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# Symbol and Automatic Differentiation
The computational unit `NDArray` requires a way to construct neural networks. MXNet provides a symbolic interface, named Symbol, to do this. Symbol combines both flexibility and efficiency.
## Basic Composition of Symbols
The following code creates a two-layer perceptron network:
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.Softmax(data=net, name="out")
Each symbol takes a (unique) string name. *Variable* often defines the inputs,
or free variables. Other symbols take a symbol as the input (*data*),
and may accept other hyper parameters, such as the number of hidden neurons (*num_hidden*)
or the activation type (*act_type*).
A symbol can be viewed as a function that takes several arguments, whose
names are automatically generated and can be retrieved with the following command:
The arguments are the parameters need by each symbol:
- *data*: Input data needed by the variable *data*
- *fc1_weight* and *fc1_bias*: The weight and bias for the first fully connected layer, *fc1*
- *fc2_weight* and *fc2_bias*: The weight and bias for the second fully connected layer, *fc2*
- *out_label*: The label needed by the loss
We can also specify the automatically generated names explicitly:
data <- mx.symbol.Variable("data")
w <- mx.symbol.Variable("myweight")
net <- mx.symbol.FullyConnected(data=data, weight=w, name="fc1", num_hidden=128)
## More Complicated Composition of Symbols
MXNet provides well-optimized symbols for
commonly used layers in deep learning. You can also define new operators
in Python. The following example first performs an element-wise add between two
symbols, then feeds them to the fully connected operator:
lhs <- mx.symbol.Variable("data1")
rhs <- mx.symbol.Variable("data2")
net <- mx.symbol.FullyConnected(data=lhs + rhs, name="fc1", num_hidden=128)
We can construct a symbol more flexibly than by using the single
forward composition, for example:
net <- mx.symbol.Variable("data")
net <- mx.symbol.FullyConnected(data=net, name="fc1", num_hidden=128)
net2 <- mx.symbol.Variable("data2")
net2 <- mx.symbol.FullyConnected(data=net2, name="net2", num_hidden=128) <- mx.apply(net, data=net2, name="compose")
In the example, *net* is used as a function to apply to an existing symbol
*net*. The resulting ** will replace the original argument *data* with
*net2* instead.
## Training a Neural Net
The [model API](../../../R-package/R/model.R) is a thin wrapper around the symbolic executors to support neural net training.
We encourage you to read [Symbolic Configuration and Execution in Pictures for python package](../python/ a detailed explanation of concepts in pictures.
## How Efficient Is the Symbolic API?
The Symbolic API brings the efficient C++
operations in powerful toolkits, such as CXXNet and Caffe, together with the
flexible dynamic NDArray operations. All of the memory and computation resources are
allocated statically during bind operations, to maximize runtime performance and memory
The coarse-grained operators are equivalent to CXXNet layers, which are
extremely efficient. We also provide fine-grained operators for more flexible
composition. Because MXNet does more in-place memory allocation, it can
be more memory efficient than CXXNet and gets to the same runtime with
greater flexibility.