Apache Project(s) of the month

Apache Hivemall

With this article we will move a little bit out of the data engineering space and delve into another subject I love: we will explore the world of distributed machine learning with Apache Hivemall. From the project's homepage:

Hivemall is a scalable machine learning library that runs on Apache Hive, Spark and Pig.

In short, Hivemall is a collection of Hive UDFs (User-Defined Functions) to create, train, and evaluate machine learning models using any of the supported engines. Since Hive provides a SQL-like query language, Hivemall is basically machine learning in SQL; it is then well suited to users who are already fluent in SQL or who need an additional abstraction layer on top of machine learning libraries.

We will explore some of the many capabilities that Hivemall provides by tackling one of the most common machine learning tasks: classification. Let's start by setting up the environment.

Setting up Hivemall and Spark

Like for other Java-based Apache projects, we will need to install git, Java 8, and Maven 3.5+ (check the article on Apache Atlas if you need a detailed walkthrough). Once we have installed everything, we need to build Hivemall:

$ git clone https://github.com/apache/incubator-hivemall.git
$ cd incubator-hivemall
$ bin/build.sh

Since Hive is a bit cumbersome to install and configure, and we will need to do a bit of data preprocessing as well, we will run Hive queries from Spark instead. We therefore need to:

  • download Spark 2.4.4 from this page (choosing the 2.4.4 release pre-built for Hadoop 2.7);

  • extract the content of the .tgz file into a directory, possibly alongside the directory where we cloned the Hivemall repository:

    $ tar zxvf spark-2.4.4-bin-hadoop2.7.tgz
  • launch the Spark shell with the Hivemall JAR file (release 0.6.2-SNAPSHOT as of now) built before:

    $ spark-2.4.4-bin-hadoop2.7/bin/spark-shell \
      --jars incubator-hivemall/target/hivemall-all-0.6.2-incubating-SNAPSHOT.jar

Once the Spark shell is running, we need to load all the Hivemall functions:

scala> :load incubator-hivemall/resources/ddl/define-all.spark

We will likely see some errors because some Hivemall functions already exist in Spark 2.4.4, but there is no need to worry because the Spark functions will not be overridden. We are now ready to start using Hivemall!


Classification is the task of assigning a category to an observation based on the value of its features. For example, we may have some emails that we want to classify as "spam" or "non-spam" based on the presence of one or more keywords; this is called binary classification because we only have two categories, or one category that an instance belongs to or not. Another example, which is a sort of "Hello world" for machine learning and classification, is the categorization of a specific variant of the iris plant depending on features such as the length and width of its sepals and petals; this is called multiclass classification because there are more than two different classes. We will use the Iris Data Set in this section.

The algorithm we will use is called XGBoost. There are several reasons behind this choice:

  • I like its conceptual simplicity and its interpretability, which is an important feature of modern machine learning algorithms;
  • it is designed for efficiency and has already proved itself;
  • it does not require a lot of preprocessing (for instance, it does not require feature scaling);
  • it is now supported in Hivemall starting with version 0.6.0 (the supported XGBoost version being 0.90).

If you are interested in the theoretical and technical details, do take a look at the excellent documentation here. For our purposes, we need to keep in mind just one thing: simplifying a lot, XGBoost will basically give us a group of decision trees.

Data preprocessing

First of all, we need to download our dataset from here and put it alongside the previous directories. The data will look like the following:


Let's go back to our Spark shell and run the following command:

scala> val iris = spark.read.option("inferSchema", true).csv("iris.data").toDF(
    "sepal_length", "sepal_width", "petal_length", "petal_width", "class")

This command will read the dataset file interpreting it as a CSV file, automatically creating a schema and assigning the provided names to the columns. We can check both the schema and the first 5 rows of the dataset:

scala> iris.printSchema
scala> iris.show(5)

Now we can create a temporary view of our Spark Dataframe so that we can use it like a Hive table:

scala> iris.createOrReplaceTempView("iris")

and then we can run a SQL query as a check:

scala> spark.sql("SELECT * FROM iris").show(5)
|sepal_length|sepal_width|petal_length|petal_width|      class|
|         5.1|        3.5|         1.4|        0.2|Iris-setosa|
|         4.9|        3.0|         1.4|        0.2|Iris-setosa|
|         4.7|        3.2|         1.3|        0.2|Iris-setosa|
|         4.6|        3.1|         1.5|        0.2|Iris-setosa|
|         5.0|        3.6|         1.4|        0.2|Iris-setosa|

We have our raw data table, but in order to run any Hivemall algorithm we need to tweak it a little. More specifically, we need to:

  • assign a unique ID to each row;
  • create a feature vector such as [1:5.1, 2:3.5, 3:1.4, 4:0.2], that is a string array where each element is of the form feature:value, from the feature columns;
  • transform the iris "class" from a string to an integer value.

These steps are part of a very important phase of a machine learning pipeline called feature engineering. We can create a new table with all these transformations with the following command:

scala> spark.sql("""
    CREATE TABLE iris_processed AS
    SELECT monotonically_increasing_id() rowid,
    indexed_features(sepal_length, sepal_width, petal_length, petal_width) features,
    quantify(true, class) label
    FROM iris
    ORDER BY class""")

While monotonically_increasing_id is a Spark function, indexed_features and quantify are both Hivemall UDFs:

  • indexed_features will create an array from the values passed as parameters, prepending each value with its position in the array (starting from 1, not 0, since 0 is reserved for the bias feature);
  • quantify can be used to convert a categorical variable into a numerical variable (the ORDER BY is used to make sure that it is applied on one reducer only, thus consistently associating the same number to the same non-numerical variable).

There are other ways to create a unique ID for each row; Hivemall provides a function called rowid, but it does not work in Spark (it would throw a java.lang.IllegalStateException: MapredContext is not set exception).

Let's see how the new table looks like:

scala> spark.sql("SELECT * FROM iris_processed").show(5, false)
|rowid|features                    |label|
|0    |[1:5.1, 2:3.5, 3:1.4, 4:0.2]|0    |
|1    |[1:4.9, 2:3.0, 3:1.4, 4:0.2]|0    |
|2    |[1:4.7, 2:3.2, 3:1.3, 4:0.2]|0    |
|3    |[1:4.6, 2:3.1, 3:1.5, 4:0.2]|0    |
|4    |[1:5.0, 2:3.6, 3:1.4, 4:0.2]|0    |

The table is ready to be used for training.


We need to add one more function first (which should be included in the define-all.spark file now, but are not at the moment):

scala> spark.sql("CREATE TEMPORARY FUNCTION train_xgboost AS 'hivemall.xgboost.XGBoostTrainUDTF'")

We also need to set the spark.sql.shuffle.partitions (or mapred.reduce.tasks if we use Hive directly, not through Spark) configuration parameter to a "low" number, for instance to 10 (instead of the default 200).

scala> spark.sql("SET spark.sql.shuffle.partitions=10")

If we don't do this and the dataset is small (as in our case, with only 150 rows), we will have some empty partitions which will cause an error like the following during the training phase:

Caused by: ml.dmlc.xgboost4j.java.XGBoostError: [01:14:14] /home/travis/build/myui/build-xgboost-jvm/xgboost/src/learner.cc:723: Check failed: mparam_.num_feature != 0 (0 vs. 0) : 0 feature is supplied.  Are you using raw Booster interface?

Let's check that there are no empty partitions by running this command, which should give no output:

scala> spark.sql("SELECT * FROM iris_processed CLUSTER BY rand(0)").foreachPartition(
    part => if (part.length == 0) println(s"Zero-length partition"))

Another way to check is to run the following command, which should return the same number of partitions as the value of the spark.sql.shuffle.partitions parameter:

scala> spark.sql("SELECT DISTINCT spark_partition_id() FROM (SELECT * FROM iris_processed CLUSTER BY rand(0))").count

(Try to set spark.sql.shuffle.partitions to 50 or 100 and run the previous commands to see a different behaviour.)

Finally we can create the model:

scala> spark.sql("""
    CREATE TABLE iris_model_softmax AS
    SELECT train_xgboost(features, label, '-objective multi:softmax -num_class 3') AS (model_id, model)
    FROM (SELECT features, label FROM iris_processed CLUSTER BY rand(0))

When performing a multiclass classification task, we have to explicitly specify the -num_class parameter; we have 3 classes in our dataset, therefore we set it to 3. The other parameter is the objective function: multi:softmax will use the softmax objective and return only the predicted class, while multi:softprob will use the softprob objective and return the probability associated to each class (see the XGBoost docs for more information, and for the other parameters). A model using the softprob objective can be created as follows:

scala> spark.sql("""
    CREATE TABLE iris_model_softprob AS
    SELECT train_xgboost(features, label, '-objective multi:softprob -num_class 3') AS (model_id, model)
    FROM (SELECT features, label FROM iris_processed CLUSTER BY rand(0))

Another important consideration is the use of CLUSTER BY rand(0), which is used to shuffle the dataset in order to prevent any bias. Please note that, for simplicity, we didn't split the dataset into a training and a test set; in real-world applications this should always be done.

Now that the model is trained, we can read it:

scala> val modelArray: String = spark.sql("SELECT * FROM iris_model_softprob").take(1).head(1).toString

and then visualize it:

scala> import org.apache.hadoop.io.Text
scala> import hivemall.xgboost.utils.XGBoostUtils.deserializeBooster
scala> val booster = deserializeBooster(new Text(modelArray))
scala> println(booster.getModelDump(Array[String](), false, "json").mkString("\n"))

The parameters of the getModelDump method are:

  • an array of feature names (potentially empty, to map the default f0...fn names to user-defined names);
  • a boolean to include/exclude the split statistics;
  • the output format (at the moment only "text" or "json").

We can also get the importance of each feature:

scala> println(booster.getFeatureScore(Array[String]()))
{f1=18, f2=2, f3=17}

and the feature importances for several measures (one of "weight", "gain", "cover", "total_gain", "total_cover"):

scala> booster.getScore(Array[String](), "gain")
{f1=1.4596930238833332, f2=0.0668432191, f3=1.5014036119411764}

We can customize the feature names in both methods:

scala> val featureNames = Array("bias", "sepal_length", "sepal_width", "petal_length", "petal_width")
scala> println(booster.getFeatureScore(featureNames))
scala> booster.getScore(featureNames, "gain")
{sepal_width=2, sepal_length=18, petal_length=17}
{sepal_width=0.0668432191, sepal_length=1.4596930238833332, petal_length=1.5014036119411764}


Now that the model is ready, we can use it to classify some data. It is important to note that the way Hivemall makes XGBoost parallel is somewhat different from the parallel implementation of the official library; in fact, instead of using the AllReduce paradigm where all the parallel workers have to communicate, Hivemall uses a voting classifier on top of many independent XGBoost learners. In this way every worker can train its own local model based on its partition of data (possibly overlapping with other partitions if the amplify or rand_amplify functions are used), and the actual prediction happens via a majority vote (if the objective function is softmax, since its output is a class label) or by averaging (if the objective function is softprob, since its output is a list of probabilities). We will see both examples.

Like we did for training, we need first of all to include a few more functions:

scala> spark.sql("CREATE TEMPORARY FUNCTION xgboost_predict_one AS 'hivemall.xgboost.XGBoostPredictOneUDTF'")
scala> spark.sql("CREATE TEMPORARY FUNCTION xgboost_predict_triple AS 'hivemall.xgboost.XGBoostPredictTripleUDTF'")
scala> spark.sql("CREATE TEMPORARY FUNCTION majority_vote AS 'hivemall.tools.aggr.MajorityVoteUDAF'")

and to set another configuration option:

scala> spark.sql("SET spark.sql.crossJoin.enabled=true")

This is necessary because Hivemall uses a left join without condition (basically a cross join) between the model and the data to make predictions, and cross joins are disabled by default for performance reasons.

Let's now create a table containing our predictions:

scala> spark.sql("""
    CREATE TABLE iris_pred_softmax AS
    SELECT rowid, majority_vote(CAST(predicted AS INT)) AS label
    FROM (
        SELECT xgboost_predict_one(rowid, features, model_id, model) AS (rowid, predicted)
        FROM iris_model_softmax l LEFT JOIN iris_processed r) t
    GROUP BY rowid""")

We use the xgboost_predict_one function to predict the class of each row of the iris_processed table with the model stored in the model column of the iris_model_softmax table; the rowid is stored as well to make the model evaluation easier later on. In this case we use the majority_vote function to "vote" for the most frequent prediction, which will become the actual prediction. We can check the predicted values from the new table:

scala> spark.sql("SELECT * FROM iris_pred_softmax ORDER BY rowid").show

Once again, keep in mind that for this example we didn't split the dataset into a training set and a test set. If we want to get the probability of each class assignment, instead, we can use the xgboost_predict_triple function as follows:

scala> spark.sql("""
    SELECT rowid, argmax(collect_list(avg_proba)) label, collect_list(avg_proba) proba
    FROM (
        CREATE TABLE iris_pred_softprob AS
        SELECT rowid, label, avg(proba) avg_proba
        FROM (
            SELECT xgboost_predict_triple(rowid, features, model_id, model) AS (rowid, label, proba)
            FROM iris_model_softprob l LEFT JOIN iris_processed r)
        GROUP BY rowid, label ORDER BY rowid, label)
    GROUP BY rowid ORDER BY rowid""")

The prediction works in the same way as before, with three important differences:

  • the prediction function now returns three values instead of two, including the probability as well;
  • we do not "vote" for the most frequent class, but rather we average the probabilities of each class and select the class with the maximum average probability;
  • the model we run the prediction against has to be created with the multi:softprob objective, otherwise the xgboost_predict_triple will return the wrong results.

We can also use two simpler functions, xgboost_predict and xgboost_batch_predict, to obtain the same result. The difference between the two is that xgboost-predict uses xgboost-predictor-java while xgboost_batch_predict uses xgboost4j; the former runs on a per-row basis and is faster, but does not support all the models and objectives that the latter (which runs on batches) supports. Here is an example on how to use both; you can take a look at the Hivemall examples for more details.

scala> spark.sql("CREATE TEMPORARY FUNCTION xgboost_predict AS 'hivemall.xgboost.XGBoostOnlinePredictUDTF'")
scala> spark.sql("CREATE TEMPORARY FUNCTION xgboost_batch_predict AS 'hivemall.xgboost.XGBoostBatchPredictUDTF'")

    CREATE TABLE iris_pred_softprob AS
    SELECT rowid, argmax(array_avg(predicted)), array_avg(predicted) as prob
    FROM (
        SELECT xgboost_predict(rowid, features, model_id, model) AS (rowid, predicted)
        FROM iris_model_softprob l LEFT JOIN iris_processed r)
    GROUP BY rowid ORDER BY rowid""").show(5, false)

    CREATE TABLE iris_pred_softprob AS
    SELECT rowid, argmax(array_avg(predicted)), array_avg(predicted) as prob
    FROM (
        SELECT xgboost_batch_predict(rowid, features, model_id, model) AS (rowid, predicted)
        FROM iris_model_softprob l LEFT JOIN iris_processed r)
    GROUP BY rowid ORDER BY rowid""").show(5, false)

The array_avg function is used to calculate the average of an array column. Again, we can check the predicted values:

scala> spark.sql("SELECT * FROM iris_pred_softprob ORDER BY rowid").show


It is time now to evaluate our models. Since we performed our predictions on the same dataset that we used for training, we would expect the models to perform really good. Let's start with the softmax model:

scala> spark.sql("""
    SELECT sum(if(actual=predicted, 1.0, 0.0))/count(1)
    FROM (
        SELECT source.label actual, pred.label predicted
        FROM iris_processed source JOIN iris_pred_softmax pred USING (rowid))""").show

Here we are simply counting all the instances where the actual value corresponds to the predicted value (using the rowid column to join the training dataset and the predicted dataset), then we divide that number by the number of all the instances to get a ratio. As expected, the ratio is really high (even though not exactly 1.0); we can also run exactly the same query by just swapping iris_pred_softmax with iris_pred_softprob to evaluate the second model. If we do not find very close values, the reason can be parallelization (since each partition calculates its own model); in order to get very close results we would need to reduce the spark.sql.shuffle.partitions value to one, effectively making the whole computation happen in only one partition by creating a single XGBoost model, which will contain the full dataset (obviously not recommended for large datasets).


We have seen how Hivemall makes the XGBoost algorithm (and the classification task in general) very easy to implement and to understand. Of course there is much more to it, for instance:

There are many other machine learning tasks to cover, such as regression and clustering, and we have just barely touched on feature engineering. So, stay tuned for another article on this very interesting project!