Skipping Module Parameter Initialization


When a module is created, its learnable parameters are initialized according to a default initialization scheme associated with the module type. For example, the weight parameter for a torch.nn.Linear module is initialized from a uniform(-1/sqrt(in_features), 1/sqrt(in_features)) distribution. If some other initialization scheme is desired, this has traditionally required re-initializing the parameters after module instantiation:

from torch import nn

# Initializes weight from the default distribution: uniform(-1/sqrt(10), 1/sqrt(10)).
m = nn.Linear(10, 5)

# Re-initialize weight from a different distribution.

In this case, the initialization done during construction is wasted computation, and it may be non-trivial if the weight parameter is large.

Skipping Initialization

It is now possible to skip parameter initialization during module construction, avoiding wasted computation. This is easily accomplished using the torch.nn.utils.skip_init() function:

from torch import nn
from torch.nn.utils import skip_init

m = skip_init(nn.Linear, 10, 5)

# Example: Do custom, non-default parameter initialization.

This can be applied to any module that satisfies the conditions described in the Updating Modules to Support Skipping Initialization section below. Note that all modules provided by torch.nn satisfy these conditions and thus support skipping init.

Updating Modules to Support Skipping Initialization

Due to the way torch.nn.utils.skip_init() is implemented (see Implementation Details), there are two requirements that a module must meet to be compatible with the function. You can opt in to the parameter initialization skipping functionality for your custom module simply by adhering to these requirements:

1. The module must accept a device kwarg in its constructor that is passed to any parameters or buffers created during construction.

2. The module must not perform any computation on parameters or buffers in its constructor except initialization (i.e. functions from torch.nn.init).

The following example demonstrates a module updated to support the device kwarg by passing it along to any created parameters, buffers, or submodules:

import torch
from torch import nn

class MyModule(torch.nn.Module):
  def __init__(self, foo, bar, device=None):

    # ==== Case 1: Module creates parameters directly. ====
    # Pass device along to any created parameters.
    self.param1 = nn.Parameter(torch.empty((foo, bar), device=device))
    self.register_parameter('param2', nn.Parameter(torch.empty(bar, device=device)))

    # To ensure support for the meta device, avoid using ops except those in
    # torch.nn.init on parameters in your module's constructor.
    with torch.no_grad():

    # ==== Case 2: Module creates submodules. ====
    # Pass device along recursively. All submodules will need to support
    # them as well; this is the case for all torch.nn provided modules.
    self.fc = nn.Linear(bar, 5, device=device)

    # This also works with containers.
    self.linears = nn.Sequential(
        nn.Linear(5, 5, device=device),
        nn.Linear(5, 1, device=device)

    # ==== Case 3: Module creates buffers. ====
    # Pass device along during buffer tensor creation.
    self.register_buffer('some_buffer', torch.ones(7, device=device))


Implementation Details

Behind the scenes, the torch.nn.utils.skip_init() function is implemented in terms of a two-step pattern:

# 1. Initialize module on the meta device; all torch.nn.init ops have
# no-op behavior on the meta device.
m = nn.Linear(10, 5, device='meta')

# 2. Materialize an uninitialized (empty) form of the module on the CPU device.
# The result of this is a module instance with uninitialized parameters.

It works by instantiating the module onto a “meta” device, which has tensor shape information but does not allocate any storage. The torch.nn.init ops are specially implemented for this meta device so that they have no-op behavior. This results in the parameter intialization logic being essentially skipped.

Note that this pattern only works for modules that properly support a device kwarg during construction, as described in Updating Modules to Support Skipping Initialization.

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