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dpart: General, flexible, and scalable framework for differentially private synthetic data generation

Project description

DPART | Differentially Private Auto-Regressive Tabular


We propose a general, flexible, and scalable framework dpart, an open source Python library for differentially private synthetic data generation.

Central to the approach is autoregressive modelling breaking the joint data distribution to a sequence of lower-dimensional conditional distributions, captured by various methods such as machine learning models (logistic/linear regression, decision trees, etc.), simple histogram counts, or custom techniques.

The library has been created with a view to serve as a quick and accessible baseline as well as to accommodate a wide audience of users, from those making their first steps in synthetic data generation, to more experienced ones with domain expertise who can configure different aspects of the modelling and contribute new methods/mechanisms. Specific instances of dpart include Independent, an optimized version of PrivBayes, and a newly proposed model, dp-synthpop.


dpart is written in Python due to the language popularity among data scientists as well as machine learning researchers and practitioners. It can be installed using pip:

> pip install dpart


The example bellow show cases a typical use of the dpart framework.

import pandas as pd
from pathlib import Path
from dpart.engines import PrivBayes

# Get training data
train_df = pd.read_pickle("experiments/data/adult/tiny_adult.pkl.gz")

# Initialise model
pb_model = Privacy(

# Fit model to training data

# Generate Data
synth_data = pb_model.sample(train_df.shape[0])

Training & Generation

In this subsection, we look at the arguments responsible for:

  1. building/specifying the dependency
  2. the methods for estimating the conditional distributions
  3. privacy budget distribution.

Dependency arguments


  • dtype: List[str]
  • description: a list representing the order in which the the joint distribution is broken down into a sequence of conditionals.


  • dtype: Dict[str, List[str]]
  • description: Dictionary specifying the collection of all (already visited) columns to be used as features/predictors for each unvisited column. When specified, the visit order is identified through khan sorting.


  • dtype: int
  • description: Alternatively, prediction_matrix could be selected to "infer". In this case, an optimal network, maximizing the mutual information between the columns, is built. Furthermore, in order to reduce the number of computations, n_parents, a maximum number of columns to be considered as features, could be specified. Differential Privacy is guaranteed through the Exponential mechanism.

NOTE: At most one of visit_order and prediction_matrix could be used, as the two arguments conflict with each other.

Methods arguments:


  • dtype: Dict[str, Method]
  • description: Dictionary that determines the specific method each column should be modelled by. Columns must match the data type support of the selected method.

A list with currently available methods is shown below and further explanations provided below:

Method Data Type Support
DP Linear Regression Numerical
DP Decision Tree Categorical
DP Random Forest Categorical
DP Logistic Regression Categorical
DP Conditional Distribution Numerical & Categorical
DP Histogram Sample Numerical & Categorical

The currently available methods can be split into the following three categories.

Numerical methods

These methods can be applied on target columns with numerical data type (i.e., float, integer, datetime and timedelta):

  • Regression methods: Relies on fitting a DP regression model to predict the target column. In order to allow for non-deterministic behavior, the standard deviation of the residuals is captured in a DP way using the Laplace mechanism. During generation, new values are sampled by adding appropriate noise to the prediction from the trained regression. Currently available regression methods are: DP linear regression.
Categorical methods

The methods below can be used on categorical columns with either an object, category, or bool data type:

  • classifier methods: Fits a DP classification model that can output a conditional distribution. The available classification methods are: DP logistic regression, DP decision tree, and DP random forest. :::
Dtype-invariant methods
  • DP conditional distribution: it captures and samples from a discretized joint distribution. Numerical data is binned using uniform binning to allow for a discrete representation of the distribution and DP is satisfied by adding a Laplace noise to the counts before converting to a distribution.

  • DP histogram sampler: this method captures the marginal distribution of the target column without taking into account any input features. It is a specific use case of DP conditional distribution.

privacy budget arguments


  • dtype: float
  • description: a positive real number which defines the overall privacy budget to be used across the fitting step.

Alternatively, a dictionary describing how the privacy budget can be split between the dependency and the methods steps could be provided. Furthermore, the user can further break down the privacy budget between the specific methods for each column.


  • dtype: Dict[str, List]
  • description: a dictionary specifying the range (minimum and maximum) for all numerical columns as well as the distinct categories for categorical columns. This ensures that no further privacy leakage is happening. Alternatively, PrivacyLeakWarning is displayed (see below).


Inspired by diffprivlib, we adopt specific privacy (and other) warnings messages:

  • PrivacyLeakWarning: this warning is raised when privacy related input from a user is missing. A good example is bounds which must be provided to ensure that no privacy leakage is incurred. However, if the bounds are not provided, the algorithm will run and infer the missing bound values but will raise a warning (if epsilon has been provided).

  • UserWarning: Currently when a method is not explicitly specified for a given column, a UserWarning is raised to display which default method has been chosen.

Available engines

In this section, we present three specific instances of dpart.

Model Notes Ref
Independent simple baseline model
PrivBayes optimized model @zhang2017privbayes, @ping2017datasynthesizer
dp-synthpop new model, DP version of synthpop @nowok06synthpop


This specific use case models all columns independently by using DP histogram sampler. The model has also been used as a baseline by [@tao2021benchmarking; @stadler2022synthetic] and while it looks very simple and naive, it has been shown that it could perform better than far more sophisticated models. The dependency graph is presented in the figure above. The code excerpt below demonstrates how one could initiate, fit Independent, and generate 1,000 rows for given privacy budget, dataset, and dataset bounds:

from dpart.engines import Independent

dpart_ind = Independent(epsilon, bounds=X_bounds).fit(X)
synth_df = dpart_ind.generate(1000)


PrivBayes could also be seen as a sub case of dpart. We speed up the implementation offered by [@ping2017datasynthesizer] by 20x by re-implementing the dependency-inference step. Further performance improvements can be achieved by proposing alternative, more efficient dependency-inference approaches. A possible dependency graph produced by PrivBayes is shown in figure above, while a code example could be found below:

from dpart.engines import PrivBayes

dpart_pb = PrivBayes(epsilon, bounds=X_bounds).fit(X)
synth_df = dpart_pb.generate(1000)


Yet another instance of our framework, alas not DP, is synthpop. We built on top of it and propose a DP version, called dp-synthpop. In order to achieve this, we utilize the DP dependency step from our framework (if visit_order or prediction_matrix is not presented) and the DP predictive models from diffprivlib. A possible dependency graph is visualized in the figure above and a call to the model is presented below:

from dpart.engines import DPsynthpop

dpart_dpsp = DPsynthpop(epsilon, bounds=X_bounds).fit(X)
synth_df = dpart_dpsp.generate(1000)

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