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Last pushed: 8 months ago
Short Description
protocol buffer compiler plugin to generate vectorization code
Full Description



Protocol Buffers are widely used serialization format in real applications.
And we usually need to develop applications based on these messages.

To develop a machine learning application, we need to convert these messages to vector)
before doing machine learning things.

This is a vectorizer generator plugin for the Google Protocol Buffers compiler
(protoc). The plugin can generate source code (java) which will convert the serialized message into
mathematical vector. You only need to comment your schema files(.proto) properly.

For example, here is a protobuf schema:

message Person {
  required string name = 1;
  required int32 age = 2;
  optional string sex = 3;

If we want to build a machine learning application to predict the potential value of the user,
we could convert the message to a vector space in the following way:

Person person;
Double[] vector = new Double[11];
if (person.getAge() >= 100) {
  vector[8] = 1;
} else if (person.getAge() < 10) {
  vector[age % 10 - 1] = 1;
if (person.hasSex()) {
  if (person.getSex().compareTo("male") == 0) {
    vector[9] = 1;
  else {
    vector[10] = 1;

There are three details here:

  • The name will be dropped.
  • The age will be assigned to one of ten groups (0~9, 10~19, ..., 80~89, and 90+).
  • The sex will be assigned to one of three groups (missing, male, and femail).

This kind of glue code introduces techical debt to the system (Sculley et al., 2015).

With this plugin, we could comment the field as follow:

message Person {
  // we won't predict the value based on name
  required string name = 1;
  //'@bin 10
  //'@categorical 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
  required int32 age = 2;
  optional string sex = 3;

Then, the plugin will generate related code for us to vectorize the message into vector (Double[]) properly.


After installing protocol buffer v3 or above, you can build this compiler plugin via

mkdir build
cd build
cmake ..
# make test for testing

Then executable build/bin/ProtocGenVectorizer generates the vectorization code based on the proto file.


You can directly use the pre-build docker image from dockerhub.




Suppose you are under a project root with maven standard directory layout:

src/main/java   Application/Library sources
src/main/proto  Proto files location with proper annotations

Generate Java Vectorization Code

Aftuer pulling the docker image from dockerhub, you can generate the vectorization code via:

docker run --volume=`pwd`:/data --user=`id -u $USER`:`id -u $USER` \
  wush978/protoc-gen-vectorizer /data/src/main/proto/<proto-filename> \
  --proto_path=/data/src/main/proto \
  --java_out=/data/src/main/java \

Configure Maven Dependency

Add following dependency to pom.xml:


and the following maven repository:


API Documentation

For each annotation, the prefix should be: //'. This is inspired by roxygen2.

Field Annotation

  • @categorical: This field is categorical. The value will be converted to string before vectorization.
    • (TODO: the explanation of categorical field)
    • For optional field, the missing data will be skipped.
    • For repeated field, each value will be converted to corresponding result.
  • @numerical: This field is numeric. The value should be numeric or an error will be thrown.
    • For optional field, the missing data will be 0, and an indicator variable (of existence) will be generated.
    • For repeated field, the plugin will fail. Please transform the field to single value properly by @user and the chain rule.
  • @interaction [(string) symbol]: This field is a part of interaction. Fields with the same interaction symbol will be combined to the interacted feature. Note that the symbol should be unique in each project.
  • @user [(string) function identity]: This field will be transformed by the given static function.

Chain Rule

The user can annotated the same field with multiple symbols. For example:

//'@user com.wush978.github.Demo.a
//'@user com.wush978.github.Demo.b
optional int32 age;

The vectorizer will put the age field as the argument of com.wush978.github.Demo.a first, then send the output to the argument of com.wush978.github.Demo.b. Finally, the output will be treated as categorical feature. Therefore, the order of annotation matters.

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