Java/Scala tools for working with word2vec models

6 minute read

Since the invention of word2vec in 2013, it managed to go all the way in NLP from funny toy (hey, Putin+USA-Russia=Trump already!) to silver bullet (look, we can find semantically similar words by word2vec and solve the whole task!) and, finally, to mainstream (ok, have you already tried word2vec for this task?).

Word2vec becomes especially helpful, when we work with small text data and face sparseness problem in its worst. A popular way to cope with it is to train word2vec model on some huge data like Wikipedia dump and use these good vectors for words of texts we actually want to process.

In this setting, we don’t need to train model in our program or even ourselves; there are collections of pre-trained models ready to download). All we have to do is to load pre-trained model into some map (dictionary, in case of Python) and to compute cosines between vectors.

Ok, we can write such code in an hour! Ok, there should be a library doing exactly that. Let’s spend this hour choosing it!

Let’s assume we write our app in some JVM language like Java or Scala (in Python: simply use genism; in C/C++: find original word2vec saved by some guy in github after the shutdown of

As usual, implied requirements to the lib: permissive license, little dependencies, readable code.

So, what are our options?

Java libraries

The first one in google for “word2vec java” is deeplearning4j - it is huge, requires a lot of stuff, so we’d prefer to start with something more lightweight; we return to this by the end of the post.

The next one is Word2VecJava

What catches our eyes? They use double[] for vectors storage; despite the fact that binary format stores floats, so there would be no information loss. And all potential loss in accuracy caused by operations under vectors of floats instead of vectors of doubles would be negligible compared to the loss caused by twice lower dimension of the vector (on condition of the same memory consumption).

Thus we have 1 more requirement for a lib: float vectors. Moreover, as float arrays, not Lists, because, we all know, Float weights as double double (sorry for bad wordplay).

The third hit leads to Apache Spark.

Again, too heavy, plus they don’t have sim/cos; it is not that hard to implement, but what was the reason not to create this? What is worse, it still can’t load pre-trained models of gensim or original word2vec, see old issue unresolved yet.

There are also some abandoned non-English repos with strange code in Readme file.

Not so much. Let’s google for Scala.

Scala libraries

read_word_vectors.scala - ok, it is licensed under Apache 2.0, utterly simple one-file with no dependency.

But it is based on Scala’s List, which compiles to Java’s List, see corresponding SO answer. In addition – while it doesn’t already matter – this lib doesn’t contain sim/cos and hasn’t been updated since the very 2013.

word2vec-scala – Apache License, Array of float, one-file with no dependency; sim/cos implemented. The only minor note that it hasn’t been updated since the very 2013.

Luckily, Refefer updated it: split into 2 classes (Reader and Model) and rewrote Model so that it is based on spire and, hopefully, works faster.

I have chosen this library.

Small war story

I checked the model provided with the code – unsurprisingly, everything worked.

I took the model trained by modern genism; tried to load it and it failed with EOFException during model file reading.

Then - hour for choosing library was coming to end - I searched for exception message at stackoverflow, read the top answer diagonally (is there such an idiom in English?) – it advised to simply catch exception. I copy-pasted this voiceless catch – the main mistake – and everything seemed to work fine.

However, I started to get many misses for completely common words. So, I took a look at the source code a little more:

def readVector(reader: VecBinaryReader, vecSize:Int, normalize: Boolean): (String, Array[Float]) = {
     // Read the word
    val word =[String]

    val vector = new Array[Float](vecSize)
    for((f, i) <-[Stream[Float]].take(vecSize).zipWithIndex) {
      vector(i) = f

    // Eat up the next delimiter character[Byte]

    // Store the normalized vector representation, keyed by the word
    word -> (if (normalize) normVector(vector) else vector)

This line looks susceptible:

// Eat up the next delimiter character[Byte]

Let’s examine the excerpt from the model file:

ID/united_states 2dr?`C?>?{???>?`?>???>o>[?!???d?Y?>?,??q? ???"??%?????>?"=??l?=!	??#F=??$??8|??J(????>X(?p7>v???`????>??=??????>)%??u????>Hb?.?
>L??>~7?????V?H*>?P?C ?? ????>?bD=*.?/?M?	???>]w????l?:?"?tÑ>?9?Wo???.K>M?'?T??>?>??>w]5?D6??Q??)???U???3>XW;??>e*,?????I???J???Y???>B?C????[
?|W^???>n?????>%Rn>???ID/world_war_ii ???>??mMP=c????>?>???&???????K=?lY?>???K????o?yx?_?l)?b?;?p???>??P??'???:???????=?????Wu???>?K?=???=?u??+??o]=??`>????????d???+Nh?l??m??=??>??k?2?<i?>?([email protected]???
>x;[[email protected]?>?t?U????>1?$?7?([email protected]??????c?>??H??>??h??7w>S^y??????-?????????CJ=??{??	????>D???|?>??zK3=?z??d=??ID/association_football ???>???j8Q?ao)?2???>)?|???

If we look at the distance between 2 words ID/united_states and ID/world_war_ii, we find 400 bytes, thus there is no delimiter in new model. Btw, it proves that each element weighs 4 bytes, i.e. it is float.

It is not a bug: obviously, an old model has a delimiter, but then the model format has changed; I don’t know, who introduced that – maybe, gensim.

Of course, we can determine model format automatically, because we know word vectors size (it is written in the model file prefix), but it is much simpler to set it up in parameter and, most probably, no one would use old models.

So this fix was implemented (and merged). Btw, dl4j uses the same workaround.

Compare deeplearning4j with word2vec-scala

Actual task I needed to accomplish with word2vec is to rank term candidates, i.e. to compute semantic similarity between some set of words/collocation and some set of keywords.

I performed this task with 2 libs (dl4j and word2vec-scala), keeping all other conditions the same, including word2vec model. I didn’t try to make precise evaluation, so there is no averaging of multiple launches, to say nothing about JVM warming-up.

I measured 2 times:

  1. Time needed to load word2vec model: word2vec-scala requires about 60-70s, while dl4j – 150-180s.

  2. Time needed to compute semantic similarities.

Table below contains one row per dataset; 2nd column shows count of similarity computation calls, when word2vec model contains both words; 3rd column shows count of calls for vectors, when word2vec model doesn’t contain one word.

Dataset Compute similarity Only check presence DL4j word2vec-scala
ACL2 404,307 266,893 12s 1s
Patents 153,014 238,374 11s 7s
GENIA 1,995,757 5,923,282 57s 6s
Krapivin 10,510,830 98,928,131 4.4m 14s
FAO 18,860,475 114,602,307 7.5m 15s
ACL 15,309,896 149,369,914 6.5m 20s
Europarl 14,721,164 98,334,404 11.9m 12s

As we can see, dl4j works significantly slower.

This may be caused by several reasons. Probably, there is some flaw in experiment setup, so – again – take these results with a grain of salt. Probably, dl4j works so slow because of missing native libraries on my machine; I tried to install different blas listed in ND4j guide, but it isn’t trivial and I didn’t invest much time into that.

However, note that deeplearning4j keeps evolving, for example their new guide looks much nicer; maybe, Intel MKL, which dl4j recommends to use and which I didn’t check, already speeds up this.

In sum, when you read this, dl4j may work faster, but be ready to spend time playing with setup. Or, if all you need is read model and compute a few dot-products – use word2vec-scala.

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