"No fit?" Comparing high-level learning interfaces for PyTorch

Note: you can find the jupyter notebook for this post here.

Update <2019-02-07>: Some corrections regarding skorch. See the update at the bottom of the page.

I really like PyTorch and I'm not alone. However, there is one aspect where PyTorch is not too user-friendly. PyTorch does not have a nice high-level fit function, i.e. a fitinterface like scikit-learn or keras. That is the complaint I hear most often about PyTorch.

I can't remember how often I have written a training loop in PyTorch and how often I made mistakes doing so. Writing a training loop is easy enough that anybody can do it, but tricky enough that everybody can get it subtly wrong when she/he isn't paying full attention.

  • Have you ever forgotten to call model.eval()? [1]
  • Have you ever forgotten to zero the gradients? [2]
  • Have you ever used the train data in the eval step?
  • Have you ever forgotten to move the data to the GPU?
  • Have you ever implemented a metric incorrectly?

These problems would be void if PyTorch offered a fit function ala keras or scikit-learn. (And, yes, you could argue that PyTorch is for power users and gives you all the power and flexibility so that you can implement the training loop tailored to your needs. However, even if there was a fit function you could still implement a custom training loop if you really had to.)

In this post I'll evaluate the following high-level training libraries by solving a small image classification problem:

Note: This is a biased comparision!

  • I've used ignite before for small toy problems.
  • I looked at skorch but didn't use it because the support for PyTorch datasets seemed weird.
  • I've written my own little library and have my own ideas and preferences ;)

The Classification Problem

I'll evaluate the three libraries by solving a simple image classification problem within a 30 minute timeframe. The demo task I'm trying to solve is a simple transfer learning task. The data is taken from the Dogs vs Cats kaggle challenge and wrapped in a DogsAndCatsDataset class. I'll use a pre-trained ResNet and only replace the last layer.


This is the usual setup for most ML tasks: data, model, loss, and optimizer. Feel free to skip it.

In [1]:
import torch
import torch.nn.functional as F
import torch.nn as nn

import torchvision
import torchvision.transforms as transforms
from torch.utils.data import DataLoader
from torchvision.models.resnet import resnet18

import utils
from utils import DogsCatsDataset
In [2]:
device = torch.device("cuda:0" if torch.cuda.is_available() else "cpu")
device(type='cuda', index=0)

The Data

In [3]:
def get_data(batch_size=64, sample=False):
    IMG_SIZE = 224
    _mean = [0.485, 0.456, 0.406]
    _std = [0.229, 0.224, 0.225]

    # transforms for dataset
    train_trans = transforms.Compose([
        # some images are too small to only crop --> resize first
        transforms.ColorJitter(.3, .3, .3),
        transforms.Normalize(_mean, _std),
    val_trans = transforms.Compose([
        transforms.Normalize(_mean, _std),

    # dataset
    train_ds = DogsCatsDataset(
        "sample/train" if sample else "train",
    val_ds = DogsCatsDataset(
        "sample/valid" if sample else "valid",

    # data loader
    train_dl = DataLoader(
    val_dl = DataLoader(
    return train_dl, val_dl

train_dl, val_dl = get_data()
Dataset already downloaded and verified.
Loading data from data/dogscats/train.
Loading data from data/dogscats/valid.
In [4]:
Dataset DogsCatsDataset
    Number of datapoints: 23000
    Root Location: data/dogscats/train
    Transforms (if any): Compose(
                             Resize(size=256, interpolation=PIL.Image.BILINEAR)
                             ColorJitter(brightness=0.3, contrast=0.3, saturation=0.3, hue=0)
                             CenterCrop(size=(224, 224))
                             Normalize(mean=[0.485, 0.456, 0.406], std=[0.229, 0.224, 0.225])
    Target Transforms (if any): None

Model, Loss, and Optimizer

We'll just use a simple pretrained ResNet and replace the last fully connected layer with a problem specific layer, i.e. a linear layer with two outputs (one for cats, one for dogs).

In [5]:
def get_model():
    model = resnet18(pretrained=True)
    assert utils.all_frozen(model.parameters())
    model.fc = nn.Linear(in_features=512, out_features=2)
    assert utils.all_frozen(model.parameters()) is False
    return model

model = get_model().to(device)

We also need to specify the loss function and the optimizer.

In [6]:
criterion = nn.CrossEntropyLoss()
optimizer = torch.optim.Adam(model.parameters(), lr=0.0001)

Just for the sake of completeness, a simple train loop would look something like this:

In [7]:
def fit(model, criterion, optimizer, n_epochs):
    for epoch in range(n_epochs):
        print(f"Epoch {epoch+1}/{n_epochs} ...")

        # Train
        model.train()  # IMPORTANT
        running_loss, correct = 0.0, 0
        for X, y in train_dl:
            X, y = X.to(device), y.to(device)

            y_ = model(X)
            loss = criterion(y_, y)


            # Statistics
            #print(f"    batch loss: {loss.item():0.3f}")
            _, y_label_ = torch.max(y_, 1)
            correct += (y_label_ == y).sum().item()
            running_loss += loss.item() * X.shape[0]
            f"  "
            f"loss: {running_loss / len(train_dl.dataset):0.3f} "
            f"acc:  {correct / len(train_dl.dataset):0.3f}"

        # Eval
        model.eval()  # IMPORTANT
        running_loss, correct = 0.0, 0
        with torch.no_grad():  # IMPORTANT
            for X, y in val_dl:
                X, y = X.to(device), y.to(device)

                y_ = model(X)
                loss = criterion(y_, y)

                _, y_label_ = torch.max(y_, 1)
                correct += (y_label_ == y).sum().item()            
                running_loss += loss.item() * X.shape[0]
            f"  "
            f"val_loss: {running_loss / len(val_dl.dataset):0.3f} "
            f"val_acc:  {correct / len(val_dl.dataset):0.3f}"
In [8]:
fit(model, criterion, optimizer, n_epochs=2)
Epoch 1/2 ...
  loss: 0.322 acc:  0.886
  val_loss: 0.204 val_acc:  0.938
Epoch 2/2 ...
  loss: 0.153 acc:  0.956
  val_loss: 0.151 val_acc:  0.947
CPU times: user 23 s, sys: 11.8 s, total: 34.8 s
Wall time: 49.3 s

The Contenders

Here I will try to solve the task with the three libraries.


Ignite is a high-level library to help with training neural networks in PyTorch.

  • ignite helps you write compact but full-featured training loops in a few lines of code
  • you get a training loop with metrics, early-stopping, model checkpointing and other features without the boilerplate

Github: https://github.com/pytorch/ignite

Homepage: https://pytorch.org/ignite/

ignite lives under the https://github.com/pytorch umbrella and can be installed with conda or pip:

conda install ignite -c pytorch
pip install pytorch-ignite

ignite does not hide what's going on under the hood, but offers some light abstraction around the training loop. The main abstractions are Engines which loop over the data. The State object is part of the engine and is used to track training/evaluation state. Via Events and Handlers you can execute your custom code, e.g. printing out the current loss or storing a checkpoint. You can register callbacks via decorators:

def log_training_loss(trainer):

ignite offers two helper functions, create_supervised_trainer and create_supervised_evaluator, which create Engines for training and evaluating and should cover >90% or your supervised learning problems (I think). Even with these helpers, you still have to register callbacks to actually do something like logging and calculating of metrics (however, ignite offers some metrics).

All in all I like the documentation. They have a Quickstart and a Concepts section which should get you going pretty quick. Out of the box, ignite does not give you any default logging or progress reports, but it's easy to add. However, I wish ignite offered this feature out of the box.

I was done solving the task after ~20 minutes. Here is the code:

In [9]:
train_dl, val_dl = get_data()

model = get_model().to(device)
criterion = nn.CrossEntropyLoss()
optimizer = torch.optim.Adam(model.parameters(), lr=0.0001)
Dataset already downloaded and verified.
Loading data from data/dogscats/train.
Loading data from data/dogscats/valid.
In [10]:
# The helper functions to create engines
from ignite.engine import (
# The metrics we're going to use
from ignite.metrics import (
from ignite.handlers import Timer

# Setup
trainer = create_supervised_trainer(model, optimizer, criterion, device=device)
evaluator = create_supervised_evaluator(
        "accuracy": CategoricalAccuracy(),
        "loss": Loss(criterion),

# logging for output and metrics
def log_training_loss(trainer):
    # too verbose
    # print("Epoch[{}] Loss: {:.2f}".format(trainer.state.epoch, trainer.state.output))

def log_training_results(trainer):
    metrics = evaluator.state.metrics
        f"Training Results - Epoch: {trainer.state.epoch} "
        f"Avg accuracy: {metrics['accuracy']:.2f} "
        f"Avg loss: {metrics['loss']:.2f}"
def log_validation_results(trainer):
    metrics = evaluator.state.metrics
        f"Validation Results - Epoch: {trainer.state.epoch} "
        f"Avg accuracy: {metrics['accuracy']:.2f} "
        f"Avg loss: {metrics['loss']:.2f}"

# let's measure the time
timer = Timer(average=True)
<ignite.handlers.timing.Timer at 0x7f6a832bfa90>
In [11]:
trainer.run(train_dl, max_epochs=2)
Training Results - Epoch: 1 Avg accuracy: 0.96 Avg loss: 0.18
Validation Results - Epoch: 1 Avg accuracy: 0.94 Avg loss: 0.21
Training Results - Epoch: 2 Avg accuracy: 0.97 Avg loss: 0.12
Validation Results - Epoch: 2 Avg accuracy: 0.96 Avg loss: 0.15
CPU times: user 44.3 s, sys: 23.2 s, total: 1min 7s
Wall time: 1min 39s
<ignite.engine.engine.State at 0x7f6ae424d908>
In [12]:
timer.total, timer.step_count
(23.506934350009033, 360.0)


A scikit-learn compatible neural network library that wraps pytorch.

The goal of skorch is to make it possible to use PyTorch with sklearn. This is achieved by providing a wrapper around PyTorch that has an sklearn interface. In that sense, skorch is the spiritual successor to nolearn, but instead of using Lasagne and Theano, it uses PyTorch.

Github: https://github.com/dnouri/skorch

Homepage: https://skorch.readthedocs.io/en/latest/

skorch is by the Otto group and can be installed via pip

pip install skorch

The focus of skorch is to build a sklearn-like interface for PyTorch. I assume they use a lot of sklearn at Otto and they seamlessly want to intgrate PyTorch into their workflow (who could blame them). skorch also integrates into their serving service palladium.

skorch offers NeuralNetClassifier and NeuralNetRegressor. These classes wrap PyTorch's nn.Module and offer the sklearn-compatible interface (fit, predict, predict_proba, etc.). If you want more control you can create your own class and inherit from skorch.NeuralNet. Note that the NeuralNet* classes do internal cross validation.

skorch reuses alot of the sklearn goodness (metrics, grid search, pipelines) and that's great. Additionally, skorch offers a simple Callback mechanism. The documentation is great and the library feels pretty complete.

However, skorch does not allow me to wrap my existing datasets. Maybe it does but I was not able to find out how within 30 minutes. And I want to reuse all my Datasets :)

skorch uses the PyTorch DataLoaders by default. However, the Datasets provided by PyTorch are not sufficient for our usecase; for instance, they don’t work with numpy.ndarrays.

Due to the "dataset issue" I was not able to finish the task within 30 minutes.

Just to give you an idea of what the code looks like:

from skorch.net import NeuralNetClassifier

model = NeuralNetClassifier(model_, max_epochs=2, device=device)
# I can't pass a dataloader
# model.fit(X, y)


PyToune is a Keras-like framework for PyTorch and handles much of the boilerplating code needed to train neural networks.

Use PyToune to:

  • Train models easily.
  • Use callbacks to save your best model, perform early stopping and much more.

Github: https://github.com/GRAAL-Research/pytoune

Homepage: https://pytoune.org/

PyToune is a relatively young project by GRAAL-Research. It can be installed with pip:

pip install pytoune

PyToune feels very keras-y and I had a working version with progress reports and whatnot after just 7 minutes. The main abstraction is the Model which takes a PyTorch nn.Module, an optimizer, and a loss function. The Model then gives you an interface that is very similar to keras (fit(), fit_generator(), evaluate_generator(), etc). Additionally, you have a generic callback mechanism to interact with the opitmization process. There are also some useful callbacks implemented (ModelCheckpoint, EarlyStopping, TerminateOnNaN, BestModelRestore, and wrappers for PyTorch's learning rate schedulers). PyToune offers some convenient layers like Flatten, Identity, and Lambda (I'm sure we've all written these many times, so I appreciate that :)).

The documentation is very short (just api docs, but good ones) and could use a "getting started" guide and more narrative docs. However, PyToune is so simple (in the best sense possible) that you are productive within a few minutes.

All in all: nice! The docs should be extended and I wish there were more metrics, but PyToune looks great. I'm planning to use/evaluate it with some of my projects.

After 25 minutes I stopped because there wasn't anything to do anymore :) Here is the code:

In [13]:
train_dl, val_dl = get_data()

model_ = get_model().to(device)
criterion = nn.CrossEntropyLoss()
optimizer = torch.optim.Adam(model_.parameters(), lr=0.0001)
Dataset already downloaded and verified.
Loading data from data/dogscats/train.
Loading data from data/dogscats/valid.
In [14]:
from pytoune.framework import Model
from pytoune.framework.callbacks import ModelCheckpoint

model = Model(model_, optimizer, criterion, metrics=["accuracy"])
model = model.to(device)

model_checkpoint_cb = ModelCheckpoint(
In [15]:
Epoch 1/2 29.92s Step 360/360: loss: 0.331596, acc: 88.656522, val_loss: 0.202725, val_acc: 94.450000
Epoch 2/2 27.26s Step 360/360: loss: 0.153364, acc: 95.800000, val_loss: 0.147647, val_acc: 95.500000
CPU times: user 24.9 s, sys: 13.2 s, total: 38.2 s
Wall time: 57.3 s
[{'epoch': 1,
  'loss': 0.3315962664977364,
  'acc': 88.65652173913044,
  'val_loss': 0.20272484612464906,
  'val_acc': 94.45},
 {'epoch': 2,
  'loss': 0.15336425514584,
  'acc': 95.8,
  'val_loss': 0.14764661401510237,
  'val_acc': 95.5}]
In [16]:
ls pytoune_*
pytoune_experiment_best_epoch_1.ckpt  pytoune_experiment_best_epoch_2.ckpt


All libraries look good.

  • ignite is a elegant wrapper around PyTorch. However, it's a bit too low level for what I'm looking for.
  • skorch is very complete and offers a ton of features. Sadly it does not play well with Dataset classes.
  • PyToune clicked right away and if you're familiar with keras I'm sure it will click for you as well.

I highly encourage you to check out PyToune!

Update <2019-02-07>: One of the friendly folks from skorch reached out to me and corrected me:

"One thing to note is that if you have a 'typical' dataset that provides a pair of X, y values then skorch already supports them as input to .fit: net.fit(train_dataset, y=None) There are also example notebooks that demonstrate this quite well, we hope:

Thanks skorch and Marian for the information! Try out skorch!