ChainerX Tutorial

ChainerX, or chainerx, is meant to be a drop-in replacement for NumPy and CuPy, with additional operations specific to neural networks. As its core is implemented in C++, you can reduce the Python overhead for both the forward and backward passes compared to Chainer, speeding up your training and inference. This section will guide you through the essential APIs of Chainer to utilize ChainerX, but also how to use ChainerX on its own.

Introduction to ChainerX

The module chainerx aims to support a NumPy compatible interface with additional operations specific to neural networks. It for instance provides chainerx.conv() for N-dimensional convolutions and chainerx.batch_norm() for batch normalization. Additionally, and most importantly, the array in ChainerX chainerx.ndarray, distinguishes itself from NumPy and CuPy arrays in the following two aspects.

Automatic differentiation

Graph construction and backpropagation is built into the array, meaning that any function, including the NumPy-like functions, can be backpropagated through. In Chainer terms, it is a NumPy/CuPy array with chainer.Variable properties.

Device agnostic

Arrays can be allocated on any device belonging to any backend, in contrast to NumPy/CuPy arrays which are implemented for specific computing platforms (i.e. CPUs/GPUs respectively).

These differences are explained more in details by the sections further down.

The array chainerx.ndarray

The following example demonstrates how you can create an array and access its most basic attributes. Note that the APIs are identical to that of NumPy and CuPy. Other array creation routines including chainerx.ones(), chainerx.ones_like() and chainerx.random.normal() are all listed in here.

import chainerx as chx

x = chx.array([[0, 1, 2], [3, 4, 5]], dtype=chx.float32)

x.shape  # (2, 3)
x.dtype  # dtype('float32')
x.size  # 6
x.ndim  # 2

Backends and devices

Chainer distinguishes between CPU and GPU arrays using NumPy and CuPy but ChainerX arrays may be allocated on any device on any backend. You can specify the device during instantiation or transfer the array to a different device after it has been created.

x = chx.array([1, 2, 3])
x.device  # native:0

x = chx.array([1, 2, 3], device='cuda:0')
x.device  # cuda:0

x = x.to_device('cuda:1')
x.device  # cuda:1

The left-hand-side of the colon shows the name of the backend to which the device belongs. native in this case refers to the CPU and cuda to CUDA GPUs. The integer on the right-hand-side shows the device index. Together, they uniquely identify a physical device on which an array is allocated.

If you do not want to specify the device each time you create an array, it is possible to change the default device with chainerx.using_device().

with chx.using_device('cuda:0')
    x = chx.array([1, 2, 3])
x.device  # cuda:0


Currently, two backends are built into ChainerX.

  1. The native backend, which is built by default.

  2. The cuda backend which is optional (See installation).

This backend abstraction allows developers to implement their own backends and plug them into ChainerX to perform computations on basically any other platform.

Array operations and backpropagation

Arrays support basic arithmetics and can be passed to functions just as you would expect. By marking an array to require gradients with chainerx.ndarray.require_grad(), further computations involving that array will construct a computational graph allowing backpropagation directly from the array. The following code shows how you could implement an affine transformation and backpropgate through it to compute the gradient of the output w.r.t. the input weight and bias.

x = chx.ones(784, dtype=chx.float32)
W = chx.random.normal(size=(784, 1000)).astype(chx.float32).require_grad()
b = chx.random.normal(size=(1000)).astype(chx.float32).require_grad()

y = + b

y.grad = chx.ones_like(y)  # Initial upstream gradients, i.e. `grad_outputs`.

assert type(W.grad) is chx.ndarray
assert type(b.grad) is chx.ndarray


The code above is device agnostic, meaning that you can execute it on any backend by simply wrapping the code with a chainerx.using_device().

Relation to Chainer

A chainerx.ndarray can be wrapped in a chainer.Variable and passed to any existing Chainer code.

var = ch.Variable(x)  # x is a chainerx.ndarray.

# Your Chainer code...

When further applying functions to the var, the computational graph is recorded in the underlying ndarray in C++ implementation, not in the chainer.Variable or the chainer.FunctionNode, as in the conventional Chainer. This eliminates the heavy Python overhead of the graph construction. Similarly, calling chainer.Variable.backward() on any resulting variable will delegate the work to C++ by calling chainerx.ndarray.backward() spending no time in the Python world.

NumPy/CuPy fallback

As the features above require ChainerX to provide an implementation corresponding to every chainer.FunctionNode implementation in Chainer, ChainerX utilizes a fallback mechanism while gradually extending the support. This approach is taken because the integration with Chainer takes time and we do not want existing Chainer users to have to make severe changes to their code bases in order to try ChainerX. The fallback logic simply casts the chainerx.ndarrays inside the chainer.Variable to numpy.ndarrays or cupy.ndarrays (without copy) and calls the forward and backward methods respectively.

Run your Chainer code with ChainerX

In order to utilize chainerx, you first need to transfer your model to a ChainerX device using chainer.Link.to_device(). This is a new method that has been introduced to replace chainer.Link.to_cpu() and chainer.Link.to_gpu(), extending device transfer to arbitrary devices. Similarly, you have to transfer the data (chainer.Variables) to the same device before feeding them to the model.

Will my FunctionNode work with ChainerX?

Our expectation is that it should work because of the fallback mechanism explained above, but in practice you may need some occasional fixes, depending on how the function was implemented. Also, you will not see any performance improvements from the fallback (but most likely a degradation because of the additional conversions).

To support ChainerX with your chainer.FunctionNode, you need to implement chainer.FunctionNode.forward_chainerx() with the same signature as chainer.FunctionNode.forward(), but where given inputs are of type chainerx.ndarray. It is expected to return a tuple just like chainer.FunctionNode.forward().

The example below shows how chainer.functions.matmul() is extended to support ChainerX. Note that chainer.Fallback can be returned in case the function cannot be implemented using ChainerX functions. This is also the default behavior in case the method is not implemented at all.

class MatMul(function_node.FunctionNode):

    def forward_chainerx(self, x):
        a, b = x
        if self.transa or self.transb or self.transc:
            return chainer.Fallback
        if a.dtype != b.dtype:
            return chainer.Fallback
        if a.ndim != 2 or b.ndim != 2:
            return chainer.Fallback
        if self.dtype is not None and self.dtype != a.dtype:
            return chainer.Fallback
        return, b),  # Fast C++ implementation