Symbolic Layers

Tensorpack contains a small collection of common model primitives, such as conv/deconv, fc, bn, pooling layers. However, tensorpack is model-agnostic, which means you can skip this tutorial and do not need to use tensorpack’s symbolic layers.

These layers were written only because there were no alternatives when tensorpack was first developed. Nowadays, many of these implementation actually call tf.layers directly. Tensorpack will not add any more layers into its core library because this is not the focus of tensorpack, and there are many other alternative symbolic libraries today.

Today, you can just use tf.layers or any other symbolic libraries inside tensorpack. If you use the tensorpack implementations, you can also benefit from argscope and LinearWrap to simplify the code, and also fewer bugs than tf.layers.

Note that to keep backward compatibility of code and pre-trained models, tensorpack layers have some small differences with tf.layers, including variable names and default options. Refer to the API document for details.

argscope and LinearWrap

argscope gives you a context with default arguments. LinearWrap is a syntax sugar to simplify building “linear structure” models.

The following code:

with argscope(Conv2D, filters=32, kernel_size=3, activation=tf.nn.relu):
  l = (LinearWrap(image)  # the starting brace is only for line-breaking
       .MaxPooling('pool0', 2)
       .Conv2D('conv1', padding='SAME')
       .Conv2D('conv2', kernel_size=5)
       .FullyConnected('fc0', 512, activation=tf.nn.relu)
       .Dropout('dropout', rate=0.5)
       .apply(func, *args, **kwargs)
       .FullyConnected('fc1', units=10, activation=tf.identity)())

is equivalent to:

l = Conv2D('conv0', image, 32, 3, activation=tf.nn.relu)
l = MaxPooling('pool0', l, 2)
l = Conv2D('conv1', l, 32, 3, padding='SAME', activation=tf.nn.relu)
l = Conv2D('conv2', l, 32, 5, activation=tf.nn.relu)
l = FullyConnected('fc0', l, 512, activation=tf.nn.relu)
l = Dropout('dropout', l, rate=0.5)
l = tf.multiply(l, 0.5)
l = func(l, *args, **kwargs)
l = FullyConnected('fc1', l, 10, activation=tf.identity)

If you need to access the output of some layer and use it with some other operations, then just don’t use LinearWrap, because the graph is not linear anymore.

Access Relevant Tensors

The variables inside the layer will be named name/W, name/b, etc. See the API documentation of each layer for details. When building the graph, you can access the variables like this:

l = Conv2D('conv1', l, 32, 3)

But note that this is a hacky way and may not work with future versions of TensorFlow. Also this method doesn’t work with LinearWrap, and cannot access the variables created by an activation function.

The output of a layer is usually named name/output unless documented differently in the API. You can always print a tensor to see its name.

Use Models outside Tensorpack

You can use tensorpack models alone as a simple symbolic function library. To do this, just enter a TowerContext when you define your model:

with TowerContext('', is_training=True):
  # call any tensorpack layer

Some layers (in particular BatchNorm) has different train/test time behavior which is controlled by TowerContext. If you need to use the tensorpack version of them in test time, you’ll need to create the ops for them under another context.

# Open a `reuse=True` variable scope here if you're sharing variables, then:
with TowerContext('some_name_or_empty_string', is_training=False):
  # build the graph again

Use Other Symbolic Libraries

Tensorpack & tf.layers only provide a subset of most common models. However you can construct the graph using whatever library you feel comfortable with.

Functions in slim/tflearn/tensorlayer are just symbolic function wrappers, calling them is nothing different from calling tf.add. You may need to be careful on some issues:

  1. Regularizations may be handled differently: in tensorpack, users need to add the regularization losses to the total cost manually.

  2. BN updates may be handled differently: in tensorpack, the ops from the tf.GraphKeys.UPDATE_OPS collection will be run automatically every step.

  3. How training/testing mode is supported in those libraries: in tensorpack’s tower function, you can get a boolean is_training from here and use it however you like (e.g. create different codepath condition on this value).

It is a bit different to use sonnet/Keras. sonnet/Keras manages the variable scope by their own model classes, and calling their symbolic functions always creates new variable scope. See the Keras example for how to use it within tensorpack.


It’s best to not trust others’ layers!

For non-standard layers that’s not included in TensorFlow or Tensorpack, it’s best to implement them yourself. Non-standard layers often do not have a mathematical definition that people all agree on, and different people can implement it differently. Also, deep learning models on github often have bugs, especially when there is no reproduced experiments with the code.

For your own good, it’s best to implement the layers yourself. This is also why Tensorpack does not contain non-standard layers.