We'd welcome contributions to the Convex.jl package. Here are some short instructions on how to get started. If you don't know what you'd like to contribute, you could

  • take a look at the current issues and pick one. (Feature requests are probably the easiest to tackle.)
  • add a usage example.

Then submit a pull request (PR). (Let us know if it's a work in progress by putting [WIP] in the name of the PR.)

Adding examples

  • Take a look at our existing usage examples and add another in similar style.
  • Submit a PR. (Let us know if it's a work in progress by putting [WIP] in the name of the PR.)
  • We'll look it over, fix up anything that doesn't work, and merge it.

Adding atoms

Here are the steps to add a new function or operation (atom) to Convex.jl. Let's say you're adding the new function $f$.

  • Take a look at the nuclear norm atom for an example of how to construct atoms, and see the norm atom for an example of an atom that depends on a parameter.
  • Copy paste (for example, the nuclear norm file), replace anything saying nuclear norm with the name of the atom $f$, fill in monotonicity, curvature, etc. Save it in the appropriate subdirectory of src/atoms/.
  • Ensure the atom is a mutable struct, so that objectid can be called.
  • Add as a comment a description of what the atom does and its parameters.
  • Ensure evaluate is only called during the definition of evaluate itself, from conic_form!, or on constants or matrices. Specifically, evaluate must not be called on a potentially fix!'d variable when the expression tree is being built (for example, when constructing an atom or reformulating), since then any changes to the variable's value (or it being free!'d) will not be recognized. See #653 and #585 for previous bugs caused by misuse here.
  • Do not add constraints to variables directly during a reformulation. Instead, create an atom to control the vexity, or return a partially specified problem: minimize(var, constraints...), to ensure the vexity of the result is correct.
  • The most mathematically interesting part is the new_conic_form! function. Following the example in the nuclear norm atom, you'll see that you can just construct the problem whose optimal value is $f(x)$, introducing any auxiliary variables you need, exactly as you would normally in Convex.jl, and then call conic_form! on that problem.
  • Add a test for the atom so we can verify it works in src/problem_depot/problem/<cone>, where <cone> matches the subdirectory of src/atoms. See How to write a ProblemDepot problem for details on how to write the tests.
  • Following the other examples, add a test to test/test_atoms.jl.
  • Submit a PR, including a description of what the atom does and its parameters. (Let us know if it's a work in progress by putting [WIP] in the name of the PR.)
  • We'll look it over, fix up anything that doesn't work, and merge it.

Fixing the guts

If you want to do a more major bug fix, you may need to understand how Convex.jl thinks about conic form.

To do this, start by reading the Convex.jl paper.

You may find our JuliaCon 2014 talk helpful as well; you can find the Jupyter notebook presented in the talk here.

Convex has been updated several times over the years however, so older information may be out of date. Here is a brief summary of how the package works (as of July 2023).

  1. A Problem{T} struct is created by putting together an objective function and constraints. The problem is an expression graph, in which variables and constants are the leaf nodes, and atoms form the intermediate nodes. Here T refers to the numeric type of the problem that all data coefficients will be coerced to when we pass the data to a solver.
  2. When we go to solve! a problem, we first load it into a MathOptInterface (MOI) model. To do so, we traverse the Problem and apply our extended formulations. This occurs via conic_form!. We construct a Context{T} associated to the problem, which holds an MOI model, and progressively load it by applying conic_form! to each object's children and then itself. For variables, conic_form! returns SparseTape{T} or ComplexTape{T}, depending on the sign variable. Likewise for constants, conic_form! returns either Vector{T} or ComplexStructOfVec{T}. Here a Tape refers to a lazy sequence of sparse affine operators that will be applied to a vector of variables. The central computational task of Convex is to compose this sequence of operators (and thus enact it's extended formulations). For atoms, conic_form! generally either creates a new object using Convex' primitives (for example, another problem) and calls conic_form! on that, or, when that isn't possible, calls operate to manipulate the tape objects themselves (for example, to add a new operation to the composition). We try to minimize the amount of operate methods and defer to existing primitives when possible. conic_form! can also create new constraints and add them directly to the model. It is easy to create constraints of the form "vector-affine-function-in-cone" for any of MOI's many supported cones; these constraints do not need to be exposed at the level of Convex itself as Constraint objects, although they can be.
  3. Once we have filled our Context{T}, we go to solve it with MOI. Then we recover the solution status and values of primal and dual variables, and populate them using dictionaries stored in the Context.

You're now armed and dangerous. Go ahead and open an issue (or comment on a previous one) if you can't figure something out, or submit a PR if you can figure it out. (Let us know if it's a work in progress by putting [WIP] in the name of the PR.)

PRs that comment the code more thoroughly will also be welcomed.

Developer notes

  • conic_form! is allowed to mutate the context, but should never mutate the atoms or problems
  • We currently construct a fresh context on every solve. It may be possible to set things up to reuse contexts for efficiency.
  • Data flow: we take in user data that may be of any type.
    • At the level of problem formulation (when we construct atoms), we convert everything to an AbstractExpr (or Constraint); in particular, constants become Constant or ComplexConstant. At this time we don't know the numeric type that will be used to solve the problem.
    • Once we begin to solve! the problem, we recursively call conic_form!. The output is of type SparseTape{T}, ComplexTape{T}, Vector{T}, or ComplexStructOfVec{T}. We can call operate to manipulate these outputs.
    • We convert these to MOI.VectorAffineFunction before passing them to MOI.