The Variational State Interface#

A central element of NetKet is the VariationalState interface. A Variational State represents an approximate, variational description of a system, and can be used to probe it.

As of now, NetKet has two types of Variational state implementations:

  • MCState, which is a classical variational approximation of a pure state.

  • MCMixedState, which is a classical variational approximation of a mixed state.

  • FullSumState, which is a version of MCState without sampling, performing the full summation over the whole Hilbert space and computing expectation values and gradients exactly.

It is our plan to build upon this interface for new kind of variational states in the future. For example, we are interested in implementing a new kind of variational state that encodes a state into a Qiskit circuit.

Constructing a Variational State#

To construct the two variational states above you need to provide at least a Monte Carlo sampler (you can find the list of available ones here) and a model. The Hilbert space of the variational state will be inferred from the sampler, which contains a reference to the underlying Hilbert space.

The model can be specified in several ways. The most standard way is to pass a Flax Linen Module, but you can also pass a Jax-style pair of functions (init, apply) or an haiku module obtained by calling haiku.transform(). It’s also easy to use another jax-based framework with NetKet (though it’s not yet documented). If you want to do that, you can have a look at the automatic conversion code and get in touch with us.


Initializing a Variational State with non-Flax modules is still experimental. Complex modules, especially if mutable, might not work. If you have problems don’t hesitate opening issues on GitHub so that we can address them. They are mostly easy fixes.

Defining models: Flax#

In general, the most-well supported way to define Models for NetKet is through Flax.

If you are not familiar with Flax, it’s a package that allows to define Neural Networks or other parametrized functions. While we suggest to read carefully the introduction to Flax, if you are impatient and just want to define some simple, easy models you can find some examples in the Model Surgery section of Flax documentation.

Other examples can be found in the source of the Pre-built models distributed with NetKet, such as RBM (the simplest one), MPSPeriodic and NDM for more complicated examples.


Flax modules do not always work well with complex numbers. For that reason, if your model has complex parameters we invite you to use netket.nn in place of flax.linen and flax.nn.

netket.nn re-exports some Flax functionality ensuring that it works nicely with complex numbers. If you don’t find something from Flax in netket.nn, please open an issue in GitHub.


Let’s now assume we have a Flax module, RBM and we want to construct a variational state on sampled with a simple MetropolisLocal() sampler.

To do this, first you need to construct the model and the sampler, and then you can pass them, together with several parameters, to the constructor.

hilbert = nk.hilbert.Spin(0.5)**10

sampler = nk.sampler.MetropolisLocal(hilbert)

model = nk.models.RBM(alpha=1, param_dtype=float, kernel_init=nn.initializers.normal(stddev=0.01))

vstate = nk.vqs.MCState(sampler, model, n_samples=500)

When constructed, the variational state will call the model’s init method to generate the state and the parameters, and will also initialize the sampler.

When constructing a variational state you can also pass a seed, that will be used to initialize both the weights and the sampler. You can also pass two different seeds for the sampler and the weights.


Sometimes you might be working on very large models that run on GPUs, or you might want to compute expectation values with a very high number of samples, which might cause out-of-memory errors. To prevent this, MCState exposes the attribute chunk_size, which controls the size of the chunks used in the forward and backward computation of expectation values.

When this value is set, computations are not performed on huge matrices, but instead we split the inputs into smaller matrices and loop through them. In general, setting chunk_size to a low value will address the majority of memory issues, but will increase the computational cost.

A value of at least 128 is suggested, but will greatly depend on your model. You should try to use the largest value you can for your system. Setting it to None is equivalent to setting it to infinity.

Using a Monte Carlo Variational State#

Expectation values#

One you have a variational state, you can do many things with it. First of all, you can probe expectation values:

Ĥ = nk.operator.Ising(hilbert, nk.graph.Chain(hilbert.size), h=0.5)


>>> -4.98 ± 0.14 [σ²=9.51, R̂=1.0006]

Notice that if you call multiple times expect, the same set of samples will be used, and you will get the same result. To force sampling to happen again, you can call sample().


>>> -4.98 ± 0.14 [σ²=9.51, R̂=1.0006]



>>> -4.90 ± 0.14 [σ²=9.54, R̂=1.0062]

The set of the last sampled samples can be accessed from the attribute samples. If you access the samples from this attribute, but you haven’t sampled already, sample() will be called automatically.

Note that when you update the parameters, the samples are automatically discarded.

Parameters can be accessed through the attribute parameters, and you can modify them by assigning a new set of parameters to this attribute.

Note that parameters cannot in general be modified in place, as they are of type FrozenDict (they are frozen, aka can’t be modified). A typical way to modify them, for example to add 0.1 to all parameters is to do the following:

import jax

# See the value of some parameters

>>> DeviceArray([-0.10806808, -0.14987472,  0.13069461,  0.0125838 ,
              0.06278384,  0.00275547,  0.05843748,  0.07516951,
              0.21897993, -0.01632223], dtype=float64)

vstate.parameters = x: x+0.1, vstate.parameters)

# Look at the new values
>>> DeviceArray([-0.00806808, -0.04987472,  0.23069461,  0.1125838 ,
              0.16278384,  0.10275547,  0.15843748,  0.17516951,
              0.31897993,  0.08367777], dtype=float64)


You can also change the number of samples to extract (note: this will trigger recompilation of the sample function, so you should not do this in a hot loop) by changing n_samples, and the number of discarded samples at the beginning of every markov chain by changing n_discard_per_chain.

By default, n_discard_per_chain is 10% of n_samples.

The number of samples is then split among the number of chains/batches of the sampler.

hilbert = nk.hilbert.Spin(0.5)**6

sampler = nk.sampler.MetropolisLocal(hilbert, n_chains=8)

vstate = nk.vqs.MCState(sampler, nk.models.RBM(), n_samples=500)




You can see that 500 samples are split among 8 chains, giving \(500/8=62.5\) (rounded to the next largest integer, 63). Therefore 8 chains of length 63 will be run. n_discard_per_chain gives the number of discarded steps taken in the markov chain before actually storing them, so the Markov Chains are actually chain_length + n_discard_per_chain long. The default n_discard_per_chain is 10% of the total samples, but you can change that to any number.


When running your code under MPI, the length of the chain is computed not only by dividing the total number of samples by n_chains, but also by diving it by the number of MPI processes.

Therefore, considering the number from the example above, if we had 4 MPI processes, we would have found a chain length of \(500/(8*4) = 15.625 \rightarrow 16\).

Collecting the state-vector#

A variational state can be evaluated on the whole Hilbert space in order to obtain the ket it represents.

This is achieved by using the to_array() method, which by defaults normalises the \(L_2\) norm of the vector to 1 (but can be turned off).

Mixed state Ansätze can be converted to their matrix representation with to_matrix(). In this case, the default normalisation sets the trace to 1.

Manipulating the parameters#


This guide refers to NetKet version >=3.9.2 and Flax version >=0.7.2. Older NetKet and flax versions returned FronzenDict for the parameters, which were more complicated to use. For a migration guide from the old behaviour to the new one, refer to the Flax frozen dictionary migration guide.

You can access the parameters of a variational state through the parameters attribute. Similarly, if your model has also a mutable state, you can access it through the model_state attribute.

Parameters are stored as a set of nested dictionaries. In Jax jargon, Parameters are a PyTree (see PyTree documentation) and they can be operated upon with functions like

Before modifying the parameters or what is stored inside of a dictionary of parameters, it is a good idea to make a copy using flax.core.copy(), which calls recursively {}.copy() in all nested dictionaries. If you do not do this, you will only copy the outermost dictionary but the inner ones will be referenced, and so modifying them will modify the original parameters as well.

import flax

pars = flax.core.copy(varstate.parameters, {})

pars['Dense']['kernel'] = pars['Dense']['kernel'] +1

varstate.parameters = pars

The parameter dict will be automatically frozen upon assignment.

Saving and Loading a Variational State#

Variational States conform to the Flax serialization interface and can be serialized and deserialized with it.

Moreover, the Json Logger JsonLog serializes the variational state through that interface.

A simple example to serialize data is provided below:

# construct an RBM model on 10 spins
vstate = nk.vqs.MCState(nk.sampler.MetropolisLocal(nk.hilbert.Spin(0.5)**10),

import flax

with open("test.mpack", 'wb') as file:

And here we de-serialize it:

# construct a new RBM model on 10 spins
vstate = nk.vqs.MCState(nk.sampler.MetropolisLocal(nk.hilbert.Spin(0.5)**10),

# load
with open("test.mpack", 'rb') as file:
  vstate = flax.serialization.from_bytes(vstate,

Note that this also serializes the state of the sampler.


The JSonLog serializer only serializes the parameters of the model, and not the whole variational state. Therefore, if you wish to reload the parameters of a variational state, saved by the json logger, you should use the same procedure outlined above, only that the list line should be:

with open("parameters.mpack", 'rb') as file:
  vstate.variables = flax.serialization.from_bytes(vstate,

Using FullSumState for testing#

In order to check the performance of a given model on small test systems, it is possible to use FullSumState which can be used in place of MCState and computes quantities not by stochastic sampling but by evaluation of the ansatz over the full Hilbert space basis. (Therefore, it is infeasible to use for system sizes beyond ED.) This can be helpful to diagnose potential errors arising from Monte Carlo sampling.

> vs = nk.vqs.FullSumState(hilbert, nk.models.RBM())