MXNet Python Symbolic API


We also highly encouraged you to read Symbolic Configuration and Execution in Pictures.

How to Compose Symbols

The symbolic API provides a way to configure computation graphs. You can configure the graphs either at the level of neural network layer operations or as fine-grained operations.

The following example configures a two-layer neural network.

    >>> import mxnet as mx
    >>> net = mx.symbol.Variable('data')
    >>> net = mx.symbol.FullyConnected(data=net, name='fc1', num_hidden=128)
    >>> net = mx.symbol.Activation(data=net, name='relu1', act_type="relu")
    >>> net = mx.symbol.FullyConnected(data=net, name='fc2', num_hidden=64)
    >>> net = mx.symbol.SoftmaxOutput(data=net, name='out')
    >>> type(net)
    <class 'mxnet.symbol.Symbol'>

The basic arithmetic operators (plus, minus, div, multiplication) are overloaded for element-wise operations of symbols.

The following example creates a computation graph that adds two inputs together.

    >>> import mxnet as mx
    >>> a = mx.symbol.Variable('a')
    >>> b = mx.symbol.Variable('b')
    >>> c = a + b

Symbol Attributes

You can add attributes to symbols by providing an attribute dictionary when creating a symbol.

    data = mx.sym.Variable('data', attr={'mood': 'angry'})
    op   = mx.sym.Convolution(data=data, name='conv', kernel=(1, 1),
                              num_filter=1, attr={'mood': 'so so'})

For proper communication with the C++ back end, both the key and values of the attribute dictionary should be strings. To retrieve the attributes, use attr(key) or list_attr():

    assert data.attr('mood') == 'angry'
    assert op.list_attr() == {'mood': 'so so'}

For a composite symbol, you can retrieve all of the attributes associated with that symbol and its descendants with list_attr(recursive=True). In the returned dictionary, all of the attribute names have the prefix 'symbol_name' + '_' to prevent naming conflicts.

    assert op.list_attr(recursive=True) == {'data_mood': 'angry', 'conv_mood': 'so so',
                                             'conv_weight_mood': 'so so', 'conv_bias_mood': 'so so'}

Notice that the mood attribute set for the Convolution operator is copied to conv_weight and conv_bias. They’re symbols that are automatically created by the Convolution operator, and the attributes are automatically copied for them. This is especially useful for annotating context groups in model parallelism. However, if you explicitly specify the weight or bias symbols, the attributes for the host operator are not copied to them:

    weight = mx.sym.Variable('crazy_weight', attr={'size': '5'})
    data = mx.sym.Variable('data', attr={'mood': 'angry'})
    op = mx.sym.Convolution(data=data, weight=weight, name='conv', kernel=(1, 1),
                                  num_filter=1, attr= {'mood': 'so so'})
    # =>
    # {'conv_mood': 'so so',
    #  'conv_bias_mood': 'so so',
    #  'crazy_weight_size': '5',
    #  'data_mood': 'angry'}

As you can see, the mood attribute is copied to the symbol conv_bias, which was automatically created, but not to the manually created weight symbol crazy_weight.

Another way to attach attributes is to use AttrScope. AttrScope automatically adds the specified attributes to all of the symbols created within that scope. For example:

    data = mx.symbol.Variable('data')
    with mx.AttrScope(group='4', data='great'):
        fc1 = mx.symbol.Activation(data, act_type='relu')
        with mx.AttrScope(init_bias='0.0'):
            fc2 = mx.symbol.FullyConnected(fc1, num_hidden=10, name='fc2')
    assert fc1.attr('data') == 'great'
    assert fc2.attr('data') == 'great'
    assert fc2.attr('init_bias') == '0.0'

Naming convention: We recommend that you choose valid variable names for attribute names. Names with double underscores (e.g., __shape__) are reserved for internal use. The underscore '_' separates a symbol name and its attributes. It’s also the separator between a symbol and a variable that is automatically created by that symbol. For example, the weight variable that is created automatically by a Convolution operator named conv1 is called conv1_weight.

Components that use attributes: More and more components are using symbol attributes to collect useful annotations for the computational graph. Here is a (probably incomplete) list:

  • Variable uses attributes to store (optional) shape information for a variable.
  • Optimizers read __lr_mult__ and __wd_mult__ attributes for each symbol in a computational graph. This is useful to control per-layer learning rate and decay.
  • The model parallelism LSTM example uses the __ctx_group__ attribute to divide the operators into groups that correspond to GPU devices.


There are two ways to save and load the symbols. You can pickle to serialize the Symbol objects. Or, you can use the and mxnet.symbol.load functions. The advantage of using save and load is that it’s language agnostic and cloud friendly. The symbol is saved in JSON format. You can also directly get a JSON string using mxnet.symbol.Symbol.tojson.

The following example shows how to save a symbol to an S3 bucket, load it back, and compare two symbols using a JSON string.

    >>> import mxnet as mx
    >>> a = mx.symbol.Variable('a')
    >>> b = mx.symbol.Variable('b')
    >>> c = a + b
    >>> c2 = mx.symbol.load('s3://my-bucket/symbol-c.json')
    >>> c.tojson() == c2.tojson()

Executing Symbols

After you have assembled a set of symbols into a computation graph, the MXNet engine can evaluate those symbols. If you are training a neural network, this is typically handled by the high-level Model class and the fit() function.

For neural networks used in “feed-forward”, “prediction”, or “inference” mode (all terms for the same thing: running a trained network), the input arguments are the input data, and the weights of the neural network that were learned during training.

To manually execute a set of symbols, you need to create an Executor object, which is typically constructed by calling the simple_bind() method on a symbol.For an example of this, see the sample notebook on how to use simple_bind().

Multiple Outputs

To group the symbols together, use the mxnet.symbol.Group function.

    >>> import mxnet as mx
    >>> net = mx.symbol.Variable('data')
    >>> fc1 = mx.symbol.FullyConnected(data=net, name='fc1', num_hidden=128)
    >>> net = mx.symbol.Activation(data=fc1, name='relu1', act_type="relu")
    >>> net = mx.symbol.FullyConnected(data=net, name='fc2', num_hidden=64)
    >>> out = mx.symbol.SoftmaxOutput(data=net, name='softmax')
    >>> group = mx.symbol.Group([fc1, out])
    >>> group.list_outputs()
    ['fc1_output', 'softmax_output']

After you get the group, you can bind on group instead. The resulting executor will have two outputs, one for fc1_output and one for softmax_output.

Symbol Creation API Reference

Execution API Reference

Testing Utility Reference

Next Steps