A wrapper for the non-linear optimization C library Nlopt



This library provides a wrapper for the Nlopt C library, which is a library for non-linear optimizations. It provides many different algorithms for easy comparison separated into local / gradient based, global / gradient based, local / derivative free and global / derivative free algorithms.


This library is part of the Nimble repository. You can install it just like any other Nimble package:

nimble install nlopt


For general usage look at the test case in tests/tsimple.nim. Despite the name it should be reasonably concise to understand how the library interface is used. For an explanation of the different Nim procedures and types, see Documentation below.


The C library has an “object oriented like” structure. A central nlopt_opt type, which is created by the user. This object needs to be given to all other nlopt functions, of which there are many. See the documentation of the C library here:

Here we only cover the functionality related to the usage of the Nim library.

The Nim library partly follows that structure in the sense that it provides a slightly more astract NloptOpt type. This type stores the user defined settings (algorithm, dimensionality, bounds, step sizes, etc.) and writes them to the C library before the call to the optimization function.

Instead of depending on a large amount of different getter and setter functions, the user sets all parameters on the NloptOpt object.

Some functionality is still missing from the Nim interface. General optimization with and without gradients, including inequality bounds is available already. The other functionality can be used using the exported wrapper functions. In that case care needs to be taken about the data types.

The number of functions / types used by the user is reduced to 5 functions / 3 types:

proc newNloptOpt

As the name suggests, used to create a new NloptOpt object. Signature:

proc newNloptOpt(opt_name: string, nDims: int, bounds: seq[tuple[l, u: float]] = @[]): NloptOpt

Needs the algorithm opt_name as a string (to be changed to a pure enum), the dimensionality of the problem nDims and potential bounds on each dimension. The bounds are given as a sequence of tuples. Each tuple corresponds to one dimension of nDims with (lower bound, upper bound) of that dimension. Either empty, or bounds for all dimensions need to be given. If only a single dimension is to be bounded, set the other bounds to -Inf and Inf.

proc newVarStruct

To create a new VarStruct object. It is used to wrap the user defined optimization function and arbitrary data to be used in that function. Signature:

proc newVarStruct[T, U](uFunc: T, data: U): VarStruct[U]

due to a bug (?), we cannot constrain T unfortunately. T needs to be either a FuncProto or a FuncProtoGrad. See below for an explanation of these. Thus the custom function following either type will be haneded as uFunc.

The data argument is an arbitrary user defined object, which is used to hand data to the user defined function. To be precise, it is the object, which will be given to FuncProto or FuncProtoGrad as explained below.

type FuncProto

One generic primitive procedure type, which the custom function to be optimized needs to match. This is the type to be used for algorithms, which are gradient free (i.e. the user does not have to calculate the gradients manually). Signature:

FuncProto[T] = proc (p: seq[float], func_data: T): float

The first argument p are the parameters, which are optimized. The generic type func_data is an arbitrary type, which usually contains the data on which the optmization is done. But it can be any type, so it allows arbitrary data to be injected into the function, which can be used for the calculation. Internally FuncProto is wrapped by a function following the nlopt_func signature. The func_data is handed as a raw pointer to the C library and from there upon a function evaluation back to Nim.

The return value of the function must be the value of the function after evaluation.

type FuncProtoGrad

One generic primitive procedure type, which the custom function to be optimized needs to match. This is the type to be used for algorithms, which are not gradient free (i.e. the user does have to calculate the gradients manually).

FuncProtoGrad[T] = proc (p: seq[float], func_data: T): (float, seq[float])

The signature of FuncProtoGrad is identical to FuncProto (the p and func_data arguments serve the same purpose, read above for an explanation), with the exception of the return type.

The second element of the return tuple has to be the gradients of the function with respect to the parameters. These will be returned back to NLopt to take into account for the calculation of the next parameters.

In many cases it may be enough to perform numeric differentiation, e.g. via the symmetric difference quotient.

A possible implementation might look something like:

proc myFunc(p: seq[float], fitObj: FitObject): (float, seq[float]) =
  ## `FitObject` takes the place of `func_data`. 
  ## In this case:
  ## type
  ##   FitObject = object
  ##     x, y: seq[float]
  # NOTE: do not need last gradients
  let x = fitObj.x
  let y = fitObj.y
  # a seq for the resulting gradients
  var gradRes = newSeq[float](p.len)
  # a float for the function evaluation at `p`
  var res = 0.0
  # a variable for the small change we take in `p_i`
  var h: float  
  # a temp variable for the individual part of a `Chi^2` sum
  var diff = 0.0
  proc fn(params: seq[float]): float =
    # calculate the model's Y position to be used to perform a curve fit 
    # of `funcToCall` to `(x, y)` data
    let fitY = x.mapIt(funcToCall(params, it))
    for i in 0 .. x.high:
      diff = (y[i] - fitY[i]) / yErr[i]
      result += pow(diff, 2.0)
    # result of our internal `f(p)` is the reduced Pearson's Chi^2
    result = result / (x.len - p.len).float
  # the function evaluation is simply our `Chi^2` value of the parameters
  res = fn(p)
  # now calculate the numerical derivative
  for i in 0 .. gradRes.high:
    # calc some reasonable `h` for this parameter
    h = p[i] * sqrt(epsilon(float64))
      modParsUp = p
      modParsDown = p
    modParsUp[i] = p[i] + h
    modParsDown[i] = p[i] - h
    # numerical partial derivative according to `symmetric difference quotient`
    gradRes[i] = (fn(modParsUp) - fn(modParsDown)) / (2.0 * h)
  result = (res, gradRes)

The above can be easily wrapped in a template for instance to lift any function funcToCall to be fitable via Pearson’s chi-squared test.

type VarStruct

VarStruct is the unified container, which stores the user defined function of either type above and arbitrary user data, which will be handed to that function during each evaluation of the function. Signature:

  VarStruct*[T] = ref object
    case kind*: FuncKind:
    of NoGrad:
      userFunc*: FuncProto[T]
    of Grad:
      userFuncGrad*: FuncProtoGrad[T]
    data*: T
# where ``FuncKind`` is
  FuncKind* {.pure.} = enum
    NoGrad, Grad

It’s a variant object, which either stores a FuncProto if the type is NoGrad or a FuncProtoGrad if it is Grad. In principle the newVarStruct does not need to be used. One can create such a variant object manually, but needs to take care to:

  1. set the kind field accordingly
  2. use the correct field name for the user function for this type.

This is what the newVarStruct procedure takes care of.

proc setFunction (TODO: rename?)

This procedure is used to set the set the FuncProco(Grad) function as the nlopt_func of the C nlopt_opt object. If performs the wrapping of the user function into a suitable nlopt_func. In addition it also sets the data, which will be given to the user defined function. Signature:

proc setFunction[T](nlopt: var NloptOpt, vStruct: var VarStruct[T])

The first argument is the optmizer and vStruct is the user created VarStruct object. It is a var argument as well, since we want to avoid copying the data internally.

proc addInequalityConstraint

Used to add inequality constraints to the optimization problem. The signature is exactly the same as for setFunction. One also creates a custom constraints function and a corresponding VarStruct object. This constraints function will be called in between calls to the actual function to be optimized. There may be one constraint for each dimension. See the Nlopt doc for more information. Signature:

proc addInequalityConstraint*[T](nlopt: var NloptOpt, vStruct: var VarStruct[T])

see the setFunction explanation above.

proc optimize

The actual function, which starts the optimization routine after everything has been set up. It sets all additional parameters of the NloptOpt (tolerances, step sizes etc.) before calling the actual nlopt_optimize function. Signature:

proc optimize*[T](nlopt: var NloptOpt, params: seq[T]): tuple[p: seq[float], f: float] =

The first parameter is the configures NloptOpt object. params is the initial guess for the parameters to be optmized. After optimization the status of the optimization will be stored in the status field of the nlopt object.

The return value is a tuple of the sequence of optmized parameters p and the function value after the last evaluation of the function f.


The license of the C library is found in the c_header folder, which contains the headers as they were wrapped using c2nim.

The Nim code is published under the MIT license.

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