I am having a little trouble getting my head around the two "directions" of the Kullback-Leibler divergence:

Definition (Kullback-Leibler divergence) For discrete probability distributions $P$ and $Q$ defined on the same probability space, $\chi$, the Kullback-Leibler divergence from $Q$ to $P$ is defined to be $$D_{KL}(P||Q) := \sum_{x \in \chi}P(x)\log\bigg(\frac{P(x)}{Q(x)}\bigg). $$

Note that The KL-divergence is not really a true distance measure, since it is does not satisfy the Triangle Inequality and $D_{KL}(P||Q)$ does not in general equal $D_{KL}(Q||P)$. Hence the need to distinguish the KL-divergence from its dual, the so-called "reverse KL-divergence".

Fact. Both the KL-divergence and the reverse KL-divergence are examples of f-divergences.

Fact. The KL-divergence is an example of a Bregman divergence.

Question: Is the reverse Kullback-Leibler divergence also a Bregman divergence?

This is not obvious to me. Also, I have read conflicting information, with Amari (2009) arguing that the KL-divergence and its dual are are unique divergences belonging to the $f$-divergence and Bregman divergence classes, and others (e.g., Wang et al. 2019) saying that the reverse KL-divergence is no longer a Bregman. Which is correct?

Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.


  • Wang, Q., Li, Y. and Xiong, J. (2019) Divergence-Augmented Policy Optimization link
  • Amari, S. (2009) $\alpha$-Divergence Is Unique, Belonging to Both $f$-Divergence and Bregman Divergence Classes link

1 Answer 1


Define the KL convergence as in the Amari's paper linked by you: $$KL(x||y):=D_{KL}(x||y):=\sum(y_i-x_i+x_i\ln\frac{x_i}{y_i}).$$ Then $$KL(x||y)=F(x)-F(y)-\nabla F(y)\cdot(x-y)$$ if $F(x):=\sum(x_i\ln x_i-x_i)$. So, the KL-divergence is a Bregman one.

On the other hand, the dual divergence, defined by $$LK(x||y):=KL(y||x)=\sum(x_i-y_i+y_i\ln\frac{y_i}{x_i}),$$ is not a Bregman one. Indeed, if it were a Bregman one, then for some appropriate function $G$ we would have $$LK(x||y)=G(x)-G(y)-\nabla G(y)\cdot(x-y)$$ and hence $$\nabla_x(LK(x||y))=\nabla G(x)-\nabla G(y),$$ whereas in fact $$\nabla_x(LK(x||y))=(1-y_i/x_i),$$ which cannot be of the form of a difference $\nabla G(x)-\nabla G(y)$ -- because otherwise we would have $(1-v/u)+(1-w/v)=(1-w/u)$ for all positive real $u,v,w$.

(Amari's proof contains formula (52), which contains functions $\psi_\alpha$ and $\psi_{-\alpha}$, supposedly defined by formula (49). However, the expression for $\psi_\alpha$ in (49) is undefined for $\alpha=-1$, whereas it is both of the values $\pm1$ of $\alpha$ that are needed in (52) for $LK$.)

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much! A very clear and informative answer :-) $\endgroup$
    – jw7642
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 12:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "LK", cute ${}{}{}$ $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 14:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @jw7642 : So, are you satisfied with this answer? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 2:55

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