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Getting Started with Distributed Data Parallel

Author: Shen Li

DistributedDataParallel (DDP) implements data parallelism at the module level. It uses communication collectives in the torch.distributed package to synchronize gradients, parameters, and buffers. Parallelism is available both within a process and across processes. Within a process, DDP replicates the input module to devices specified in device_ids, scatters inputs along the batch dimension accordingly, and gathers outputs to the output_device, which is similar to DataParallel. Across processes, DDP inserts necessary parameter synchronizations in forward passes and gradient synchronizations in backward passes. It is up to users to map processes to available resources, as long as processes do not share GPU devices. The recommended (usually fastest) approach is to create a process for every module replica, i.e., no module replication within a process. The code in this tutorial runs on an 8-GPU server, but it can be easily generalized to other environments.

Basic Use Case

To create DDP modules, first set up process groups properly. More details can be found in WRITING DISTRIBUTED APPLICATIONS WITH PYTORCH.

import os
import tempfile
import torch
import torch.distributed as dist
import torch.nn as nn
import torch.optim as optim
import torch.multiprocessing as mp

from torch.nn.parallel import DistributedDataParallel as DDP


def setup(rank, world_size):
    os.environ['MASTER_ADDR'] = 'localhost'
    os.environ['MASTER_PORT'] = '12355'

    # initialize the process group
    dist.init_process_group("gloo", rank=rank, world_size=world_size)

    # Explicitly setting seed to make sure that models created in two processes
    # start from same random weights and biases.
    torch.manual_seed(42)


def cleanup():
    dist.destroy_process_group()

Now, let’s create a toy module, wrap it with DDP, and feed it with some dummy input data. Please note, if training starts from random parameters, you might want to make sure that all DDP processes use the same initial values. Otherwise, global gradient synchronizes will not make sense.

class ToyModel(nn.Module):
    def __init__(self):
        super(ToyModel, self).__init__()
        self.net1 = nn.Linear(10, 10)
        self.relu = nn.ReLU()
        self.net2 = nn.Linear(10, 5)

    def forward(self, x):
        return self.net2(self.relu(self.net1(x)))


def demo_basic(rank, world_size):
    setup(rank, world_size)

    # setup devices for this process, rank 1 uses GPUs [0, 1, 2, 3] and
    # rank 2 uses GPUs [4, 5, 6, 7].
    n = torch.cuda.device_count() // world_size
    device_ids = list(range(rank * n, (rank + 1) * n))

    # create model and move it to device_ids[0]
    model = ToyModel().to(device_ids[0])
    # output_device defaults to device_ids[0]
    ddp_model = DDP(model, device_ids=device_ids)

    loss_fn = nn.MSELoss()
    optimizer = optim.SGD(ddp_model.parameters(), lr=0.001)

    optimizer.zero_grad()
    outputs = ddp_model(torch.randn(20, 10))
    labels = torch.randn(20, 5).to(device_ids[0])
    loss_fn(outputs, labels).backward()
    optimizer.step()

    cleanup()


def run_demo(demo_fn, world_size):
    mp.spawn(demo_fn,
             args=(world_size,),
             nprocs=world_size,
             join=True)

As you can see, DDP wraps lower level distributed communication details, and provides a clean API as if it is a local model. For basic use cases, DDP only requires a few more LoCs to set up the process group. When applying DDP to more advanced use cases, there are some caveats that require cautions.

Skewed Processing Speeds

In DDP, constructor, forward method, and differentiation of the outputs are distributed synchronization points. Different processes are expected to reach synchronization points in the same order and enter each synchronization point at roughly the same time. Otherwise, fast processes might arrive early and timeout on waiting for stragglers. Hence, users are responsible for balancing workloads distributions across processes. Sometimes, skewed processing speeds are inevitable due to, e.g., network delays, resource contentions, unpredictable workload spikes. To avoid timeouts in these situations, make sure that you pass a sufficiently large timeout value when calling init_process_group.

Save and Load Checkpoints

It’s common to use torch.save and torch.load to checkpoint modules during training and recover from checkpoints. See SAVING AND LOADING MODELS for more details. When using DDP, one optimization is to save the model in only one process and then load it to all processes, reducing write overhead. This is correct because all processes start from the same parameters and gradients are synchronized in backward passes, and hence optimizers should keep setting parameters to same values. If you use this optimization, make sure all processes do not start loading before the saving is finished. Besides, when loading the module, you need to provide an appropriate map_location argument to prevent a process to step into others’ devices. If map_location is missing, torch.load will first load the module to CPU and then copy each parameter to where it was saved, which would result in all processes on the same machine using the same set of devices.

def demo_checkpoint(rank, world_size):
    setup(rank, world_size)

    # setup devices for this process, rank 1 uses GPUs [0, 1, 2, 3] and
    # rank 2 uses GPUs [4, 5, 6, 7].
    n = torch.cuda.device_count() // world_size
    device_ids = list(range(rank * n, (rank + 1) * n))

    model = ToyModel().to(device_ids[0])
    # output_device defaults to device_ids[0]
    ddp_model = DDP(model, device_ids=device_ids)

    loss_fn = nn.MSELoss()
    optimizer = optim.SGD(ddp_model.parameters(), lr=0.001)

    CHECKPOINT_PATH = tempfile.gettempdir() + "/model.checkpoint"
    if rank == 0:
        # All processes should see same parameters as they all start from same
        # random parameters and gradients are synchronized in backward passes.
        # Therefore, saving it in one process is sufficient.
        torch.save(ddp_model.state_dict(), CHECKPOINT_PATH)

    # Use a barrier() to make sure that process 1 loads the model after process
    # 0 saves it.
    dist.barrier()
    # configure map_location properly
    rank0_devices = [x - rank * len(device_ids) for x in device_ids]
    device_pairs = zip(rank0_devices, device_ids)
    map_location = {'cuda:%d' % x: 'cuda:%d' % y for x, y in device_pairs}
    ddp_model.load_state_dict(
        torch.load(CHECKPOINT_PATH, map_location=map_location))

    optimizer.zero_grad()
    outputs = ddp_model(torch.randn(20, 10))
    labels = torch.randn(20, 5).to(device_ids[0])
    loss_fn = nn.MSELoss()
    loss_fn(outputs, labels).backward()
    optimizer.step()

    # Use a barrier() to make sure that all processes have finished reading the
    # checkpoint
    dist.barrier()

    if rank == 0:
        os.remove(CHECKPOINT_PATH)

    cleanup()

Combine DDP with Model Parallelism

DDP also works with multi-GPU models, but replications within a process are not supported. You need to create one process per module replica, which usually leads to better performance compared to multiple replicas per process. DDP wrapping multi-GPU models is especially helpful when training large models with a huge amount of data. When using this feature, the multi-GPU model needs to be carefully implemented to avoid hard-coded devices, because different model replicas will be placed to different devices.

class ToyMpModel(nn.Module):
    def __init__(self, dev0, dev1):
        super(ToyMpModel, self).__init__()
        self.dev0 = dev0
        self.dev1 = dev1
        self.net1 = torch.nn.Linear(10, 10).to(dev0)
        self.relu = torch.nn.ReLU()
        self.net2 = torch.nn.Linear(10, 5).to(dev1)

    def forward(self, x):
        x = x.to(self.dev0)
        x = self.relu(self.net1(x))
        x = x.to(self.dev1)
        return self.net2(x)

When passing a multi-GPU model to DDP, device_ids and output_device must NOT be set. Input and output data will be placed in proper devices by either the application or the model forward() method.

def demo_model_parallel(rank, world_size):
    setup(rank, world_size)

    # setup mp_model and devices for this process
    dev0 = rank * 2
    dev1 = rank * 2 + 1
    mp_model = ToyMpModel(dev0, dev1)
    ddp_mp_model = DDP(mp_model)

    loss_fn = nn.MSELoss()
    optimizer = optim.SGD(ddp_mp_model.parameters(), lr=0.001)

    optimizer.zero_grad()
    # outputs will be on dev1
    outputs = ddp_mp_model(torch.randn(20, 10))
    labels = torch.randn(20, 5).to(dev1)
    loss_fn(outputs, labels).backward()
    optimizer.step()

    cleanup()


if __name__ == "__main__":
    run_demo(demo_basic, 2)
    run_demo(demo_checkpoint, 2)

    if torch.cuda.device_count() >= 8:
        run_demo(demo_model_parallel, 4)

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