Fitting with lmfit


July 3, 2016

General-purpose fitting in Python can sometimes be a bit more challenging than one might at first suspect given the robust nature of tools like Numpy and Scipy. First we had leastsq. It works, although often requires a bit of manual tuning of initial guesses and always requires manual calculation of standard error from a covariance matrix (which isn’t even one of the return values by default). Later we got curve_fit which is a bit more user friendly and even estimates and returns standard error for us by default! Alas, curve_fit is just a convenience wrapper on top of leastsq and suffers from some of the same general headaches.

These days, we have the wonderful lmfit package. Not only can lmfit make fitting more user friendly, but it also is quite a bit more robust than using scipy directly. The documentation is thorough and rigorous, but that can also mean that it can be a bit overwhelming to get started with it. Here I work through a basic example in two slightly different ways in order to demonstrate how to use it.

Generating the data

Let’s assume we have data that resembles a decaying sine wave (e.g., a damped oscillator). lmfit has quite a few pre-defined models, but this is not one of them. We can simulate the data with the following code:

import numpy as np

x = np.linspace(0, 10, 100)
y = np.sin(5*x)*np.exp(-x/2.5)

Real data is noisy, so let’s add some noise:

import numpy.random as npr

y += npr.choice([-1, 1], size=y.shape)*npr.random(size=y.shape)/5

The resulting data:

Decaying sine generated data

Using models

The easiest way to work with lmfit is to ignore the lmfit.minimize function shown in the “Getting Started” section of the documentation and instead jump straight to the higher-level (and more useful) Model class. For one-time fitting, the lmfit.models.ExpressionModel class is provided. When creating a new ExpressionModel, you simply pass a string that is interpreted as a Python expression. For our decaying sine example, we might do this:

import lmfit

model = lmfit.models.ExpressionModel("ampl * sin((x - x0)*freq) * exp(-x/tau) + offset")

Let’s make our initial guess for performing the fit under the constraint that the offset is fixed at 0:

params = model.make_params(ampl=1, x0=0, freq=10, tau=1, offset=0)

To fit, we pass the data and the parameters as arguments and the independent variable as a keyword argument:

fit =, params, x=x)

To visually check if the fit is good, lmfit provides both plot_fit and plot_residuals methods for model instances. The former shows the data, the initial guess, and its found best fit:

Result of the ExpressionModel fit

We can also see the found parameters with standard errors and goodness of fit data with a fit report (print(model.fit_report())):

[[Fit Statistics]]
    # function evals   = 102
    # data points      = 100
    # variables        = 4
    chi-square         = 1.337
    reduced chi-square = 0.014
    Akaike info crit   = -419.379
    Bayesian info crit = -408.959
    ampl:     1.02147340 +/- 0.068013 (6.66%) (init= 1)
    offset:   0 (fixed)
    tau:      2.53669407 +/- 0.239335 (9.43%) (init= 1)
    x0:      -0.00823894 +/- 0.012256 (148.76%) (init= 0)
    freq:     4.98932400 +/- 0.035399 (0.71%) (init= 10)
[[Correlations]] (unreported correlations are <  0.100)
    C(ampl, tau)                 = -0.718
    C(x0, freq)                  =  0.684
    C(ampl, x0)                  =  0.139

Reusable models

For improved reusability of models, a better approach is to subclass lmfit.models.Model directly. This allows us to implement a guess method to automate creating initial guesses. Following the pattern used in defining the models in the lmfit.models module, we can define our decaying sine model like so:

class DecayingSineModel(lmfit.Model):
    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        def decaying_sine(x, ampl, offset, freq, x0, tau):
            return ampl * np.sin((x - x0)*freq) * np.exp(-x/tau) + offset
        super(DecayingSineModel, self).__init__(decaying_sine, *args, **kwargs)

    def guess(self, data, **kwargs):
        params = self.make_params()
        def pset(param, value):
            params["%s%s" % (self.prefix, param)].set(value=value)
        pset("ampl", np.max(data) - np.min(data))
        pset("offset", np.mean(data))
        pset("freq", 1)
        pset("x0", 0)
        pset("tau", 1)
        return lmfit.models.update_param_vals(params, self.prefix, **kwargs)

Note that the point of the prefix is so that composite models can be constructed (the prefix prevents namespace clashes). Now we can fit as before but guess the starting parameters without thinking about it:

model = DecayingSineModel()
params = model.guess(y, x=x)
fit =, params, x=x)

which results in a similar fit as before:

Result of the DecayingSineModel fit

Extracting data from the fit

In many cases we might want to extract parameters and standard error estimates programatically rather than by reading the fit report (e.g., if the fit will be used to produce a data point on another plot, then the standard error can be used for computing error bars). This is all included in the fit result via its params attribute. We can print the parameter values and errors like this:

for key in fit.params:
    print(key, "=", fit.params[key].value, "+/-", fit.params[key].stderr)

Final thoughts

I’ve only scratched the surface of lmfit’s features, but the examples here demonstrate a good portion of the daily requirements of working with data from an experiment. As alluded to earlier, lmfit comes with many built-in models which makes it a pleasure to use for peak fitting (something that is often particularly difficult when using scipy directly).

Finally, although lmfit can handle linear models just fine, I would instead recommend the statsmodels package. Using the power of pandas DataFrames, models can be defined in a similar manner as with lmfit’s ExpressionModels.

A Jupyter notebook containing the above examples can be found here.