This is documentation for Orange 2.7. For the latest documentation, see Orange 3.


Data instances in Orange can contain several types of variables: discrete, continuous, strings, and Python and types derived from it. The latter represent arbitrary Python objects. The names, types, values (where applicable), functions for computing the variable value from values of other variables, and other properties of the variables are stored in descriptor classes derived from Descriptor.

Orange considers two variables (e.g. in two different data tables) the same if they have the same descriptor. It is allowed - but not recommended - to have different descriptors with the same name.

Descriptors can be constructed either by calling the corresponding constructors or by a factory function make(), which either retrieves an existing descriptor or constructs a new one.

class Orange.feature.Descriptor

An abstract base class for variable descriptors.


The name of the variable.


Variable type; it can be Discrete, Continuous, String or Other.


A function (an instance of Classifier) that computes a value of the variable from values of one or more other variables. This is used, for instance, in discretization, which computes the value of a discretized variable from the original continuous variable.


A flag telling whether the values of a discrete variable are ordered. At the moment, no built-in method treats ordinal variables differently than nominal ones.


A local random number generator used by method randomvalue().


A proposed (but not guaranteed) meta id to be used for that variable. For instance, when a tab-delimited contains meta attributes and the existing variables are reused, they will have this id (instead of a new one assigned by Orange.feature.Descriptor.new_meta_id()).


A dictionary which allows the user to store additional information about the variable. All values should be strings. See the section about storing additional information.


Convert a string, number, or other suitable object into a variable value.

Parameters:obj – An object to be converted into a variable value

Return a random value for the variable.


Compute the value of the variable given the instance by calling obj:~Descriptor.get_value_from through a mechanism that prevents infinite recursive calls.


Discrete variables

class Orange.feature.Discrete

Bases: Descriptor

Descriptor for discrete variables.


A list with symbolic names for variables’ values. Values are stored as indices referring to this list and modifying it instantly changes the (symbolic) names of values as they are printed out or referred to by user.


The size of the list is also used to indicate the number of possible values for this variable. Changing the size - especially shrinking the list - can crash Python. Also, do not add values to the list by calling its append or extend method: use add_value method instead.

It is also assumed that this attribute is always defined (but can be empty), so never set it to None.


Stores the base value for the variable as an index in values. This can be, for instance, a “normal” value, such as “no complications” as opposed to abnormal “low blood pressure”. The base value is used by certain statistics, continuization etc. potentially, learning algorithms. The default is -1 which means that there is no base value.


Construct a descriptor for variable with the given name.


Add a value with symbolic name s to values. Always call this function instead of appending to values.

Continuous variables

class Orange.feature.Continuous

Bases: Descriptor

Descriptor for continuous variables.


The number of decimals used when the value is printed out, converted to a string or saved to a file.


If True, the value is printed in scientific format whenever it would have more than 5 digits. In this case, number_of_decimals is ignored.


Tells Orange to monitor the number of decimals when the value is converted from a string (when the values are read from a file or converted by, e.g. inst[0]="3.14"):

  • 0: the number of decimals is not adjusted automatically;
  • 1: the number of decimals is (and has already) been adjusted;
  • 2: automatic adjustment is enabled, but no values have been converted yet.

By default, adjustment of the number of decimals goes as follows:

  • If the variable was constructed when data was read from a file, it will be printed with the same number of decimals as the largest number of decimals encountered in the file. If scientific notation occurs in the file, scientific_format will be set to True and scientific format will be used for values too large or too small.
  • If the variable is created in a script, it will have, by default, three decimal places. This can be changed either by setting the value from a string (e.g. inst[0]="3.14", but not inst[0]=3.14) or by manually setting the number_of_decimals.
start_value, end_value, step_value

The range used for randomvalue.


Construct a descriptor for variable with the given name.

String variables

class Orange.feature.String

Bases: Descriptor

Descriptor for variables that contain strings. No method can use them for learning; some will raise error or warnings, and others will silently ignore them. They can be, however, used as meta-attributes; if instances in a dataset have unique IDs, the most efficient way to store them is to read them as meta-attributes. In general, never use discrete attributes with many (say, more than 50) values. Such attributes are probably not of any use for learning and should be stored as string attributes.

When converting strings into values and back, empty strings are treated differently than usual. For other types, an empty string denotes undefined values, while String will take empty strings as empty strings – except when loading or saving into file. Empty strings in files are interpreted as undefined; to specify an empty string, enclose the string in double quotes; these are removed when the string is loaded.


Construct a descriptor for variable with the given name.

Python objects as variables

class Orange.feature.Python

Bases: Descriptor

Base class for descriptors defined in Python. It is fully functional and can be used as a descriptor for attributes that contain arbitrary Python values. Since this is an advanced topic, PythonVariables are described on a separate page. !!TODO!!

Storing additional attributes

All variables have a field attributes, a dictionary that can store additional string data.

import Orange
titanic ="")
var = titanic.domain[0]
print var
print "Attributes", var.attributes
var.attributes["a"] = "12"
print "Set a=12"
print "Attributes", var.attributes

These attributes can only be saved to a .tab file. They are listed in the third line in <name>=<value> format, after other attribute specifications (such as “meta” or “class”), and are separated by spaces.

Reuse of descriptors

There are situations when variable descriptors need to be reused. Typically, the user loads some training examples, trains a classifier, and then loads a separate test set. For the classifier to recognize the variables in the second data set, the descriptors, not just the names, need to be the same.

When constructing new descriptors for data read from a file or during unpickling, Orange checks whether an appropriate descriptor (with the same name and, in case of discrete variables, also values) already exists and reuses it. When new descriptors are constructed by explicitly calling the above constructors, this always creates new descriptors and thus new variables, although a variable with the same name may already exist.

The search for an existing variable is based on four attributes: the variable’s name, type, ordered values, and unordered values. As for the latter two, the values can be explicitly ordered by the user, e.g. in the second line of the tab-delimited file. For instance, sizes can be ordered as small, medium, or big.

The search for existing variables can end with one of the following statuses.


The variable with that name and type does not exist.


There are variables with matching name and type, but their values are incompatible with the prescribed ordered values. For example, if the existing variable already has values [“a”, “b”] and the new one wants [“b”, “a”], the old variable cannot be reused. The existing list can, however be appended with the new values, so searching for [“a”, “b”, “c”] would succeed. Likewise a search for [“a”] would be successful, since the extra existing value does not matter. The formal rule is thus that the values are compatible iff existing_values[:len(ordered_values)] == ordered_values[:len(existing_values)].


There is a matching variable, yet it has none of the values that the new variable will have (this is obviously possible only if the new variable has no prescribed ordered values). For instance, we search for a variable “sex” with values “male” and “female”, while there is a variable of the same name with values “M” and “F” (or, well, “no” and “yes” :). Reuse of this variable is possible, though this should probably be a new variable since it obviously comes from a different data set. If we do decide to reuse the variable, the old variable will get some unneeded new values and the new one will inherit some from the old.


There is a matching variable with some of the values that the new one requires, but some values are missing. This situation is neither uncommon nor suspicious: in case of separate training and testing data sets there may be values which occur in one set but not in the other.


There is a perfect match which contains all the prescribed values in the correct order. The existing variable may have some extra values, though.

Continuous variables can obviously have only two statuses, NotFound or OK.

When loading the data using, Orange takes the safest approach and, by default, reuses everything that is compatible up to and including NoRecognizedValues. Unintended reuse would be obvious from the variable having too many values, which the user can notice and fix. More on that in the page on Loading and saving data.

There are two functions for reusing the variables instead of creating new ones.

Descriptor.make(name, type, ordered_values, unordered_values[, create_new_on])

Find and return an existing variable or create a new one if none of the existing variables matches the given name, type and values.

The optional create_new_on specifies the status at which a new variable is created. The status must be at most Incompatible since incompatible (or non-existing) variables cannot be reused. If it is set lower, for instance to MissingValues, a new variable is created even if there exists a variable which is only missing the same values. If set to OK, the function always creates a new variable.

The function returns a tuple containing a variable descriptor and the status of the best matching variable. So, if create_new_on is set to MissingValues, and there exists a variable whose status is, say, NoRecognizedValues, a variable would be created, while the second element of the tuple would contain NoRecognizedValues. If, on the other hand, there exists a variable which is perfectly OK, its descriptor is returned and the returned status is OK. The function returns no indicator whether the returned variable is reused or not. This can be, however, read from the status code: if it is smaller than the specified create_new_on, the variable is reused, otherwise a new descriptor has been constructed.

The exception to the rule is when create_new_on is OK. In this case, the function does not search through the existing variables and cannot know the status, so the returned status in this case is always OK.

  • name – Descriptor name
  • type (Type) – Descriptor type
  • ordered_values – a list of ordered values
  • unordered_values – a list of values, for which the order does not matter
  • create_new_on – gives the condition for constructing a new variable instead of using the new one
Return_type :

a tuple (Descriptor, int)

Descriptor.retrieve(name, type, ordered_values, onordered_values[, create_new_on])

Find and return an existing variable, or None if no match is found.

  • name – variable name.
  • type (Type) – variable type.
  • ordered_values – a list of ordered values
  • unordered_values – a list of values, for which the order does not matter
  • create_new_on – gives the condition for constructing a new variable instead of using the new one
Return_type :


The following examples give the shown results if executed only once (in a Python session) and in this order.

make() can be used for the construction of new variables.

>>> v1, s = Orange.feature.Descriptor.make("a", Orange.feature.Type.Discrete, ["a", "b"])
>>> print s, v1.values
NotFound <a, b>

A new variable was created and the status is NotFound.

>>> v2, s = Orange.feature.Descriptor.make("a", Orange.feature.Type.Discrete, ["a"], ["c"])
>>> print s, v2 is v1, v1.values
MissingValues True <a, b, c>

The status is MissingValues, yet the variable is reused (v2 is v1). v1 gets a new value, "c", which was given as an unordered value. It does not matter that the new variable does not need the value b.

>>> v3, s = Orange.feature.Descriptor.make("a", Orange.feature.Type.Discrete, ["a", "b", "c", "d"])
>>> print s, v3 is v1, v1.values
MissingValues True <a, b, c, d>

This is like before, except that the new value, d is not among the ordered values.

>>> v4, s = Orange.feature.Descriptor.make("a", Orange.feature.Type.Discrete, ["b"])
>>> print s, v4 is v1, v1.values, v4.values
Incompatible, False, <b>, <a, b, c, d>

The new variable needs to have b as the first value, so it is incompatible with the existing variables. The status is Incompatible and a new variable is created; the two variables are not equal and have different lists of values.

>>> v5, s = Orange.feature.Descriptor.make("a", Orange.feature.Type.Discrete, None, ["c", "a"])
>>> print s, v5 is v1, v1.values, v5.values
OK True <a, b, c, d> <a, b, c, d>

The new variable has values c and a, but the order is not important, so the existing attribute is OK.

>>> v6, s = Orange.feature.Descriptor.make("a", Orange.feature.Type.Discrete, None, ["e"]) "a"])
>>> print s, v6 is v1, v1.values, v6.values
NoRecognizedValues True <a, b, c, d, e> <a, b, c, d, e>

The new variable has different values than the existing variable (status is NoRecognizedValues), but the existing one is nonetheless reused. Note that we gave e in the list of unordered values. If it was among the ordered, the reuse would fail.

>>> v7, s = Orange.feature.Descriptor.make("a", Orange.feature.Type.Discrete, None,
        ["f"], Orange.feature.MakeStatus.NoRecognizedValues)))
>>> print s, v7 is v1, v1.values, v7.values
Incompatible False <a, b, c, d, e> <f>

This is the same as before, except that we prohibited reuse when there are no recognized values. Hence a new variable is created, though the returned status is the same as before:

>>> v8, s = Orange.feature.Descriptor.make("a", Orange.feature.Type.Discrete,
        ["a", "b", "c", "d", "e"], None, Orange.feature.MakeStatus.OK)
>>> print s, v8 is v1, v1.values, v8.values
OK False <a, b, c, d, e> <a, b, c, d, e>

Finally, this is a perfect match, but any reuse is prohibited, so a new variable is created.

Variables computed from other variables

Values of variables are often computed from other variables, for instance in. The mechanism described below usually functions behind the scenes, so understanding it is required only for implementing specific transformations.

Monk 1 is a well-known dataset with target concept y := a==b or e==1. It can help the learning algorithm if the four-valued attribute e is replaced with a binary attribute having values “1” and “not 1”. The new variable will be computed from the old one on the fly.

import Orange

def checkE(inst, return_what):
    if inst["e"]=="1": 
        return e2("1")
        return e2("not 1") 

monks ="monks-1")
e2 = Orange.feature.Discrete("e2", values=["not 1", "1"])    
e2.get_value_from = checkE 

The new variable is named e2; we define it with a descriptor of type Discrete, with appropriate name and values "not 1" and 1 (we chose this order so that the not 1‘s index is 0, which can be, if needed, interpreted as False). Finally, we tell e2 to use checkE to compute its value when needed, by assigning checkE to e2.get_value_from.

checkE is a function that is passed an instance and another argument we do not care about here. If the instance’s e equals 1, the function returns value 1, otherwise it returns not 1. Both are returned as values, not plain strings.

In most circumstances the value of e2 can be computed on the fly - we can pretend that the variable exists in the data, although it does not (but can be computed from it). For instance, we can compute the information gain of variable e2 or its distribution without actually constructing data containing the new variable.

print Orange.feature.scoring.InfoGain(e2, monks)

dist = Orange.statistics.distribution.Distribution(e2, monks)
print dist 

There are methods which cannot compute values on the fly because it would be too complex or time consuming. In such cases, the data need to be converted to a new

new_domain =[data.domain["a"], data.domain["b"], e2, data.domain.class_var])
new_data =, data)

Automatic computation is useful when the data is split into training and testing examples. Training instances can be modified by adding, removing and transforming variables (in a typical setup, continuous variables are discretized prior to learning, therefore the original variables are replaced by new ones). Test instances, on the other hand, are left as they are. When they are classified, the classifier automatically converts the testing instances into the new domain, which includes recomputation of transformed variables.

# Split the data into training and testing set
indices =, p0=0.7)
train_data =, 0)
test_data =, 1)

# Convert the training set to a new domain
new_domain =[monks.domain["a"], monks.domain["b"], e2, monks.domain.class_var])
new_train =, train_data)

# Construct a tree and classify unmodified instances
tree = Orange.classification.tree.TreeLearner(new_train)
for ex in test_data[:10]:
    print ex.getclass(), tree(ex)