputs, kwargs):
-> 1511     return ak._connect.numpy.array_ufunc(ufunc, method, inputs, kwargs)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_connect/numpy.py:466, in array_ufunc(ufunc, method, inputs, kwargs)
    458         raise TypeError(
    459             "no {}.{} overloads for custom types: {}".format(
    460                 type(ufunc).__module__, ufunc.__name__, ", ".join(error_message)
    461             )
    462         )
    464     return None
--> 466 out = ak._broadcasting.broadcast_and_apply(
    467     inputs, action, allow_records=False, function_name=ufunc.__name__
    468 )
    470 if len(out) == 1:
    471     return wrap_layout(out[0], behavior=behavior, attrs=attrs)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_broadcasting.py:968, in broadcast_and_apply(inputs, action, depth_context, lateral_context, allow_records, left_broadcast, right_broadcast, numpy_to_regular, regular_to_jagged, function_name, broadcast_parameters_rule)
    966 backend = backend_of(*inputs, coerce_to_common=False)
    967 isscalar = []
--> 968 out = apply_step(
    969     backend,
    970     broadcast_pack(inputs, isscalar),
    971     action,
    972     0,
    973     depth_context,
    974     lateral_context,
    975     {
    976         "allow_records": allow_records,
    977         "left_broadcast": left_broadcast,
    978         "right_broadcast": right_broadcast,
    979         "numpy_to_regular": numpy_to_regular,
    980         "regular_to_jagged": regular_to_jagged,
    981         "function_name": function_name,
    982         "broadcast_parameters_rule": broadcast_parameters_rule,
    983     },
    984 )
    985 assert isinstance(out, tuple)
    986 return tuple(broadcast_unpack(x, isscalar) for x in out)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_broadcasting.py:946, in apply_step(backend, inputs, action, depth, depth_context, lateral_context, options)
    944     return result
    945 elif result is None:
--> 946     return continuation()
    947 else:
    948     raise AssertionError(result)

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_broadcasting.py:915, in apply_step.<locals>.continuation()
    913 # Any non-string list-types?
    914 elif any(x.is_list and not is_string_like(x) for x in contents):
--> 915     return broadcast_any_list()
    917 # Any RecordArrays?
    918 elif any(x.is_record for x in contents):

File ~/micromamba/envs/awkward-docs/lib/python3.11/site-packages/awkward/_broadcasting.py:614, in apply_step.<locals>.broadcast_any_list()
    612         nextparameters.append(x._parameters)
    613     else:
--> 614         raise ValueError(
    615             "cannot broadcast RegularArray of size "
    616             f"{x.size} with RegularArray of size {dim_size}{in_function(options)}"
    617         )
    618 else:
    619     nextinputs.append(x)

ValueError: cannot broadcast RegularArray of size 2 with RegularArray of size 3 in add

This error occurred while calling

    numpy.add.__call__(
        <Array [[1, 2, 3, 4], ..., [9, 10, 11, 12]] type='3 * var * int64'>
        <Array [[[10, 20, 30, 40], ...], ...] type='2 * var * var * int64'>
    )

Instead of trying to add a dimension to the left of x’s shape, (3, 4), to make (2, 3, 4), the ragged broadcasting is trying to add a dimension to the right of x’s shape, and it doesn’t line up.

Why does ragged broadcasting have to be different?#

Instead of adding a new dimension on the left, as NumPy and fixed-length Awkward Arrays do, ragged broadcasting tries to add a new dimension on the right in order to make it useful for emulating imperative code like

for x_i, y_i in zip(x, y):
    for x_ij, y_ij in zip(x_i, y_i):
        print("[", end=" ")
        for y_ijk in y_ij:
            print(x_ij + y_ijk, end=" ")
        print("]")
    print()
[ 11 21 31 41 ]
[ 52 62 72 82 ]
[ 93 103 113 123 ]

[ 105 205 305 405 ]
[ 506 606 706 806 ]
[ 907 1007 1107 1207 ]

In the above, the value of x_ij is not varying while y_ijk varies in the innermost for-loop. In imperative code like this, it’s natural for the outermost (left-most) dimensions of two nested lists to line up, while a scalar from the list with fewer dimensions, x, stays constant (is effectively duplicated) for each innermost y value.

This is not what NumPy’s left-broadcasting does:

x + y
array([[[  11,   22,   33,   44],
        [  55,   66,   77,   88],
        [  99,  110,  121,  132]],

       [[ 101,  202,  303,  404],
        [ 505,  606,  707,  808],
        [ 909, 1010, 1111, 1212]]])

Notice that the numerical values are different!

To get the behavior we expect from imperative code, we need to right-broadcast, which is what ragged broadcasting in Awkward Array does:

x = ak.Array([
    [1.1, 2.2, 3.3],
    [],
    [4.4, 5.5]
])
y = ak.Array([
    [[1], [1, 2], [1, 2, 3]],
    [],
    [[1, 2, 3, 4], [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]]
])

for x_i, y_i in zip(x, y):
    print("[")
    for x_ij, y_ij in zip(x_i, y_i):
        print("    [", end=" ")
        for y_ijk in y_ij:
            print(x_ij + y_ijk, end=" ")
        print("]")
    print("]\n")

x + y
[
    [ 2.1 ]
    [ 3.2 4.2 ]
    [ 4.3 5.3 6.3 ]
]

[
]

[
    [ 5.4 6.4 7.4 8.4 ]
    [ 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 10.5 ]
]
[[[2.1], [3.2, 4.2], [4.3, 5.3, 6.3]],
 [],
 [[5.4, 6.4, 7.4, 8.4], [6.5, 7.5, 8.5, 9.5, 10.5]]]
----------------------------------------------------
type: 3 * var * var * float64

In summary,

  • NumPy left-broadcasts,

  • Awkward Arrays with fixed-length lists left-broadcast, for consistency with NumPy,

  • Awkward Arrays with variable-length lists right-broadcast, for consistency with imperative code.

One way to control this is to ensure that all arrays involved in an expression have the same number of dimensions by explicitly expanding them. Implicit broadcasting only happens for arrays of different numbers of dimensions, or if the length of a dimension is 1.

But it might also be the case that your arrays have lists of equal length, so they seem to be regular like a NumPy array, yet their data type says that the lists can be variable-length. Perhaps you got the NumPy-like data from a source that doesn’t enforce fixed lengths, such as Python lists (ak.from_iter()), JSON (ak.from_json()), or Parquet (ak.from_parquet()). Check the array’s ak.type() to see whether all dimensions are ragged (var *) or regular (some number *).

The ak.from_regular() and ak.to_regular() functions toggle ragged (var *) and regular (some number *) dimensions, and ak.enforce_type() can be used to cast types like this in general.