6. Infrastructure

This section gives an overview of the HED infrastructure. Additional details and links to specific tools are available in (Tools.md)[Tools.md].

6.1. Short and long forms

Tools that are third-generation HED-compliant must be able to handle both short-form and long-form versions of HED strings. Analysis tools often need to transform all HED tags to long form before processing. To this end, mapping functions are being developed in Python, Matlab, and JavaScript. These libraries also provide mapping from long form to short form. As illustrated in the previous sections, the short form is much more readable and compact.

6.2. File formats

Dataset events are often represented using spreadsheets either in .tsv or Excel format. The rows of each spreadsheet correspond to events, while the columns contain identifying information pertaining to the events. The first row of each spreadsheet usually contains column names that document what each column represents. Usually one column contains the time of the event. Other columns may contain categorical values, other values, or HED strings.

Categorical column values are chosen from a small, explicitly defined subset. Value columns may contain numeric values or other types of values such as file names. HED tools assume that event files are spreadsheets, either in BIDS (.tsv) format or Excel format.

The HED tools require that each column of an event file contains items of the same class (categorical or value) and that value columns contain items of the same basic type. Files not satisfying these requirements may need additional processing before being handled by HED tools.

6.2.1. BIDS event files

BIDS (Brain Imaging Data Structure) is a specification along with supporting tools for organizing and describing brain imaging and behavioral data. BIDS event files satisfy the criteria of the previous section.

BIDS supports HED annotation of events. BIDS events appear in tab-separated value (_events.tsv) files in various places in the dataset hierarchy. BIDS event files must have an onset column and a duration column. The following shows an excerpt from a BIDS event file:

Example: Excerpt from a BIDS event file.

onset  duration  trial_type  response_time stim_file
1.2    0.6       go          1.435         images/red_square.jpg
5.6    0.6       stop        1.739         images/blue_square.jpg

The trial_type column contains categorical values, while the response_time and stim_file columns contain non-categorical values. In theory stim_file could be considered a categorical column if there were just a few possible images, but this would not be common usage. BIDS allows an optional column named HED to contain HED strings relevant for the event instance. The above example does not have this column.

Processing tools read these event files and create their own event representation. The Python version of HEDTools uses the Pandas DataFrame for its low-level representations. For MATLAB programs, the dataset events are often held in struct arrays.
In EEGLAB, for example, the events for an EEG data recording appear in the EEG.event structure array. The time of the event is given in frames in the EEG.event.latency field for data that has not been epoched.

6.2.2. BIDS sidecars

BIDS also recommends data dictionaries in the form of JSON sidecars to document the meaning of the data in the event files.HEDTools assume that dictionaries for event metadata are contained in BIDS-compatible sidecars.

BIDS allows the tagging of both categorical and non-categorical columns in these sidecars as explained in the HED appendix of the BIDS specification. Internally, EEGLAB and CTAGGER use mapping objects that are stored in the EEG structure. However, these mapping options can be written to or read from BIDS JSON sidecars.

Each event file spreadsheet column containing categorical values may also have a categorical dictionary that documents the meaning of the data in that column. HED also provides for the HED tagging of non-categorical columns as explained below. The following example shows the JSON sidecar format for annotating the same event file of the previous section. The "HED" key for the "trial_type" column indexes the categorical dictionary associated with the trial_type column in the event file.

Example: JSON sidecar for annotating the columns of an event file.

    "trial_type": {
        "LongName": "Event category",
        "Description": "Indicator of type of action that is expected.",
        "Levels": {
            "go": "A red square is displayed to indicate starting",
            "stop": "A blue square is displayed to indicate stopping."
        "HED": {
            "go": "Sensory-event, Visual-presentation, (Square, Red), (Computer-screen, Center-of), Description/A red square is displayed to indicate starting.",
            "stop": "Sensory-event, Visual-presentation, (Square, Blue), (Computer-screen, Center-of), Description/A blue square is displayed to indicate stopping."
    "response_time": {
        "LongName": "Response time after stimulus",
        "Description": "Time from stimulus until subject presses button.",
        "Units": "ms",
        "HED": "(Delay/# ms, Agent-action, Experiment-participant, Press, Mouse-button, Description/Time from stimulus until subject presses button)"
    "stim_file": {
        "LongName": "Stimulus file name",
        "Description": "Relative path of the stimulus image file",
        "HED": "Pathname/#, Description/Relative path of the stimulus image file"

Non-categorical columns such as response_time and stim_file have a dictionary “HED” value consisting of a HED string rather than another dictionary. This HED string must have a single # placeholder. The corresponding value in the spreadsheet column replaces the # when the event annotation is assembled.

6.2.3. HED version in BIDS

The HED version is included as the value of the "HEDVersion" key in the dataset_description.json metadata file located at the top level in a BIDS dataset. HEDTools retrieve the appropriate HED schema directly from GitHub when needed. The following examples shows how a BIDS user specifies that HED version 8.0.0 is used for a dataset called “A wonderful experiment”. BIDS locates the appropriate version of the schema on GitHub and downloads it during the validation process. The following examples shows a simple dataset_description.json.

Example: BIDS dataset description using HED version 8.0.0.

   "Name": "A wonderful experiment",
   "BIDSVersion": "1.4.0", 
   "HEDVersion": "8.0.0"

6.3. Levels of validation

Validation of HED annotations is an essential step in using HED for large-scale, reproducible analysis. Third-generation HED encourages a more detailed and useful documentation of events and provides mechanisms for mapping the interrelationships of events and task intent. The additional annotation power also requires more extensive validation to assure consistency across annotations. HED-validators are provided in both Python and JavaScript. There is also a MATLAB wrapper for the Python validator functions.

There are five levels of validation: tag level, string level, dictionary level, event level, and data-recording level. Previous generations of HED only required validation at the first four of these. Since third-generation HED can document relationships across events, it also requires an additional level to validate cross-event relationships. Validation can also be categorized as syntactic or semantic. Syntactic validation, which occurs mainly at the HED tag and HED string levels, tests that the tags are properly formed, independently of the HED schema or purpose of the tags. Semantic validation tests that the tags are used correctly and that they comply with the relevant schema. Syntactic validation is usually done initially during the parsing of the HED strings into HED tags.

6.3.1. Tag validation

HED tag level validation checks each individual HED tag against its associated schema. The long-form tag must be in the schema. HED tags that take a value (have a # child in the schema) must have values that only contain appropriate characters. If the HED tag # has a unitClass attribute, the units must comply with those of the specified unitClass. If the HED tag has additional nodes beyond the leaf node in the schema, the extensionAllowed attribute must be in effect for the leaf node.

6.3.2. String validation

HED string level validation focuses on the proper formation of HED strings and tag-groups within the HED strings. Syntactic HED string validation includes matching of parentheses and proper delimiting of HED tags by commas. Semantic HED string validation includes verification that HED definitions have the proper form.

6.3.3. Sidecar validation

HED dictionary validation assumes that the dictionaries have been written in the JSON format of Chapter 6: BIDS sidecars. The validation is similar to HED string evaluation, but the error messages are keyed to dictionary location rather than to line numbers in the event file or spreadsheet. The validator checks that there is exactly one # in the HED string annotation associated with each non-categorical column. The # placeholder should correspond to a # in the HED schema, indicating that the parent tag expects a value. If the placeholder is followed by a unit designator, the validator checks that these units are consistent with the unit class of the corresponding # in the schema. The units are not mandatory.

6.3.4. Event validation

Dataset formats such as BIDS (Brain Imaging Data Structure) allow users to provide HED tags in multiple places. For example, if a study uses local codes to represent different types of events, the dataset specification often allows users to use the local codes when listing the events and then provide some format of dictionary mapping local codes to tags. During event level validation, all of these tags must be assembled into a HED string representing the full HED annotation for that event.

Several tag attributes are validated at this stage. The expanded event-level HED string annotating an event must include all tags with the required attribute and only one copy of each tag with the unique attribute.

6.3.5. Recording validation

The introduction of definitions and temporal scope has added additional complexity to validation. Instead of being able to validate the HED string for each event individually, third generation HED validators must also check consistency across all events in the data-recording. This validation requires multiple passes through of the assembled HED tags associated with the data-recording.

Since Definition tags can appear anywhere in the event annotations for a data recording, an initial scan must be made to assemble all definitions for a data recording and to make sure that the definition names are unique.

To validate temporal scope, the validator must assure that each Onset and Offset tag is associated with an appropriately defined label. The validator must also check to make sure that Onset and Offset tags are properly matched within the data recording.

6.4. Analysis tools

Third-generation HED analysis tools also require some additional infrastructure. These tools should call the HED libraries to fully expand the tags for a data recording before doing analysis. In addition to converting all HED tags to their long form, the library tools can remove the definitions and replace def/ with the full tag expansion with any defined labels.

Each event that is within the temporal scope of a scoped event, should have the scoped event information added to the Event-context tag group of the intermediate event upon request. Delay tag expansions as insertions of actual events should also be supported. Duration tag expansion in which offset events should be inserted should also be supported. The HED tools should provide this expansion capability as well as a standardized representation of events in a data recording to enable tools to use a standard API for accessing tag information.

6.5. BIDS support in HED

HED provides a JavaScript validator in the [hed-javascript](https://github. com/hed-standard/hed-javascript) repository, which is available as an installable package via npm. The [BIDS validator](https://github. com/bids-standard/bids-validator) incorporates calls to this package to validate HED tags in BIDS datasets.

The hedtools package includes input functions that use Pandas data frames to construct internal representations of HED-annotated event files. Plans are underway to make this package available on the PyPI package index for easy installation.