This document is relevant for: Trn1

Developer Guide for Training with PyTorch Neuron (torch-neuronx)#

Trainium is designed to speed up model training and reduce training cost. It is available on the Trn1 instances. Each Trainium accelerator has two NeuronCores, which are the main neural network compute units.

PyTorch Neuron enables PyTorch users to train their models on Trainium’s NeuronCores with little code change to their training code. It is based on the PyTorch/XLA software package.

This guide helps you get started with single-worker training and distributed training using PyTorch Neuron.

PyTorch Neuron#

Neuron XLA device#

With PyTorch Neuron the default XLA device is mapped to a NeuronCore. By default, one NeuronCore is configured. To use Neuron XLA device, specify the device as xm.xla_device() or 'xla':

import torch_xla.core.xla_model as xm
device = xm.xla_device()


device = 'xla'

PyTorch models and tensors can be mapped to the device as usual:

To move tensor back to CPU, do :



PyTorch Neuron single-worker training quick-start#

PyTorch Neuron uses XLA to enable conversion of PyTorch operations to Trainium instructions. To get started on PyTorch Neuron, first modify your training script to use XLA in the same manner as described in PyTorch/XLA documentation and use XLA device:

import torch_xla.core.xla_model as xm

device = xm.xla_device()
# or
device = 'xla'

The NeuronCore is mapped to an XLA device. On Trainium instance, the XLA device is automatically mapped to the first available NeuronCore.

By default the above steps will enable the training script to run on one NeuronCore. NOTE: Each process is mapped to one NeuronCore.

Finally, add mark_step at the end of the training step to compile and execute the training step:


These changes can be placed in control-flows in order to keep the script the same between PyTorch Neuron and CPU/GPU. For example, you can use an environment variable to disable XLA which would cause the script to run in PyTorch native mode (using CPU on Trainium instances and GPU on GPU instances):

device = 'cpu'
if not os.environ.get("DISABLE_XLA", None):
    device = 'xla'


    # end of training step
    if not os.environ.get("DISABLE_XLA", None):

More on the need for mark_step is at Understand the lazy mode in PyTorch Neuron.

For a full runnable example, please see the Single-worker MLP training on Trainium tutorial.

PyTorch Neuron multi-worker data parallel training using torchrun#

Data parallel training allows you to replicate your script across multiple workers, each worker processing a proportional portion of the dataset, in order to train faster.

To run multiple workers in data parallel configuration, with each worker using one NeuronCore, first add additional imports for parallel dataloader and multi-processing utilities:

import torch_xla.distributed.parallel_loader as pl

Next we initialize the Neuron distributed context using the XLA backend for torch.distributed:

import torch_xla.distributed.xla_backend

Next, replace optimizer.step() function call with xm.optimizer_step(optimizer) which adds gradient synchronization across workers before taking the optimizer step:


If you’re using a distributed dataloader, wrap your dataloader in the PyTorch/XLA’s MpDeviceLoader class which provides buffering to hide CPU to device data load latency:

parallel_loader = pl.MpDeviceLoader(dataloader, device)

Within the training code, use xm.xrt_world_size() to get the world size, and xm.get_ordinal to get the global rank of the current process.

Then run use PyTorch torchrun utility to run the script. For example, to run 32 worker data parallel training:

torchrun --nproc_per_node=32 <script and options>

To run on multiple instances, make sure to use trn1.32xlarge instances and use all 32 NeuronCores on each instance. For example, with two instances, on the rank-0 Trn1 host, run with –node_rank=0 using torchrun utility:

torchrun --nproc_per_node=32 --nnodes=2 --node_rank=0 --master_addr=<root IP> --master_port=<root port> <script and options>

On another Trn1 host, run with –node_rank=1 :

torchrun --nproc_per_node=32 --nnodes=2 --node_rank=1 --master_addr=<root IP> --master_port=<root port> <script and options>

It is important to launch rank-0 worker with –node_rank=0 to avoid hang.

More information about torchrun can be found PyTorch documentation at .

See the Multi-worker data-parallel MLP training using torchrun tutorial for a full example.

Conversion from Distributed Data Parallel (DDP) application#

Distributed Data Parallel (DDP) in torch.distributed module is a wrapper to help convert a single-worker training to distributed training. To convert from torch.distributed Distributed Data Parallel (DDP) application to PyTorch Neuron, first convert the application back to single-worker training, which simply involves removing the DDP wrapper, for example model = DDP(model, device_ids=[rank]). After this, follow the previous section to change to multi-worker training.

PyTorch Neuron environment variables#

Environment variables allow modifications to PyTorch Neuron behavior without requiring code change to user script. See PyTorch Neuron environment variables for more details.

Persistent cache for compiled graphs#

PyTorch/XLA has an internal in-memory compilation cache that caches previously compiled graphs within the same python process. However this internal cache is not persistent between runs. PyTorch Neuron includes a persistent cache that enables caching of previously compiled graph on disk so that subsequent run of the same program do not incur long compilation time. This cache is enabled by default and the default cache directory is /var/tmp/neuron-compile-cache.

The cache uses hash of the Neuron compiler flags and XLA graph as the key. If the Neuron compiler version or XLA graph changes, you will see recompilation. Examples of changes that would cause XLA graph change include:

  • Model type and size

  • Batch size

  • Optimizer and optimizer hyperparameters

  • Location of xm.mark_step()

To disable the cache, you can pass --no_cache option via NEURON_CC_FLAGS:

os.environ['NEURON_CC_FLAGS'] = os.environ.get('NEURON_CC_FLAGS', '') + ' --no_cache'

To change the cache’s root directory, pass cache_dir=<root dir> option via NEURON_CC_FLAGS (the actual cache directory will be in <root dir>/neuron-compile-cache:

os.environ['NEURON_CC_FLAGS'] = os.environ.get('NEURON_CC_FLAGS', '') + ' --cache_dir=<root dir>'

Stale cached compiled graphs (NEFFs) are deleted from the cache whenever the size of cache is above default cache size of 100GB . The deletion order is based on least-recently-used first. To change the cache size, pass --cache_size=SIZE_IN_BYTES. For example, to change the cache size to 16 MB:

os.environ['NEURON_CC_FLAGS'] = os.environ.get('NEURON_CC_FLAGS', '') + ' --cache_size=16777216'

A cache entry considered stale if the last used time is older than a time-to-live value, currently default to 30 days. If the last used time is earlier than the time-to-live value, then it is not deleted even if cache size exceeds cache size limit. To change cache time-to-live, set the option --cache_ttl to the number of days desired:

os.environ['NEURON_CC_FLAGS'] = os.environ.get('NEURON_CC_FLAGS', '') + ' --cache_ttl=60'

If in some cases, the compilation failed because of an environment issue, and you want to retry compilation, you can do so by adding --retry_failed_compilation. This will retry the compilation even if there is a failed NEFF in the cache.

os.environ['NEURON_CC_FLAGS'] = os.environ.get('NEURON_CC_FLAGS', '') + ' --retry_failed_compilation'

You can change the verbose level of the compiler by adding log_level to either WARNING, INFO or ERROR. This can be done as follows:

os.environ['NEURON_CC_FLAGS'] = os.environ.get('NEURON_CC_FLAGS', '') + ' --log_level=INFO'

Number of graphs#

PyTorch/XLA converts PyTorch’s eager mode execution to lazy-mode graph-based execution. During this process, there can be multiple graphs compiled and executed if there are extra mark-steps or functions with implicit mark-steps. Additionally, more graphs can be generated if there are different execution paths taken due to control-flows.

Automatic casting of float tensors to BFloat16#

With PyTorch Neuron, the default behavior is for torch.float (FP32) and torch.double (FP64) tensors to be mapped to torch.float in hardware. To reduce memory footprint and improve performance, torch.float and torch.double tensors can automatically be converted to BFloat16 by setting the environment variable XLA_USE_BF16=1. Alternatively, torch.float can automatically be converted to BFloat16 and torch.double converted to FP32 by setting the environment variable XLA_DOWNCAST_BF16=1.

Automatic Mixed-Precision#

BF16 mixed-precision using PyTorch Autocast#

By default, the compiler automatically cast internal FP32 operations to BF16. You can disable this and allow PyTorch’s BF16 mixed-precision to do the casting. PyTorch’s BF16 mixed-precision is achieved by casting certain operations to operate BF16. We currently use CUDA’s list of operations that can operate in BF16:

(NOTE: Although convolution is in the list below, it is currently unsupported by Neuron. See model-architecture-fit)


To enable PyTorch’s BF16 mixed-precision, first turn off the Neuron compiler auto-cast:

os.environ["NEURON_CC_FLAGS"] = "--auto-cast=none"

Next, overwrite torch.cuda.is_bf16_supported to return True:

torch.cuda.is_bf16_supported = lambda: True

Next, per recommendation from official PyTorch documentation, place only the forward-pass of the training step in the torch.autocast scope:

with torch.autocast(dtype=torch.bfloat16, device_type='cuda'):
    # forward pass

The device type is CUDA because we are using CUDA’s list of BF16 compatible operations as mentioned above.

Example showing the original training code snippet:

def train_loop_fn(train_loader):
    for i, data in enumerate(train_loader):
        inputs = data[0]
        labels = data[3]
        outputs = model(inputs, labels=labels)
        loss = outputs.loss/ flags.grad_acc_steps

The following shows the training loop modified to use BF16 autocast:

os.environ["NEURON_CC_FLAGS"] = "--auto-cast=none"

def train_loop_fn(train_loader):
    for i, data in enumerate(train_loader):
        torch.cuda.is_bf16_supported = lambda: True
        with torch.autocast(dtype=torch.bfloat16, device_type='cuda'):
            inputs = data[0]
            labels = data[3]
            outputs = model(inputs, labels=labels)
        loss = outputs.loss/ flags.grad_acc_steps

For a full example of BF16 mixed-precision, see PyTorch Neuron BERT Pretraining Tutorial.

See official PyTorch documentation for more details about torch.autocast .

Tips and Best Practices#

Understand the lazy mode in PyTorch Neuron#

One significant difference between PyTorch Neuron and native PyTorch is that the PyTorch Neuron system runs in lazy mode while the native PyTorch runs in eager mode. Tensors in lazy mode are placeholders for building the computational graph until they are materialized after the compilation and evaluation are complete. The PyTorch Neuron system builds the computational graph on the fly when you call PyTorch APIs to build the computation using tensors and operators. The computational graph gets compiled and executed when xm.mark_step() is called explicitly or implicitly by pl.MpDeviceLoader/pl.ParallelLoader, or when you explicitly request the value of a tensor such as by calling loss.item() or print(loss).

Minimize the number of compilation-and-executions#

For best performance, you should keep in mind the possible ways to initiate compilation-and-executions as described in Understand the lazy mode in PyTorch/XLA and should try to minimize the number of compilation-and-executions. Ideally, only one compilation-and-execution is necessary per training iteration and is initiated automatically by pl.MpDeviceLoader/pl.ParallelLoader. The MpDeviceLoader is optimized for XLA and should always be used if possible for best performance. During training, you might want to examine some intermediate results such as loss values. In such case, the printing of lazy tensors should be wrapped using xm.add_step_closure() to avoid unnecessary compilation-and-executions.

Ensure common initial weights across workers#

To achieve best accuracy during data parallel training, all workers need to have the same initial parameter states. This can be achieved by using the same seed across the workers. In the case of HuggingFace library, the set_seed function can be used. (

Use PyTorch/XLA’s model save function#

To avoid problems with saving and loading checkpoints, make sure you use PyTorch/XLA’s model save function to properly checkpoint your model. For more information about the function, see in the PyTorch on XLA Devices documentation.

When training using multiple devices, can result in high host memory usage. If you see such high usage causing the host to run out of memory, please use . This would save the model in a serialized manner. When saved using the api, the model should be loaded using serialization.load api. More information on this here: Saving and Loading Tensors


What is the difference between Trainium and Inferentia?#

Trainium is an accelerator designed to speed up training, whereas Inferentia is an accelerator designed to speed up inference.

Debugging and troubleshooting#

To debug on PyTorch Neuron, please follow the debug guide.

This document is relevant for: Trn1