The ability to save models and their training progress is important for two reasons:

  1. Neural nets can take days or even weeks to train. If training is interrupted during this time, it is important that we can continue from where we left off.
  2. We need the ability to save models in order to share them with others or save them for later use or inspection.

These two goals come with differing requirements, which is why Blocks implements a custom serialization approach that tries to meet both needs in the dump() and load() functions.

Pickling the training loop


Due to the complexity of serializing a Python objects as large as the main loop, (un)pickling will sometimes fail because it exceeds the default maximum recursion depth set in Python. Increasing the limit should fix the problem.

When checkpointing, Blocks pickles the entire main loop, effectively serializing the exact state of the model as well as the training state (iteration state, extensions, etc.). Technically there are some difficulties with this approach:

  • Some Python objects cannot be pickled e.g. file handles, generators, dynamically generated classes, nested classes, etc.
  • The pickling of Theano objects can be problematic.
  • We do not want to serialize the training data kept in memory, since this can be prohibitively large.

Blocks addresses these problems by avoiding certain data structures such as generators and nested classes (see the developer guidelines) and overriding the pickling behaviour of some objects, making the pickling of the main loop possible.

However, pickling can be problematic for long-term storage of models, because

  • Unpickling depends on the libraries used being unchanged. This means that if you updated Blocks, Theano, etc. to a new version where the interface has changed, loading your training progress could fail.
  • The unpickling of Theano objects can be problematic, especially when transferring from GPU to CPU or vice versa.
  • It is not possible on Python 2 to unpickle objects that were pickled in Python 3.

Parameter saving

This is why Blocks intercepts the pickling of all Theano shared variables (which includes the parameters), and stores them as separate NPY files. The resulting file is a ZIP archive that contains the pickled main loop as well as a collection of NumPy arrays. The NumPy arrays (and hence parameters) in the ZIP file can be read, across platforms, using the numpy.load() function, making it possible to inspect and load parameter values, even if the unpickling of the main loop fails.