Linear algebra for Nim

vector, matrix, linear-algebra, BLAS, LAPACK, CUDA, matrices, nim, vectors
nimble install neo


Neo - A Matrix library


This library is meant to provide basic linear algebra operations for Nim applications. The ambition would be to become a stable basis on which to develop a scientific ecosystem for Nim, much like Numpy does for Python.

The library has been tested on Ubuntu Linux 16.04 64-bit using either ATLAS, OpenBlas or Intel MKL. It was also tested on OSX Yosemite. The GPU support has been tested using NVIDIA CUDA 8.0.

The library is currently aligned with latest Nim devel.

API documentation is here

A lot of examples are available in the tests.

Table of contents

Working on the CPU

Dense linear algebra


The library revolves around operations on vectors and matrices of floating point numbers. It allows to compute operations either on the CPU or on the GPU offering identical APIs.

The library defines types Matrix[A] and Vector[A], where A is sometimes restricted to be float32 or float64 (usually to use BLAS and LAPACK routines). Actually, Vector[A] is just a small wrapper around seq[A], which allows to perform linear algebra operations on standard Nim sequences without copying.


Here we show a few ways to create matrices and vectors. All matrices methods accept a parameter to define whether to store the matrix in row-major (that is, data are laid out in memory row by row) or column-major order (that is, data are laid out in memory column by column). The default is in each case column-major.

Whenever possible, we try to deduce whether to use 32 or 64 bits by appropriate parameters. When this is not possible, there is an optional parameter float32 that can be passed to specify the precision (the default is 64 bit).

Static matrices and vectors can be created like this:

import neo

  v1 = makeVector(5, proc(i: int): float64 = (i * i).float64)
  v2 = randomVector(7, max = 3.0) # max is optional, default 1
  v3 = constantVector(5, 3.5)
  v4 = zeros(8)
  v5 = ones(9)
  v6 = vector(1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0) # `vector` also accepts a seq
  m1 = makeMatrix(6, 3, proc(i, j: int): float64 = (i + j).float64)
  m2 = randomMatrix(2, 8, max = 1.6) # max is optional, default 1
  m3 = constantMatrix(3, 5, 1.8, order = rowMajor) # order is optional, default colMajor
  m4 = ones(3, 6)
  m5 = zeros(5, 2)
  m6 = eye(7)
  m7 = matrix(@[
    @[1.2, 3.5, 4.3],
    @[1.1, 4.2, 1.7]

All constructors that take as input an existing array or seq perform a copy of the data for memory safety.

Working with 32-bit

Some constructors (such as zeros) allow a type specifier if one wants to create a 32-bit vector or matrix. The following example all return 32-bit vectors and matrices

import neo

  v1 = makeVector(5, proc(i: int): float32 = (i * i).float32)
  v2 = randomVector(7, max = 3'f32) # max is no longer optional, to distinguish 32/64 bit
  v3 = constantVector(5, 3.5'f32)
  v4 = zeros(8, float32)
  v5 = ones(9, float32)
  v6 = vector(@[1'f32, 2'f32, 3'f32, 4'f32, 5'f32]) # this `seq` shares data with the vector
  m1 = makeMatrix(6, 3, proc(i, j: int): float32 = (i + j).float32)
  m2 = randomMatrix(2, 8, max = 1.6'f32)
  m3 = constantMatrix(3, 5, 1.8'f32, order = rowMajor) # order is optional, default colMajor
  m4 = ones(3, 6, float32)
  m5 = zeros(5, 2, float32)
  m6 = eye(7, float32)
  m7: Matrix32[2, 3] = matrix(@[
    @[1.2'f32, 3.5'f32, 4.3'f32],
    @[1.1'f32, 4.2'f32, 1.7'f32]

One can convert precision with to32 or to64:

  v64 = randomVector(10)
  v32 = v64.to32()
  m32 = randomMatrix(3, 8, max = 1'f32)
  m64 = m32.to64()

Once vectors and matrices are created, everything is inferred, so there are no differences in working with 32-bit or 64-bit. All examples that follow are for 64-bit, but they would work as well for 32-bit.


Vectors can be accessed as expected:

var v = randomVector(6)
v[4] = 1.2
echo v[3]

Same for matrices, where m[i, j] denotes the item on row i and column j, regardless of the matrix order:

var m = randomMatrix(3, 7)
m[1, 3] = 0.8
echo m[2, 2]

One can also map vectors and matrices via a proc:

  v1 = float64): float64 = 2 - 3 * x)
  m1 = float64): float64 = 1 / x)


The row and column procs will return vectors that share memory with their parent matrix:

  m = randomMatrix(10, 10)
  r2 = m.row(2)
  c5 = m.column(5)

Similarly, one can slice a matrix with the familiar notation:

  m = randomMatrix(10, 10)
  m1 = m[2 .. 4, 3 .. 8]
  m2 = m[All, 1 .. 5]

where All is a placeholder that denotes that no slicing occurs on that dimension.

In general it is convenient to have slicing, rows and columns that do not copy data but share the underlying data sequence. This can have two possible drawbacks:

  • the result may need to be modified while the original matrix stays unchanged, or viceversa;
  • a small matrix or vector may hold a reference to a large data sequence, preventing it to be garbage collected.

In this case, it is enough to call the .clone() proc to obtain a copy of the matrix or vector with its own storage.


One can iterate over vector or matrix elements, as well as over rows and columns

  v = randomVector(6)
  m = randomMatrix(3, 5)
for x in v: echo x
for i, x in v: echo i, x
for x in m: echo x
for t, x in m:
  let (i, j) = t
  echo i, j, x
for row in m.rows:
  echo row[0]
for column in m.columns:
  echo column[1]


There are two kinds of equality. The usual == operator will compare the contents of vector and matrices exactly

  u = vector(1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0)
  v = vector(1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0)
  w = vector(1.0, 3.0, 3.0, 4.0)
u == v # true
u == w # false

Usually, though, one wants to take into account the errors introduced by floating point operations. To do this, use the =~ operator, or its negation !=~:

  u = vector(1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0)
  v = vector(1.0, 2.000000001, 2.99999999, 4.0)
u == v # false
u =~ v # true


Both vectors and matrix have a pretty-print operation, so one can do

let m = randomMatrix(3, 7)
echo m8

and get something like

[ [ 0.5024584865674662  0.0798945419892334  0.7512423051567048  0.9119041361916302  0.5868388894943912  0.3600554448403415  0.4419034543022882 ]
  [ 0.8225964245706265  0.01608615513584155 0.1442007939324697  0.7623388321096165  0.8419745686508193  0.08792951865247645 0.2902529012579151 ]
  [ 0.8488187232786935  0.422866666087792 0.1057975175658363  0.07968277822379832 0.7526946339452074  0.7698915909784674  0.02831893268471575 ] ]

Reshape operations

The following operations do not change the underlying memory layout of matrices and vectors. This means they run in very little time even on big matrices, but you have to pay attention when mutating matrices and vectors produced in this way, since the underlying data is shared.

  m1 = randomMatrix(6, 9)
  m2 = randomMatrix(9, 6)
  v1 = randomVector(9)
echo m1.t # transpose, done in constant time without copying
echo m1 + m2.t
let m3 = m1.reshape(9, 6)
let m4 = v1.asMatrix(3, 3)
let v2 = m2.asVector

In case you need to allocate a copy of the original data, say in order to transpose a matrix and then mutate the transpose without altering the original matrix, a clone operation is available:

let m5 = m1.clone

Notice that clone() will be called internally anyway when using one of the reshape operations with a matrix that is not contiguous (that is, a matrix obtained by slicing).

BLAS Operations

A few linear algebra operations are available, wrapping BLAS libraries:

var v1 = randomVector(7)
  v2 = randomVector(7)
  m1 = randomMatrix(6, 9)
  m2 = randomMatrix(9, 7)
echo 3.5 * v1
v1 *= 2.3
echo v1 + v2
echo v1 - v2
echo v1 * v2 # dot product
echo v1 |*| v2 # Hadamard (component-wise) product
echo l_1(v1) # l_1 norm
echo l_2(v1) # l_2 norm
echo m2 * v1 # matrix-vector product
echo m1 * m2 # matrix-matrix product
echo m1 |*| m2 # Hadamard (component-wise) product
echo max(m1)
echo min(v2)

Universal functions

Universal functions are real-valued functions that are extended to vectors and matrices by working element-wise. There are many common functions that are implemented as universal functions:


This means that, for instance, the following check passes:

    v1 = vector(1.0, 2.3, 4.5, 3.2, 5.4)
    v2 = log(v1)
    v3 =

  assert v2 == v3

Universal functions work both on 32 and 64 bit precision, on vectors and matrices.

If you have a function f of type proc(x: float64): float64 you can use


to turn f into a (public) universal function. If you do not want to export f, there is the equivalent template makeUniversalLocal.

Rewrite rules

A few rewrite rules allow to optimize a chain of linear algebra operations into a single BLAS call. For instance, if you try

echo v1 + 5.3 * v2

this is not implemented as a scalar multiplication followed by a sum, but it is turned into a single function call.

Solving linear systems

Some linear algebraic functions are included, currently for solving systems of linear equations of the form Ax = b, for square matrices A. Functions to invert square invertible matrices are also provided. These throw floating-point errors in the case of non-invertible matrices.

These functions require a LAPACK implementation.

  a = randomMatrix(5, 5)
  b = randomVector(5)

echo solve(a, b)
echo a \ b # equivalent
echo a.inv()

Computing eigenvalues and eigenvectors

These functions require a LAPACK implementation.

To be documented.

Linking BLAS and LAPACK implementations

The library requires to link some BLAS implementation to perform the actual linear algebra operations. By default, it tries to link whatever is the default system-wide BLAS implementation.

A few compile flags are available to link specific BLAS implementations

-d:mkl -d:threaded

Packages for various BLAS implementations are available from the package managers of many Linux distributions. On OSX one can add the brew formulas from Homebrew Science, such as brew install homebrew/science/openblas.

You may also need to add suitable paths for the includes and library dirs. On OSX, this should do the trick

switch("clibdir", "/usr/local/opt/openblas/lib")
switch("cincludes", "/usr/local/opt/openblas/include")

If you have problems with MKL, you may want to link it statically. Just pass the options


to enable static linking.

Sparse linear algebra

To be documented.

Working on the GPU

Linking CUDA

It is possible to delegate work to the GPU using CUDA. The library has been tested to work with NVIDIA CUDA 8.0, but it is possible that earlier versions will work as well. In order to compile and link against CUDA, you should make the appropriate headers and libraries available. If they are not globally set, you can pass suitable options to the Nim compiler, such as


Support for CUDA is under the package neo/cuda, that needs to be imported explicitly.

Dense linear algebra

If you have a matrix or vector, you can move it on the GPU, and back like this:

import neo, neo/cuda
  v = randomVector(12, max=1'f32)
  vOnTheGpu = v.gpu()
  vBackOnTheCpu = vOnTheGpu.cpu()

Vectors and matrices on the GPU support linear-algebraic operations via cuBLAS, exactly like their CPU counterparts. A few operation - such as reading a single element - are not supported, as it does not make much sense to copy a single value back and forth from the GPU. Usually it is advisable to move vectors and matrices to the GPU, make as many computations as possible there, and finally move the result back to the CPU.

The following are all valid operations, assuming v and w are vectors on the GPU, m and n are matrices on the GPU and the dimensions are compatible:

v * 3'f32
v + w
v -= w
m * v
m - n
m * n

For more information, look at the tests in tests/cudadense.

Sparse linear algebra

To be documented.


  • Add support for matrices and vector on the stack
  • Use rewrite rules to optimize complex operations into a single BLAS call
  • More specialized BLAS operations
  • Try on more platforms/configurations
  • Make a proper benchmark
  • Improve documentation
  • Better pretty-print


Every contribution is very much appreciated! This can range from:

  • using the library and reporting any issues and any configuration on which it works fine
  • building other parts of the scientific environment on top of it
  • writing blog posts and tutorials
  • contributing actual code (see the TODO section)