IMP logo


IMP is a library for solving a a wide variety of molecular structures and dynamics using many different data sources. As a result, it provides a great deal of flexibility. In order to best make the required decisions about how to use IMP to solve a particular problem, it is useful to understand the overall structure of IMP.

  1. Theory
  2. Concepts
  3. Examples
  4. Modules
  5. C++ and Python
  6. Conventions
  7. Incremental scoring
  8. Reporting bugs
  9. Where to go next

1. Theory

Structure and dynamics modeling in IMP proceeds in a five stage iterative process

IMP provides a large number of functionality to facilitate this process. Links to representative classes are given for future reference.

  1. Data acquisition: we can't be much help here as we are computer people and don't know what to do with test tubes.
  2. Representation selection: representation in IMP is via a collection of entities called particles (IMP::Particle objects). Each particle can contain one or more of the following sets of data In addition, IMP can enforce relationships between particles: New types of representation can be easily added via a decorator mechanism, which is explained more below and on the IMP::Decorator page.

    Representations can loaded from a number of standard file types, for example see IMP::atom::read_pdb() and IMP::atom::read_mol2().
  3. Encoding the data as a scoring function: Proposed models are scored based on how well they match the data, with a low score meaning a closer fit than a high score. In IMP the scoring function is the sum terms, each of which is computed by an IMP::Restraint object. The scoring function terms can be based on things like Other terms can be formed by using IMP::SingletonScore, IMP::PairScore, IMP::TripletScore, IMP::QuadScore objects in conjuction with general purpose restraint creators. These allow large number of parts to be scored in similar ways more efficiently than creating many restraints. Examples using this include
  4. Sampling good conformations: Once the scoring function has been designed you need to search for conformations of the model that have low scores (and therefore fit the data well). Sampling produces a set of conformations of the model, organized into an IMP::ConformationSet. Currently IMP provides two sampling protocols, IMP::core::MCCGSampler which uses a combination of IMP::core::MonteCarlo and IMP::core::ConjugateGradients with randomized starting conformations and IMP::domino::DominoOptimizer which uses a graph based inference algorithm. Sampling is an iterative process that tends to be structured as follows:

  1. Analysis of good conformations: Finally, one needs to analyze the set of conformations produced by sampling. IMP provides a variety of tools to help display the conformations, in IMP::display, and to cluster them, in IMP::statistics. Display capabilities include

Knowledge about the system being modeled enters the process at all stages, but a few need extra note:

Coming up with the right choices for representation, scoring and sampling for a given system typically takes a few iterations and trial and error. IMP provides tools to help monitor how things are performing.

2. Concepts

As has already been hinted at, IMP is organized around a number of core concepts. Representation is handled via a collection of IMP::Particle objects. Each has a set of arbitrary attributes (such as an x coordinate or a mass). In order to make particles more friendly, we provide decorators which, guess what, decorate, an existing particle to provide a higher level interface to manipulate the attributes of a particle. See the IMP::Decorator page for more details.

IMP provides containers in order to aid managing sets of particles. These inherit from IMP::Container (notice that IMP::Particle objects are containers and can contain lists of particles). A container could be as simple as an IMP::container::ListSingletonContainer which simply stores a list of particles. However, it could also be more involved, such as the IMP::container::ClosePairContainer which keeps track of all pairs of particles which close to one another in space. It can be used to implemented non-bonded operations for example.

Scoring is handled by a collection of IMP::Restraint objects. Each of these keeps a list of particles and scores those particles based on how well they fit some sort of data.

The IMP::Model manages the set of all particles in the representation along with the set of all restraints scoring them and constraints acting on them. It provides one central function, IMP::Model::evaluate() which computes the score of the current conformation.

One final representation concept is that of a constraint. These are implemented as IMP::Constraint objects. They maintain some hard invariant of the representation. Examples include, keeping a rigid body rigid, or ensuring that the IMP::container::ClosePairContainer really contains all close pairs. Constraints are updated as part of the IMP::Model::evaluate(). This means that the constraint does not necessarily hold except during score evaluation. In order to ensure that all constraints hold, call IMP::Model::evaluate() before inspecting the particles.

On the sampling side, there are two main concepts, that of an optimizer and that of a sampler. An optimizer (IMP::Optimizer), takes the current conformation of the IMP::Model and modifies it (typically in an attempt to make it score better). A sampler uses variety of optimizers and other methods to perform a non-local search for good scoring conformations, which are then stored as part of an IMP::ConfigurationSet.

3. Examples

The following examples give some idea of the basics of using IMP. They are all are in Python, but the C++ code is nearly the same.

Each module has an examples page linked from its main page.

Creating some particles

The function creates a bunch of particles and uses the IMP::core::XYZR decorator to given them random coordinates and a radius of 1.
import IMP.core

def create_model_and_particles():
    m= IMP.Model()
    sc= IMP.container.ListSingletonContainer()
    b= IMP.algebra.BoundingBox3D(IMP.algebra.Vector3D(0,0,0),
    for i in range(0,100):
        p= IMP.Particle(m)
        d=IMP.core.XYZR.setup_particle(p, IMP.algebra.Sphere3D(IMP.algebra.get_random_vector_in(b), 1))
    return (m, sc)

Creating some particles

Once the particles are created, we have to add some restraints. To do this, you must choose which particles to restraint and then how to restrain them. Given that you create a restraint, initializing it with the chosen particles and then add it to the model.

import IMP.example

uf= IMP.core.Harmonic(0,1)
df= IMP.core.DistancePairScore(uf)
r= IMP.core.PairRestraint(df, IMP.ParticlePair(c.get_particle(0), c.get_particle(1)))

Preventing collisions

The IMP::container::ClosePairsContainer maintains a list of all pairs of particles that are closer than a certain distance. The IMP::core::HarmonicLowerBound forces the spheres apart.
import IMP.example


# this container lists all pairs that are close at the time of evaluation
nbl= IMP.container.ClosePairContainer(c, 0,2)
h= IMP.core.HarmonicLowerBound(0,1)
sd= IMP.core.SphereDistancePairScore(h)
# use the lower bound on the inter-sphere distance to push the spheres apart
nbr= IMP.container.PairsRestraint(sd, nbl)

# alternatively, one could just do
r = IMP.core.ExcludedVolumeRestraint(c)

# get the current score
print m.evaluate(False)

Restraining bonds

Load a protein and restrain all the bonds to have the correct length. Bond angles is a bit trickier at the moment.

import IMP.atom
m= IMP.Model()
prot= IMP.atom.read_pdb(IMP.atom.get_example_path("example_protein.pdb"), m)
bds= IMP.atom.get_internal_bonds(prot)
bl= IMP.container.ListSingletonContainer(bds.get_particles())
h= IMP.core.Harmonic(0,1)
bs= IMP.atom.BondSingletonScore(h)
br= IMP.container.SingletonsRestraint(bs, bl)
print m.evaluate(False)

Sampling and analysis

Once we have set up our restraints, we can run a sampler to compute some good conformations. Our basic sampler is the IMP::core::MCCGSampler which uses a combination of Monte Carlo and conjugate gradients to find conformations. It then returns an object which allows one to load the saved conformations for analysis.
import IMP.example
import IMP.statistics

ps= IMP.core.DistancePairScore(IMP.core.HarmonicLowerBound(1,1))
r= IMP.container.PairsRestraint(ps, IMP.container.ClosePairContainer(c, 2.0))
# we don't want to see lots of log messages about restraint evaluation

# the container (c) stores a list of particles, which are alse XYZR particles
# we can construct a list of all the decorated particles
xyzrs= IMP.core.XYZRsTemp(c.get_particles())

s= IMP.core.MCCGSampler(m)
# but we do want something to watch
# find some configurations which move the particles far apart
configs= s.get_sample();
for i in range(0, configs.get_number_of_configurations()):
    # print out the sphere containing the point set
    # - Why? - Why not?
    sphere= IMP.core.get_enclosing_sphere(xyzrs)
    print sphere

# cluster the solutions based on their coordinates
e= IMP.statistics.ConfigurationSetXYZEmbedding(configs, c)

# of course, this doesn't return anything of interest since the points are
# randomly distributed, but, again, why not?
clustering = IMP.statistics.get_lloyds_kmeans(e, 3, 1000)
for i in range(0,clustering.get_number_of_clusters()):
    # load the configuration for a central point
    sphere= IMP.core.get_enclosing_sphere(xyzrs)
    print sphere

Writing a simple restraint

See IMP::example::ExampleRestraint.

4. Modules

Functionality in IMP is grouped into modules, each with its own namespace (in C++) or package (in Python). For example, the functionality for IMP::core can be found like
in C++ and
in Python.

A module contains classes, methods and data which are related and controlled by a set of authors. The names of the authors, the license for the module, its version and an overview of the module can be found on the module main page (eg IMP::example). See the "Modules" tab above for a complete list of modules in this version of IMP.

Modules are either grouped based on types of experimental data (eg IMP::em) or based on shared functionality (IMP::core or IMP::container).

5. C++ vs Python

IMP can be used from both C++ and Python. We recommend that you:

If you are new to programming you should check out a general python introduction such as the official introduction to Python and Python 101. Users who have programmed but are not familiar with Python should take a look at Dive into Python, especially chapters 1-6, and 15-18.

While effort has been made to ensure that the interfaces are the same between the two languages, a number of differences remain due to differences in the languages and limitations of the program used to generate the connection between the two languages. Key differences are

6. Conventions

To ensure consistency and ease of use, certain conventions should be adhered to when writing code using or in IMP.


Unless there is a good reason, the following units are to be used

Anything that breaks from these conventions must be labeled clearly and accompanied by an explaination of why the normal units could not be used.

Passing and storing data

Values and Objects

As is conventional in C++, IMP classes are divided into two types

Python does not have this distinction.

A few classes in IMP are designed for fast, low level use. Their default constructor leaves them in an unspecified state. This is similar to the built in types in C++ (int, double). For example

      IMP::algebra::VectorD<3> v; // the vector has unknown coordinates
      std::cout << v << std::endl; // illegal
      v= IMP::algebra::VectorD<3>(0,1,2); // now we can use v

Unless the documentation says otherwise, all value class object in IMP can be compared with other equivalent objects based on their contents. Object class objects allow checking of equality to see if they are the same object (not whether two have the same state). In C++, this is done by comparing the pointers.

Standard Methods

All objects should have a const method show(std::ostream&), which writes some basic information about the object to the supplied stream. In addition, on the C++ side, all objects support standard output to stream via <<. In addition, all objects support __str__ in python so that they can be printed and displayed.


7. Incremental Scoring

Scoring in IMP can be performed in two different ways....

Incremental scoring works as follows:

To set it up call IMP::Model::set_is_incremental() with the value true. This

  1. calls regular evaluate on all incremental restraints
  2. a shadow particle is added to each particle. The shadow particles have all the same attributes. It is accessed using IMP::Particle::get_prechange_particle()
  3. saves copies of their derivatives to the shadow particles

When evaluate is called during optimization

  1. the derivatives are cleared on all the particles (but not the shadow particles)
  2. incremental restraints are evaluated. They need to make sure that the the change in the sum of the particle and shadow particle derivatives is equal to the change in derivatives and that the actual score is returned.
  3. derivatives are added to the shadow derivatives and then cleared
  4. the non-incremental restraints are then evaluated
  5. the derivatives of the shadow particles are added to the particle derivatives
  6. after scoring, all the particles are marked as clean and shadow particles are updated to reflect the current attributes of the particles

A IMP::Restraint is an incremental restraint if IMP::Restraint::get_is_incremental() returns true. For such restraints, IMP::Restraint::incremental_evaluate() is called instead of IMP::Restraint::evaluate().

Whenever a particle is changed is marked as dirty, so that IMP::Particle::get_is_changed() returns true.

A (perhaps partial) list of classes which benefit from incremental evaluation is:

8. Reporting bugs

While we strive for perfection, we, lamentably, slip up from time to time. If you find a bug in IMP, please report it on the IMP bug tracker. This will ensure it does not get lost. The best way to report a bug is to provide a short script file that demonstrates the problem.

Where to go next

Instructions on how to build and install IMP can be found in the installation instructions.

There are a few areas of core functionality that have already been mentioned.

Then look through the examples which can be found linked from the page of each module.

There are a variety of useful base classes which are used to provide most functionality. They are:

There are a few blocks of functionality that cut across modules. They include

When programming with IMP, one of the more useful pages is the modules list.

For general help, you can use the imp-users mailing list.

Generated on Mon Mar 8 23:08:33 2010 for IMP by doxygen 1.5.8