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Quarl: Quantization For Reinforcement Learning

Code for QuaRL, a framework for evaluating the effects of quantization on reinforcement learning policies across different environments, training algorithms and quantization methods and ActorQ a quantized distributed RL training setup exhibiting speedups of upto 2.5x.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Quickstart
  3. Results
  4. Citations


Deep reinforcement learning has achieved significant milestones, however, the computational demands of reinforcement learning training and inference remain substantial. Using quantization techniques such as Post Training Quantization and Quantization Aware Training, a well-known technique in reducing computation costs, we perform a systematic study of Reinforcement Learning Algorithms such as A2C, DDPG, DQN, PPO and D4PG on common environments.

Motivated by the effectiveness of PTQ, we propose ActorQ, a quantized actor-learner distributed training system that runs learners in full precision and actors in quantized precision (fp16, int8). We demonstrated end-to-end speedups of 1.5x - 2.5x in reinforcement learning training with no loss in reward. Further, we breakdown the various runtime costs in distributed reinforcement learning training and show the effects of quantization on each.


The framework currently support the following environments, RL algorithms and quantization methods.


  • Atari Learning Environment (through OpenAI Gym)
  • OpenAI Gym
  • PyBullet
  • Mujoco
  • Deepmind Control Suite

RL Algorithms

  • Proximal Policy Optimization (PPO)
  • Actor Critic (A2C)
  • Deep Deterministic Policy Gradients (DDPG)
  • DQN (Deep Q Networks)
  • D4PG (Distributed Distributional Deep Deterministic Gradients)

Quantization Methods

  • Post-training Quantization (Located in baseline)
  • Quantization Aware Training (Located in baseline)
  • ActorQ (for distributed RL) (Located in actorQ)

Read the paper here for more information:


We suggest that you create an environment using conda first

conda create --name quarl python=3.6
conda activate quarl

For ubuntu:

cd baseline

For MacOS:

cd baseline


8-bit Post-training Quantization:

The PTQ algorithms require pre-trained models through rl-baselines-zoo.

python ppo2 MountainCarContinuous-v0 8
python rl-baselines-zoo/ --algo ppo2 --env MountainCarContinuous-v0 --no-render --folder quantized/8/ -n 50000

Note: PTQ can be run on any numerical precision between 2-32

fp16 Post-training Quantization:

python ppo2 MountainCarContinuous-v0 fp16
python rl-baselines-zoo/ --algo ppo2 --env MountainCarContinuous-v0 --no-render --folder quantized/8/ -n 50000

Benchmark a particular PTQ over an Algorithm, Environment

# Format ./ {algo} {env} {precision}
./ ppo2 MountainCarContinuous-v0

# Benchmark A2C MsPacman
./ a2c MsPacmanNoFrameskip-v4

# Create Sweetspot PNG
python a2c MsPacmanNoFrameskip-v4

Benchmark all algorithms over all environments and collect PNGs for all


8-bit Quantization Aware Training and testing:

QAT usually requires training a model from scratch. We suggest setting quant-delay as half the total number of training steps. The official TF guidelines suggest finetuning min, max quantization ranges after the model has fully converged but in the case of RL over-training usually results in bad performance. QAT results also vary a lot depending on training so exact rewards as mentioned in the paper are not always guaranteed.

python --algo a2c --env BreakoutNoFrameskip-v4 -q 7 --quant-delay 5000000 -n 10000000


Since our ActorQ implementation requires TF 2.0, we suggest creating a new environment.

conda create --name actorq python=3.6
conda activate actorq
cd actorQ/d4pg


ActorQ is dependent on Reverb for creating a parameter server, so ActorQ is only supported on Ubuntu at the moment. A setup script is located in the actorQ directory which assumes a working installation of Mujoco. The rough steps are also desribed below:

  1. Install Mujoco
  2. Install Deepmind ACME, Reverb
  3. Install zlib

Running ActorQ

ActorQ currently supports two algorithms, Distributed Distributional Deep Deterministic Gradients (D4PG) and Deep Q Networks (DQN). Codes for them can be found in the directories actorQ/d4pg and actorQ/dqn.

There are three main processes that need to be run for ActorQ:

  1. Learner
  2. Parameter Server
  3. Actors

A basic example of ActorQ:

# Launch the Learner:

python --actor_update_period 300 \
  --taskstr gym,MountainCarContinuous-v0 --model_str 2048,2048,2048\
  --num_episodes 100000 --quantize_communication 32 --quantize 8\
  --replay_table_max_times_sampled 16 --batch_size 256 \
  --n_actors 4 --logpath logs/logfiles/ \
  --weight_compress 0 > logs/logs_stdout/learner_out

master_pid = $!
# Launch the Parameter Server:
python --actor_update_period 300\
  --taskstr gym,MountainCarContinuous-v0 --model_str 2048,2048,2048\
  --num_episodes 100000 --quantize_communication 32 \
  --quantize 8 --replay_table_max_times_sampled 16 \
  --batch_size 256 --n_actors 4 --logpath logs/logfiles/ \
  --weight_compress 0 > logs/logs_stdout/broadcaster_out

# Launch the actors:
for i in `seq 1 $n_actors`; do 
    python --actor_update_period 300 \
     --taskstr gym,MountainCarContinuous-v0  --model_str 2048,2048,2048 \
     --num_episodes 100000  --n_actors 4  --quantize_communication 32 \
     --quantize 8 --replay_table_max_times_sampled 16 --batch_size 256 --actor_id $i \
     --logpath logs/logfiles/ --weight_compress 0  > logs/logs_stdout/actorid=${i}_out & 
    echo $!

# Wait
wait master_pid

An example with all hyperparameter settings of running ActorQ with 5 actors:

cd actorQ/d4pg/
./ logs MountainCarContinuous-v0 2048,2048,2048 100000 4 256 16 32 32 30 0

# Arguments
# 1: Logdir: "{path}"
#      E.g. logs 
# 2: Task string: "f{suite},{env}"
#      E.g. gym,MountainCarContinuous-v0
#           dm_control,cartpole_balance
# 3: Model Architecture: "{layer 1},{layer2}, ...}"
#      E.g. 2048,2048,2048
# 4: Number of Episodes: int
#      E.g. 100000
# 5: Number of Actors: int
#      E.g. 4
# 6: Batch size: int
#      E.g. 256
# 7: Samples per Insert: int
#      E.g. 16
# 8: Quantized Actor Precision: int
#      E.g. 8
# 9: Quantized Communication Precision: int
#      E.g. 32
# 10: Actor Update Period: int
#      E.g. 20
# 11: Weight Compress: Bool in int
#      E.g. 0 or 1


Visualizing the model's parameter (weight & bias) distribution. These scripts can be found in baseline directory.

If the saved model is in '.pb' format, please run

python -f <folder> -b <num_bits>
or: python --folder=<folder> --num_bits=<num_bits>

If the saved model is in '.pkl' format, please run

python -f <folder> -b <num_bits>
or: python --folder=<folder> --num_bits=<num_bits>

The parameter distribution plot will be saved under <folder>, and the detailed statistical information will be saved in output.txt under <folder>.

For example, here is an example of visualizing the weights distribution for breakout envionment trained using DQN, PPO, and A2C:


ActorQ end-to-end speedups

Distributed RL Training Breakdown

For more results, please check our paper.


To cite this repository in publications:

      title={Quantized Reinforcement Learning (QUARL)}, 
      author={Maximilian Lam and Sharad Chitlangia and Srivatsan Krishnan and Zishen Wan and Gabriel Barth-Maron and Aleksandra Faust and Vijay Janapa Reddi},


QuaRL is an open-source framework for systematically studying the effect of applying quantization to reinforcement learning algorithms.




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