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Tree Clustering Library

The tree clustering library performs clustering of elements using trees. Elements are defined by a set of numerical (metric) parameters. A tree approximates the probability density function from which elements have been drawn by partitioning the parameter space hierarchically into a number of rectangular segments, on which the probability density function is assumed to have a uniform distribution. Clustering trees are generated using a Metropolis-Hastings sampler.

Note: The package rtc provides an easy-to-use binding for the R language.


libtc is a library which implements an MCMC sampler to produce a clustering (here in the sense of partitioning a parameter space into rectangular areas) of a number of elements. In a single dimension, this is equivalent to producing a histogram with adaptable bounds. The unique aspect about this technique is that it works with arbitrary number of dimensions, metric and nominal parameters and is statistically objective.

Elements are defined by their parameters, i.e. they are points in the parameter space. The partitioning of the parameter space is rectangular, which means it is divided into a finite set of non-overlapping rectangles spanning the whole parameter space. This allows future elements to be attributed into a partition.

libtc was developed as an algorithm for automatically producing segmentation of players of a free-to-play computer game into a relatively small number of segments according to their differing parameters, e.g. age, country, level, etc.

The partitioning is formulated as a tree, where each node defines partitioning of the parent rectangle into a number of child rectangles by means of straight lines (surfaces). New partitioning can be added, moved, or removed in the MCMC process, eventually leading to a relatively optimal partitioning.

The goodness of partitioning, i.e. its likelihood (posterior probability in Bayesian terms) is determined by the application of the Bayes theorem. Elements are thought of as having been drawn from a probability density function of such a form where the density is constant over each rectangle of the partitioning, but otherwise unknown. This is a valid situation in the Bayesian statistics, and we can infer what the posterior probability of our concrete partitioning is, given this "observation" of elements. It turns out that this probability can be derived analytically, and is similar to the formula for entropy, but in a more extended form. Crucially, the likelihood is the result of balance between volume of rectangles and how populated by elements they are. Favored are large partitions with few elements, small partitions with many elements, and highly uneven populations among partitions. It turns out that these aspects are naturally in opposition, and give rise to strong gradients, allowing us to discern between better or worse partitionings, and yield practically meaningful results.

The formula for likelihood/posterior probability of a partitioning takes the form:

1/V1^N1 1/V2^N2 ... 1/Vn^Nn N1!N2!...Nn! / (N + n)!

where V1, ..., Vn are volumes of partitions and N1, ..., Nn are populations of elements in partitions. It is the result of integrating over all possible constants defining the probability density function on the individual partitions (can be performed analytically using the Beta function). The prior probability for the constants is assumed to be uniform on the in interval [0, 1].



You can build the library with the following command:


Install with:

scons install [prefix=<path>]

The installation path can be chosen with the optional argument prefix. If omitted, the library is installed under /usr/local/.


#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdbool.h>
#include <strings.h>
#include <err.h>

#include <tc.h>

tc_clustering_cb cb;

main(int argc, char *argv[])
    size_t N = 8; /* Number of elements. */
    size_t K = 2; /* Number of parameters. */

    const void *ds[2]; /* Dataset. */
    ds[0] = (double[]) { 1, 2, 1, 2, 4, 5, 4, 5 };
    ds[1] = (double[]) { 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 4, 5, 5 };

    struct tc_param_def param_def[2];
    param_def[0] = (struct tc_param_def) {
        .type = TC_METRIC,
        .size = TC_FLOAT64,
        .fragment_size = 1
    tc_param_def_init(&param_def[0], ds[0], N);
    param_def[1] = (struct tc_param_def) {
        .type = TC_METRIC,
        .size = TC_FLOAT64,
        .fragment_size = 1
    tc_param_def_init(&param_def[1], ds[1], N);

    struct tc_opts opts = tc_default_opts;
    int res = tc_clustering(ds, N, param_def, K, cb, NULL, &opts);
    if (res != 0) {
        err(1, "Clustering failed");
    return 0;

cb(const struct tc_tree *tree, double l, const void **ds, size_t N, void *data)
    size_t S = 0;
    struct tc_segment *segments = tc_segments(tree, ds, N, &S);
    printf("l = %lf\n", l);
    for (size_t s = 0; s < S; s++) {
        printf("%zu: NX = %zu, V = %lf, ((%lf, %lf),(%lf, %lf))\n",
    tc_free_segments(segments, S);
    segments = NULL;
    return true;

Compile with:

gcc -std=c99 -Wall -o tc-example tc-example.c -ltc



API Reference

Dataset definition

Dataset is a number of elements defined by a set of parameters. Elements have the same number parameters, all of which are required.

Dataset is defined by arrays of values, one array for each parameter. Only metric parameters of type double are supported. E.g. a dataset with two metric parameters and 8 elements can be defined as:

void **ds[2];
ds[0] = (double[]) { 1, 2, 1, 2, 4, 5, 4, 5 };
ds[1] = (double[]) { 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 4, 5, 5 };

Parameters definition

Parameters are defined by an array of tc_param_def instances:

struct tc_param_def {
	enum tc_param_type type;
	enum tc_param_size size;
    union tc_value min;
    union tc_value max;
	double fragment_size;

type is the type of parameter:

  • TC_METRIC – Metric parameter (real valued).
  • TC_NOMINAL – Nominal parameter (categorical).

size is the size of parameter data:

  • TC_FLOAT64 – values of type double.
  • TC_INT64 – values of type int64_t.

Nominal parameters are only compatible with size TC_INT64.

min, max are the minimum and maximum parameter values, which define the range of the parameter space.

fragment_size is the size of fragment, i.e. the smallest unit by which partitioning is performed.


Main functions

void tc_param_def_init(struct tc_param_def *pd,	const void *data, size_t N)

Initialize parameter definition pd. data is an array of data values in a given parameter (i.e. a subset of a dataset). N is the number of elements in data. Determines ranges of data necessary for subsequent computations.

struct tc_tree *tc_new_tree(size_t size, const struct tc_param_def *param_def, size_t K)

Create a new tree. size is the size of tree memory buffer in bytes, param_def are the parameter definitions and K is the number of parameters.

Returns a pointer to the new tree or NULL on failure. The tree should be deallocated with free.

int tc_clustering(
    const void *ds[],
    size_t N,
    const struct tc_param_def param_def[],
    size_t K,
    tc_clustering_cb cb,
    void *cb_data,
    const struct tc_opts *opts

Perform clustering of dataset ds. This function implements a Metropolis-Hastings sampler to generate clustering trees.

ds is the dataset, N is the number of elements in dataset, param_def are parameter definitions, K is the number of parameters.

opts is a stucture containing additional options:

struct tc_opts {
    size_t nsamples; /* Number of samples to generate (excl. burn-in). */
    size_t maxiter; /* Maximum number of iterations. */
    double split_p; /* Probability of split. */
    double merge_p; /* Probability of merge. */
    double move_p; /* Probability of move. */
    double move_sd_frac; /* Move standard deviation as a fraction. */
    size_t max_segments; /* Maximum number of segments. */

The callback function cb is called for every sample accepted by the sampler. It has the following form:

bool cb(
    const struct tc_tree *tree,
    double l,
    const void **ds,
    size_t N,
    void *data

where tree is the tree, l is the log-likelihood of dataset being drawn from the segmentation, ds and N are as in tc_clustering, and data is an arbitrary user-supplied pointer passed to tc_clustering as cb_data.

struct tc_segment *tc_segments(
	const struct tc_tree *tree
	const union value *ds[],
	size_t N,
	size_t *S

Return segments defined by tree tree. Segments correspend to leaf nodes of the tree. ds is the data set, and N is the number of elements in data set. The total number of segments is stored in S.

Returns an array of segments, which the callee should free with tc_free_segments and free.

Segment is an instance of tc_segment:

struct tc_segment {
	size_t NX;
	double V;
	struct tc_range ranges[];

where NX is the number of elements in segment, V is the volume of segment (product of ranges), and ranges is an array of ranges in each parameter.

tc_range is a structure defining a metric or nominal range:

struct tc_range {
	double min;
	double max;
	int64_t *categories;
	size_t ncategories;

In the case of TC_METRIC parameter, min and max is the range of segment in the respective parameter.

In the case of TC_NOMINAL parameter, categories is an array of categories belonging to the segment, and ncategories is the number of categories.

void tc_free_segments(struct tc_segment *segments, size_t S)

Free array of segments segments. S is the number of segments. This only frees the internal structures. If allocated dynamically, the array itself needs to be freed with free.

Miscellaneous functions

struct tc_node *tc_new_node(
	struct tc_tree *tree,
	size_t param,
	size_t nchildren,
	void *partitioning

Create a new node in tree. param is the parameter number over which node splits the parameter space, nchildren is the number of child nodes, and partitioning is the definition of partitioning. For metric parameters, partitioning is an array of splits of type double.

Returns a pointer to the new node or NULL on failure. The node does not need to be freed (it is allocated in the tree buffer).

struct tc_node *c_new_leaf(struct tc_tree *tree)

Create a new leaf node in tree.

Returns a pointer to the new node or NULL on failure. The node does not need to be freed (it is allocated in the tree buffer).

int tc_replace_node(struct tc_node *orig, struct tc_node *node)

Replace node orig with node. The original node is removed from the tree structure, but remains allocated in the tree buffer.

Returns 0 on success, -1 on failure.

double tc_log_likelihood(
	const struct tc_tree *tree,
	const union tc_value *ds[],
	size_t N

Calculate the log-likelihood of drawing data ds from tree tree. N is the number of elements in ds.


This library was developed thanks to the support of PIXEL FEDERATION, s.r.o.


This software is released under the terms of the MIT License (see LICENSE).


Tree Clustering Library




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