ArrayGrid - A Faster Tensor

ArrayGrid - A Faster Tensor For Low Dim. Data

DeepCausality allows fast and efficient adjustment of all values stored in a context hyper-graph. Often, this requires the formulation of an adjustment matrix. The matrix can already be attached to each element of the context graph but may require periodic updates depending on the required changes.


The exact adjustment for temporal-spatial data depends on the actual structure of the representative structure. Theoretically, a tensor would be the preferred data structure to do so because a tensor allowing for multi-dimensional adjustment representation with just a sin-gle structure. In practice, however, tensors incur a non-trivial overhead leading to a significant performance penalty especially on low (<5) dimensional data. For adjusting values in a context graph, no more than a 4D matrix is expected in practice hence a tensor really is unnecessary. The root cause of the tensor performance problem comes from its complex object model that increases the number of CPU cache misses because of a non-aligned data layout.


In response, DeepCausality brings a custom data structure called a ArrayGrid that is indexed with a variable PointIndex encoded as a struct. The difference to a tensor is that a tensor remains parametric over N dimensions, thus requiring a complex object representation. In contrast, a Grid is limited to low dimensions (1 to 4), only allowing a scalar, vector, or matrix type, but all of them are represented as a static fixed-size array. Fixed-sized arrays allow for several compiler optimizations, including a cache aligned data layout and the removal of runtime array boundary checks, because all structural parameters are known upfront, providing a significant performance boost over tensors. Performance is critical because context hyper-graphs may grow large with millions of nodes, and obviously, one wants the fastest possible global adjustment in those cases.


To index a grid of variable size, one have to deal with the reality that Rust does not support variadic arguments. The frequently cited alternative of passing a vector instead bears the risk of null index errors. Because the grid type is limited to 4D anyways, a simple struct with four usized index variables is used. The trick is to set unused variables to zero during initialization to preserve invariant signatures. The full point index type is show below. Here, X,Y,Z referring to 3D coordinates with T referring to time as the fourth dimension.

/// A point used to index a GridArray up to four dimensions.
#[derive(Debug, Clone, Copy)]
pub struct PointIndex {
    pub x: usize, // Height 
    pub y: usize, // Width
    pub z: usize, // Depth
    pub t: usize, // Time

impl PointIndex{
    pub fn new1d(x: usize) -> Self {Self { x, y: 0, z: 0, t: 0 }}
    pub fn new2d(x: usize, y: usize) -> Self { Self { x, y, z: 0, t: 0 }}
    pub fn new3d(x: usize, y: usize, z: usize) -> Self { Self { x, y, z, t: 0 } }
    pub fn new4d(x: usize, y: usize, z: usize, t: usize) -> Self {Self { x, y, z, t }}

Storage API

Because the grid type requires a different storage implementation for each of the four dimensions, a storage API was designed based to abstract over the implementation details while retaining generic constant array sizes for best performance. The storage API is inspired by the graph storage API in Petgraph. Because not all four implementations can return the coordinates other than x (height), the storage trait contains a default implementation that returns None by default for all other coordinates unless the getter is overwritten by the implementing type.

use crate::prelude::PointIndex;

pub trait Storage<T>where  T: Copy {
    fn get(&self, p: PointIndex) -> &T;
    fn set(&mut self, p: PointIndex, elem: T);
    fn height(&self) -> Option<&usize>;
    fn depth(&self) -> Option<&usize> { None }
    fn time(&self) -> Option<&usize> { None }
    fn width(&self) -> Option<&usize> { None }

Note, the getter methods return an option to a reference instead of a reference to an option to prevent accidental overwriting in case of mutual reference. Specifically, in case of a reference to an option i,e, &Option, the option value can be overwritten if the callsite holds a mutual reference. If the storage contains data, the option would be Some, but the callsite, when holding a mutual reference, could change the this to a None and by doing so accidentally overwrite the containing data. Conversely, when returning an Option holding a reference to the data, the option type cannot be change therefore some data remain some data.

Storage Implementation

The magic of the grid types happens in the implementation of the storage trait. Theoretically, one could use any heap allocated type, for example a vector. But because of the PointIndex, once can also used a fixed sized array via const generics and therefore reach a significant performance gain. To illustrate the technique, the 2D Matrix type is implemented over a 2D static array as shown below. It’s woth mentioning that the const generic array requires an additional type bound to Sized to prevent compiler errors.

impl<T, const W: usize, const H: usize> Storage<T> for [[T; W]; H]
        T: Copy,
        [[T; W]; H]: Sized,
    fn get(&self, p: PointIndex) -> &T { &self[p.y][p.x] }
    fn set(&mut self, p: PointIndex, elem: T) { self[p.y][p.x] = elem }
    fn height(&self) -> Option<&usize> { Some(&H) }
    fn width(&self) -> Option<&usize> { Some(&W) }

Besides the set & get value, the 2D array implements the getter for x (height) and overwrites the getter for w (width) as to expose the underlying array boundaries. Note, because we deal with const generics, the compiler will remove all runtime array bound checks therefore we have to ensure that, for example, an index is within the array bounds therefore each type must return all applicable bounds. The same pattern applies to the 3D and 4D type as well.

Grid Type

The grid type abstracts over the specific storage using the storage trait in its implementation, a common technique. There are only a few considerations:

#[derive(Debug, Clone)]
pub struct Grid<S, T>
        T: Copy,
        S: Storage<T>,
    inner: RefCell<S>,  // Requiered for interior mutability
    ty: PhantomData<T>, // Required due to missing binding to type T

The main idea remains relatively simple, the specific storage gets injected via the constructor and stored in an RefCell for interior mutability. Because of the interior mutability, borrow and borrow_mut become required when accessing the storage as seen in the set and get methods. Type T must implement Default because of the PhantomData binding in the type signature. The complete Grid type implementation is relatively verbose, the listing below shows only the important parts. The full source code is available on Github.

impl<S, T> Grid<S, T>
        T: Copy + Default,
        S: Storage<T>,
    pub fn new(storage: S) -> Self {
        Self {
            inner: RefCell::new(storage),
            ty: Default::default(),

    pub fn get(&self, p: PointIndex) -> T { self.inner.borrow().get(p).to_owned() }

    pub fn set(&self, p: PointIndex, value: T) { self.inner.borrow_mut().set(p, value); }

    pub fn depth(&self) -> Option<usize> { ...}
    pub fn height(&self) -> Option<usize> {...} 

The grid type is not meant to be used directly because it still requires the instantiation of the underlying storage type before the grid type can be constructed. Instead, the GridArray abstracts over all four storage implementations via algebraic types implemented as enums.


When stepping back, it becomes obvious that each of the four different storage implementations have a different type signature, which is inconvenient because one would rather have one single type to keep interfaces and function signatures stable. Because each implementation uses const generic, the generic parameters also differ for each implementation with the implication that a shared super type must have as much generic parameters as the highest number of any available implementation, which is the 4DArray implementation. Also, because the const generic array signatures become a bit hard to read over time, a handful of type aliases have been defined as shown below.

// Fixed sized static ArrayGrid
pub type ArrayGrid1DType<T, const H: usize> = Grid<[T; H], T>;
pub type ArrayGrid2DType<T, const W: usize, const H: usize> = Grid<[[T; W]; H], T>;
pub type ArrayGrid3DType<T, const W: usize, const H: usize, const D: usize> = Grid<[[[T; W]; H]; D], T>;
pub type ArrayGrid4DType<T, const W: usize, const H: usize, const D: usize, const C: usize> = Grid<[[[[T; W]; H]; D]; C], T>;

Next, we need an enum to identify each of the four storage implementations. A basic enum suffice in this case as we only need them for identification reasons.

pub enum ArrayType {

The magic of the ArrayGrid type comes in form of an algebraic type encoded as type enum for which each value may contain an actual instance of the corresponding storage. Because of the previously mentioned const generic requirement, this enum must have generic parameters over all four dimensional types plus the actual type t that is stored, totalling in five generic parameters. At this point it becomes painfully obvious why the number of implementations was deliberately restricted up to a 4D Matrix.

// T Type
// W Width
// H Height
// D Depth
// C Chronos (Time) since T was already taken for Type T
pub enum ArrayGrid<T, const W: usize, const H: usize, const D: usize, const C: usize>
        T: Copy,
    ArrayGrid1D(ArrayGrid1DType<T, H>),
    ArrayGrid2D(ArrayGrid2DType<T, W, H>),
    ArrayGrid3D(ArrayGrid3DType<T, W, H, D>),
    ArrayGrid4D(ArrayGrid4DType<T, W, H, D, C>),

The type aliases make the enum type signatures quite a bit more human readable and actually help to verify the correct type embedding. The implementation of the ArrayGrid is split into three parts:

  1. Constructor
  2. API
  3. Getters


The constructor follows the standard pattern of implementing the an enum type. Ignoring the generic type signature, all the constructor does it takes the ArrayType enum, matches it and for the match creates a new Grid with the correct dimensions and storage implementations. Default for type T is required for the PhantomData binding in the Grid implementation.

impl<T, const W: usize, const H: usize, const D: usize, const C: usize> ArrayGrid<T, W, H, D, C>
        T: Copy + Default,
    pub fn new(array_type: ArrayType) -> ArrayGrid<T, W, H, D, C> {
        match array_type {
            ArrayType::Array1D => ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid1D(Grid::new([T::default(); H])),
            ArrayType::Array2D => ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid2D(Grid::new([[T::default(); W]; H])),
            ArrayType::Array3D => ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid3D(Grid::new([[[T::default(); W]; H]; D])),
            ArrayType::Array4D => ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid4D(Grid::new([[[[T::default(); W]; H]; D]; C])),


The API is relatively simple and only sets or gets a value of type T. Considering the intended use case as adjustment matrix, get and set will be the most commonly used operations. Notice, the standard API does not exposes array dimensions. While it would be possible, matching over each enum type feels cumbersome for a questionable gain. Instead, low level access to the underlying grid is possible through the getter.

impl<T, const W: usize, const H: usize, const D: usize, const C: usize> ArrayGrid<T, W, H, D, C>
        T: Copy + Default,
    pub fn get(&self, p: PointIndex) -> T {
        match self {
            ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid1D(grid) => { grid.get(p) }
            ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid2D(grid) => { grid.get(p) }
            ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid3D(grid) => { grid.get(p) }
            ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid4D(grid) => { grid.get(p) }

    pub fn set(&self, p: PointIndex, value: T) {
        match self {
            ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid1D(grid) => { grid.set(p, value) }
            ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid2D(grid) => { grid.set(p, value) }
            ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid3D(grid) => { grid.set(p, value) }
            ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid4D(grid) => { grid.set(p, value) }


There are use cases where a more low level access to the underlying grid implementation might be warranted and in that case the grid can be retrieved via the corresponding getter. Notice, the the return type is an option with a reference for the same reasons as discussed earlier: preventing accidental data loss in case of a mutable reference. The other reason for returning an option is that the enum stores, say a 2D Grid, but all other variants are set to None by default. In case the callsite accidentally calls the wrong getter, the option check makes the mistake clear.

impl<T, const W: usize, const H: usize, const D: usize, const C: usize> ArrayGrid<T, W, H, D, C>
        T: Copy + Default,
    pub fn array_grid_1d(&self) -> Option<&ArrayGrid1DType<T, H>>
        if let ArrayGrid::ArrayGrid1D(array_grid) = self {
        } else {

    pub fn array_grid_2d(&self) -> Option<&ArrayGrid2DType<T, W, H>> { ... }
    pub fn array_grid_3d(&self) -> Option<&ArrayGrid3DType<T, W, H, D>> { ... }
    pub fn array_grid_4d(&self) -> Option<&ArrayGrid4DType<T, W, H, D, C>> { ... }


At this point, the reader may wonder how all the above will be used? In practice, there are three steps requires to build an ArrayGrid:

  1. Define constant array boundaries.
  2. Chose a storage type
  3. Construct an ArrayGrid with a chosen type
// 1) Define constant array boundaries.
const WIDTH: usize = 5;
const HEIGHT: usize = 5;
const DEPTH: usize = 5;
const TIME: usize = 5;

    // 2) Chose a storage type. 
    let array_type = Array2D;

    // 3) Construct an ArrayGrid with a chosen type 
    let ag: ArrayGrid<usize, WIDTH, HEIGHT, DEPTH, TIME> = ArrayGrid::new(array_type);

    // Create an index 
    let p = PointIndex::new2d(1, 2);
    // set a value 
    ag.set(p, 2);
    // get a value 
    let res = ag.get(p);
    // Make it a 3D Matrix
    let array_type = Array3D;
    let ag: ArrayGrid<usize, WIDTH, HEIGHT, DEPTH, TIME> = ArrayGrid::new(array_type);
    // set and get values in a 3D Matrix
    let p = PointIndex::new3d(1, 2, 3);
    ag.set(p, 3);
    let res = ag.get(p);
    // Low level access to the 3D grid
      let g = ag.array_grid_3d()
        .expect("failed to get array grid");

    assert_eq!(g.height().unwrap(), HEIGHT);
    assert_eq!(g.width().unwrap(), WIDTH);
    assert_eq!(g.depth().unwrap(), DEPTH);

One important detail is that the ArrayGrid constructor requires all generic parameter regardless of which specific storage will be instantiated. When writing a library that, for example, at most relies on a 2D Matrix, then its best to set the remaining const generic values (Depth, Time) to one. As explained above, there is no practical way around this requirement. Another observation is that the ArrayGrid type, once created, behaves like any other API with the added bonus of interior mutability.

In terms of performance, it seems that the Rust compiler does an excellent job optimizing away the abstractions and generates as close to the metal bytecode as possible. Benchmarks have been written, but frankly these are completely pointless since the test arrays fit in the cache of any modern CPU hence yielding absurd throughput and latency results. And that was the entire purpose of the exercise because you do not get even remotely these benchmarks results with a Tensor type. Tensors remain an invaluable type for higher dimensional data in machine learning. For low dimensional (<5) data in performance critical applications, however,the GridArray offers an alternative with attractive performance characteristics.


DeepCausality is a hyper-geometric computational causality library that enables fast and deterministic context-aware causal reasoning in Rust. Please give us a star on GitHub.