Controlling Randomness

Many experiments rely on some form of randomness. Controlling this randomness is key to ensure reproducibility of the results. This typically happens by manually seeding the Pseudo Random Number Generator (PRNG). Sacred can help you manage this error-prone procedure.

Automatic Seed

Sacred auto-generates a seed for each run as part of the configuration (You might have noticed it, when printing the configuration of an experiment). This seed has a different value everytime the experiment is run and is stored as part part of the configuration. You can easily set it by:

>>./experiment.py with seed=123

This root-seed is the central place to control randomness, because internally all other seeds and PRNGs depend on it in a deterministic way.

Global Seeds

Upon starting the experiment, sacred automatically sets the global seed of random and (if installed) numpy.random to the auto-generated root-seed of the experiment. This means that even if you don’t take any further steps, at least the randomness stemming from those two libraries is properly seeded.

If you rely on any other library that you want to seed globally you should do so manually first thing inside your main function. For this you can either take the argument seed (the root-seed), or _seed (a seed generated for this call of the main function). In this case it doesn’t really matter.

Special Arguments

To generate random numbers that are controlled by the root-seed Sacred provides two special arguments: _rnd and _seed. You can just accept them as a parameters in any captured function:

@ex.capture
def do_random_stuff(_rnd, _seed):
    print(_seed)
    print(_rnd.randint(1, 100))

_seed is an integer that is different every time the function is called. Likewise _rnd is a PRNG that you can directly use to generate random numbers.

Note

If numpy is installed _rnd will be a numpy.random.RandomState object. Otherwise it will be random.Random object.

All _seed and _rnd instances depend deterministically on the root-seed so they can be controlled centrally.

Resilience to Change

The way Sacred generates these seeds and PRNGs actually offers some amount of resilience to changes in your experiment or your program flow. So suppose for example you have an experiment that has two methods that use randomness: A and B. You want to run and compare two variants of that experiment:

  1. Only call B.
  2. First call A and then B.

If you use just a single global PRNG that would mean that for a fixed seed the call to B gives different results for the two variants, because the call to A changed the state of the global PRNG.

Sacred generates these seeds and PRNGS in a hierarchical way. That makes the calls to A and B independent from one another. So B would give the same results in both cases.