ecr: Evolutionary Computation in R

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NOTE: The ecr package v2 is the official follow-up package to my package ecr v1. I was unsatisfied with some design choices and thus decided to restructure and rewrite a lot. Changes are that manifold and fundamental, that I decided to set up a new repository, since most of the ecr v1 functions are either deprecated, renamed, deleted or underlie substantial interface changes.


  • July 16, 2017: I gave a talk on ecr v2.0 on the annual Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO'17) in Berlin.
  • July 10, 2017: Release of ecr v2.1.0
  • April 04, 2017: My paper submission to the Evolutionary Computation Software Systems (EvoSoft) workshop at this years Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO'17) was accepted.

A gentle introduction

The ecr package (version 2), Evolutionary Computation in R, is conceived as a "white-box" framework for single- and multi-objective optimization strongly inspired by the awesome Evolutionary Computation (EC) framework DEAP for the Python programming language. In contrast to black-box frameworks, which usually try to hide as much of internal complexity (e.g., data structures) in opaque high-level EC components, ecr makes the development of evolutionary algorithms (EA) - as DEAP does - transparent: the evolutionary loop is written by hand sticking to few conventions, utilizing few simple utility functions and controlling everything. We believe, that this is the most flexible way in evolutionary algorithm design. On top ecr ships with a black-box for standard tasks, e.g., optimization of a continuous function, as well. The core features of ecr are the following

  • Flexible white-box approach to EA design and implementation.
  • A lot of predefined EA operators for standard representations, i.e., permutations, binary strings and real-values vectors.
  • Powerful logging mechanism.
  • Possibility to use custom representations/genotypes.
  • Possibility to define custom EA operators, i.e., mutation, variation and selection operators.
  • Easy parallelization via parallelMap
  • Black-box approach for standard tasks.
  • Single- and multi-objective optimization.
  • Implementations of some popular performance indicators in Evolutionary Multi-Objective Optimization (EMOA), e.g., hyper-volume-indicator, epsilon indicator as well as R1, R2 and R3 indicator.
  • Predefined state-of-the-art EMOA algorithms NSGA-II, SMS-EMOA and AS-EMOA.

The best way to illustrate the process of algorithm design in ecr is by example. Assume we aim to find the global minimum of the highly multimodal one-dimensional Ackley-Function. The function is available in the R package smoof and may be initialized as follows:

fn = makeAckleyFunction(1L)
autoplot(fn, show.optimum=TRUE, length.out = 1000)

Writing the evolutionary loop by hand

We decide to use an evolutionary (30 + 5)-strategy, i.e., an algorithm that keeps a population of size mu = 30, in each generation creates lambda = 5 offspring by variation and selects the best mu out of mu + lambda individuals to survive. First, we define some variables.

MU = 30L; LAMBDA = 5L; MAX.ITER = 200L
lower = getLowerBoxConstraints(fn)
upper = getUpperBoxConstraints(fn)

In order to implement this algorithm the first step is to define a control object, which stores information on the objective function and a set of evolutionary operators.

control = initECRControl(fn)
control = registerECROperator(control, "mutate", mutGauss, sdev = 2, lower = lower, upper = upper)
control = registerECROperator(control, "selectForSurvival", selGreedy)

Here, we decide to perform mutation only. The best mu individuals (regarding fitness values) are going to be selected to build up the next generation.

Finally, the evolutionary loop is implemented.

population = genReal(MU, getNumberOfParameters(fn), lower, upper)
fitness = evaluateFitness(control, population)
for (i in seq_len(MAX.ITER)) {
    # animate the loop
    pl = autoplot(fn, length.out = 1000L)
    df = data.frame(x = unlist(population), y = as.numeric(fitness))
    pl = pl + geom_point(data = df, mapping = aes(x = x, y = y))
    # sample lambda individuals at random
    idx = sample(1:MU, LAMBDA)
    # generate offspring by mutation and evaluate their fitness
    offspring = mutate(control, population[idx], p.mut = 1)
    fitness.o = evaluateFitness(control, offspring)
    # now select the best out of the union of population and offspring
    sel = replaceMuPlusLambda(control, population, offspring, fitness, fitness.o)
    population = sel$population
    fitness = sel$fitness

Black-box approach

Since the optimization of a continuous numeric function is a standard task in EC, ecr ships with a black-box function ecr(...) which basically is a customizable wrapper around the loop above. A lot of tasks can be accomplished by utlizing this single entry point. However, often EA design requires small tweaks, changes and adaptations which are simply impossible to realize with a black box regardless of their flexebility.

The optimization of our 1D Ackley-function via ecr(...) (without animation) might look like this:

res = ecr( = fn, representation = "float",
  n.dim = getNumberOfParameters(fn), survival.strategy = "plus",
  lower = lower, upper = upper,
  mu = MU, lambda = LAMBDA,
  mutator = setup(mutGauss, sdev = 2, lower = lower, upper = upper),
  terminators = list(stopOnIters(MAX.ITER)))

Installation Instructions

The package will be available at CRAN soon. Install the release version via:


If you are interested in trying out and playing around with the current github developer version use the devtools package and type the following command in R:



To cite ecr please use:

Bossek, J. (2017). ecr 2.0: A Modular Framework for Evolutionary Computation in R. In Proceedings of the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO '17) Companion, Berlin, Germany, 1187--1193.

A BibTeX entry for LaTeX users is

    author = {Jakob Bossek},
    title = {{ecr 2.0: A Modular Framework for Evolutionary Computation in R}},
    year = {2017},
    booktitle = {Proceedings of the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference Companion},
    location = {Berlin, Germany},
    doi = {10.1145/3067695.3082470},
    publischer = {ACM},
    isbn = {978-1-4503-4939-0},
    series = {GECCO '17},
    numpages = {7},
    pages = {1187--1193},


Please address questions and missing features about the ecr to the author Jakob Bossek Found some nasty bugs? Please use the issue tracker for this. Pay attention to explain the problem as good as possible. At its best you provide an example, so I can reproduce your problem quickly.