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TensorFlow — The Scope of Software Engineering

TensorFlow — The Scope of Software Engineering


So you’ve finished training your model, and it’s time to get some insights as to
what it has learned. You decide which tensor should be interesting, and go look
for it in your code — to find out what its name is. Then it hits you — you
forgot to give it a name. You also forgot to wrap the logical code block with a
named scope. It means you’ll have a hard time getting a reference to the tensor.
It holds for python scripts as well as TensorBoard:

Can you see that small red circle lost in the sea of tensors? Finding it is

That’s a bummer! It would have been much better if it looked more like this:

That’s more like it! Each set of tensors which form a logical unit is wrapped
inside a named scope.

Why can’t the graph be automatically constructed in a way that resembles your
code? I mean, most chances are you didn’t construct the model using a single
function, did you? Your code base contains multiple functions — each forms a
logical unit which deserves its own named scope!

Let’s say you have a tensor x which was defined by the function f, which in
turn was called by g. It means that while you were writing the code, you had
this logical structure in mind: g -> f -> x. Wouldn’t it be great if the
model would automatically be constructed in a way that the name of the tensor
would be g/f/x?

Come to think of it, it’s pretty simple to do. All you have to do is go over all
your functions and add a single line of code:

def f():
    with tensorflow.name_scope(‘f’):
        # define tensors

So what’s wrong with that approach?

  1. The name of the function f appears twice — both in the function declaration
    and as an argument to tensorflow.name_scope. Maybe next week you’ll change the
    name of the function to something more meaningful, let’s say foo.
    Unfortunately, you might forget to update the name of the scope!
  2. You have to apply indentation to the entire body of f. While it’s not that
    bad, personally I don’t like having high indentation levels. Let’s say f
    contains a for loop which contains an if statement, which contains another for
    loop. Thanks to calling to tensorflow.name_scope, we’re already at an
    indentation level of 4!

We can bypass these disadvantages using simple metaprogramming — Python’s
decorators to the rescue!

import re

def name_scope(f):
    def func(*args, **kwargs):
        name = f.__name__[[^_], f.__name__).start():]
        with tensorflow.name_scope(name):
            return f(*args, **kwargs)
    return func

def foo():
    # define tensors

How does it work? The @ is a syntactic sugar. It’s equivalent to the

def foo():
    # define tensors

foo = name_scope(foo)

name_scope gets a function as an argument (f) and returns a new function
(func). func creates a named scope, and then calls f.

The result? All the tensors that are defined by f will be created inside a
named scope. The name of the scope will be the name of the original function
(“foo”) — thanks to f.__name__.

One small problem is that while function names might start with “_”, tensorflow
scope names can’t. This is why we have to use re.

The challenge of writing clean tensorflow code is negligible compared to the
research challenge of actually making the model any good.

Thus, it’s easy to be tempted to just focus on the research aspects of your job.
However, in the long run, it’s important not to neglect the maintainability and
readability of your code, including those of your graph.

The decorator approach make my job a little easier, and I hope you’ll benefit
from it too. Do you have other tips you’d like to share? Drop a line in the

Originally published by me at


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