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A better Binarizer for Apache Spark ML

Update: This code has been approved and should appear in Apache Spark 2.0.0.

The Binarizer transformer (API) is part of the core Apache Spark ML package. Its job is simple: compare a series of numbers against a threshold value and if the value is greater than the threshold then output 1.0 and if less than (or equal to) the threshold then output 0.0.

For example, if we apply the Binarizer transformer to the Iris standard machine learning dataset we would get these results (the threshold value is 4.9):

val binarizer = { new Binarizer()  

|        5.1|                 1.0|
|        4.9|                 0.0|
|        4.7|                 0.0|
|        4.6|                 0.0|
|        5.0|                 1.0|

By default the Binarizer will take three parameters:

  • inputCol
  • outputCol
  • threshold

The problem is that the inputCol is expected to be of type Double which means that we can only apply the Binarizer to one feature (or DataFrame column) at a time.

But what happens if we have many features such as in the Kaggle Digit Recognizer Challenge where we have 784 features per digit (each representing the grayscale value of a single pixel in a 28x28 image) and we want to apply a Binarizer transformer as was done to achieve 0.35% error rate. It raises a few questions:

  • Do we really want to apply Binarizer transformations for each column (784 times)?
  • What if we want to test multiple threshold values through a CrossValidator? are we going to set each of the 784 values?
  • Will the Pipeline even support 784+ steps?
val binarizerPixel0 = { new Binarizer()  
val binarizerPixel1 = { new Binarizer()  
val binarizerPixel783 = { new Binarizer()  

What would be easier would be a Binarizer that could take a vector input such as the result produced by the VectorAssembler transformer. Then we can apply the same rules to each logical group of features (all pixels are considered the same group):

val binarizer = { new Binarizer()  

val paramGrid = { new ParamGridBuilder()  
  .addGrid(binarizer.threshold, Array(127.5,150,200,220))

And here is the code which will work with either Double or VectorUDT types (sparse or dense) as the inputCol.

On GitHub: Binarizer.scala

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import scala.collection.mutable.ArrayBuilder

import org.apache.spark.annotation.{Experimental, Since}  
import{HasInputCol, HasOutputCol}  
import org.apache.spark.mllib.linalg._  
import org.apache.spark.sql._  
import org.apache.spark.sql.functions._  
import org.apache.spark.sql.types._

 * :: Experimental ::
 * Binarize a column of continuous features given a threshold.
final class Binarizer(override val uid: String)  
  extends Transformer with HasInputCol with HasOutputCol with DefaultParamsWritable {

  def this() = this(Identifiable.randomUID("binarizer"))

   * Param for threshold used to binarize continuous features.
   * The features greater than the threshold, will be binarized to 1.0.
   * The features equal to or less than the threshold, will be binarized to 0.0.
   * Default: 0.0
   * @group param
  val threshold: DoubleParam =
    new DoubleParam(this, "threshold", "threshold used to binarize continuous features")

  /** @group getParam */
  def getThreshold: Double = $(threshold)

  /** @group setParam */
  def setThreshold(value: Double): this.type = set(threshold, value)

  setDefault(threshold -> 0.0)

  /** @group setParam */
  def setInputCol(value: String): this.type = set(inputCol, value)

  /** @group setParam */
  def setOutputCol(value: String): this.type = set(outputCol, value)

  override def transform(dataset: DataFrame): DataFrame = {
    val outputSchema = transformSchema(dataset.schema, logging = true)
    val schema = dataset.schema
    val inputType = schema($(inputCol)).dataType
    val td = $(threshold)

    val binarizerDouble = udf { in: Double => if (in > td) 1.0 else 0.0 }
    val binarizerVector = udf { (data: Vector) =>
      val indices = ArrayBuilder.make[Int]
      val values = ArrayBuilder.make[Double]

      data.foreachActive { (index, value) =>
        if (value > td) {
          indices += index
          values +=  1.0

      Vectors.sparse(data.size, indices.result(), values.result()).compressed

    val metadata = outputSchema($(outputCol)).metadata

    inputType match {
      case DoubleType =>"*"), binarizerDouble(col($(inputCol))).as($(outputCol), metadata))
      case _: VectorUDT =>"*"), binarizerVector(col($(inputCol))).as($(outputCol), metadata))

  override def transformSchema(schema: StructType): StructType = {
    val inputType = schema($(inputCol)).dataType
    val outputColName = $(outputCol)

    val outCol: StructField = inputType match {
      case DoubleType =>
      case _: VectorUDT =>
        new StructField(outputColName, new VectorUDT, true)
      case other =>
        throw new IllegalArgumentException(s"Data type $other is not supported.")

    if (schema.fieldNames.contains(outputColName)) {
      throw new IllegalArgumentException(s"Output column $outputColName already exists.")
    StructType(schema.fields :+ outCol)

  override def copy(extra: ParamMap): Binarizer = defaultCopy(extra)

object Binarizer extends DefaultParamsReadable[Binarizer] {

  override def load(path: String): Binarizer = super.load(path)
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