PyTorch Custom Dataset Tips and Tricks

Loading massive and complex datasets for training deep learning models has become a normal practice in most of the deep learning experiments. Handling large datasets which contain multimedia such as images, video frames and sound clips etc. can’t be perform just with simple file open commands which drastically reduce the model training efficiency.

Featuring a more pythonic API, PyTorch deep learning framework offers a GPU friendly efficient data generation scheme to load any data type to train deep learning models in a more optimal manner.

Based on the Dataset class ( on PyTorch you can load pretty much every data format in all shapes and sizes by overriding two subclass functions.

 __len__  – returns the size of the dataset

__getitem__  – returns a sample from the dataset given an index.

Here’s a rough skeleton of the Dataset class which you can modify for your need.

import torch
from import Dataset

#If available use GPU memory to load data 
use_cuda = torch.cuda.is_available()
device = torch.device("cuda:0" if use_cuda else "cpu")

class MyCustomDataset(Dataset):
    def __init__(self, ...):
        # # All the data preperation tasks can be defined here
        # - Deciding the dataset split (train/test/ validate)
        # - Data Transformation methods 
        # - Reading annotation files (CSV/XML etc.)
        # - Prepare the data to read by an index
    def __getitem__(self, index):
        # # Returns data and labels
        # - Apply initiated transformations for data
        # - Push data for GPU memory
        # - better to return the data points as dictionary/ tensor  
        return (img, label)

    def __len__(self):
        return count # of how many examples(images?) you have

These are some tips and tricks I follow when writing custom dataloaders for PyTorch.

  • Datasets will expand with more and more samples and, therefore, we do not want to store too many tensors in memory at runtime in the Dataset object. Instead, we will form the tensors as we iterate through the samples list. This approach may be bit slow in processing but save us from going out of memory.
  • __init__ function should be the place where all the initial data preparations and logics happens. Do the operations where you may need to read data annotation files (CSV/XML etc.) here.
  • If you have separate portions of the dataset for train/test and validate, make sure you define that logic inside __init__ function. You can pass the desired data split as an argument for the function.
  • __init__ function is the place where you can define the data transformations. For an example, if you have image data to load and need to do resize and normalize images you can use torchvision transforms here.
#Example transform for image data
self.transform = transforms.Compose([transforms.Resize((224,224)), 
                                             transforms.Normalize([0.485, 0.456, 0.406], [0.229, 0.224, 0.225])])
  • Make sure you index your custom dataset in a relational structure when initiating. Generating an array or a list of the datapoints is a better way to do it.
  • __len__ function comes handy to see how many data points has been loaded through init. The data length is normally the number of records loaded into the final list or array you created inside __init__ .  
  • __getitem__ function should be light weight. Avoid using too complex computations inside __getitem__ function. 
  • PyTorch DataLoaders just call __getitem__() and wrap them up a batch when performing training or inferencing. So, this function is iterative. Make sure you return one datapoint at a time.
  • Always try to return the values from __getitem__ as tensors.
  • If you have multiple components to return from the DataLoader, using a Python dictionary is a handy option. You can structure it as key value pairs in the dictionary. Here’s an example dictionary item which contains four values in it.  
item = {
         'video_id' : video_id,
          'activity_id' :activity_id,
          'activity_frame': activity_frame_as_tensor,
          'activity_annotation' : activity_annotation

Consuming the dataset –

You should create a CustomDataset object when you need to consume the data. This is a sample code snippet that demonstrate how to access the data points through the custom dataloader you created.

#Consuming the dataset 

#creating the dataset object
dataset = MyCustomDataset(...)

#Randomly split dataset into trainset and the validation set 
train_data, val_data = random_split(dataset, [50000, 10000])

#Create DataLoader iterators
train_loader = DataLoader(train_data, batch_size=64, shuffle=True, num_workers=2)
val_loader = DataLoader(val_data, batch_size=64, shuffle=True, num_workers=2)

#Iterating through the data loader object
for i, batch in enumerate(train_loader):
    print(i, batch)

You may notice, the dataLoader iterator can be batched, shuffled and load the data using multiprocessing just by changing the parameters in the function. Make sure you choose a batch size which fits with your memory capacity. If you loading the data to the GPU, it’s the GPU memory you should consider on.

If you using a multi-GPU setup with PyTorch dataloaders, it tries to divide the data batches evenly among the GPUs. If the batch size is less than the number of GPUs you have, it won’t utilize all GPUs.

I would say CustomDataset and DataLoader combo in PyTorch has become a life saver in most of complex data loading scenarios for me. Would love to hear from you on the experiences you have with writing Custom DataLoaders in PyTorch.

Happy Coding!  

GPU Accelerated Application Deployment with NVIDIA-Docker

When it comes to deep learning model development and training, personally for me, the majority of the time is spent on data pre-processing, then for setting up the development environment.  Cloud based development environments such as Azure DLVM, Google CoLab etc. are very good options to go with when you don’t have much time to spend on installing all the required packages for your workstation. But, there are times that we want to do the development on our machines and train/deploy in another place (may be on the client’s environment, for a machine with a better GPU for faster training or to train on a Kubernetes cluster). Docker comes handy in these scenarios.

Docker provides both hardware and software encapsulation by allowing portable deployment. If you are a data scientist/ machine learning guy or a deep learning developer, I strongly recommend you to give it a try with docker and I’m pretty sure that’ll make your life so easy.

Alright! That’s about docker! Let’s assume now you are using docker for deploying your deep learning applications and you want to use docker to ship your deep learning model to a remote computer that is having a powerful GPU, which allows you to use large mini-batch sizes and speedup your training process. Though docker containers solve the problem of framework dependencies and platform dependencies it is also hardware-agnostic. This creates a problem!

Have you ever tried to access the GPU resource on the host computer from a program running inside a docker container? Sadly, Docker does not natively support NVIDIA GPUs within containers.

The early work around was installing the Nvidia drivers inside the docker container. It’s bit of a hassle as the driver version installed in the container should match the driver on the host.

For making docker images that uses GPU resources more portable, Nvidia has introduced nvidia-docker!


NVIDIA-Docker plugin enables GPU accelerated application deployment

Nvidia-docker is a wrapper around the docker command that mounts the GPU on the host machine with the docker container. The only thing you should pay your attention is the CUDA version you want to use.

So, in which scenarios you can use this? In my case, nvidia-docker comes handy for me when I’m running my experiment on a cluster which is having a higher GPU power. What I do is just containerize all my code into a docker and run on the remote with nvidia-docker. (Windows guys… nvidia-docker is not still available for windows hosts. Not sure if that is in the development timeline or not 😀 )

Here’s the official GitHub on nvidia-docker. Just install it at make sure to restart your docker engine and make sure nvidia-docker the default docker run-time. Then rest is the same as building and running a typical docker.

Here’s a simple docker file I wrote for containerizing my PyTorch code. I’ve used CUDA 9.1.  You can modify this for your need.

FROM nvidia/cuda:9.1-base-ubuntu16.04

# Install some basic utilities
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y \
curl \
ca-certificates \
sudo \
git \
bzip2 \
libx11-6 \
&& rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*

# Create a working directory
RUN mkdir /app

# Create a non-root user and switch to it
RUN adduser --disabled-password --gecos '' --shell /bin/bash user \
&& chown -R user:user /app
RUN echo "user ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL" > /etc/sudoers.d/90-user
USER user

# All users can use /home/user as their home directory
ENV HOME=/home/user
RUN chmod 777 /home/user

# Install Miniconda
RUN curl -so ~/ \
&& chmod +x ~/ \
&& ~/ -b -p ~/miniconda \
&& rm ~/
ENV PATH=/home/user/miniconda/bin:$PATH

# Create a Python 3.6 environment
RUN /home/user/miniconda/bin/conda install conda-build \
&& /home/user/miniconda/bin/conda create -y --name py36 python=3.6.5 \
&& /home/user/miniconda/bin/conda clean -ya
ENV CONDA_PREFIX=/home/user/miniconda/envs/$CONDA_DEFAULT_ENV

# Install PyTorch with Cuda 9.1 support
RUN conda install -y -c pytorch \
cuda91=1.0 \
magma-cuda91=2.3.0 \
pytorch=0.4.0 \
torchvision=0.2.1 \
&& conda clean -ya
RUN conda install opencv

# Install other dependencies from pip 
#My requirments.txt file jsut contains the following packages I used for the code. Change this for your need.
COPY requirements.txt .
RUN pip install -r requirements.txt

# Create /data directory so that a container can be run without volumes mounted
RUN sudo mkdir /data && sudo chown user:user /data

# Copy source code into the image
COPY --chown=user:user . /app

# Set the default command to python3
CMD ["python3"]

Here’s the bash command used for running the docker using the Nvidia run-time.

# 1. Build image
docker build .

# 2. Run the docker image
docker run \
--runtime=nvidia -it -d \
--rm <dockerImage> python3 <>


Just try it and see how your deep learning life becomes easy! Happy coding! 🙂