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This repository contains code for the experiments in our paper "What to Pre-Train on? Efficient Intermediate Task Selection". Most importantly, this includes scripts for easy training of Transformers and Adapters across a wide range of NLU tasks.


The repository is structured as follows:

  • itrain holds the itrain package which allows easy setup, training and evaluation of Transformers and Adapters
  • run_configs provides default training configuration of all tasks currently supported by itrain
  • training_scripts provides scripts for sequential adapter fine-tuning and adapter fusion as used in the paper
  • task_selection provides scripts used for intermediate task selection in the paper

Setup & Requirements

The code in this repository was developed using Python v3.6.8, PyTorch v1.7.1 and adapter-transformers v1.1.1, which is based on HuggingFace Transformers v3.5.1. Using version different from the ones specified might not work.

After setting up Python and PyTorch (ideally in a virtual environment), all additional requirements together with the itrain package can be installed using:

pip install -e .

Additional setup steps required for running some scripts are detailed below locations.

Transformer & Adapter Training

The itrain package provides a simple interface for configuring Transformer and Adapter training runs. itrain provides tools for:

  • downloading and preprocessing datasets via HuggingFace datasets
  • setting up Transformers and Adapter training
  • training and evaluating on different tasks
  • notifying on training start and results via mail or Telegram

itrain can be invoked from the command line by passing a run configuration file in json format. Example configurations for all currently supported tasks can be found in the run_configs folder. All supported configuration keys are defined in

Running a setup from the command line can look like this:

itrain --id 42 run_configs/sst2.json

This will train an adapter on the SST-2 task using robert-base as the base model (as specified in the config file).

Besides modifying configuration keys directly in the json file, they can be overriden using command line parameters. E.g., we can modify the previous training run to fully fine-tune a bert-base-uncased model:

itrain --id <run_id> \
    --model_name_or_path bert-base-uncased \
    --train_adapter false \
    --learning_rate 3e-5 \
    --num_train_epochs 3 \
    --patience 0 \

Alternatively, training setups can be configured directly in Python by using the Setup class of itrain. An example for this is given in

Intermediate Task Transfer & Task Selection Experiments

Some scripts that helped running experiments presented in "What to Pre-Train on? Efficient Intermediate Task Selection" are provided:

  • See training_scripts for details on intermediate task transfer using sequential fine-tuning or adapter fusion
  • See task_selection for details on intermediate task selection methods.

All these scripts rely on pre-trained models/ adapters as described above and the following additional setup.


We used a configuration file to specify the pre-trained models/ adapters and tasks to be used as transfer sources and transfer targets for different task transfer strategies and task selection methods. The full configuration as used in the paper is given in task_map.json. It has to be modified to use self-trained models/ adapters:

  • from and to specify which tasks are used as transfer source and transfer targets (names as defined in run_configs)
  • source_path_format and target_path_format specify templates for the locations of pre-trained models/ adapters
  • adapters provides a mapping from pre-trained (source) models/ adapters to run ids

Finally, the path to this task map and the folder holding the run configurations have to be made available to the scripts:

export RUN_CONFIG_DIR="/path/to/run_configs"
export DEFAULT_TASK_MAP="/path/to/task_map.json"


Citation & Contact

If you find this repository helpful, please cite our paper "What to Pre-Train on? Efficient Intermediate Task Selection":

    title = "{W}hat to Pre-Train on? {E}fficient Intermediate Task Selection",
    author = {Poth, Clifton  and
      Pfeiffer, Jonas  and
      R{\"u}ckl{\'e}, Andreas  and
      Gurevych, Iryna},
    booktitle = "Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing",
    month = nov,
    year = "2021",
    address = "Online and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic",
    publisher = "Association for Computational Linguistics",
    url = "",
    pages = "10585--10605",

If you have any further questions, please feel free to open an issue or contact us directly.

Contact person: Clifton Poth,


Research code for "What to Pre-Train on? Efficient Intermediate Task Selection", EMNLP 2021