Interface for approximate and exact equality
Author jlapeyre
4 Stars
Updated Last
1 Year Ago
Started In
March 2020



IsApprox implements an interface for applying different definitions of "approximate" in tests for approximate (or exact) equality. It is also fun and hip.

Design requirements of IsApprox are:

  • It should provide a drop-in replacement for (and extend) isapprox as well as several application functions, such as isone and issymmetric. In particular, many functions that currently check for a property exactly (to machine precision) will instead use IsApprox to implement both exact and approximate comparison.

  • Replacements of existing methods (eg. isone(::Float64)) must incur no run-time penalty. In practice, this means specifying the notion of "approximate" via types, eg Equal and Approx so that the compiler inlines the comparison code.


See this Jupyter notebook for examples. See also the test suite.


For some applications, LinearAlgebra wants to know if a matrix is exactly Hermitian. Quantum information packages, on the other hand, might want to know if a matrix is approximately (or exactly) Hermitian. Furthermore, many functions that check whether a property (approximately) holds are interdependent. For example isdiag calls functions that eventually call iszero. And isposdef calls ishermitian. Furthermore again, one might want to check approximate equality in norm; or elementwise. One might want to specify a tolerance and have it propagate. In practice, packages tend to reimplement tests in ways that do not satisfy all these criteria, and fail to be composable. Such packages include QuantumInformation( code example) , QuantumInfo( code example), and Yao( code example). Clearly, a general interface for approximate equality is needed.


IsApprox allows users to specify different definitions of closeness, via a zero-cost abstraction. That is, specifying the definition of closeness need not incur a run-time cost. The code that implements tests for properties such as symmetry or positivity may then be somewhat decoupled from the specification of closeness. Furthermore, a simple, small, collection of closeness measures should be adequate for the vast majority of use cases.

Three subtypes of AbstractApprox are included, Equal, Approx and EachApprox.

IsApprox implements the interface at least partially for each of: isone, iszero, ishermitian, issymmetric, isreal, isinteger, istriu, istril, isbanded, isdiag, isposdef, ispossemidef, isunitary, isinvolution.

Consider ishermitian.

  • ishermitian(A) or equivalently ishermitian(A, Equal()) demands exact equality. This implementation and the function of the same name in LinearAlgebra lower to the same code. That is, the IsApprox interface adds no performance penalty.

  • ishermitian(A, Approx(kws...)) has the same semantics as Base.isapprox. In this case, we test that A is close to Hermitian in some norm. In this case, a separate code path is required, namely

ishermitian(A::AbstractMatrix, approx::Approx) = isapprox(approx, A, adjoint(A))
  • ishermitian(A, EachApprox(kws...)). EachApprox specifies element-wise closeness. If A is not close to Hermitian, this test is much faster than Approx because only order 1 elements must be tested. This implementation shares a code path with that for Equal.



AbstractApprox, Equal, Approx, and EachApprox are exported.


This extends Base.isapprox with methods that take an initial argument of type AbstractApprox. The application functions below take an optional argument of type AbstractApprox in the final position and (may) forward this argument to isapprox.

isone, iszero, ishermitian, etc.

These are not exported, and do not extend the Base and LinearAlgebra functions of the same names. They take an optional final argument of type AbstractApprox. They are not exported because they would overwrite existing definitions. However, the AbstractApprox interface could be moved into Base.

There are also functions, which are exported, that are in neither Base nor the standard library, such as IsApprox.isunitary. These follow the parameter ordering and calling conventions as IsApprox.isone, etc.


This package will probably try to follow the Blue Style Guide. An important rule is broken immediately: predicates are written isprop rather than is_prop. And ispropmod1mod2 rather than is_prop_mod1_mod2. The main reason is that some of these functions exist by the same name in Base. And some are very closely related.