chemfp features


One of the main chemfp goals is high-performance similarity search. It combines efficient memory organization, linear and sublinear search bounds, and fast popcount algorithms (including special support for CPUs which implement the POPCNT and AVX2 instructions) to do a Tanimoto search of 1 million fingerprints in 10 milliseconds, using a single thread.

For multi-threaded machines, it uses OpenMP to make it possible to cluster 1 million fingerprints in well less than an hour on a four-core machine. Details for both timings are on the performance page.

Chemfp uses the same techniques to implement high-performance Tversky search.

Chemfp performance extends beyond in-memory search. Chemfp natively supports the FPS and FPB fingerprint file formats. The FPS format is text-format designed as an exchange format which is easy to read and write. Chemfp can search directly on an FPS file at over 500 MB/second, and can load an FPS file into memory, at between 40 and 250MB/second, for 166-bit fingerprints and 2048-bit fingerprints, respectively.

If that isn't fast enough, the FPB file is designed for high-performance I/O. The file layout matches chemfp's internal layout, which means the file can be loaded directly as a memory-mapped file for effectively instantaneous "open" times. It still takes time to load the data into memory when the first search starts, that's where the linear and sublinear search bounds shine. With a high threshold it's often possible to leave most of the data on the disk, because it won't be needed.

Multiple Toolkit Support

Another goal of chemfp is to make it easier to work with different fingerprint types, no matter the source. Chemfp can work with the RDKit, OEChem/OEGraphSim, and Open Babel toolkits to read and write structure files and to generate fingerprints. You can also use chemfp with your own custom fingerprint types.

It does this through a "toolkit API", which is a high-level wrapper around the underlying toolkits. Among other things, it normalizes most of the I/O handling differences in the toolkits, gives a common framework for error-handling. It also includes discovery methods so your tools can figure out which structure formats, fingerprint types, and fingerprint type parameters are available.

Chemfp even provides its own "text toolkit" API, which follows the toolkit API and knows just enough about SMILES and SD files to be able parse individual records as strings, and to extract the title/identifier and SD tag data.

This may not sound useful, until you start working with multiple toolkits where one toolkit might parse a record while another does not - which toolkit do you use to read the structure file and record the failure?

Command-line Users

Chemfp integrates well with a standard command-line workflow.

It comes with command-line tools to generate fingerprints from structure files, to extract fingerprints from an SD file, to convert between fingerprint file formats, and to carry out a similarity search. These tools follow standard Unix idioms, including command-line arguments like --help and support for both file I/O and stdin/stdout I/O.

The tools all generate formats which are easy to parse by other tools. For example, the simsearch output is a line-oriented format with tab-separated results, which makes it straight-forward to integrate with other tools.

The FPB format even makes it possible to do a similarity search of a multi-million fingerprint dataset, on the command-line, in a fraction of a second. Most of the time is simply waiting for Python to start up!

Library API

Chemfp is a fingerprint toolkit; that is, it includes a Python API which can be used to no just create and search fingerprint data, but also to build sophisticated fingerprint analysis tools.

For example, the methods to get the cumulative scores of a search result and to select a fingerprint subset were added to make it easier to do an SEA analysis, and the "move-closest-first" sort option was added to improve Taylor-Butina clustering performance.

For a walk-through in how to use the chemfp API for a complex fingerprint analysis project, see the three-part blog entry on building an association network based on ChEMBL targets: part 1, part 2, part 3.

The API is extensively documented, at nearly 400 pages long. The documentation includes sections on:

Parts of the documentation were extracted from the chemfp library, which includes docstrings for all of the public functions, methods, and classes include full docstrings. These docstrings are also easily accessible to interactive users on the Python shell, in the Jupyter notebook, and though PyCharm, WingIDE, and other editors.

Web Development

The chemfp 1.x API was based around files, which worked well for command-line tools, but it wasn't so useful for web application and web service development where, for example, the input structure comes in as a string.

The theme for version 2.0 was to make chemfp "web-enabled", with new APIs to meet the needs of web development. One of the key ones, of course, was to support string-based I/O.

The discovery methods mentioned above, in the "Multiple Toolkit Support" section, were added so the web application could tell the user which formats and fingerprint types were supported, and provide a basic interface so the user could specify different fingerprint type parameters.

Another part of "web-enabled" was to make chemfp more robust at detecting and reporting problems, for example, to report to the web client that the 3rd record of the 10 SDF records uploaded could not be parsed.

The FPB format was developed to help the web application development processs. Web developers often make a small change to the code and restart the server to see the effect. With the FPS format, it might take a few seconds to reload a corporate database with 5 million fingerprints, and the delay multiplies if the application uses several different fingerprint types for the same data set.

Even just a few seconds of delay is irritating for those used to fast restarts.

The FPB format is very fast to load because it only needs to do some basic processing. Chemfp uses a memory-map to access the file, which means the data isn't loaded until it's used, and that load time is fast. Furthermore, it's a shared read-only memory map, which means that multiple web servers on the same machine can use the same FPB file image, rather than having each one load its own private copy of the file.