Using CRF in Python

Using CRF in Python
Photo by Julian B. Sölter / Unsplash

CRF (Conditional Random Fields) has been a popular supervised learning method before deep learning occurred, and still, it is a easy-to-use and robust machine learning algorithm. We recently used this algorithm to do NER (name entity recognition), and here is a brief summary of using CRF in Python.

Introduction of CRF

Edwin Chen has written a concise but very helpful introduction of CRF: Introduction to Conditional Random Fields, so we are not going to repeat this topic.

Among CRF toolkits, CRF++ and CRFsuite are the most popular choices. However, CRFsuite is more robust and faster-to-train. We were told that CRF++ needs the features to be set in files, but CRFsuite can calculate features in the training. Therefore, we chose CRFsuite as the framework.

Several Python libraries provide support to CRFsuite, including python-crfsuite and sklearn-crfsuite. We chose the later one due to its comprehensive tutorial.

Using sklearn-crfsuite

The sklearn-crfsuite’s tutorial can be found at github. It is easy to follow; nevertheless, the code quality cannot match production code quality, so we made a number of modifications.

Feature format

Based on python-crfsuite, sklearn-crfsuite also uses dictionary as the default feature format.

 {'+1:postag': 'Fpa',
'+1:postag[:2]': 'Fp',
'+1:word.istitle()': False,
 '+1:word.isupper()': False,
 '+1:word.lower()': '(',
 'BOS': True,
 'bias': 1.0,
 'postag': 'NP',
 'postag[:2]': 'NP',
 'word.isdigit()': False,
 'word.istitle()': True,
 'word.isupper()': False,
 'word.lower()': 'melbourne',
 ‘word[-2:]': 'ne'}

Note, it does not support pandas DataFrame format as feature format.

In the sklearn-crfsuite, it puts all features in a function, which is very difficult to config in the test environment.

def word2features(sent, i):
    word = sent[i][0]
    postag = sent[i][1]

    features = {
    'bias': 1.0,
    'word.lower()': word.lower(),
    'word[-3:]': word[-3:],
    'word[-2:]': word[-2:],
    'word.isupper()': word.isupper(),
    'word.istitle()': word.istitle(),
    'word.isdigit()': word.isdigit(),
    'postag': postag,
    'postag[:2]': postag[:2],  

    if i > 0:
    word1 = sent[i-1][0]
    postag1 = sent[i-1][1]
    '-1:word.lower()': word1.lower(),
    '-1:word.istitle()': word1.istitle(),
    '-1:word.isupper()': word1.isupper(),
    '-1:postag': postag1,
    '-1:postag[:2]': postag1[:2],
    features['BOS'] = True

    if i < len(sent)-1:
    word1 = sent[i+1][0]
    postag1 = sent[i+1][1]
    '+1:word.lower()': word1.lower(),
    '+1:word.istitle()': word1.istitle(),
    '+1:word.isupper()': word1.isupper(),
    '+1:postag': postag1,
    '+1:postag[:2]': postag1[:2],
    features['EOS'] = True

return features

To fix this problem, we split it into several individual functions.

  1. We use function load_yaml_conf to read the feature configuration from a yaml file;
  2. we use function feature_selector to convert the configuration to the feature dictionary.
def load_yaml_conf(conf_f):  
    with open(conf_f, 'r') as f:  
        result = load(f)  
    return result

def feature_selector(word, feature_conf, conf_switch, postag):  
    feature_dict = {  
        'bias': 1.0,  
        conf_switch + '_word.lower()': word.lower(),  
        conf_switch + '_word[-3]': word[-3:],  
        conf_switch + '_word[-2]': word[-2:],  
        conf_switch + '_word.isupper()': word.isupper(),  
        conf_switch + '_word.istitle()': word.istitle(),  
        conf_switch + '_word.isdigit()': word.isdigit(),  
        conf_switch + '_word.islower()': word.islower(),  
        conf_switch + '_postag': postag,  
    return {i: feature_dict.get(i) for i in feature_conf[conf_switch] if i in feature_dict.keys()}

Here is a sample yaml configuration file. ‘current’ and ‘previous’ are conf_switches.

  - bias  
  - current_word.lower()  
  - current_word[-3]  
  - current_word[-2]  
  - current_word.isupper()  
  - current_word.istitle()  
  - current_word.isdigit()  
  - current_word.islower()  
  - current_postag  
  - previous_word.lower()  
  - previous_word.istitle()  
  - previous_word.isupper()  
  - previous_postag

Then we use another function to calculate the current token its neighbour’s features, which are the most important parts of CRF:

def word2features(sent, i, feature_conf):  
    word, postag, _, = sent[i]  
    features = feature_selector(word, feature_conf, 'current', postag)  
    if i > 0:  
        word1, postag1, _,  = sent[i - 1]  
            feature_selector(word1, feature_conf, 'previous', postag1))  
        features['BOS'] = True  

    if i < len(sent) - 1:  
        word1, postag1, _, = sent[i + 1]  
            feature_selector(word1, feature_conf, 'next', postag1))  
        features['EOS'] = True  
    return features

In this way, users can easily change the feature set in the configuration without changing the script.

Adding extra features

One trick to boost the performance of CRF is to add extra feature dictionaries. Say, if we want to label POS tags by using CRF, we can add an noun suffix dictionary, for example, ‘tion’ is a typical noun suffix. Therefore, we use several functions to add features from external dictionaries. In this way, we can add features in the calculation instead of inputing all features from files. This is the most noticeable difference between CRFsuite and CRF++.

Function add_one_features_list adds features from a list file, and function add_one_features_dict adds features from a key-value-pair file.

def add_one_features_list(sent, feature_set):  
    feature_list = ['1' if line[0] in feature_set else '0' for line in sent]  
    return [(sent[i] + (feature_list[i],)) for i in range(len(list(sent)))]  

def add_one_feature_dict(sent, feature_dic):  
    feature_list = [str(feature_dic.get(line[0])) if line[0] in feature_dic.keys() else '0' for line in sent]  
    return [(sent[i] + (feature_list[i],)) for i in range(len(list(sent)))]  

Please notice, both above functions use a special case of list/dict comprehension. Usually, we can only put if in a list/dict comprehension, but here, we add if..., else... condition in them. The order of this syntax is different from a comprehension only with an if condiction.

['1' if line[0] in feature_set else '0' for line in sent]

With these two function, we can easily add multiple external features at once.

Feeding data to CRF trainer

The next step is to feed text data with added features to the CRF trainer. Because each token is converted to dictionary, and each sentence is converted to a list, so a piece of text is therefore converted to a nested list with nested lists of dictionaries. In this case, we need to convert them respectively.

The first function below extracts features of each token, while the second one extracts labels of each token.

def sent2features(line, feature_conf):  
    return [word2features(line, i, feature]_conf) for i in range(len(line))]  

def sent2labels(line):  
    return [i[2] for i in line]  # Use the right column  

Setting parameters of CRF algorithm

CRF is an umbrella term for a family of algorithms. For the NER task, which is basically a sequence prediction task, the chain CRF is more suitable. Therefore we need set the specific CRF algorithm in CRFsuite. Here, we choose lbfgs CRF (Limited-memory Broyden-Fletcher-Goldfarb-Shanno), and sklearn-crfsuite will take care of the rest.

def train_crf(X_train, y_train):  
    crf = sklearn_crfsuite.CRF(  
    return, y_train)

Testing CRF result

To calculate F1 score of the CRF training, we can use function metrics.flat_f1_score from sklearn.

def test_crf_prediction(crf, X_test, y_test):  
    labels = show_crf_label(crf)  
    y_pred = crf.predict(X_test)  
    result = metrics.flat_f1_score(y_test, y_pred, average='weighted', labels=labels)  
    details = metrics.flat_classification_report(y_test, y_pred, digits=3, labels=labels)  
    result = metrics.flat_f1_score(y_test_converted, y_pred_converted, average='weighted', labels=['1'])  

    details = [i for i in [findall(RE_WORDS, i) for i in details.split('\n')] if i != []][1:-1]  
    details = pd.DataFrame(details, columns=HEADER_CRF)  
    return result, details

The above code is to evaluate the classification result at word level; however, to evaluate a sequence-labelling task, we need a more comprehensive method to evaluate at the sequence level. For example, when we have a NER task, we would like to understand how many entity sequences are accurately annotated. Therefore, we created a function to achieve this goal.

RE_WORDS = re.compile(r"[\w\d\.-]+")
HEADER_REPORT = ['Label', 'Precision', 'Recall', 'F1_score', 'Support']

def extract_entity(ners_list):
    ner_index = (i for i in range(len(ners_list)) if ners_list[i][1][0] == 'U' or ners_list[i][1][0] == 'L')
    new_index = (a + b for a, b in enumerate(ner_index))
    pred_copy = deepcopy(ners_list)
    for i in new_index:
        pred_copy[i + 1:i + 1] = [('##split', '##split')]
    evaluate_list = [list(x[1]) for x in groupby(pred_copy, lambda x: x == ('##split', '##split'))]
    return evaluate_list

def cal_metrics(true_positive, all_positive, T):
    compute overall precision, recall and f_score (default values are 0.0)
    precision = true_positive / all_positive if all_positive else 0
    recall = true_positive / T if T else 0
    f_score = 2 * precision * recall / (precision + recall) if precision + recall else 0
    return round(precision, 4), round(recall, 4), round(f_score, 4)

def evaluate_ner_result(y_pred, y_test):
    :param y_pred: [y_pred]
    :param y_test: [y_test]
    :return: {}
    flattern_pred = [i for j in y_pred for i in j]
    flattern_test = [i for j in y_test for i in j]
    test_ners = [i for i in enumerate(flattern_test) if i[1] != 'O']
    pred_ners = [i for i in enumerate(flattern_pred) if i[1] != 'O']
    both_ners = [i for i in zip(flattern_pred, flattern_test) if i[1] != 'O']
    indexed_ner = [(a, (b, c)) for ((a, b), c) in zip(enumerate(flattern_pred), flattern_test) if b != 'O' or c != 'O']

    evaluate_list = extract_entity(both_ners)
    test_entities = extract_entity(test_ners)
    pred_entities = extract_entity(pred_ners)

    true_positive_list = [ner_can for ner_can in evaluate_list if
                          len([(a, b) for a, b in ner_can if a == b]) == len(ner_can) and ner_can != [
                              ('##split', '##split')]]

    test_total = [ner_can for ner_can in test_entities if ner_can != [('##split', '##split')]]
    pred_total = [ner_can for ner_can in pred_entities if ner_can != [('##split', '##split')]]

    true_positive_result = Counter(i[0][0].split('-')[1] for i in true_positive_list)

    relevant_elements = Counter(i[0][1].split('-')[1] for i in test_total)
    selected_elements = Counter(i[0][1].split('-')[1] for i in pred_total)

    final_result = {k: cal_metrics(true_positive_result[k], v, selected_elements[k]) + (v,) for (k, v) in
    total_result = cal_metrics(sum(true_positive_result.values()), sum(relevant_elements.values()),
    final_result.update({'Total': total_result + (sum(relevant_elements.values()),)})
    output = pd.DataFrame(final_result).T.reset_index()
    output.columns = HEADER_REPORT
    return output, indexed_ner

Final thought

sklearn-crfsuite is a very easy-to-use package for applying CRF algorithms, and this post summarizes some key steps of using it in a NER task.

Moving old post here