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A Small Tutorial

This document provides a small tutorial for using Harry and its options. We will use the following text file as input data: data.txt. The file contains only four lines and thus we are looking at only four different strings in this tutorial.

Computing a Similarity Matrix

Let's start by simply computing a similarity matrix for the four strings. The default similarity measure implemented in Harry is the Levenshtein distance (edit distance). We thus get a 4x4 matrix of distance values, if we run:

  harry data.txt -

Harry will print the matrix to standard out (stdout), since no output file is selected. Alternatively, we can write the matrix to a file by running:

  harry data.txt matrix.txt

Different Similarity Measures

The Levenshtein distance is only one of many similarity measures for strings. To see a list of similarity measures supported by Harry, run the following command.

  harry -M

Note that distances start with dist, while kernel functions and similarity coefficients are prefixed by kern and sim, respectively. The latter two compute the similarity of two strings, that is, the returned value increases with the similarity of the strings. By contrast, the distances compute the dissimilarity of two strings and thus the returned value decreases with the similarity of the strings. Let's have some fun and compute a couple of different similarity measures:

  harry -m dist_hamming data.txt -
  harry -m dist_jaro data.txt -
  harry -m kern_spectrum data.txt -
  harry -m sim_jaccard data.txt -

Each of the similarity measures emphasizes different aspects of the strings. Just have a look at Wikipedia to learn a little bit about how these are computed.

Bytes, Bits and Tokens

By default Harry considers a string as a sequence of bytes. The similarity of two strings is thus determined by comparing the order and distribution of bytes in the strings. However, in many settings it is not the actual bytes of a string that are relevant but the tokens (or words) contained in the string.

Harry supports computing the similarity measures based on tokens by partitioning strings using a set of delimiter bytes. In this setting the different distances, kernel functions and similarity coefficients simply operate on tokens instead of bytes. Try this command:

  harry -g tokens data.txt -

Note how the distances differ from the first example, where you compute the Levenshtein distance for the bytes and not the tokens. You can adapt the partitioning of strings to different data by defining a good delimiter set. For example, you can use -d ' %09%0a%0d' to split strings using whitespace bytes. The analysis of tokens comes also handy if you have structured strings, such as log entries, that can be easily partitioned into different tokens.

Here is another example: the Jaccard coefficient has been originally developed for measuring the similarity of sets. If it is used with the delimiter option of Harry, it computes the similarity of the sets of tokens contained in the strings.

  harry -m sim_jaccard -g tokens data.txt -

We didn't stop there. Harry can also consider the bits contained in a string as symbols. Simply change the granularity to bits and re-run the above examples.

  harry -g bits data.txt -

Note that for certain similarity measures the granularity of bits does not differ from bytes, simply because the similarity computation already considers bits, e.g. in the case of the compression distance.

Endless Options

Many similarity measures have parameters that can be adapted to a particular setting. For example, the Levenshtein distance allows for individually changing the costs of an insertion, deletion and substitution. The different parameter along with several other options can be defined in a configuration file. This file spares you from specifying all parameters on the command line. You can generate the default configuration of Harry by running:

  harry -C > harry.cfg

You can then edit the configuration file, adapt it to your needs and use it later for running Harry as follows:

  harry -c harry.cfg data.txt -

Note that you can always override parameters on the command line and thus the configuration file can be used as a base setup for running Harry in different experiments. There is another cool feature: you can also convert a given set of command-line options to a configuration file. In this example, the given delimiter set and the selected similarity measure are output to the configuration file.

  harry -g tokens -d ' .,:;' -m dist_jaro -D > harry.cfg

There are many parameters and options. Check out the manual page of Harry to get an overview of what can be set and how. There is also a list of references at the end of the manual page that provide detailed descriptions of the implemented similarity measures.

  man harry

Multi-Core Computing

If you are running a multi-core system, Harry automatically utilizes all cores for computing the similarity measure. Obviously with only four strings in our example data, this feature is not necessary. To demonstrate this feature we just replicate the content of the example file, as follows:

  for i in `seq 1 1000` ; do cat data.txt ; done > large-data.txt

The resulting file contains 4000 strings and if we run Harry on it the computation takes significantly longer. We use the option -v to display a progress bar.

  harry -v large-data.txt matrix.txt

If you monitor the CPU usage while running this command, you can (hopefully) see how all cores are used. You can use the option -n to set the number of computation threads, if you don't want to use as many threads as available cores.

There is another cool feature: Harry can use a global cache during the computation of a similarity measure. If the same strings are compared twice, Harry skips the computation and returns the cached value. Usually this will not happen very often, but in our example we have 3996 duplicate strings and thus this option boosts the computation time.

  harry -v -g large-data.txt matrix.txt

Ranges and Splits

So far we have only computed full square matrices. Often however, one is only interested in comparing one set of strings with another set of strings. Harry supports this setting using ranges that can be defined for the columns (x) and rows (y) of the matrix. For example, we can compare the first two strings in our example file, with the last two by running:

  harry -x 0:2 -y 2:4 data.txt -

The ranges are defined similar to Python array indices, where the first value defines the index of the first string and the second value defines the index after the last string.

If the start or end index is omitted, the minimum or maximum value is substituted, respectively. For example, ":4" selects strings starting from the index 0 and ":" chooses all strings. If the end index is negative, it is subtracted from the maximum index, that is, ":-1" selects all strings except for the last one. We can write the above command hence as follows

  harry -x :-2 -y 2: data.txt -

For convenience, Harry supports another option that can be used to split the computation of a matrix into n pieces. This open comes handy if you want to distribute the computation of a large similarity matrix over different hosts. The following four commands each compute one split out of four splits.

  harry -s 4:0 data.txt split0.txt
  harry -s 4:1 data.txt split1.txt
  harry -s 4:2 data.txt split2.txt
  harry -s 4:3 data.txt split3.txt

The matrices are split row-wise. That is, the resulting output can be simply concatenated to yield the original similarity matrix

   cat split?.txt > matrix.txt

Output Formats

Harry supports different output formats. In the previous examples you have already seen the simple text format that can be used with many analysis tools. We now have a look at the Matlab output format:

   harry -o matlab data.txt matrix.mat

You can easily access the computed similarity values from the Matlab environment by loading the file matrix.mat.

   > data = load('matrix.mat')
   data =
     scalar structure containing the fields:
       matrix =
           0    8   29   28
           8    0   29   32
          29   29    0   25
          28   32   25    0

Similarly, you can use Harry to output the similarity values as a JSON object using the following command:

   harry -o json data.txt matrix.json

JSON has been designed for use in JavaScript; however, it is also a handy format for programming in Python. Here is some example in Python code.

   import json
   data = json.load(open('matrix.json'))
   for row in data['matrix']:
         print row

Python module

Starting with version 0.4.0 Harry includes a small Python module that can be used to directly access the functionality of the tool. The module is called and needs to be in a directory listed in your Python path (see PYTHONPATH). Moreover, the module depends on the popular Python package numpy to be installed.

Let's start by importing the module and displaying its documentation.

   import harry

Before we can run some tests with this version of Harry, we first create a set of random strings to play around.

   import random
   a = " abdefghijklmnopqrstivwxyz"
   x = [''.join(random.choice(a) for _ in range(10)) for _ in range(5)]

We can now easily compute a square matrix of distance values for this set of strings by running:

   d =

   array([[  0.  10.  10.   8.  10.]
          [ 10.   0.  10.   8.   8.]
          [ 10.  10.   0.   9.  10.]
          [  8.   8.   9.   0.  10.]
          [ 10.   8.  10.  10.   0.]], type=float32)

Note that the strings have been generated randomly and the output is different when you run this examples. Several options of the command-line tool can be directly used as parameters to

   d =, measure="dist_jaro")
   d =, granularity="tokens")
   d =, col_range="3:9")

The first call of computes a distance matrix using the Jaro distance as similarity measure, the second call uses tokens as granularity instead of bytes and the third call makes use of the range feature for computing only a submatrix.


Have fun with Harry! Konrad & Christian