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Write a Trial Run on NNI

A Trial in NNI is an individual attempt at applying a configuration (e.g., a set of hyper-parameters) on a model.

To define an NNI trial, you need to firstly define the set of parameters (i.e., search space) and then update the model. NNI provide two approaches for you to define a trial: NNI API and NNI Python annotation. You could also refer to here for more trial examples.


Step 1 - Prepare a SearchSpace parameters file.

An example is shown below:

    "hidden_size":{"_type":"choice","_value":[124, 512, 1024]},
    "learning_rate":{"_type":"uniform","_value":[0.0001, 0.1]}

Refer to to learn more about search space. Tuner will generate configurations from this search space, that is, choosing a value for each hyperparameter from the range.

Step 2 - Update model codes

  • Import NNI

    Include import nni in your trial code to use NNI APIs.

  • Get configuration from Tuner

RECEIVED_PARAMS = nni.get_next_parameter()

RECEIVED_PARAMS is an object, for example: {"conv_size": 2, "hidden_size": 124, "learning_rate": 0.0307, "dropout_rate": 0.2029}.

  • Report metric data periodically (optional)

metrics could be any python object. If users use NNI built-in tuner/assessor, metrics can only have two formats: 1) a number e.g., float, int, 2) a dict object that has a key named default whose value is a number. This metrics is reported to assessor. Usually, metrics could be periodically evaluated loss or accuracy.

  • Report performance of the configuration

metrics also could be any python object. If users use NNI built-in tuner/assessor, metrics follows the same format rule as that in report_intermediate_result, the number indicates the model's performance, for example, the model's accuracy, loss etc. This metrics is reported to tuner.

Step 3 - Enable NNI API

To enable NNI API mode, you need to set useAnnotation to false and provide the path of SearchSpace file (you just defined in step 1):

useAnnotation: false
searchSpacePath: /path/to/your/search_space.json

You can refer to here for more information about how to set up experiment configurations.

*Please refer to here for more APIs (e.g., nni.get_sequence_id()) provided by NNI.

NNI Python Annotation

An alternative to writing a trial is to use NNI's syntax for python. Simple as any annotation, NNI annotation is working like comments in your codes. You don't have to make structure or any other big changes to your existing codes. With a few lines of NNI annotation, you will be able to:

  • annotate the variables you want to tune
  • specify in which range you want to tune the variables
  • annotate which variable you want to report as intermediate result to assessor
  • annotate which variable you want to report as the final result (e.g. model accuracy) to tuner.

Again, take MNIST as an example, it only requires 2 steps to write a trial with NNI Annotation.

Step 1 - Update codes with annotations

The following is a tensorflow code snippet for NNI Annotation, where the highlighted four lines are annotations that help you to:

  1. tune batch_size and dropout_rate
  2. report test_acc every 100 steps
  3. at last report test_acc as final result.

What noteworthy is: as these newly added codes are annotations, it does not actually change your previous codes logic, you can still run your code as usual in environments without NNI installed.

with tf.Session() as sess:
+   """@nni.variable(nni.choice(50, 250, 500), name=batch_size)"""
    batch_size = 128
    for i in range(10000):
        batch = mnist.train.next_batch(batch_size)
+       """@nni.variable(nni.choice(0.1, 0.5), name=dropout_rate)"""
        dropout_rate = 0.5{mnist_network.images: batch[0],
                                                mnist_network.labels: batch[1],
                                                mnist_network.keep_prob: dropout_rate})
        if i % 100 == 0:
            test_acc = mnist_network.accuracy.eval(
                feed_dict={mnist_network.images: mnist.test.images,
                            mnist_network.labels: mnist.test.labels,
                            mnist_network.keep_prob: 1.0})
+           """@nni.report_intermediate_result(test_acc)"""

    test_acc = mnist_network.accuracy.eval(
        feed_dict={mnist_network.images: mnist.test.images,
                    mnist_network.labels: mnist.test.labels,
                    mnist_network.keep_prob: 1.0})
+   """@nni.report_final_result(test_acc)"""


  • @nni.variable will take effect on its following line, which is an assignment statement whose leftvalue must be specified by the keyword name in @nni.variable.
  • @nni.report_intermediate_result/@nni.report_final_result will send the data to assessor/tuner at that line.

For more information about annotation syntax and its usage, please refer to Annotation.

Step 2 - Enable NNI Annotation

In the YAML configure file, you need to set useAnnotation to true to enable NNI annotation:

useAnnotation: true

Where are my trials?

Local Mode

In NNI, every trial has a dedicated directory for them to output their own data. In each trial, an environment variable called NNI_OUTPUT_DIR is exported. Under this directory, you could find each trial's code, data and other possible log. In addition, each trial's log (including stdout) will be re-directed to a file named trial.log under that directory.

If NNI Annotation is used, trial's converted code is in another temporary directory. You can check that in a file named under the directory indicated by NNI_OUTPUT_DIR. The second line (i.e., the cd command) of this file will change directory to the actual directory where code is located. Below is an example of

cd /tmp/user_name/nni/annotation/tmpzj0h72x6 #This is the actual directory
export NNI_PLATFORM=local
export NNI_SYS_DIR=/home/user_name/nni/experiments/$experiment_id$/trials/$trial_id$
export NNI_TRIAL_JOB_ID=nrbb2
export NNI_OUTPUT_DIR=/home/user_name/nni/experiments/$eperiment_id$/trials/$trial_id$
export MULTI_PHASE=false
eval python3 2>/home/user_name/nni/experiments/$experiment_id$/trials/$trial_id$/stderr
echo $? `date +%s000` >/home/user_name/nni/experiments/$experiment_id$/trials/$trial_id$/.nni/state

Other Modes

When runing trials on other platform like remote machine or PAI, the environment variable NNI_OUTPUT_DIR only refers to the output directory of the trial, while trial code and might not be there. However, the trial.log will be transmitted back to local machine in trial's directory, which defaults to ~/nni/experiments/$experiment_id$/trials/$trial_id$/

For more information, please refer to HowToDebug

More Trial Examples

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