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Suppose a physical quantity A has some measurement probability distribution a(x), a function describing the probability that A was actually measured as x. Given another physical quantity B and measurement probability distribution b(x), there exists some distribution (a+b)(x) that gives the probability that the measurement of A plus the measurement of B is equal to x.

This is known as arithmetic on random variables. Closed form solutions for normal distributions are possible in easy cases (such as the addition example above). More generally one must use approximation or numerical solutions. This library is one such numerical tool. I found it quite handy doing error analysis in my introductory physics course.


ErrorPropagation depends on a couple common libraries. Make sure you have the following installed

Clone this repo inside your working directory

git clone

Now you can use ErrorPropagation as a module

from ErrorPropagation.errorProp import Distribution 

x = Distribution.normalDistribution(1, 1, 300)
y = Distribution.normalDistribution(2, 1, 300)
summed = x + y


# output: (1.5829763108178432, 2.9997301924271893, 4.416104322244424)

Simple Usage

from ErrorPropagation.errorProp import Distribution 
import math

# create a random variable that is normally distributed around 0 
#   with standard deviation 1. Model this distribution with 300 points
x = Distribution.normalDistribution(0, 1, 300)

# create a upside-down "v" shaped distribution from -5 to 1 with peak
#   at 0, again with 300 points
y = Distribution.vDistribution(-5, 0, 1, 300)

# maybe we already computed the sum of x and y
z = Distribution.fromFile('sumXY.txt')

# do some elementary arithmetic 
prodXY = x * y
twoPlusZ = 2 + z
zMinusX = z - x # not equal to y since they are random variables
quotientYX = y / x # recall x is centered at zero

# custom functions
# ... of one variable 
sinZ = z.singleArgCompute(lambda t: math.sin(t))
# ... of two variables
minXY = Distribution.computeDistribution(x, y, lambda a,b: min(a,b))

# visualize some of our computations
Distribution.draw(y, zMinusX)

# get a 68% (+/- 1 std. deviation) confidence interval for the mean value for y / x

# save what we want for later 

Function Reference


constructor Distribution(intervals)

  • Initializes a distribution by a set of intervals. Each interval is a line, together which form the shape of the distribution. In particular, the left point of one interval must match the right point of the preceding interval. In general one does not use this constructor.

static normalDistribution(center, standardDev, precision)

  • Creates a normally distributed random variable with center center and standard deviation standardDev. It is modelled with precision number of intervals.

static vDistribution(left, center, right, precision)

  • Creates a random variable with triangle distribution with minimum left, maximum right and mean center. It is modelled with precision number of intervals.

static fromTable(table, precision)

  • takes an array of data named with headers and returns a dictionary of normally distributed variables, keyed by the name of the variable. Each header must be accompanied by a matching header with error appended to the name of the variable. These columns give the associated standard deviation of the variable. Each random variable is modelled with a distribution with precision number of intervals.
    ['a', 'a error', 'b', 'b error'],
    [1.0, 0.1, 10.0, 0.05], 
    [2.1, 0.12, 5.0, 0.05]
], p)
# returns the dictionary (nd(...) is shorthand for Distribution.normalDistribution(...))
# {
#   a: [nd(1.0, 0.1, p), nd(2.1, 0.12, p)],
#   b: [nd(10.0, 0.05, p), nd(5.0, 0.05, p)]  
# }

static fromString(tableString, precision)

  • Facilitates integration with a spreadsheet program. Copy and paste a table created in MS Excel or Google Sheets in the format as fromTable(table, precision) directly into tableString. Returns the same dictionary object as fromTable(table, precision).


static computeDistribution(var1, var2, func)

  • Calculates the resulting random variable func(var1, var2), where var1 and var2 are random variables (Distributions) and func is a function of two variables.

static fromFile(file)

  • Retrieves a Distribution object from the file file located in the working directory. See var1.saveToFile(file).


  • Calculates the resulting random variable func(var1), where var1 is a random variable (Distribution) and func is a function of one variable.

static evaluateExpression(expr, varDictionary)

  • Computes an expr (string) in python syntax given a dictionary of variables. For example:
    'a + b + c', # any python syntax is allowed here
        a: Distribution.normalDistribution(0, 1.0, 300),
        b: Distribution.normalDistribution(1, 0.5, 250),
        c: Distribution.normalDistribution(2, 1.2, 300)
# returns a random variable with mean at 0 + 1 + 2 = 3


static draw(var1[, var2[,...]])

  • Plots the graphs of the probability distributions of var1, var2, ... on a single plot. Note that when calling draw more than once one will have to exit the plot window of one plot before the next will appear.



  • Gives a tuple (a, m, b) so that m is the mean of var1 and var1.cdf(a,b) = normalcdf(-standardDev, standardDev).

var1.integrate(min, max)

  • Calculates var1.cdf(min, max).


  • Gives a best-guess for the local maxima in the probability distribution function of var1. This works better with calls to var1.smooth(...).



  • Gives the random variable formed by the convolution of the square function f(x) = 1 with width kernelRadius * w and the probability distribution function of var1, where w is the width of an individual interval making up var1. This generally has a smoothing effect.


  • Creates a deep copy of the Distribution object var1.


  • Saves the contents of the Distribution object var1 to the file file, which will be overwritten or created in the working directory. See static fromFile(file).


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