If you have not yet, please ‘install the expfactory python application.

Contributing to code

We recommend that you work with developing experiment code using Github. If you aren’t familiar with Github, here is an introduction, and we provide more description below. This means that your general workflow will be as follows:

    1. fork our experiments repo
    1. clone the repository to your local machine
    1. checkout a new branch for your update
    1. when you are happy, commit changes locally, then to your fork
    1. submit a pull request (PR) to our master branch to review the changes
    1. keep in sync with our master

This will also be the general workflow for making any contributions to the battery, virtual machines, or python application.

A. Fork our repos

When you browse to our repo, you will see a “Fork” button in the upper right (and the same is true for expfactory-surveys or expfactory-games):


Click it, and select your Github username to create a copy of the repository under your account name.

A little about Github

You can think of Github as a home in the cloud to store your code, along with a history of all changes. This means that many people can collaboratively work on the same code and have a way to talk about changes, report issues, and merge it all together in the end. The way that Github works is based on having this “remote” version, along with a “local” version on your computer. The code base is generally called a “repository” (repo for short), and the way it is organized is based on branches. There is usually a default branch that is the “working” and “up to date” version of the code, and this is usually called “master.” When you fork a repo, you should generally keep your version of “master” synced with the main (upstream) repository master. This is because we will use this branch as a template for all new branches. You can imagine if you are working on two features, you would want for each one to have a separate branch in your repo. If you use your master branch to work on the first feature, then you have no way of easily creating a fresh branch that is in sync with the upstream repo master that you forked. When someone talks about “getting code from” a repo, they usually will use the term “pull,” and this is why when you make changes and ask another repo to accept (pull) your changes, it is called a “pull request.” Sending code to the cloud repo will use the term “push.” Rest assured that these terms and development practices will become second nature when you get into the groove of things. We will provide detailed instructions when possible, and please tell us if something is not clear.

B. Clone the repository to your local machine

After you fork the repo, you have created a version in the cloud associated with your account. But to work with it, you need to “clone” it to your local machine. You can do this by way of:

git clone[your-username]/expfactory-experiments

Note that if you use ssh (instructions for setup are here) you should clone like this:

git clone[your-username]/expfactory-experiments.git

where [your-username] is replaced with your Github account username.

A little about repos

A repository is “connected” to Github via a simple config text file. If you look at this file, you can understand quickly how simple it is. For example, let’s say we just cloned the experiments repo:

cd expfactory-experiments

There is a hidden folder called ”.git” with a config file in it. Generally you should not manually edit files in this folder, but the config is pretty easy to understand, and easy to edit to change the names of your repos or add other repos to push and pull to. Let’s take a look at a standard config file:

vim .git/config
        repositoryformatversion = 0
        filemode = true
        bare = false
        logallrefupdates = true
[remote "origin"]
        url =
        fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*
[branch "master"]
        remote = origin
        merge = refs/heads/master

We want to make a quick change to this file. The rationale for this change is that many people might be working on expfactory experiments, and our version of “master” can quickly fall behind the expfactory master. With this in mind, we want to be able to easily “pull” from the expfactory master, which we will call “upstream.” Here is my config file for the expfactory-python. Since I want to work with the “upstream” (main expfactory Organization repo) along with my version (associated with username vsoch) you will notice that I have added a few lines to specify an “upstream” remote:

        repositoryformatversion = 0
        filemode = true
        bare = false
        logallrefupdates = true
[remote "upstream"]
        url =
        fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*
[remote "origin"]
        url =
        fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*
[branch "master"]
        remote = origin
        merge = refs/heads/master

This means that, whenever I want to checkout my master to create a new branch from, or when either my PR or someone else’s PR has been merged into the expfactory master, I should pull from upstream and push to my master:

git pull upstream master

It will open a text file that is asking for you to commit a merge. Save this file to do so. Then push to your master:

git push origin master

If you get errors about merge conflicts, this means that something was out of order, and you need to open up files that have conflicts to resolve the conflicts, and then commit. If you only use your master as a template to checkout new branches from, you should not run into this problem.

For the above example, you will also notice that the format of the URLs follows the SSH standard, because that is how I cloned it, and how it is setup on my computer. If you get errors about authentication, you likely have the wrong format specified in your config. A https url would look something like:

        repositoryformatversion = 0
        filemode = true
        bare = false
        logallrefupdates = true
[remote "origin"]
        url =
        fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*
[branch "master"]
        remote = origin
        merge = refs/heads/master

It’s pretty common to clone with HTTPS (copy pasting the url for a repo), and then edit the config to change to SSH to push and pull. You can define as many remotes as you like in this file so you can easily pull from your colleagues repos if you want to test what they are working on.

C. checkout a new branch for your update

You’ve now cloned the repository to your local machine, and you would want to check out a new branch to make an update. First, see what branch you are on:

git branch
* master

Then checkout a new branch, it’s a good standard to give it a tag to describe what you are doing (fix/update/enh) and then a specific name. For example:

git checkout -b update/add_my_experiment

You will then be switched to your new branch

git branch
* update/add_my_experiment

Once the branch is created, it should be standard practice for you to first see what branch you are on before starting work for the day. If you need to switch, you don’t need the “-b” argument:

git checkout master
git checkout update/add_my_experiment

D. commit changes

It’s good practice to commit changes locally when you are happy, adding a message to provide details about what you’ve changed. You may first want to compare your recent work to what is on Github, and you can do this with:

git status

It will show you changed, deleted, and added files. You can then “commit” these changes to your local repo, which basically means writing them into some local record in the .git folder to prepare for pushing to the remote repo:

git commit -a

is read as “git commit all” and it will open up a text editor to show you a summary of the changes. It is expected with each commit that you describe what you have done in a message. You can either uncomment lines in the file (remove the “#”) or write a message right at the top. Saving the file will commit the changes locally.

Finally, you can push to your local branch. The format is like:

git push [remote] [branch]

where [remote] and [branch] correspond to the name of the remote and branch (in the .git/config) which means that for our example we might do:

git push origin update/add_my_experiment

E. submit a pull request (PR) to our master branch

Once you have made a change, and commit the change to your remote (cloud) repo, you would want to submit this change to us to consider merging into the expfactory master branch. It’s easiest to do this with the online interface. You should go to your repo, and find the “Pull Request” button:


You will then want to select merging your base/branch into the expfactory/master branch. Please tell us in the comments what you have changed or added, and then submit the PR. We will be able to review your changes and give you feedback.

F. keep in sync with our master

As we detailed above, remember that many people might be submitting PRs to work on the same code base, which means that your master branch can fall behind. Whether you are updating your master after your PR (or someone else’s) was merged, this should be the first thing you do before checkout of a new branch:

git checkout master
git pull upstream master
git push origin master
git checkout -b enh/add_function

Now that you are a development Github pro, you might want more details about the format of a new experiment.

Contributing a paradigm

Whether you want to contribute a survey, an experiment, or a game, the basic steps and structure of what you create will be the same. Each of surveys, experiments, and games has a repository under ` the expfactory github organization <>`_ and each repository is a collection of folders, with one paradigm for folder. You can store folders on your server or local machine, or just have our software grab the latest version directly from the repositories. The commonality between folders is that they all have a configuration file, the config.json, with a set of standard fields that are defined to allow the Experiment Factory Python Software to work with paradigms. A few notes about the config.json:

  • You do not need to define fields in the config.json that are not required. Use expfactory –validate to see if you did it right.
  • the folder name must correspond with the “exp_id” variable in the config.json
  • experiment, survey, and game folder names should be all lowercase, no hyphens (-), or spaces.


A data structure that specifies the following:

  • name: [required] the full name of the experiment, best is to use the name of the publication it is associated with.
  • exp_id: [required] the experiment id (unique identifier) for the experiment, typically the folder name, all lowercase with no special characters.
  • cognitive_atlas_task_id: [optional] the identifier for the experiment defined in the cognitive atlas
  • template: [required] the javascript (or other) template that runs the experiment. We currently support jspsych, survey (for material-design lite surveys), or phaser (games). Please contact us to discuss adding your particular framework.
  • contributors: a list of contributors to the task code base.
  • reference: url(s) to referenced papers to develop the task. This field is to be removed, and the reference or DOI should be stored in the CognitiveAtlas.
  • experiment_variables: should be a list of dictionaries to specify one or more variables to be available for use to measure performance, allocate bonus, or receive credit. The fields of this variable include “name” “type” “label” “range” and “description.” The “label” field will determine if the Experiment Factory docker virtual machine will parse the variable as being available to use for a reward (eg, label == “reward”) or for allocation of credit (eg, label == “credit”).
  • notes: any notes about the implementation, etc.
  • publish: [required] either “True” or “False” to determine if the experiment should be revealed to the user of the expfactory-python application.
  • deployment_variables: a dictionary of customizations for the javascript template. For example, jspsych has a jspsych_init object that you may want to customize.
  • run: [required] entry javascript and css files for the experiment. Paths here should all be relative to the experiment folder, and will be used to embed the experiments in different contexts. For example, the following files in run in the folder multisource:
"run": [

will produce the following in a rendered template:

<link rel='stylesheet' type='text/css' href='static/experiments/multisource/style.css'>

<script src='static/js/jspsych/plugins/plugin.js'></script>
<script src='static/experiments/multisource/experiment.js'></script>

Note that the full path is a file served in our expfactory-battery (a plugin common to many experiments), and the local paths are files in the multisource experiment folder.

An example of a config.json data structure is as follows:

        "name": "Model-Based Influences on Humans' Choices and Striatal Prediction Errors",
        "exp_id": "two_stage_decision",
        "contributors": [
                         "Ian Eisenberg",
                         "Zeynep Enkavi",
                         "Patrick Fisher",
                         "Vanessa Sochat",
                         "Russell Poldrack"
        "run": [
        "reference": "",
        "notes": "Condition = ordered stims in stage 1 and stage 2 (so [0, 1] or [1, 0] for stage 1 and [2, 3], [4, 5] etc. for stage 2 and FB for the FB condition (1 for reward, 0 for no reward)",
        "publish": "True"


Here are examples of different kinds of experiment variables. If you do not have any, you don’t need to define this field, or you can define like this:


A boolean variable that is to be used to calculate bonus for a task

"experiment_variables": [{
                           "description":"JavaScript boolean to indicate the participant passed the check."

A numeric variable (both int and float are stored as float) to be used to assess if credit should be given (or not)

"experiment_variables": [{
                           "description":"the total number of correct choices."

A string variable that will be included as a model (we will be including other ways to explore results, not implemented for now) but not intended for allocation of credit / rejection, or bonus:

"experiment_variables": [{
                           "range":["low","average","good","very good"],
                           "description":"The quality of the responses."


A deployment variable is specific to the javascript template / architecture that the experiment is using. We only support jspsych, and so you can only specify “jspsych_init.” You do not need to define this variable if you don’t have any customizations, but here is how to define an empty variable:


Specify a field in jspsych_init



A list of javascript and css files that are essential for the experiment to run, specified in load_experiments.js (see details above). Typically, an experiment will have an experiment.js file and a style.css. For jspsych files that are included with the expfactory-battery/js folder, specify the complete path to the file relative to the static folder. For example:


Any files with full paths specified as the above will be checked for existance within the expfactory-battery folder. If found, the file will be linked successfully. If not found, the file will be looked for in the experiment folder. If the file does not exist in either place, an error will trigger upon generation of the battery.

Contributing to experiments

An experiment is just a folder with files that are expected to be a certain way. The “core” of an experiment is:

  • config.json: a file with a bunch of information about an experiment, meta-data
  • experiment.js: the main javascript file to run the experiment
  • style.css: (optional) custom styling

A recommended strategy for developing a new experiment is to find an experiment similar to the one you want to make, copy the folder, and edit it. We recommend using JsPsych for tutorials, help, and examples, as the documentation is really great. We also provide an standard reaction time (commented) empty template for you to download, and in the future will provide a dynamic web interface for generating new templates. When you submit a PR to the expfactory-experiments repo, the experiment will be tested with continuous integration, and before doing this, we have provided a simple command line tool that can be used to validate the basics about the config.json and experiment folder.

cd my_new_experiment
expfactory --preview   # preview / run the experiment in the browser within the PWD
expfactory --validate  # will validate config.json and experiment structure
expfactory --test      # will run test robot we run on continuous integreation

Summary of Best Practices

  • An experiment must minimally have an experiment.js and valid config.json file
  • We use jspsych plugins for most experiments, and most are included with the battery repo, meaning you don’t need to include them with your local folder, but rather specify their path in the “run” variable of your config.json (see below).
  • you can include any images/sounds supplementary files in your experiment folder, it will be included
  • these supplementary files specified in experiment.js should have paths relative to the battery experiment base directory, static/experiments/[exp_id]/images/hello.png
  • supplementary files specified in style.css should be relative to the experiment folder.

Files hard coded into the experiment.js should have a path with the following format:


where folder-name is replaced with the name of the experiment folder, and any subdirectories to that (e.g., “images” should exist in the experiment directory. For example, to link a sound file in an experiment folder, tone-monitoring:

practice_stims = [{sound: '/static/experiments/tone_monitoring/sounds/880Hz_-6dBFS_.5s.mp3',
            data: {exp_id: 'tone_monitoring', trial_id: 'high', condition: 'practice'}},
           {sound: '/static/experiments/tone_monitoring/sounds/440Hz_-6dBFS_.5s.mp3',
            data: {exp_id: 'tone_monitoring', trial_id: 'medium', condition: 'practice'}},
           {sound: '/static/experiments/tone_monitoring/sounds/220Hz_-6dBFS_.5s.mp3',
           data: {exp_id: 'tone_monitoring', trial_id: 'low', condition: 'practice'}}

These files would be in the tone-monitoring experiment folder as:


as the entire thing will be included in the experiment’s folder (under /static/experiments/[folder-name]), with the same structure. You are free to include any necessary static files in your experiment, and can name subfolders in your experiment folder however you like. Most of these files do not need to be specified in the “run” variable of the config.json. These specified files should be those js and css that will be embedded in the dynamically produced experiment html so that the experiment functions. If you find that your experiment is not running, likely you can inspect the console and see that you are missing a file. When validation of an experiment occurs upon battery generation, all files specified in this “run” variable will be checked for existence, and an error output if not found.


This is the main javascript file to run the experiment. This file should include set up of the JsPsych experiment, and the requirement is that the resulting array of blocks be named {{exp_id}}_experiment (for example, if the folder is called “local_global” the array that finishes the file, onto which all blocks are pushed, is called “local_global_experiment.” When defining your blocks, in the “data” variable you must include “exp_id” to also specify this unique identifier (e.g., local global). Not including the unique ID with the data will trigger an error during continuous integration testing, and will possibly mean that you could have data that cannot be linked back to a task.

Paths to images, sounds, and other files referenced in this file will be expected to follow the same pattern as above, e.g.: /static/experiments/[folder-name]/images/filename.png (required).

Supplementary files

You might want a folder of images, sounds, or other, to be included with your experiment. You are allowed to include, and specify these files as needed in the style.css or experiment.js. Important** if you specify an image/other in the style sheet, the path should be relative to the css file (the experiment folder). If you specify an image or file in your experiment.js file, the path should be relative to the battery base folder (e.g., /static/experiments/[folder-name]/images/.


Is the main style file for the experiment, which will be copied into the battery style folder and linked appropriately. Images that are defined in this file should have paths relative to the images folder. (required).

Contributing to surveys

A survey is the easiest of our paradigms to contribute to, as an entire survey is just a tab delimited text file paired with a config.json in a folder in expfactory-surveys. In the config.json, “template” should be “survey”. The easiest way to understand the tab delimited file is to look at an example.

You will notice the following columns in the header, which is the first row of the file:

  • question_type: can be one of textfield, numeric (a numeric text field), radio, checkbox, or instruction. These are standard form elements, and will render in the Google Material Design Lite style.
  • question_text: is the text content of the question, e.g., How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?
  • required: is a boolean (0 or 1) to indicate if the participant is required to answer the question (1) or not (0) before moving on in the survey.
  • page_number: determines the page that the question will be rendered on. If you look at an example survey you will notice that questions are separated by Next / Previous tabs, and the final page has a Finish button. It was important for us to give control over pagination to preserve how some “old school” questionnaires were presented to participants.
  • option_text: For radio and checkboxes, you are asking the user to select from one or more options. These should be the text portion (what the user sees on the screen), and separated by commas (e.g, Yes,No,Sometimes. Note: these fields are not required for instructions or textbox types, and can be left as empty tabs.
  • option_values: Also for radio and checkboxes, these are the data values that correspond to the text. For example, the option_text Yes,No may correspond to 1,0. Again, this field is typically blank for instructions or textbox types.

Contributing to games

Games are under development, and currently we are using “phaser” as a first template. As with surveys and experiments, you are required to have a config.json, and the “template” variable should be defined as “phaser”. Standards are under development, and an updated list can be found at expfactory-games repo. Currently, the following is required:

  • the main game file should be called Run.js
  • the boolean variable “finished” included with every trial (0 to continue/1 to finish)
  • the game should have an inputData function that updates a data object when appropriate.

While we further develop the standard, please see a finished game (code/live)as an example.


It makes most sense to work directly from a folder in the expfactory-experiments repo that you have cloned. This method will work if you have an internet connection, as the expfactory executable will quickly plug your experiment into a battery, and open up the page in your browser. To do this, you can cd into your experiment folder, and use the –run command. This command can be used to run or preview a single experiment locally:

cd simple_experiment
expfactory --run

You can also specify the folder as an argument:

expfactory --run --folder /home/vanessa/Desktop/simple_rt

You can also specify a port:

expfactory --run --port=8088

Your browser will open to show the experiment. You can press Control+C to shut down the server.

As stated previously, you should validate your config.json, folder structure and files, by running:

cd simple_experiment
expfactory --validate

This function also works to specify a folder

expfactory --validate --folder /home/vanessa/Desktop/simple_rt

You can use the experiment robot to test your experiment locally. The same functions are used that will be run for continuous integration, and it is a good idea to make sure that no errors are output before submitting a PR.

cd simple_experiment
expfactory --test

or to specify a folder

expfactory --test --folder /home/vanessa/Desktop/simple_rt

Finally, if you add a new experiment, you will need to add a line to test it in the circle.yml. You can test the circle.yml before pushing as follows:

from expfactory.tests import validate_circle_yml

Continuous integration is a term from software development that basically means we test as we change and modify our code - in this case “code” is referring to the different experiments. This means that when you submit a pull request (PR) to the expfactory-experiments repo, along with local testing that you might do, we also test the code on a continuous integration server called CircleCI. You will see a link to your PR from Github as soon as the PR is submit. Your contribution will be assessed based on the following:

  • validation tests passing, meaning that your config.json and experiment folder are formatted and named properly
  • jshint: we test the static code with jshint. If there are issues for your experiment, tests will not pass.
  • robot tests: we have developed a robot that can be run locally or with continuous integration. The robot will click through the task, make random selections, and trigger an error if a 404 is found.
  • experiment running: If you click on “Artifacts” tab at the top when the testing finishes, you will see a hierarchy of the machine, and you can go to ubuntu/expfactory-experiments/web/index.html to open up a browser and see the dynamically generated updated experiment set. If you click on “browse our experimental paradigms” from the box in the top right corner, and you should be able to find your experiment in the table and preview it. Note that the first tree view of the experiments points to You should open your developer console, as you would on your local machine, and run through the experiment both looking for errors (that might have been detected by the robot) and seeing that things run as expected.

Currently, we only test changes between the last successful build and your contribution, meaning experiment folders with changed files. Since the entire battery would take upwards of 10 hours, we recommend you submit PRs limited to a few experiments, otherwise the running will take a very long time.

If you want to work offline, or simply want to develop an experiment using psiturk, then you will want to take the following approach:

  • use the expfactory tool to generate a battery
  • move the battery folder from your tmp directory to where you want it
  • copy experiment folders / create new folders into the battery “/static/experiments” folder
  • test and debug using psiturk (instructions not provided here)
  • move the folder back to your expfactory-experiments repo, commit changes, and push as normal.

Getting Help

Please submit an issue to our code base, or email someone in the lab, and we will do our best to help. Please remember that we are a small group of (mostly) graduate students, and will respond as promptly as we can.


If you see a white screen, it usually means there is a JavaScript error. While we can’t provide details here for how to debug everything, generally if you right click –> Inspect Element and click the “console” tab you will see red text that indicates some JavaScript error. Questions to ask:

  • Did you specify all required jspsych scripts in your “run” variable? A script that is not specified will not be included in the page, and you will likely see a message like this:
  • Is the jspsych script included with the battery? If you specify a path in the run variable in config.json and it’s not found, it’s likely not included in the battery repo, and you can look to check. If you are missing a script and would like one added, please submit a PR to the repo and it will be done, and this will fix your error.
  • Is your browser caching an old script? You might make a change, but then the error persists, and this is because the browser caches style and js files by default. You can disable this in the settings, so it won’t cache when the development console is open:

or you can use Incognito mode (Control + Shift + N).

  • Do you have a syntax error or a missing variable?
  • What is the scope of your variable? If you reference a variable inside a function, it will not be available outside of that function. This is called scope.

Debugging JavaScript is hard and annoying. We chose to use jspsych rather arbitrary, and please let us know if you want support for other libraries (meaning we provide them in the battery repo). May the force be with you.

Contributing to this documentation

The documentation lives in the “doc” folder. Specifically, this is sphinx documentation that gets built automatically. The “build” folder contains the output that we serve on github pages, and this works by linking the index.html in the repo base to doc/build/html. The “source” folder contains files that you will want to edit.

You will need to install sphinx to work with these files

sudo pip install sphinx

And familiarize yourself with the restructured text (rst) documentation syntax.

The basic infrastructure is set up, so you should be able to edit the places that you need, and if you need help with something more advanced (and you can’t figure it out) contact someone else in the Poldracklab or just submit an issue <>_.

Basic workflow

  1. Edit a file
  2. Enter the documentation base folder
cd doc
make html

Note that you should READ the error messages in the console when you build - it will tell you if you forgot to include files, or have any other syntax errors. Then:

cd build/html
python -m SimpleHTTPServer -9999

This will start a local web server using python at localhost:9999.

  1. Open your browser to localhost:9999 to preview