HOWTO hook your solver to AMPL MP

This page describes the following steps to create a new driver:

A reference of the API is here.

Solver driver setups

A minimal setup

To write a minimal AMPL solver driver, it requires an NL file reader and .sol file writer. Examples: LocalSolver, SCIP 8.0.

A legacy setup

A legacy setup used Solver classes. Their support may be discontinued. Examples include Ilogcp and Gecode.

Clone a new driver from a template

For a driver setup of your choice (see possible driver setups), you can use existing drivers as templates. The process is detailed below.

Mock template driver ‘visitor’

The easiest way to getting started developing a new solver driver using mp is by looking at the visitor mock driver on branch develop. This template uses Backend class hierarchy with Flat model API.

To build it, you can configure the build system of your choice and specify the cmake variable BUILD appropriately:

mkdir build
cd build
cmake .. -DBUILD=visitor

For faster recompilation, install ccache and add the following CMake flags

-DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Debug                     ## Linux/Unix way to set debug mode
-DUSE_SANITIZERS=on                          ## Linux/Unix way to use code sanitizers
                                             ## (slow, for checking only)

Once built, executing:


will execute the mock driver, which will simply visit the model represented in the nl file. The visitor source code can be used as a template to create a new driver, as described in the section below.

Copying a driver template

  • First, clone the mp repository. Then either:

    1. Copy all the directory solvers/visitor (or any other exiting driver files) into a new directory - and change its name.

    2. Rename all occurrences of the word “visitor”.


    1. Use the script solvers/, which does the two items above automatically. The script expects a source driver and a new driver name. So, to create a new driver named brandNewAMPLSolver based on visitor, execute:

      python3 visitor brandNewAMPLSolver
  • Add the new target in solvers/CMakeLists.txt.

  • Implement driver features.

  • Create a pull request.

Get a basic version up & running

To implement a barebone driver, several methods need to be specialized. The description assumes a cloned visitor driver template, which uses the recommended driver setup.

…Backend vs …ModelAPI

As detailed in Recommended driver logic, solver API is addressed by two wrapper objects, Custom Backend and Flat model API. Their names are normally <yourSolver>Backend and <yourSolver>ModelAPI, respectively. While they perform different tasks, they have some common core, for example to keep the underlying solver API pointer. This is managed by the common ancestor <yourSolver>Common:

  • SolverCommon –> SolverBackend

  • SolverCommon –> SolverModelAPI

(–> means inheritance). Thus, there are two objects of SolverCommon keeping the same underlying solver API pointers (typically the environment and model pointers). In fact, the information duplicated between the two objects is stored in the extra class SolverCommonInfo. Example:

/// Information shared by both
/// `HighsBackend` and `HighsModelAPI`
struct HighsCommonInfo {
  void* lp() const { return lp_; }
  void set_lp(void* lp) { lp_ = lp; }
  void*      lp_ = nullptr;

Basic specialization of ModelAPI

The ModelAPI wrapper requires a minimal specialization to be able to accept MILP models. Note that linear models still cover much of the general modeling capabilities highlighted in the Modeling Guide (via automatic transformations). <yourSolver>ModelAPI should declare and implement the following:

/// Called before problem input.
/// Model info can be used to preallocate memory.
void InitProblemModificationPhase(const FlatModelInfo*);
/// After
void FinishProblemModificationPhase();

void AddVariables(const VarArrayDef& );
void SetLinearObjective( int iobj, const LinearObjective& lo );
/// Whether accepting quadratic objectives:
/// 0 - no, 1 - convex, 2 - nonconvex
static int AcceptsQuadObj() { return 1; }
void SetQuadraticObjective(int iobj, const QuadraticObjective& qo);

//////////////////////////// GENERAL CONSTRAINTS ////////////////////////////

ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(LinConRange, Recommended, CG_Linear)
void AddConstraint(const LinConRange& lc);
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(LinConLE, Recommended, CG_Linear)
void AddConstraint(const LinConLE& lc);
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(LinConEQ, Recommended, CG_Linear)
void AddConstraint(const LinConEQ& lc);
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(LinConGE, Recommended, CG_Linear)
void AddConstraint(const LinConGE& lc);

Note that after InitProblemModificationPhase has been called, you can access the mp::FlatModelInfo object with the inherited method GetFlatModelInfo. For more advanced modeling, see Configure automatic model reformulations.

Basic specialization of the Backend

The Backend requires a minimal specialization to enable some very common AMPL driver logic. <yourSolver>Backend should declare and implement the following:

/// Prefix used for the <prefix>_options environment variable
static const char* GetAMPLSolverName() { return "highs"; }

/// Solver name displayed in messages
static const char* GetSolverName() { return "HiGHS"; }
/// AMPL driver name displayed in messages
static const char* GetAMPLSolverLongName() { return "AMPL-HiGHS"; }
/// Version displayed with -v
std::string GetSolverVersion();

/// Init custom driver options, such as outlev, writeprob
void InitCustomOptions() override;
/// Chance for the Backend to init solver environment, etc
void InitOptionParsing() override;
/// Chance to consider options immediately (open cloud, etc)
void FinishOptionParsing() override;

/// Note the interrupt notifier
void SetInterrupter(mp::Interrupter* inter) override;

/// Solve, no model modification any more (such as feasrelax).
/// Can report intermediate results via HandleFeasibleSolution() during this,
/// otherwise/finally via ReportResults()
void Solve() override;

/// Report final solution
void ReportHIGHSResults() override;

/// Values of all objectives
ArrayRef<double> GetObjectiveValues() override;
/// Primal solution values. Empty if not available
ArrayRef<double> PrimalSolution() override;
/// Dual solution. Empty if not available
pre::ValueMapDbl DualSolution() override;

/// Solution attributes
double NodeCount() const;
double SimplexIterations() const;
int BarrierIterations() const;

/// Convert solution/solver status to code+string
std::pair<int, std::string> ConvertHIGHSStatus();
/// Add custom messages
void AddHIGHSMessages();

For other common and custom features, see Implement standard & custom features.

Configure automatic model reformulations

This section describes configuration of the automatic model reformulations provided by the AMPL MP library, as well as adding new reformulations.

Configure automatic reformulations

The MP library can reformulate most of AMPL’s nonlinear and logical expressions to basic MILP or MIQP constructs. If your solver does not natively handle an expression, you don’t have to code anything. But assuming the indicator constraints are supported, the following code needs to be added:

ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(IndicatorConstraintLinLE, Recommended, CG_General)
void AddConstraint(const IndicatorConstraintLinLE& mc);
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(IndicatorConstraintLinEQ, Recommended, CG_General)
void AddConstraint(const IndicatorConstraintLinEQ& mc);
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(IndicatorConstraintLinGE, Recommended, CG_General)
void AddConstraint(const IndicatorConstraintLinGE& mc);

If you want a big-M linearization to be attempted first, replace Recommended by AcceptedButNotRecommended. To see the list of supported constraints, which largely correspond to AMPL modeling expressions, see constr_std.h, or run an existing driver with -c. For explanation of constraint groups, see Value presolver.

Specifically for quadratic constraints (quadratic objectives were discussed in Basic specialization of ModelAPI), implement

/// Ask if the solver accepts non-convex quadratic constraints
static constexpr bool AcceptsNonconvexQC() { return false; }

/// QuadConRange is optional.
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(QuadConRange, Recommended, CG_Quadratic)
void AddConstraint(const QuadConRange& qc);

/// If using quadratics,
/// QuadCon(LE/EQ/GE) should have 'Recommended'
/// and have an implementation.
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(QuadConLE, Recommended, CG_Quadratic)
void AddConstraint(const QuadConLE& qc);
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(QuadConEQ, Recommended, CG_Quadratic)
void AddConstraint(const QuadConEQ& qc);
ACCEPT_CONSTRAINT(QuadConGE, Recommended, CG_Quadratic)
void AddConstraint(const QuadConGE& qc);

Convex quadratic solvers can be used to solve nonconvex problems via piecewise-linear approximation of quadratics. To force the approximation, set options cvt:quadobj=0 cvt:quadcon=0.

Add new model reformulations

This section describes how to add new model reformulations in the recommended driver setup.

An overview of the reformulation process is provided in Model/solution I/O and reformulations.

Derive a custom FlatConverter (NOT recommeded)

It is recommended not to derive a solver-specific FlatConverter class. Instead, add your conversions to a standard class and make it optional (see existing options, such as cvt:quadcon), making it available to other solvers.

Only if it’s very specific, derive a custom class from mp::FlatConverter or mp::MIPFlatConverter and use it in Create<YourSolver>ModelMgr (its default implementation is in <yourSolver>

Add a converter for a constraint

To add a new converter, derive a new class from mp::BasicItemConverter or mp::BasicFuncConstrCvt and follow the pattern of existing conversions, in particular the INSTALL_ITEM_CONVERTER macro.

Add a new constraint type

To add a new constraint type, follow the definitions and installation pattern from the STORE_CONSTRAINT_TYPE__WITH_MAP and STORE_CONSTRAINT_TYPE__NO_MAP in mp::FlatConverter. In particular, overload PreprocessConstraint and PropagateResult for the new type in your custom class.

Implement standard & custom features

This section describes implementation of the optional standard driver features, as well as solver-specific features. Some standard features are very common, such as BASIS, others not, such as FIX_MODEL, and don’t have to be implemented unless the solver directly supports them. The workflow relies on the Backend class hierarchy.

General standard features

Output level

To implement the standard behaviour of option outlev, do the following:

  1. Add solver option outlev. Its values can be solver-specific but ideally 0 means silent and values above 0 mean some verbosity. Example code:

    AddSolverOption("tech:outlev outlev",
      "0*/1: Whether to write mosek log lines to stdout.",
      MSK_IPAR_LOG, 0, 1);
  2. In method OpenSolver set verbosity level to silent, before the options are processed.

  3. In FinishOptionParsing call the inherited method set_verbose_mode(v) with v==true iff outlev>0.

Sensitivity analysis

To implement the standard behavior of option sens, do the following:

  1. In your Backend class, declare:

  2. For derivatives of mp::FlatBackend you can override GetSensRangesPresolved which automatically postsolves the sensitivity information:

    SensRangesPresolved GetSensRangesPresolved() override;

    Currently this requires the vectors con(lb/ub)(lo/hi) to be populated for all linear constraints, including LinCon(LE/EQ/GE). See the MOSEK driver for an example.

  3. Alternatively, override GetSensRanges:

    SensRanges GetSensRanges() override;

    and implement it so that it returns postsolved information. See the Gurobi driver for an example.

MIP-only standard features

Fixed model (return basis for MIP)

To implement the standard behavior of the (probably exotic) option mip:basis / fixmodel, do the following:

  1. In your Backend class, declare:

  1. Check method need_fixed_MIP which returns true of user wants the fixed MIP information. In this case, your implementation should fix all non-continuous variables and variables from SOS / piecewise-linear constraints to their optimal values and solve the resulting LP; subsequent calls to GetBasis, as well as dual solution and sensitivity information should correspond to that LP solution.

Custom features

Pre- and postsolving of solutions and suffixes

For API details, see Value presolver.