# [PyTorch Lightning] Log Training Losses when Accumulating Gradients

## Dec 22, 2020 · 1002 words · 5 minute read pytorch pytorch-lightning

PyTorch Lightning reached 1.0.0 in October 2020. I wasn’t fully satisfied with the flexibility of its API, so I continued to use my pytorch-helper-bot. This has changed since the 1.0.0 release. Now I use PyTorch Lightning to develop training code that supports both single and multi-GPU training.

However, one thing that bugged me is that the logging doesn’t work as expected when I set the number of gradient accumulation batches larger than one. The steps recorded in the training loop is still the raw step number, but those recorded in the validation is divided by the number of gradient accumulation batches. The training loop will be flooded with warnings of inconsistent steps being recorded. And it’ll be harder for you to compare the training and validation losses without the same step scale.

The support and documentation for gradient accumulation do not seem sufficient at this moment. I dug around the PyTorch Lightning source code, did some experiments, and found some workarounds for this issue.

## The Wrong Way

Let’s first see a naive (and mostly wrong) way to log the training losses:

def training_step(self, batch, batch_idx: int) -> dict:
inputs, targets = batch
logits = self.forward(inputs)
loss = F.cross_entropy(logits, targets)
self.log('train_loss', loss)
return {'loss': loss}


This only works when you have accumulate_grad_batches=1 in the trainer. The steps associated with train_loss will be n times larger than the global step if you set accumulate_grad_batches to n.

## Attempt #1

### Context: the global step

One thing that confused me was the definition of step number (found at self.global_step) by PyTorch Lightning. In PyTorch Lightning, a step is counted when the optimizer.step method is called, not when loss.backward is called. So if you have accumulate_grad_batches=2 and have trained ten batches, the number of steps counted is five, not ten.

What we want is to match the step number of a training loss with the global step variable.

### Implementation

Inspired by the implementation of the official callback LearningRateMonitor, we can try to explicitly set the step by directly calling the log_metrics method:

def training_step(self, batch, batch_idx: int) -> dict:
inputs, targets = batch
logits = self.forward(inputs)
loss = F.cross_entropy(logits, targets)
# the new line
self.logger.log_metrics({"train_loss": loss}, step=trainer.global_step)
return {'loss': loss}


The step number is correct now, but we now have too many data points! The training loss of every step is recorded ,and in most cases, it’s not what we want.

## Attempt #2

Again inspired by LearningRateMonitor, we can use the log_every_n_steps attribute in the trainer to reduce the number of data points:

def training_step(self, batch, batch_idx: int) -> dict:
inputs, targets = batch
logits = self.forward(inputs)
loss = F.cross_entropy(logits, targets)
# The new lines
should_log = (
(self.global_step + 1) % self.log_every_n_steps == 0
)
if should_log:
self.logger.log_metrics({"train_loss": loss}, step=trainer.global_step)
return {'loss': loss}


Now the number of data points is down by a lot. We’ll be able to see another problem in the visualized data — we have multiple data points on the same step. For each global_step, training_step will be called n times, with n being the number of batches to accumulate.

## Attempt #3 (Good for a single GPU)

We’re almost there. We can use batch_idx to help us only record one data point per one optimizer step(a.k.a. global_step):

def training_step(self, batch, batch_idx: int) -> dict:
inputs, targets = batch
logits = self.forward(inputs)
loss = F.cross_entropy(logits, targets)
# The new line
if batch_idx % self.trainer.accumulate_grad_batches == 0:
should_log = (
(self.global_step + 1) % self.log_every_n_steps == 0
)
if should_log:
self.logger.log_metrics({"train_loss": loss}, step=trainer.global_step)
return {'loss': loss}


Now the logging will adequately work when you are training on a single GPU.

## Attempt #4 (EMA)

So far, we’re logging only samples of the training losses. The sampled losses have higher variances and less reliability. A better way to do this is to log the smoothed version of the training losses. For example, we can use exponential moving averages:

class EMATracker:
def __init__(self, alpha: float = 0.05):
super().__init__()
self.alpha = alpha
self._value = None

def update(self, new_value):
if self._value is None:
self._value = new_value
else:
self._value = (
new_value * self.alpha +
self._value * (1-self.alpha)
)

@property
def value(self):
return self._value

class ExampleModule(pytorch_lightning.LightningModule):
def __init__(self, ...):
...
self.train_loss_tracker = EMATracker(alpha=0.02)

def training_step(self, batch, batch_idx: int) -> dict:
inputs, targets = batch
logits = self.forward(inputs)
loss = F.cross_entropy(logits, targets)
# A new line
self.train_loss_tracker.update(loss.detach())
if batch_idx % self.trainer.accumulate_grad_batches == 0:
should_log = (
(self.global_step + 1) % self.log_every_n_steps == 0
)
if should_log:
# A new line
self.logger.log_metrics({
"train_loss": self.train_loss_tracker.value
}, step=trainer.global_step)
return {'loss': loss}


The training losses recorded will now take all losses into account and be much smoother.

## Attempt #5 (Good for multiple GPUs)

The above code will create inaccurate results when training on multiple GPUs. We’ll need to aggregate the losses from all GPUs in the training_step_end method before logging:

def _should_log(self, flag):
if (self.trainer.global_step + 1) % self.trainer.log_every_n_steps == 0:
if isinstance(flag, list):
return flag[0]
return flag
return False

def training_step_end(self, outputs):
# Aggregate the losses from all GPUs
loss = outputs["loss"].mean()
self.train_loss_tracker.update(loss.detach())
if self._should_log(outputs["log"]):
self.logger.log_metrics({
"train_loss": self.train_loss_tracker.value
}, step=self.global_step)
return loss

def training_step(self, batch, batch_idx):
inputs, targets = batch
logits = self.forward(inputs)
loss = F.cross_entropy(logits, targets)
return {"loss": loss, "log": batch_idx % self.trainer.accumulate_grad_batches == 0}


(Author note: this part has been tested on a single machine with 4 GPUs.)

## A More General Solution (WIP)

As you can see, there’s a lot of coding involved to make the logging work. We’ll have to create a new EMATracker for a new metric we want to track and add the needed code in the training_step and training_step_end methods.

Using a callback to do this for us would be a more scalable solution. We can create a new callback for each new metric and plug it into the trainer. Unfortunately, the callback hook on_train_batch_end currently does not get the batch outputs at every step, so it’s not possible to do it using the internal callback API.

There’s already a pull request addressing this issue. We’ll come back to this section once the pull request has been merged.

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