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Compress JLA-like supernova data

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libsncompress – efficient and reproducible Python utility for compressing supernova cosmological data.


The Python package libsncompress implements the linear compression method described in the paper “Application of Bayesian graphs to SN Ia data analysis and compression” (C. Ma, P.-S. Corasaniti, & B. A. Bassett, 2016, MNRAS, submitted, “M16”; accepted version: 2016 MNRAS, 463, 1651, DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stw2069, BibCode: 2016MNRAS.463.1651M). It is designed for use with the JLA dataset, but can be easily extended for other similar datasets.

It also includes a Python executable script, jlacompress, that serves as a command-line user interface.

The intended usage includes the following tasks:

  • To obtain a compressed sample of the JLA dataset, obtaining the location (mean) vector and scatter (covariance) matrix of the luminosity distance modulus, possibly for subsequent cosmological analysis.
  • To perform cross-validation on portions of the dataset.
  • To study the posterior distribution of SN standardization parameters alpha, beta, and delta_M.
  • To replicate the results in the above-cited research paper that is built on the preceding tasks.
  • To help developing new methods of data analysis and compression with current and future data based on the current work.

The programs work with both Python 2.7 and 3.6/3.7.


The most convenient to install the package depends on your intended usage.

To simply use the package and compression script, just install the latest version fro the PyPI with pip:

pip install -U libsncompress

Additional Python packages are required at runtime (please refer to the section “Dependencies” for the list of dependencies of the current version). The recommended installation method is to use the above command, which will make sure that the supporting packages are installed automatically.

To contribute to the package development, run the tests with real data, or verify the reproducibility of the research, it is necessary to clone the repository using git:

git clone

The full repository includes also the necessary files for testing and verification. Please refer to the section “Testing and Development” for further details.

It is also possible to use the library package libsncompress without installation, for example, by including them directly in your own project.

Using the JLA Compression Script

This utility comes with an executable script jlacompress that is tailored to the compression of the JLA dataset, as done in our M16 paper.


jlacompress [-h] [-d DIR] [-t FILE] [-p PREFIX] [-c z1 z2 [...]] [-n] [-v]

The script requires JLA data files to run. See the section “Data Files” for details.

Command-Line Options

  • -h, --help: show help message and exit
  • -d DIR, --covdir DIR: path to directory of FITS covariance files (default: ./covmat)
  • -t FILE, --table FILE: path to JLA data table file (default: ./jla_lcparams.txt)
  • -p PREFIX, --output-prefix PREFIX: prefix to output file names
  • -c z1 z2 [...], --controls z1 z2 [...]: locations of control points (as redshift). At least two control points are required. If unspecified, use the default control points in the JLA paper.
  • -n, --no-logdet: don’t use the correct conditional probability (default: off; warning: use at your own risk)
  • -v, --verbose: turn on verbose output (default: off)


The script writes three output files when it solves the optimization problem successfully:

  • Mean (approximate, actually posterior-maximizing) compression parameters in the order of (alpha, beta, delta_M, mu1, mu2, …), where muN is the value of distance modulus at the N-th control point. It is therefore a list of N + 3 numbers
  • Covariance matrix (symmetric, and with all elements filled) of the parameters. It is of shape N + 3 × N + 3, and the first 3 rows and columns correspond to the three standardization parameters alpha, beta, and delta_M.
  • Redshifts of the N control points.

The default output file names are mean.txt, cov.txt and redshift.txt respectively, but they can be prefixed by arbitrary strings specified by the user with the -p/--prefix option.

The slash (/) character in the prefix will be understood as directory separators. If the directory part of a resulting path does not exist, it will be created if possible, and nested directories may be created by this process.

The output files will have suffix -no-logdet appended to the path but before the .txt extension, if -n or --no-logdet is specified.

When verbose output is enabled by -v or --verbose, additional text will be written to the standard error.

Exit Status

The script exits with 0 for success. Any other value indicates error.

Example Usage

Assuming the data files are in their default locations, the following command reproduces the default compression results in the JLA paper.

jlacompress -n

Data Files

The JLA data files are required for using the package. However, we cannot distribute them with the source package. Please read the JLA readme page for details about the data files.

The following two files must be downloaded:

  1. The file jla_likelihood_v6.tgz, compressed archive containing the file data/jla_lcparams.txt. This file contains the supernova sample catalogue. The other files in this archive are not necessary.
  2. The FITS files containing the components of data covariance, in the compressed archive covmat_v6.tgz. The non-FITS files in this archive are not necessary.

If the JLA data archives are already downloaded, you simply need to extract the required files and specify their locations when using the jlacompress script, as described above.

The Git repository includes a shell script to download and extract these files: This script is meant to be run manually, and it is not distributed with the wheel distribution on PyPI. However, it is included in the source distribution, even if it’s skipped during installation of the sdist.

To use the download script, simply invoking the script in the repository (or extracted sdist tarball) directory


will suffice – this will populate the testdata directory with the necessary files and check the file integrity. Doing so also ensures that the tests can run.

Testing and Development

Using libsncompress in Your Project

To use the package directly in your own Python project, simply

import libsncompress

This will import three classes from its sub-modules into the libsncompress namespace:

  • BinnedSN: data-file loader and pre-processor
  • BinCollection: redshift binning and sanitizer; not very useful on its own
  • CovEvaluator: the actual compressor

The first thing you need to do is to specify a list (or numpy array) of control points, by their base-10 logarithm values. Currently, due to development legacy, the “binning” class and methods are not particularly efficient. This is usually not a problem because it will be used only once.

This list or array of control points must be encapsulate in another container (list, array, or tuple, etc.) before passing to the initializer of libsncompress.BinnedSN class. The instance can be initialized by

binned_sn = libsncompress.BinnedSN(basedirpath,

Here basedirpath is the path to the directory containing the FITS covariance data files, tablepath the path to the text file containing the JLA dataset table, and logbins is the nested list of control points just obtained.

After this, we can initialize the evaluator libsncompress.CovEvaluator class, which implements the evaluation of probability log-density functions and their first 2 derivatives, like this:

ev = libsncompress.CovEvaluator(binned_sn, withlogdet=True)

The optional argument withlogdet controls whether the full effect of parameter-dependent covariance matrix is taken into account. It is so named due to the ubiquitous presence of “ln det Cov” term. It defaults to True but can be set to False, which will evaluate the functions as if the customary chi-squared method were used.

The CovEvaluator instance, ev, provides a method minimize, which is a wrapper of scipy.optimize.minimize. Additional positional and keyword arguments are passed over to that function. The recommended optimization algorithm is trust-ncg which fully utilizes the Hessian matrix. This is the default minimization algorithm if left unspecified, and other algorithms supported by scipy.optimize.minimize can be passed as the optional keyword parameter method.

The return value of CovEvaluator.minimize method is simply that of the underlying scipy function, but with results suitably scaled.

The Hessian of log-PDF function can be obtained, then, at the minimizing point in the parameter space. This can be used for constructing the approximate covariance of compression parameters.

Please notice that this implementation here is not a general, abstract implementation of the linear compression method detailed in our paper. It specifically implements the sawtooth-basis compression, which is compatible with the original JLA one. The implementation details, as well as the exposed API, are likely to see significant revisions in the future.

Setting Up the Testing Environment

To run the tests (including the reproducibility tests), it is necessary to set up the environment with supporting packages and data.

As described in the preceding section, “Data Files”, the recommended way is to clone the Git repository and populate the testdata directory in the repository with the necessary files, which can be done using the script.

After obtaining the data files, it is recommended to use the recent version of tox to manage the testing environments.

pip install 'tox >= 2.8.0'

Although not strictly necessary for running the tests themselves per se, it is recommended to install the pandoc program (please consult your operating system documentation) and the pypandoc Python package.

Running the Tests

If you have both Python 2.7 and 3.6/3.7 installed, simply invoking


will create the source distribution and run the tests under both Python variants. The default configuration will pull the latest supporting packages from PyPI specified in the file devel-requirements.txt.

If you have only one working variant of Python, for example Python 2.7, you can run

tox -e py2,coverage-report

and skip the unavailable test environment setting.

Reproducibility Tests

One important goal of the test suits in this repository is to ensure that the results of JLA SNIa compression are always reproducible.

First, as we have shown in M16, the JLA compression results (their Tables F.1 and F.2), especially the covariance matrix, are “very close” to the ones obtained using this program on the JLA data release, but with the (highly discouraged) withlogdet=False option enabled for libsncompress.CovEvaluator.

Second, the compression results produced by this program on the released JLA data must match those presented in M16, Tables A1 and A2.

The reproducibility tests check that these constraints are satisfied by all revisions to the codebase. These tests are included in the tests/ script and are run by tox by default.


  • six (unknown version), for Python 2 and 3 compatibility;
  • numpy (>= 1.6.0), for array data structure and basic operations;
  • scipy (>= 0.11.0), for linear algebra and numerical optimization;
  • astropy (unknown version), for loading FITS files with the module, which replaces the dependence on pyfits in earlier versions;
  • cachetools (unknown version), for caching partial evaluation results, which is essential for compression speed.

Performance Notes

Performance is mostly determined by the following two conditions:

  1. Underlying BLAS/LAPACK libraries used by numpy/scipy, especially the “linear solver by Cholesky decomposition”, (D)POTRS function of LAPACK. For NetLib LAPACK, this in turn is largely determined by the speed of the level-3 BLAS triangular solver, (D)TRSM. The NetLib reference implementation is rather naive, and an optimized implementation of BLAS is likely to boost the performance.
  2. Choice of initial value and scaling for numerical optimization. If they are suitably chosen, the number of iterations required to achieve convergence is reduced.

The script jlacompress attempts to automatically create acceptable initial value and scaling that is optimized for the default compression used in the JLA paper. The automatic initial value and scaling are not optimized for any other usage cases.

Reporting Bugs

Please report problems via the issue tracker.


If you use this program in your research, we would like to suggest you cite the following paper (“M16”):

Ma, C., Corasaniti, P.-S., & Bassett, B. A. 2016, MNRAS, 463, 1651, doi: 10.1093/mnras/stw2069

The following BibTeX entry could be useful in a LaTeX document:

   author = {{Ma}, C. and {Corasaniti}, P.-S. and {Bassett}, B.~A.},
    title = "{Application of Bayesian graphs to SN Ia data analysis and compression}",
  journal = {MNRAS},
archivePrefix = "arXiv",
   eprint = {1603.08519},
     year = 2016,
    month = dec,
   volume = 463,
    pages = {1651-1665},
      doi = {10.1093/mnras/stw2069}

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