# Constraint Transforms

To avoid having to deal with constraints while simulating the Hamiltonian dynamics during sampling, every (multivariate) parameter in a Stan model is transformed to an unconstrained variable behind the scenes by the model compiler. The transform is based on the constraints, if any, in the parameter’s definition. Scalars or the scalar values in vectors, row vectors or matrices may be constrained with lower and/or upper bounds. Vectors may alternatively be constrained to be ordered, positive ordered, or simplexes. Matrices may be constrained to be correlation matrices or covariance matrices. This chapter provides a definition of the transforms used for each type of variable.

Stan converts models to C++ classes which define probability functions with support on all of \(\mathbb{R}^K\), where \(K\) is the number of unconstrained parameters needed to define the constrained parameters defined in the program. The C++ classes also include code to transform the parameters from unconstrained to constrained and apply the appropriate Jacobians.

## Changes of variables

The support of a random variable \(X\) with density \(p_X(x)\) is that subset of values for which it has non-zero density,

\[ \mathrm{supp}(X) = \{ x | p_X(x) > 0 \}. \]

If \(f\) is a total function defined on the support of \(X\), then \(Y = f(X)\) is a new random variable. This section shows how to compute the probability density function of \(Y\) for well-behaved transforms \(f\). The rest of the chapter details the transforms used by Stan.

### Univariate changes of variables

Suppose \(X\) is one dimensional and \(f: \mathrm{supp}(X) \rightarrow \mathbb{R}\) is a one-to-one, monotonic function with a differentiable inverse \(f^{-1}\). Then the density of \(Y\) is given by

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X(f^{-1}(y)) \, \left| \, \frac{d}{dy} f^{-1}(y)\, \right|. \]

The absolute derivative of the inverse transform measures how the scale of the transformed variable changes with respect to the underlying variable.

### Multivariate changes of variables

The multivariate generalization of an absolute derivative is a Jacobian, or more fully the absolute value of the determinant of the Jacobian matrix of the transform. The Jacobian matrix measures the change of each output variable relative to every input variable and the absolute determinant uses that to determine the differential change in volume at a given point in the parameter space.

Suppose \(X\) is a \(K\)-dimensional random variable with probability density function \(p_X(x)\). A new random variable \(Y = f(X)\) may be defined by transforming \(X\) with a suitably well-behaved function \(f\). It suffices for what follows to note that if \(f\) is one-to-one and its inverse \(f^{-1}\) has a well-defined Jacobian, then the density of \(Y\) is

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X(f^{-1}(y)) \, \left| \, \det \, J_{f^{-1}}(y) \, \right|, \]

where \(\det{}\) is the matrix determinant operation and \(J_{f^{-1}}(y)\) is the Jacobian matrix of \(f^{-1}\) evaluated at \(y\). Taking \(x = f^{-1}(y)\), the Jacobian matrix is defined by

\[ J_{f^{-1}}(y) = \left[ \begin{array}{ccc}\displaystyle \frac{\partial x_1}{\partial y_1} & \cdots & \displaystyle \frac{\partial x_1}{\partial y_{K}} \\ \vdots & \vdots & \vdots \\ \displaystyle\frac{\partial x_{K}}{\partial y_1} & \cdots & \displaystyle\frac{\partial x_{K}}{\partial y_{K}} \end{array} \right]. \]

If the Jacobian matrix is triangular, the determinant reduces to the product of the diagonal entries,

\[ \det \, J_{f^{-1}}(y) = \prod_{k=1}^K \frac{\partial x_k}{\partial y_k}. \]

Triangular matrices naturally arise in situations where the variables are ordered, for instance by dimension, and each variable’s transformed value depends on the previous variable’s transformed values. Diagonal matrices, a simple form of triangular matrix, arise if each transformed variable only depends on a single untransformed variable.

## Lower bounded scalar

Stan uses a logarithmic transform for lower and upper bounds.

### Lower bound transform

If a variable \(X\) is declared to have lower bound \(a\), it is transformed to an unbounded variable \(Y\), where

\[ Y = \log(X - a). \]

### Lower bound inverse transform

The inverse of the lower-bound transform maps an unbounded variable \(Y\) to a variable \(X\) that is bounded below by \(a\) by

\[ X = \exp(Y) + a. \]

### Absolute derivative of the lower bound inverse transform

The absolute derivative of the inverse transform is

\[ \left| \, \frac{d}{dy} \left( \exp(y) + a \right) \, \right| = \exp(y). \]

Therefore, given the density \(p_X\) of \(X\), the density of \(Y\) is

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X\!\left( \exp(y) + a \right) \cdot \exp(y). \]

## Upper bounded scalar

Stan uses a negated logarithmic transform for upper bounds.

### Upper bound transform

If a variable \(X\) is declared to have an upper bound \(b\), it is transformed to the unbounded variable \(Y\) by

\[ Y = \log(b - X). \]

### Upper bound inverse transform

The inverse of the upper bound transform converts the unbounded variable \(Y\) to the variable \(X\) bounded above by \(b\) through

\[ X = b - \exp(Y). \]

### Absolute derivative of the upper bound inverse transform

The absolute derivative of the inverse of the upper bound transform is

\[ \left| \, \frac{d}{dy} \left( b - \exp(y) \right) \, \right| = \exp(y). \]

Therefore, the density of the unconstrained variable \(Y\) is defined in terms of the density of the variable \(X\) with an upper bound of \(b\) by

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X \!\left( b - \exp(y) \right) \cdot \exp(y). \]

## Lower and upper bounded scalar

For lower and upper-bounded variables, Stan uses a scaled and translated log-odds transform.

### Log odds and the logistic sigmoid

The log-odds function is defined for \(u \in (0,1)\) by

\[ \mathrm{logit}(u) = \log \frac{u}{1 - u}. \]

The inverse of the log odds function is the logistic sigmoid, defined for \(v \in (-\infty,\infty)\) by

\[ \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(v) = \frac{1}{1 + \exp(-v)}. \]

The derivative of the logistic sigmoid is

\[ \frac{d}{dy} \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) = \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) \cdot \left( 1 - \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) \right). \]

### Lower and upper bounds transform

For variables constrained to be in the open interval \((a, b)\), Stan uses a scaled and translated log-odds transform. If variable \(X\) is declared to have lower bound \(a\) and upper bound \(b\), then it is transformed to a new variable \(Y\), where

\[ Y = \mathrm{logit} \left( \frac{X - a}{b - a} \right). \]

### Lower and upper bounds inverse transform

The inverse of this transform is

\[ X = a + (b - a) \cdot \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(Y). \]

### Absolute derivative of the lower and upper bounds inverse transform

The absolute derivative of the inverse transform is given by

\[ \left| \frac{d}{dy} \left( a + (b - a) \cdot \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) \right) \right| = (b - a) \cdot \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) \cdot \left( 1 - \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) \right). \]

Therefore, the density of the transformed variable \(Y\) is

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X \! \left( a + (b - a) \cdot \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) \right) \cdot (b - a) \cdot \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) \cdot \left( 1 - \mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y) \right). \]

Despite the apparent complexity of this expression, most of the terms are repeated and thus only need to be evaluated once. Most importantly, \(\mathrm{logit}^{-1}(y)\) only needs to be evaluated once, so there is only one call to \(\exp(-y)\).

## Affinely transformed scalar

Stan uses an affine transform to be able to specify parameters with a given offset and multiplier.

### Affine transform

For variables with expected offset \(\mu\) and/or (positive) multiplier \(\sigma\), Stan uses an affine transform. Such a variable \(X\) is transformed to a new variable \(Y\), where

\[ Y = \frac{X - \mu}{\sigma}. \]

The default value for the offset \(\mu\) is \(0\) and for the multiplier \(\sigma\) is \(1\) in case not both are specified.

### Affine inverse transform

The inverse of this transform is

\[ X = \mu + \sigma \cdot Y. \]

### Absolute derivative of the affine inverse transform

The absolute derivative of the affine inverse transform is

\[ \left| \frac{d}{dy} \left( \mu + \sigma \cdot y \right) \right| = \sigma. \]

Therefore, the density of the transformed variable \(Y\) is

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X \! \left( \mu + \sigma \cdot y \right) \cdot \sigma. \]

## Ordered vector

For some modeling tasks, a vector-valued random variable \(X\) is required with support on ordered sequences. One example is the set of cut points in ordered logistic regression.

In constraint terms, an ordered \(K\)-vector \(x \in \mathbb{R}^K\) satisfies

\[ x_k < x_{k+1} \]

for \(k \in \{ 1, \ldots, K-1 \}\).

### Ordered transform

Stan’s transform follows the constraint directly. It maps an increasing vector \(x \in \mathbb{R}^{K}\) to an unconstrained vector \(y \in \mathbb{R}^K\) by setting

\[ y_k = \left\{ \begin{array}{ll} x_1 & \mbox{if } k = 1, \mbox{ and} \\ \log \left( x_{k} - x_{k-1} \right) & \mbox{if } 1 < k \leq K. \end{array} \right. \]

### Ordered inverse transform

The inverse transform for an unconstrained \(y \in \mathbb{R}^K\) to an ordered sequence \(x \in \mathbb{R}^K\) is defined by the recursion

\[ x_k = \left\{ \begin{array}{ll} y_1 & \mbox{if } k = 1, \mbox{ and} \\ x_{k-1} + \exp(y_k) & \mbox{if } 1 < k \leq K. \end{array} \right. \]

\(x_k\) can also be expressed iteratively as

\[ x_k = y_1 + \sum_{k'=2}^k \exp(y_{k'}). \]

### Absolute Jacobian determinant of the ordered inverse transform

The Jacobian of the inverse transform \(f^{-1}\) is lower triangular, with diagonal elements for \(1 \leq k \leq K\) of

\[ J_{k,k} = \left\{ \begin{array}{ll} 1 & \mbox{if } k = 1, \mbox{ and} \\ \exp(y_k) & \mbox{if } 1 < k \leq K. \end{array} \right. \]

Because \(J\) is triangular, the absolute Jacobian determinant is

\[ \left| \, \det \, J \, \right| \ = \ \left| \, \prod_{k=1}^K J_{k,k} \, \right| \ = \ \prod_{k=2}^K \exp(y_k). \]

Putting this all together, if \(p_X\) is the density of \(X\), then the transformed variable \(Y\) has density \(p_Y\) given by

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X(f^{-1}(y)) \ \prod_{k=2}^K \exp(y_k). \]

## Unit simplex

Variables constrained to the unit simplex show up in multivariate discrete models as both parameters (categorical and multinomial) and as variates generated by their priors (Dirichlet and multivariate logistic).

The unit \(K\)-simplex is the set of points \(x \in \mathbb{R}^K\) such that for \(1 \leq k \leq K\),

\[ x_k > 0, \]

and

\[ \sum_{k=1}^K x_k = 1. \]

An alternative definition is to take the convex closure of the vertices. For instance, in 2-dimensions, the simplex vertices are the extreme values \((0,1)\), and \((1,0)\) and the unit 2-simplex is the line connecting these two points; values such as \((0.3,0.7)\) and \((0.99,0.01)\) lie on the line. In 3-dimensions, the basis is \((0,0,1)\), \((0,1,0)\) and \((1,0,0)\) and the unit 3-simplex is the boundary and interior of the triangle with these vertices. Points in the 3-simplex include \((0.5,0.5,0)\), \((0.2,0.7,0.1)\) and all other triplets of non-negative values summing to 1.

As these examples illustrate, the simplex always picks out a subspace of \(K-1\) dimensions from \(\mathbb{R}^K\). Therefore a point \(x\) in the \(K\)-simplex is fully determined by its first \(K-1\) elements \(x_1, x_2, \ldots, x_{K-1}\), with

\[ x_K = 1 - \sum_{k=1}^{K-1} x_k. \]

### Unit simplex inverse transform

Stan’s unit simplex inverse transform may be understood using the following stick-breaking metaphor.^{1}

- Take a stick of unit length (i.e., length 1).
- Break a piece off and label it as \(x_1\), and set it aside, keeping what’s left.
- Next, break a piece off what’s left, label it \(x_2\), and set it aside, keeping what’s left.
- Continue breaking off pieces of what’s left, labeling them, and setting them aside for pieces \(x_3,\ldots,x_{K-1}\).
- Label what’s left \(x_K\).

The resulting vector \(x = [x_1,\ldots,x_{K}]^{\top}\) is a unit simplex because each piece has non-negative length and the sum of the stick lengths is one by construction.

This full inverse mapping requires the breaks to be represented as the fraction in \((0,1)\) of the original stick that is broken off. These break ratios are themselves derived from unconstrained values in \((-\infty,\infty)\) using the inverse logit transform as described above for unidimensional variables with lower and upper bounds.

More formally, an intermediate vector \(z \in \mathbb{R}^{K-1}\), whose coordinates \(z_k\) represent the proportion of the stick broken off in step \(k\), is defined elementwise for \(1 \leq k < K\) by

\[ z_k = \mathrm{logit}^{-1} \left( y_k + \log \left( \frac{1}{K - k} \right) \right). \]

The logit term \(\log\left(\frac{1}{K-k}\right) (i.e., \mathrm{logit}\left(\frac{1}{K-k+1}\right)\)) in the above definition adjusts the transform so that a zero vector \(y\) is mapped to the simplex \(x = (1/K,\ldots,1/K)\). For instance, if \(y_1 = 0\), then \(z_1 = 1/K\); if \(y_2 = 0\), then \(z_2 = 1/(K-1)\); and if \(y_{K-1} = 0\), then \(z_{K-1} = 1/2\).

The break proportions \(z\) are applied to determine the stick sizes and resulting value of \(x_k\) for \(1 \leq k < K\) by

\[ x_k = \left( 1 - \sum_{k'=1}^{k-1} x_{k'} \right) z_k. \]

The summation term represents the length of the original stick left at stage \(k\). This is multiplied by the break proportion \(z_k\) to yield \(x_k\). Only \(K-1\) unconstrained parameters are required, with the last dimension’s value \(x_K\) set to the length of the remaining piece of the original stick,

\[ x_K = 1 - \sum_{k=1}^{K-1} x_k. \]

### Absolute Jacobian determinant of the unit-simplex inverse transform

The Jacobian \(J\) of the inverse transform \(f^{-1}\) is lower-triangular, with diagonal entries

\[ J_{k,k} = \frac{\partial x_k}{\partial y_k} = \frac{\partial x_k}{\partial z_k} \, \frac{\partial z_k}{\partial y_k}, \]

where

\[ \frac{\partial z_k}{\partial y_k} = \frac{\partial}{\partial y_k} \mathrm{logit}^{-1} \left( y_k + \log \left( \frac{1}{K-k} \right) \right) = z_k (1 - z_k), \]

and

\[ \frac{\partial x_k}{\partial z_k} = \left( 1 - \sum_{k' = 1}^{k-1} x_{k'} \right) . \]

This definition is recursive, defining \(x_k\) in terms of \(x_{1},\ldots,x_{k-1}\).

Because the Jacobian \(J\) of \(f^{-1}\) is lower triangular and positive, its absolute determinant reduces to

\[ \left| \, \det J \, \right| \ = \ \prod_{k=1}^{K-1} J_{k,k} \ = \ \prod_{k=1}^{K-1} z_k \, (1 - z_k) \ \left( 1 - \sum_{k'=1}^{k-1} x_{k'} \right) . \]

Thus the transformed variable \(Y = f(X)\) has a density given by

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X(f^{-1}(y)) \, \prod_{k=1}^{K-1} z_k \, (1 - z_k) \ \left( 1 - \sum_{k'=1}^{k-1} x_{k'} \right) . \]

Even though it is expressed in terms of intermediate values \(z_k\), this expression still looks more complex than it is. The exponential function need only be evaluated once for each unconstrained parameter \(y_k\); everything else is just basic arithmetic that can be computed incrementally along with the transform.

### Unit simplex transform

The transform \(Y = f(X)\) can be derived by reversing the stages of the inverse transform. Working backwards, given the break proportions \(z\), \(y\) is defined elementwise by

\[ y_k = \mathrm{logit}(z_k) - \mbox{log}\left( \frac{1}{K-k} \right) . \]

The break proportions \(z_k\) are defined to be the ratio of \(x_k\) to the length of stick left after the first \(k-1\) pieces have been broken off,

\[ z_k = \frac{x_k} {1 - \sum_{k' = 1}^{k-1} x_{k'}} . \]

## Unit vector

An \(n\)-dimensional vector \(x \in \mathbb{R}^n\) is said to be a unit vector if it has unit Euclidean length, so that

\[ \Vert x \Vert \ = \ \sqrt{x^{\top}\,x} \ = \ \sqrt{x_1^2 + x_2^2 + \cdots + x_n^2} \ = \ 1\ . \]

### Unit vector inverse transform

Stan divides an unconstrained vector \(y \in \mathbb{R}^{n}\) by its norm, \(\Vert y \Vert = \sqrt{y^\top y}\), to obtain a unit vector \(x\),

\[ x = \frac{y}{\Vert y \Vert}. \]

To generate a unit vector, Stan generates points at random in \(\mathbb{R}^n\) with independent unit normal distributions, which are then standardized by dividing by their Euclidean length. Muller (1959) showed this generates points uniformly at random on \(S^{n-1}\). That is, if we draw \(y_n \sim \mathsf{Normal}(0, 1)\) for \(n \in 1{:}n\), then \(x = \frac{y}{\Vert y \Vert}\) has a uniform distribution over \(S^{n-1}\). This allows us to use an \(n\)-dimensional basis for \(S^{n-1}\) that preserves local neighborhoods in that points that are close to each other in \(\mathbb{R}^n\) map to points near each other in \(S^{n-1}\). The mapping is not perfectly distance preserving, because there are points arbitrarily far away from each other in \(\mathbb{R}^n\) that map to identical points in \(S^{n-1}\).

#### Warning: undefined at zero!

The above mapping from \(\mathbb{R}^n\) to \(S^n\) is not defined at zero. While this point outcome has measure zero during sampling, and may thus be ignored, it is the default initialization point and thus unit vector parameters cannot be initialized at zero. A simple workaround is to initialize from a very small interval around zero, which is an option built into all of the Stan interfaces.

### Absolute Jacobian determinant of the unit vector inverse transform

The Jacobian matrix relating the input vector \(y\) to the output vector \(x\) is singular because \(x^\top x = 1\) for any non-zero input vector \(y\). Thus, there technically is no unique transformation from \(x\) to \(y\). To circumvent this issue, let \(r = \sqrt{y^\top y}\) so that \(y = r x\). The transformation from \(\left(r, x_{-n}\right)\) to \(y\) is well-defined but \(r\) is arbitrary, so we set \(r = 1\). In this case, the determinant of the Jacobian is proportional to \(e^{-\frac{1}{2} y^\top y}\), which is the kernel of a standard multivariate normal distribution with \(n\) independent dimensions.

## Correlation matrices

A \(K \times K\) correlation matrix \(x\) must be symmetric, so that

\[ x_{k,k'} = x_{k',k} \]

for all \(k,k' \in \{ 1, \ldots, K \}\), it must have a unit diagonal, so that

\[ x_{k,k} = 1 \]

for all \(k \in \{ 1, \ldots, K \}\), and it must be positive definite, so that for every non-zero \(K\)-vector \(a\),

\[ a^{\top} x a > 0. \]

The number of free parameters required to specify a \(K \times K\) correlation matrix is \(\binom{K}{2}\).

There is more than one way to map from \(\binom{K}{2}\) unconstrained parameters to a \(K \times K\) correlation matrix. Stan implements the Lewandowski-Kurowicka-Joe (LKJ) transform Lewandowski, Kurowicka, and Joe (2009).

### Correlation matrix inverse transform

It is easiest to specify the inverse, going from its \(\binom{K}{2}\) parameter basis to a correlation matrix. The basis will actually be broken down into two steps. To start, suppose \(y\) is a vector containing \(\binom{K}{2}\) unconstrained values. These are first transformed via the bijective function \(\tanh : \mathbb{R} \rightarrow (-1, 1)\)

\[ \tanh y = \frac{\exp(2y) - 1}{\exp(2y) + 1}. \]

Then, define a \(K \times K\) matrix \(z\), the upper triangular values of which are filled by row with the transformed values, and the diagonal entries are set to one. For example, in the \(4 \times 4\) case, there are \(\binom{4}{2}\) values arranged as

\[ z = \left[ \begin{array}{cccc} 1 & \tanh y_1 & \tanh y_2 & \tanh y_4 \\ 0 & 1 & \tanh y_3 & \tanh y_5 \\ 0 & 0 & 1 & \tanh y_6 \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 \end{array} \right] . \]

Lewandowski, Kurowicka and Joe (LKJ) show how to bijectively map the array \(z\) to a correlation matrix \(x\). The entry \(z_{i,j}\) for \(i < j\) is interpreted as the canonical partial correlation (CPC) between \(i\) and \(j\), which is the correlation between \(i\)’s residuals and \(j\)’s residuals when both \(i\) and \(j\) are regressed on all variables \(i'\) such that \(i'< i\). In the case of \(i=1\), there are no earlier variables, so \(z_{1,j}\) is just the Pearson correlation between \(i\) and \(j\).

In Stan, the LKJ transform is reformulated in terms of a Cholesky factor \(w\) of the final correlation matrix, defined for \(1 \leq i,j \leq K\) by

\[ w_{i,j} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} 0 & \mbox{if } i > j, \\ 1 & \mbox{if } 1 = i = j, \\ \prod_{i'=1}^{i - 1} \left( 1 - z_{i'\!,\,j}^2 \right)^{1/2} & \mbox{if } 1 < i = j, \\ z_{i,j} & \mbox{if } 1 = i < j, \mbox{ and} \\\ z_{i,j} \, \prod_{i'=1}^{i-1} \left( 1 - z_{i'\!,\,j}^2 \right)^{1/2} & \mbox{ if } 1 < i < j. \end{array} \right. \]

This does not require as much computation per matrix entry as it may appear; calculating the rows in terms of earlier rows yields the more manageable expression

\[ w_{i,j} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} 0 & \mbox{if } i > j, \\ 1 & \mbox{if } 1 = i = j, \\ z_{i,j} & \mbox{if } 1 = i < j, \mbox{ and} \\ \frac{z_{i,j}}{z_{i-1,j}} \ w_{i-1,j} \left( 1 - z_{i-1,j}^2 \right)^{1/2} & \mbox{ if } 1 < i \leq j. \end{array} \right. \]

Given the upper-triangular Cholesky factor \(w\), the final correlation matrix is

\[ x = w^{\top} w. \]

Lewandowski, Kurowicka, and Joe (2009) show that the determinant of the correlation matrix can be defined in terms of the canonical partial correlations as

\[ \mbox{det} \, x = \prod_{i=1}^{K-1} \ \prod_{j=i+1}^K \ (1 - z_{i,j}^2) = \prod_{1 \leq i < j \leq K} (1 - z_{i,j}^2), \]

### Absolute Jacobian determinant of the correlation matrix inverse transform

From the inverse of equation 11 in (Lewandowski, Kurowicka, and Joe 2009), the absolute Jacobian determinant is

\[ \sqrt{\prod_{i=1}^{K-1}\prod_{j=i+1}^K \left(1-z_{i,j}^2\right)^{K-i-1}} \ \times \prod_{i=1}^{K-1}\prod_{j=i+1}^K \frac{\partial z_{i,j}}{\partial y_{i,j}} \]

### Correlation matrix transform

The correlation transform is defined by reversing the steps of the inverse transform defined in the previous section.

Starting with a correlation matrix \(x\), the first step is to find the unique upper triangular \(w\) such that \(x = w w^{\top}\). Because \(x\) is positive definite, this can be done by applying the Cholesky decomposition,

\[ w = \mbox{chol}(x). \]

The next step from the Cholesky factor \(w\) back to the array \(z\) of canonical partial correlations (CPCs) is simplified by the ordering of the elements in the definition of \(w\), which when inverted yields

\[ z_{i,j} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} 0 & \mbox{if } i \leq j, \\ w_{i,j} & \mbox{if } 1 = i < j, \mbox{ and} \\ {w_{i,j}} \ \prod_{i'=1}^{i-1} \left( 1 - z_{i'\!,j}^2 \right)^{-1/2} & \mbox{if } 1 < i < j. \end{array} \right. \]

The final stage of the transform reverses the hyperbolic tangent transform, which is defined by

\[ y = \tanh^{-1} z = \frac{1}{2} \log \left( \frac{1 + z}{1 - z} \right). \]

The inverse hyperbolic tangent function, \(\tanh^{-1}\), is also called the Fisher transformation.

## Covariance matrices

A \(K \times K\) matrix is a covariance matrix if it is symmetric and positive definite (see the previous section for definitions). It requires \(K + \binom{K}{2}\) free parameters to specify a \(K \times K\) covariance matrix.

### Covariance matrix transform

Stan’s covariance transform is based on a Cholesky decomposition composed with a log transform of the positive-constrained diagonal elements.^{2}

If \(x\) is a covariance matrix (i.e., a symmetric, positive definite matrix), then there is a unique lower-triangular matrix \(z = \mathrm{chol}(x)\) with positive diagonal entries, called a Cholesky factor, such that

\[ x = z \, z^{\top}. \]

The off-diagonal entries of the Cholesky factor \(z\) are unconstrained, but the diagonal entries \(z_{k,k}\) must be positive for \(1 \leq k \leq K\).

To complete the transform, the diagonal is log-transformed to produce a fully unconstrained lower-triangular matrix \(y\) defined by

\[ y_{m,n} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} 0 & \mbox{if } m < n, \\ \log z_{m,m} & \mbox{if } m = n, \mbox{ and} \\ z_{m,n} & \mbox{if } m > n. \end{array} \right. \]

### Covariance matrix inverse transform

The inverse transform reverses the two steps of the transform. Given an unconstrained lower-triangular \(K \times K\) matrix \(y\), the first step is to recover the intermediate matrix \(z\) by reversing the log transform,

\[ z_{m,n} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} 0 & \mbox{if } m < n, \\ \exp(y_{m,m}) & \mbox{if } m = n, \mbox{ and} \\ y_{m,n} & \mbox{if } m > n. \end{array} \right. \]

The covariance matrix \(x\) is recovered from its Cholesky factor \(z\) by taking

\[ x = z \, z^{\top}. \]

### Absolute Jacobian determinant of the covariance matrix inverse transform

The Jacobian is the product of the Jacobians of the exponential transform from the unconstrained lower-triangular matrix \(y\) to matrix \(z\) with positive diagonals and the product transform from the Cholesky factor \(z\) to \(x\).

The transform from unconstrained \(y\) to Cholesky factor \(z\) has a diagonal Jacobian matrix, the absolute determinant of which is thus

\[ \prod_{k=1}^K \frac{\partial}{\partial_{y_{k,k}}} \, \exp(y_{k,k}) \ = \ \prod_{k=1}^K \exp(y_{k,k}) \ = \ \prod_{k=1}^K z_{k,k}. \]

The Jacobian matrix of the second transform from the Cholesky factor \(z\) to the covariance matrix \(x\) is also triangular, with diagonal entries corresponding to pairs \((m,n)\) with \(m \geq n\), defined by

\[ \frac{\partial}{\partial z_{m,n}} \left( z \, z^{\top} \right)_{m,n} \ = \ \frac{\partial}{\partial z_{m,n}} \left( \sum_{k=1}^K z_{m,k} \, z_{n,k} \right) \ = \ \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} 2 \, z_{n,n} & \mbox{if } m = n \mbox{ and } \\ z_{n,n} & \mbox{if } m > n. \end{array} \right. \]

The absolute Jacobian determinant of the second transform is thus

\[ 2^{K} \ \prod_{m = 1}^{K} \ \prod_{n=1}^{m} z_{n,n} \ = \ \prod_{n=1}^K \ \prod_{m=n}^K z_{n,n} \ = \ 2^{K} \ \prod_{k=1}^K z_{k,k}^{K - k + 1}. \]

Finally, the full absolute Jacobian determinant of the inverse of the covariance matrix transform from the unconstrained lower-triangular \(y\) to a symmetric, positive definite matrix \(x\) is the product of the Jacobian determinants of the exponentiation and product transforms,

\[ \left( \prod_{k=1}^K z_{k,k} \right) \left( 2^{K} \ \prod_{k=1}^K z_{k,k}^{K - k + 1} \right) \ = \ 2^K \, \prod_{k=1}^K z_{k,k}^{K-k+2}. \]

Let \(f^{-1}\) be the inverse transform from a \(K + \binom{K}{2}\)-vector \(y\) to the \(K \times K\) covariance matrix \(x\). A density function \(p_X(x)\) defined on \(K \times K\) covariance matrices is transformed to the density \(p_Y(y)\) over \(K + \binom{K}{2}\) vectors \(y\) by

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X(f^{-1}(y)) \ 2^K \ \prod_{k=1}^K z_{k,k}^{K-k+2}. \]

## Cholesky factors of covariance matrices

An \(M \times M\) covariance matrix \(\Sigma\) can be Cholesky factored to a lower triangular matrix \(L\) such that \(L\,L^{\top} = \Sigma\). If \(\Sigma\) is positive definite, then \(L\) will be \(M \times M\). If \(\Sigma\) is only positive semi-definite, then \(L\) will be \(M \times N\), with \(N < M\).

A matrix is a Cholesky factor for a covariance matrix if and only if it is lower triangular, the diagonal entries are positive, and \(M \geq N\). A matrix satisfying these conditions ensures that \(L \, L^{\top}\) is positive semi-definite if \(M > N\) and positive definite if \(M = N\).

A Cholesky factor of a covariance matrix requires \(N + \binom{N}{2} + (M - N)N\) unconstrained parameters.

### Cholesky factor of covariance matrix transform

Stan’s Cholesky factor transform only requires the first step of the covariance matrix transform, namely log transforming the positive diagonal elements. Suppose \(x\) is an \(M \times N\) Cholesky factor. The above-diagonal entries are zero, the diagonal entries are positive, and the below-diagonal entries are unconstrained. The transform required is thus

\[ y_{m,n} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} 0 & \mbox{if } m < n, \\ \log x_{m,m} & \mbox{if } m = n, \mbox{ and} \\ x_{m,n} & \mbox{if } m > n. \end{array} \right. \]

### Cholesky factor of covariance matrix inverse transform

The inverse transform need only invert the logarithm with an exponentiation. If \(y\) is the unconstrained matrix representation, then the elements of the constrained matrix \(x\) is defined by

\[ x_{m,n} = \left\{ \begin{array}{cl} 0 & \mbox{if } m < n, \\ \exp(y_{m,m}) & \mbox{if } m = n, \mbox{ and} \\ y_{m,n} & \mbox{if } m > n. \end{array} \right. \]

### Absolute Jacobian determinant of Cholesky factor inverse transform

The transform has a diagonal Jacobian matrix, the absolute determinant of which is

\[ \prod_{n=1}^N \frac{\partial}{\partial_{y_{n,n}}} \, \exp(y_{n,n}) \ = \ \prod_{n=1}^N \exp(y_{n,n}) \ = \ \prod_{n=1}^N x_{n,n}. \]

Let \(x = f^{-1}(y)\) be the inverse transform from a \(N + \binom{N}{2} + (M - N)N\) vector to an \(M \times N\) Cholesky factor for a covariance matrix \(x\) defined in the previous section. A density function \(p_X(x)\) defined on \(M \times N\) Cholesky factors of covariance matrices is transformed to the density \(p_Y(y)\) over \(N + \binom{N}{2} + (M - N)N\) vectors \(y\) by

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X(f^{-1}(y)) \prod_{N=1}^N x_{n,n}. \]

## Cholesky factors of correlation matrices

A \(K \times K\) correlation matrix \(\Omega\) is positive definite and has a unit diagonal. Because it is positive definite, it can be Cholesky factored to a \(K \times K\) lower-triangular matrix \(L\) with positive diagonal elements such that \(\Omega = L\,L^{\top}\). Because the correlation matrix has a unit diagonal,

\[ \Omega_{k,k} = L_k\,L_k^{\top} = 1, \]

each row vector \(L_k\) of the Cholesky factor is of unit length. The length and positivity constraint allow the diagonal elements of \(L\) to be calculated from the off-diagonal elements, so that a Cholesky factor for a \(K \times K\) correlation matrix requires only \(\binom{K}{2}\) unconstrained parameters.

### Cholesky factor of correlation matrix inverse transform

It is easiest to start with the inverse transform from the \(\binom{K}{2}\) unconstrained parameters \(y\) to the \(K \times K\) lower-triangular Cholesky factor \(x\). The inverse transform is based on the hyperbolic tangent function, \(\tanh\), which satisfies \(\tanh(x) \in (-1,1)\). Here it will function like an inverse logit with a sign to pick out the direction of an underlying canonical partial correlation; see the section on correlation matrix transforms for more information on the relation between canonical partial correlations and the Cholesky factors of correlation matrices.

Suppose \(y\) is a vector of \(\binom{K}{2}\) unconstrained values. Let \(z\) be a lower-triangular matrix with zero diagonal and below diagonal entries filled by row. For example, in the \(3 \times 3\) case,

\[ z = \left[ \begin{array}{ccc} 0 & 0 & 0 \\ \tanh y_1 & 0 & 0 \\ \tanh y_2 & \tanh y_3 & 0 \end{array} \right] \]

The matrix \(z\), with entries in the range \((-1, 1)\), is then transformed to the Cholesky factor \(x\), by taking^{3}

\[ x_{i,j} = \left\{ \begin{array}{lll} 0 & \mbox{ if } i < j & \mbox{ [above diagonal]} \\ \sqrt{1 - \sum_{j' < j} x_{i,j'}^2} & \mbox{ if } i = j & \mbox{ [on diagonal]} \\ z_{i,j} \ \sqrt{1 - \sum_{j' < j} x_{i,j'}^2} & \mbox{ if } i > j & \mbox{ [below diagonal]} \end{array} \right. \]

In the \(3 \times 3\) case, this yields

\[ x = \left[ \begin{array}{ccc} 1 & 0 & 0 \\ z_{2,1} & \sqrt{1 - x_{2,1}^2} & 0 \\ z_{3,1} & z_{3,2} \sqrt{1 - x_{3,1}^2} & \sqrt{1 - (x_{3,1}^2 + x_{3,2}^2)} \end{array} \right], \]

where the \(z_{i,j} \in (-1,1)\) are the \(\tanh\)-transformed \(y\).

The approach is a signed stick-breaking process on the quadratic (Euclidean length) scale. Starting from length 1 at \(j=1\), each below-diagonal entry \(x_{i,j}\) is determined by the (signed) fraction \(z_{i,j}\) of the remaining length for the row that it consumes. The diagonal entries \(x_{i,i}\) get any leftover length from earlier entries in their row. The above-diagonal entries are zero.

### Cholesky factor of correlation matrix transform

Suppose \(x\) is a \(K \times K\) Cholesky factor for some correlation matrix. The first step of the transform reconstructs the intermediate values \(z\) from \(x\),

\[ z_{i,j} = \frac{x_{i,j}}{\sqrt{1 - \sum_{j' < j}x_{i,j'}^2}}. \]

The mapping from the resulting \(z\) to \(y\) inverts \(\tanh\),

\[ y \ = \ \tanh^{-1} z \ = \ \frac{1}{2} \left( \log (1 + z) - \log (1 - z) \right). \]

### Absolute Jacobian determinant of inverse transform

The Jacobian of the full transform is the product of the Jacobians of its component transforms.

First, for the inverse transform \(z = \tanh y\), the derivative is

\[ \frac{d}{dy} \tanh y = \frac{1}{(\cosh y)^2}. \]

Second, for the inverse transform of \(z\) to \(x\), the resulting Jacobian matrix \(J\) is of dimension \(\binom{K}{2} \times \binom{K}{2}\), with indexes \((i,j)\) for \((i > j)\). The Jacobian matrix is lower triangular, so that its determinant is the product of its diagonal entries, of which there is one for each \((i,j)\) pair,

\[ \left| \, \mbox{det} \, J \, \right| \ = \ \prod_{i > j} \left| \frac{d}{dz_{i,j}} x_{i,j} \right|, \]

where

\[ \frac{d}{dz_{i,j}} x_{i,j} = \sqrt{1 - \sum_{j' < j} x^2_{i,j'}}. \]

So the combined density for unconstrained \(y\) is

\[ p_Y(y) = p_X(f^{-1}(y)) \ \ \prod_{n < \binom{K}{2}} \frac{1}{(\cosh y)^2} \ \ \prod_{i > j} \left( 1 - \sum_{j' < j} x_{i,j'}^2 \right)^{1/2}, \]

where \(x = f^{-1}(y)\) is used for notational convenience. The log Jacobian determinant of the complete inverse transform \(x = f^{-1}(y)\) is given by

\[ \log \left| \, \det J \, \right| = -2 \sum_{n \leq \binom{K}{2}} \log \cosh y \ + \ \frac{1}{2} \ \sum_{i > j} \log \left( 1 - \sum_{j' < j} x_{i,j'}^2 \right) . \]

## References

*arXiv*1010.3436. http://arxiv.org/abs/1010.3436.

*Journal of Multivariate Analysis*100: 1989–2001.

*Commun. ACM*2 (4): 19–20. https://doi.org/10.1145/377939.377946.

## Footnotes

For an alternative derivation of the same transform using hyperspherical coordinates, see (Betancourt 2010).↩︎

An alternative to the transform in this section, which can be coded directly in Stan, is to parameterize a covariance matrix as a scaled correlation matrix. An arbitrary \(K \times K\) covariance matrix \(\Sigma\) can be expressed in terms of a \(K\)-vector \(\sigma\) and correlation matrix \(\Omega\) as \[\Sigma = \mbox{diag}(\sigma) \times \Omega \times \mbox{diag}(\sigma),\] so that each entry is just a deviation-scaled correlation, \[\Sigma_{m,n} = \sigma_m \times \sigma_n \times \Omega_{m,n}.\]↩︎

For convenience, a summation with no terms, such as \(\sum_{j' < 1} x_{i,j'}\), is defined to be 0. This implies \(x_{1,1} = 1\) and that \(x_{i,1} = z_{i,1}\) for \(i > 1\).↩︎