Re: [eigen] Question about ColMajor vs. RowMajor

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Thanks a lot for the explanations!

On 12/17/2011 07:21 AM, Benoit Jacob wrote:
> 2011/12/16 Michael Dixon <mdixon@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>:
>>  Hi,
>> My colleagues and I were recently playing around with changing the
>> default for matrices from ColMajor to RowMajor, and we found that
>> doing so changed the behavior of the () operator.  Specifically, when
>> accessing a two-dimensional matrix with a single index (e.g., mat(i)
>> ), the ColMajor/RowMajor flag affects which element of the matrix gets
>> indexed as the ith.  Our assumption had been that changing the
>> ColMajor/RowMajor flag would be completely transparent, which is to
>> say, it would affect the underlying storage (and thus the
>> performance/efficiency), but it wouldn't change the overall behavior
>> of the code.
> This is mostly true, but it doesn't apply to the few parts of the API
> that are explicitly about low-level addressing of the underlying array
> of coefficients as a single-dimensional array. operator(index) is like
> that. It is meant for use cases where you just want to iterate over
> coefficients in the most memory-local way, and don't care if that
> means col-major or row-major iteration.

Though I completely see the reasoning behind this, I am a bit worried that most people won't be able to differentiate
between "low-level" API and the rest. It's almost like one would want the operator that is used the most to have the
"slower but safer" behavior (if it's a choice and if its behavior is expected to change depending on compile flags), and
then have another way to get data faster (i.e., most memory-local) that is explicit. For example, if people misuse the
() operator and are not reading the documentation properly, then every time someone upstream adds the
-DEIGEN_DEFAULT_TO_ROW_MAJOR flag, their code will break in horrible ways without a single warning.

Also, we've been spoiled by how easy it is to access data using single indexing in our code in the past, so it's very
likely that there's bits of code out there which misuse the () operator without thinking about how the data is actually
arranged in memory. I'm thinking routines that accept a matrix as input but do not check if it's column major or row
major, etc.

>>  I was just wondering whether the altered behavior of the
>> () operator was intended (in which case, our assumption of
>> transparency was incorrect), or whether this was an unintended bug.
> This behavior is intended and not considered 'altered', it just plays
> at a lower level than where the notions of "col-major" vs "row-major"
> storage exist.
> Maybe we'd need to document that more clearly, but it's already
> explained on page 1 of the tutorial:

I have to admit that I missed that myself. :) Definitely adding this all over the place where () is defined, etc would
improve things.

> "Note that the syntax m(index) is not restricted to vectors, it is
> also available for general matrices, meaning index-based access in the
> array of coefficients. This however depends on the matrix's storage
> order."
> We need to have class API docs inherit base classes so that they are
> more usable, and then put a similar explanation there.

I am still a bit conflicted on what to tell users. :( Clearly with respect to the documentation, it's a clear "API
misuse" issue. However, people have been brought up in a certain way, where these type of data accessors make them
ignorant with respect to the memory layout and other micro optimizations that happen under the hood. I suppose that if
this is standard with other libraries (did anyone look at it, e.g., boost multi-arrays, etc?) then the justification is
"that's how everyone is doing it". :) Otherwise it's almost like we would want to shelter them from this lower-level API
or help them by preventing mistakes like this in the code, and here I can see a few ways of doing that:

 * prevent them from using [] on anything that's not a Vector/Array
 * scream at them in the documentation that this part of the API is for advanced users - they have to understand and
know how the matrix data that they receive is arranged in memory, etc (speaking of which, is there a simple way to
determine that at run-time? I'm thinking: I write a routine that expects data to be column major, and I would like to
check if the MatrixXf being passed to me is indeed column major or row major)
 * make []'s behavior safe (and slower?), and add a different accessor for most local-memory. $0.02

Thanks Benoit!


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