April 8, 2019, midnight
By : Eric A. Scuccimarra
When I first started with neural networks I learned them with TensorFlow and it seemed like TensorFlow was pretty much the industry standard. I did however keep hearing about PyTorch which was supposedly better than TensorFlow in many ways, but I never really got around to learning it. Last week I had to do one of my assignments in PyTorch so I finally got around to it, and I am already impressed.
The biggest problem I always had with TensorFlow was that the graphs are static. The entire graph must be defined and compiled before it is run and it can't be altered at runtime. You feed data into the graph and it returns output. This results in the rather awkward tf.Session() which must be created before you can do anything, and which contains all of the parameters for the model.
PyTorch has dynamic graphs which are compiled at runtime. This means that you can change things as you go, including altering the graph while it is running, and you don't need to have all the dimensions of all of the data specified in advance like you do in TensorFlow. You can also do things like change the numbers of neurons in a layer dynamically and drop entire layers at runtime which you can't do with TensorFlow.
Debugging PyTorch is a lot easier since you can just make a change and test it - you don't need to recreate the graph and instantiate a session to test it out. You can just run an optimization step whenever you want. Coming from TensorFlow that is just a breath of fresh air.
TensorFlow still has many advantages, including the fact that it is still an industry standard, is easier to deploy and is better supported. But PyTorch is definitely a worth competitor, is far more flexible, and solves many of the problems with TensorFlow.
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