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Plz 😸

Say the magic word.

Plz (pronounced "please") runs your jobs storing code, input, outputs and results so that they can be queried programmatically. That way, it helps with traceability and reproducibility. In case you want to run your jobs in the cloud, it makes the process frictionless compared to running them locally. Jump here to see it in action.

At Prodo.AI, we use Plz to train our PyTorch-based machine learning models.

Plz is an experimental product and is not guaranteed to be stable across versions.



  • simple command line interface
  • cloud-agnostic architecture (on top of Docker), allowing you to run jobs locally, on bare metal, or on the cloud
    • Plz currently supports Amazon Web Services (AWS), but will most likely support other cloud providers in the future
    • full control of the type of cloud instance, allowing you to use whatever machine fits your job (and budget)
    • full support for NVIDIA GPUs, allowing you to run deep learning experiments
  • common tooling support, with the following straight out of the box:
    • Python
    • Anaconda
    • PyTorch
  • data-based workflow, so that you don't accidentally compute your model with the wrong input
  • parameter awareness, so that you can run the same experiment with multiple sets of parameters
  • full history, so that you can review your experiments over time
  • useful examples provided (see the Examples section)
  • MIT-license allowing modification, distribution, private or commercial use (see LICENSE for more details)
  • open for contributions, plz

Plz in action

We offer more details below on how to setup Plz and run your jobs, but we can start by giving you an overview of what Plz does.

Plz offers a command-line interface. You start by adding a plz.config.json file to the directory where you have your source code. This file contains, among other things, the command you run to put your program to work (for instance, python3 Then you can use Plz to run your program with plz run. The following example (provided in this repository) demonstrates this:

sergio@spaceship:~/plz/examples/pytorch$ plz run
πŸ‘Œ Capturing the files in /home/sergio/plz/examples/pytorch
πŸ‘Œ Building the program snapshot
Step 1/4 : FROM prodoai/plz_ml-pytorch
# Executing 3 build triggers
 ---> Using cache
---> 9c39e889659d
Successfully built 9c39e889659d
Successfully tagged
πŸ‘Œ Capturing the input
πŸ‘Œ 983663 input bytes to upload
πŸ‘Œ Sending request to start execution
Instance status: querying availability
Instance status: requesting new instance
Instance status: pending
Instance status: starting container
Instance status: running
πŸ‘Œ Execution ID is: 55b66652-e11a-11e8-a36a-233ad251f4c1
πŸ‘Œ Streaming logs...
Using device: cuda
Epoch: 1. Training loss: 2.146302
Evaluation accuracy: 47.90 (max 0.00)
Best model found at epoch 1, with accurary 47.90
Epoch: 2. Training loss: 0.660179
Evaluation accuracy: 83.30 (max 47.90)
Best model found at epoch 2, with accurary 83.30
Epoch: 3. Training loss: 0.251717
Evaluation accuracy: 87.80 (max 83.30)
Best model found at epoch 3, with accurary 87.80
Epoch: 30. Training loss: 0.010750
Evaluation accuracy: 97.50 (max 98.10)
πŸ‘Œ Harvesting the output...
πŸ‘Œ Retrieving summary of measures (if present)...
  "max_accuracy": 98.1,
  "training_loss_at_max": 0.008485347032546997,
  "epoch_at_max": 25,
  "training_time": 43.3006055355072
πŸ‘Œ Execution succeeded.
πŸ‘Œ Retrieving the output...
πŸ‘Œ Done and dusted.

From the above output, you'll see Plz do the following:

  • Plz captures the files in your current directory. A snapshot of your code is built and stored in your infrastructure, so that you can retrieve the code used to run your job in the future (yes, you can specify files to be ignored, and you do so in the plz.config.json).
  • It captures input data (as specified in the config) and uploads it. If you run another execution with the same input data, it will avoid uploading the data for a second time (based on timestamps and hashes).
  • It starts an AWS instance, and waits until it's ready (or just runs the execution locally depending on the configuration).
  • It streams the logs, just as if you were running your program directly.
  • It shows metrics you collected during the run, such as accuracy and loss (you can query those later).
  • Finally, it downloads output files you might have created.
  • (The AWS instance will be shut down in the background)

You can be patient and wait until it finishes, or you can hit Ctrl+C and stop the program early:

Epoch: 9 Training loss: 0.330538
πŸ‘Œ Your program is still running. To stream the logs, type:

        plz logs ad96b586-89e5-11e8-a7c5-8142e2563487

Plz runs your commands in a Docker container, either in your AWS infrastructure or in your local machine, and so your actions in the terminal don't affect the execution. If you are running this execution only, you can just type plz logs and logs will be streamed from the current moment (unless you specify --since=start, which will tell it to stream from the start of execution).

The big hexadecimal number you see in the output, next to plz logs, is the execution ID you can use to refer to this execution. Plz remembers the last execution that was started, and if you want to refer to that one you don't need to include it in your command (you can just type plz logs). But if you need to specify the execution ID, you can do plz logs <execution-id>.

Once your program has finished (or you've stopped it with plz stop) you can run plz output, and it will download the files that your program has written. In order to use this functionality, you need to tell your program to write to a specific directory, which is provided to your program as an environment variable. The files are saved under output/<execution-id> by default, but you can specify the location with the -p option.

The instance will be kept there for some time (specified in plz.config.json) in case you're running things interactively (so that you don't need to wait while the instance goes through the startup process again).

You can use plz describe to print metadata about an execution in JSON format. It's useful to tell one execution from another if you have several running at the same time.

You can use plz run --parameters a_json_file.json to pass parameters to your program. Passing parameters this way has two advantages:

  • the parameters are stored in the metadata and can be queried (see the description of plz history below)
  • you can use plz rerun --override-parameters some_json_file.json and run exactly the same execution but with different parameters, which helps running experiments in a systematic fashion.

There's also plz history, returning a JSON mapping from execution IDs to metadata. If you write JSON files to a specific directory (see test/end-to-end/measures/simple) they will be available in the metadata. You can store things you've measured during your experiment (for instance, training loss). Parameters will be in the metadata as well, so you can transform the metadata using, for instance, jq, and find out how your training loss changed as you changed your parameters.

sergio@spaceship:~/plz/examples/pytorch$ plz history | \
    jq 'to_entries[] | { "execution_id": .key,
                         "learning_rate": .value.parameters.learning_rate,
                         "accuracy": .value.measures.summary.max_accuracy }'
  "execution_id": "dafcb478-e11e-11e8-9f2c-87dc520968d5",
  "learning_rate": 0.01,
  "accuracy": 98
  "execution_id": "9cfd3f1a-e1cf-11e8-9449-b1cc03bcdb5f",
  "learning_rate": 0.1,
  "accuracy": 98.5
  "execution_id": "c0d65d66-e1cf-11e8-8ed8-0d6f99ec4bc3",
  "learning_rate": 0.5,
  "accuracy": 13

In this example, you can see that increasing the learning rate from 0.01 to 0.1 gives you an improvement in accuracy from 98% to 98.5%, but further increasing the learning rate leads to a disastrous decrease to 13%.

You can run plz list to list the running executions, as well as any running instances on AWS. It also shows the instance IDs. You can kill instances with plz kill -i <instance-id>.

The command plz last is useful, particularly when writing shell commands, to get the last execution started.

We also make it easy to manage dependencies for projects using Anaconda. Projects using the image prodoai/plz_ml-pytorch need to have an environment.yml file, as the one produced by conda env export (see the one in the Pytorch example). This file will be applied on top of the environment in the image. Installation of dependencies is cached, so the process of dependency installation occurs only the first time after you change the environment file.

How does it work?

Plz consists of a controller service and a command-line interface (CLI) that issues requests to the controller. The CLI is a Python executable, plz, which takes instructions (such as plz run ...) as described above.

There are two configurations of the controller that are ready for you to use: in one of them your jobs are run locally, while in the other one an AWS instance is started for each job. (Note: the controller itself can be deployed to the cloud, and if you're in a production environment that's the recommended way to use it, but we suggest you try the examples with a controller that runs locally first.)

When you have a directory with source code, you can just add a plz.config.json file including information such as:

  • the location of your Plz server,
  • the command you want to run,
  • the location of your input data,
  • whether you want to request an on-demand instance at a fixed price, or bid for spot instances with a ceiling,
  • and much more.

Then, just typing plz run will run the job for you, either locally or on AWS, depending on the controller you've started.

Installation instructions

Chances are you that you have most of the supporting tools already installed, as these are broadly used tools.

  1. Install Git, and Python 3.
    1. On Ubuntu, you can run sudo apt install -y git python3 python3-pip python-pip.
    2. On macOS, install Homebrew, then run brew install git python.
    3. For all other operating systems, you're going to have to Google it.
  2. Install Docker.
    1. On Ubuntu, you can run:
      sudo apt install -y curl
      curl -fsSL -o
      sudo sh
      sudo usermod -aG docker "$USER"
      then start a new shell with sudo su - "$USER" so that it picks up the membership to the docker group.
    2. On macOS, you can use Homebrew to install Docker with brew cask install docker.
  3. Install Docker Compose (pip install docker-compose). You might want to make sure that pip installs the docker-compose command somewhere in your PATH. On Ubuntu with the default Python installation, this is typically $HOME/.local/bin (so you need the command export PATH="${HOME}/.local/bin:${PATH}").
  4. If you're planning on running code with CUDA in your machine, install the NVIDIA Container Runtime for Docker (not needed for using CUDA on AWS).
  5. git clone, then cd plz.
  6. Install the CLI by running ./install_cli, which calls pip3. Same as for docker-compose you might want to check that the plz command is in your path.
  7. Run the controller (keep reading).

The first time you run the controller, it will take some time, as it downloads a "standard" environment which includes Anaconda and PyTorch. When it's ready the logs will show Harvesting complete. You can run plz commands now.

The controller runs in the foreground, and can be killed with Ctrl+C. If you'd like to run it in the background, append -d to the command to run it in "detached" mode.

If you've run the controller in the background, or if you lose your terminal, it will carry on running. You can stop it with ./stop.

Running the controller for local executions

Once you've set up your system as above, run:


The controller can be stopped at any time with:


Running the controller for AWS executions

If you want to run the examples using the AWS instances, be aware that this has a cost. By default, Plz uses t2.micro on-demand instances. You can find out how much these cost on the AWS EC2 Pricing page.

To start a controller that talks to AWS, you'll need to first set up the AWS CLI:

  1. Install the AWS CLI: pip install awscli
  2. Configure it with your access key: aws configure
  3. Verify you can connect to AWS by running aws iam get-user and checking your username is correct.

If you usually use AWS in a particular region, please edit aws_config/config.json and set your region there. The default file sets the region to eu-west-1 (Ireland).

Then run:


Unless you add "instance_max_uptime_in_minutes": null, to your plz.config.json, all AWS instances you start terminate after 60 minutes. That's on purpose, in case you're just trying the tool and something doesn't go well (for example, there's a power cut). You can always use plz list and plz kill before leaving your computer, as to make sure that there no instances remaining. For maximum assurance, we recommend checking the state of your instances in the AWS console.

By default, Plz uses on-demand instances. In order to use spot instances, specify the following in your plz.config.json file:

    "instance_market_type": "spot",
    "max_bid_price_in_dollars_per_hour": <price>

The value in the example configuration files range from $0.5/hour to $2/hour (for GPU-powered machines).



In the directory examples/python, there is a minimal example showing how to run a program with Plz that handles input and output. Once you have a working controller, running plz run inside the directory will start the job.


In the directory examples/pytorch, there's a full-fledged example for the task of digit recognition using the classic approach of LeNets and a subset of the well-known MNIST dataset.

Anything related to Plz is in In fact the most relevant lines are the following ones:

def get_from_plz_config(key: str, non_plz_value: T) -> T:
    configuration_file = os.environ.get('CONFIGURATION_FILE', None)
    if configuration_file is not None:
        with open(configuration_file) as c:
            config = json.load(c)
        return config[key]
        return non_plz_value
    input_directory = get_from_plz_config(
        'input_directory', os.path.join('..', 'data'))
    output_directory = get_from_plz_config('output_directory', 'models')
    parameters = get_from_plz_config('parameters', DEFAULT_PARAMETERS)
    measures_directory = get_from_plz_config('measures_directory', 'measures')
    summary_measures_path = get_from_plz_config(
        os.path.join('measures', 'summary'))

This shows how to get the input data and parameters that Plz uploads for you. There's a configuration file whose name comes in the environment variable CONFIGURATION_FILE. If that variable is present, you're running with Plz, and you can read and parse the file as a JSON object. The object has the following keys:

  • input_directory is a directory where you'll find your input data. If you have "input": "file://../data/mnist", in your plz.config.json file, the directory config['input_directory'] will have the same contents that ../data/mnist has locally.

  • output_directory is directory where you can write files. These are retrieved via plz output, or downloaded if you keep the CLI running until the end of the job.

  • parameters is the JSON object that you passed with plz run --parameters a_json_file.json, if you so did. Otherwise it's an empty object.

  • measures_directory is a directory in which you can write measures. You can query these with plz measures. Each file is interpreted as a property in a JSON object, using the file name as the key, and the file contents as the value, interpreted as JSON. By writing the code:

        with open(os.path.join(measures_directory, f'epoch_{epoch}'), 'w') as f:
            json.dump({'training_loss': training_loss, 'accuracy': accuracy}, f)

    You can then run:

    sergio@spaceship:~/plz/examples/pytorch$ plz measures
      "epoch_1": {
        "training_loss": 2.1326301097869873,
        "accuracy": 45.4
      "epoch_2": {
  • summary_measures_path is a path to a file in which you can write a JSON object with a summary of the results you obtained in your run (best accuracy, total training time, etc.). The summary is available via plz measures -s, and also printed by the CLI if you wait until the job finishes.

If you want to use CUDA for this example, we have provided an example configuration file for this purpose:

plz -c plz.cuda.config.json run

This tells Docker to use the CUDA runtime.

Plz principles

We built Plz following these principles:

  • Code and data must be stored for future reference.
  • Whatever part of the running environment can be captured by Plz, we capture it as to make jobs repeatable.
  • Functionality is based on standard mechanisms like files and environment variables. You don't need to add extra dependencies to your code or learn how to read/write your data in specific ways.
  • The tool must be flexible enough so that no unnecessary restrictions are imposed by the architecture. You should be able to do with Plz whatever you can do by running a program manually. It was surprising to find out how many issues, mostly around running jobs in the cloud, could be solved only by tweaking the configuration, without requiring any changes to the code.

Plz is routinely used at to train ML models on AWS, some of them taking days to run in the most powerful instances available. We trust it to start and terminate these instances as needed, and to manage our spot instances, allowing us to get a much better price than if we were using on-demand instances all the time.

Future work

In the future, Plz is intended to:

  • add support for named inputs and outputs, and function as a sort of "build system" in the cloud, particulary suitable for build pipelines,
  • add support for visualisations, such as Tensorboard,
  • manage epochs to capture intermediate metrics and results, and terminate runs early,
  • and whatever else sounds like fun. (Please, tell us!)

Instructions for developers

Installing dependencies

  1. Run pip install pipenv to install pipenv.
  2. Run make environment to create the virtual environments and install the dependencies.
  3. Run make check to run the tests.

For more information, take a look at the pipenv documentation.

Using the CLI

See the CLI's README.rst.

Deploying a test environment

  1. Clone this repository.
  2. Install direnv.
  3. Create a .envrc file in the root of this repository:
    export SECRETS_DIR="${PWD}/secrets"
  4. Create a configuration file named secrets/config.json based on example.config.json.
  5. Run make deploy.

Deploying a production environment

Do just as above, but put your secrets directory somewhere else (for example, another repository, this one private and encrypted).