NNX Basics#

NNX is a Neural Networks JAX library that embraces Python’s object-oriented programming model to provide an intuitive and highly simplified user experience. It represents objects as PyGraphs (instead of PyTrees), which allows NNX to handle reference sharing and mutability, making model code be regular Python code that users from frameworks like Pytorch will be familiar with.be familiar with.

NNX is also designed to support all the patterns that allowed Linen to scale to large code bases while having a much simpler implementation.

from flax.experimental import nnx
import jax
import jax.numpy as jnp

The Module System#

To begin lets see how to create a Linear Module using NNX. The main noticeable difference between NNX and Module systems like Haiku or Linen is that in NNX everything is explicit. This means among other things that 1) the Module itself holds the state (e.g. parameters) directly, 2) the RNG state is threaded by the user, and 3) all shape information must be provided on initialization (no shape inference).

class Linear(nnx.Module):
  def __init__(self, din: int, dout: int, *, rngs: nnx.Rngs):
    key = rngs.params()
    self.w = nnx.Param(jax.random.uniform(key, (din, dout)))
    self.b = nnx.Param(jnp.zeros((dout,)))
    self.din, self.dout = din, dout

  def __call__(self, x: jax.Array):
    return x @ self.w.value + self.b.value

As shown above dynamic state is usually stored in nnx.Params, and static state (all types not handled by NNX) such as integers or strings are stored directly. Attributes of type jax.Array and numpy.ndarray are also treated as dynamic state, although storing them inside nnx.Variables is preferred. Also, the nnx.Rngs object by can be used to get new unique keys based on a root key passed to the constructor (see below).

To actually initialize a Module is very easy: simply call the constructor. All the parameters of a Module will be created right then and there, and are immediately available for inspection using regular Python attribute access.

model = Linear(din=2, dout=3, rngs=nnx.Rngs(params=0))

print(f'{model = }')
print(f'{model.w.value = }')
print(f'{model.b.value = }')
model = Linear(
model.w.value = Array([[0.9913868 , 0.45571804, 0.7215481 ],
       [0.8873962 , 0.2008096 , 0.72537684]], dtype=float32)
model.b.value = Array([0., 0., 0.], dtype=float32)

This is very handy for debugging as it allows accessing the entire structure or modifying it. Similarly, computations can be ran directly.

x = jnp.ones((1, 2))

Array([[1.878783  , 0.65652764, 1.4469249 ]], dtype=float32)

Since Modules hold their own state there is no need for a separate apply method, as in Linen or Haiku.

Stateful Computation#

When implementing layers like Batch Normalization or Multi Head Attention with autoregressive decoding you often need to store and update state inside a Module during the forward pass. The way to do this in NNX is simply to store the state inside a Variable and update it in-place when need it.

class Counter(nnx.Module):
  def __init__(self):
    self.count = nnx.Variable(0)

  def __call__(self):
    self.count.value += 1

counter = Counter()
print(f'{counter.count.value = }')
print(f'{counter.count.value = }')
counter.count.value = 0
counter.count.value = 1

JAX frameworks have avoided mutable references until now. The key innovations which allows their usage in NNX is that 1) there is a clear boundary between code that uses reference semantics and code that uses value semantics, defined by The Functional API, and 2) there are guards in place to avoid updating NNX objects from a MainTrace, thus preventing tracer leakage.

Nested Modules#

As expected, Modules can be used to compose other Modules in a nested structure, including standard Modules such as nnx.Linear, nnx.Conv, etc., or any custom Module created by users. Modules can be assigned as attributes of a Module, but as shown by MLP.blocks in the example below, they can also be stored in attributes of type list, dict, tuple, or in nested structures of the same.

class Block(nnx.Module):
  def __init__(self, dim: int, *, rngs: nnx.Rngs):
    self.linear = nnx.Linear(dim, dim, rngs=rngs)
    self.bn = nnx.BatchNorm(dim, use_running_average=True, rngs=rngs)

  def __call__(self, x: jax.Array):
    return nnx.relu(self.bn(self.linear(x)))
class MLP(nnx.Module):
  def __init__(self, num_layers: int, dim: int, *, rngs: nnx.Rngs):
    self.blocks = [Block(dim, rngs=rngs) for _ in range(num_layers)]
  def __call__(self, x: jax.Array):
    for block in self.blocks:
      x = block(x)
    return x
model = MLP(num_layers=5, dim=2, rngs=nnx.Rngs(0))
print(f'{model = }'[:500] + '...')
model = MLP(
            param_dtype=<class 'jax.numpy.float32'>,
            kernel_init=<function variance_scaling.<locals>.init at 0x13cfa4040>,
            bias_init=<function zeros at 0x128869430>,
            dot_general=<function dot_general at 0x11ff55430>

One of the benefits of NNX is that nested Modules as easy to inspect and static analyzers, e.g., code completion, can help you while doing so.

print(f'{model.blocks[1].linear.kernel.value = }')
print(f'{model.blocks[0].bn.scale.value = }')
model.blocks[1].linear.kernel.value = Array([[-0.31410056, -0.9153769 ],
       [-0.38879898, -0.12699318]], dtype=float32)
model.blocks[0].bn.scale.value = Array([1., 1.], dtype=float32)

Model Surgery#

NNX Modules are mutable by default, this means their structure can be changed at any time. Also, NNX’s Module system supports reference sharing of Modules and Variables.

This makes Model Surgery quite easy as any submodule could be replaced by e.g., a pretrained Module, a shared Module, or even just a Module/function that uses the same signature. More over, Variables can also be modified or shared.

# Module replacement
pretrained = Block(dim=2, rngs=nnx.Rngs(42)) # imagine this is pretrained
model.blocks[0] = pretrained
# adhoc Module sharing
model.blocks[3] = model.blocks[1]
# monkey patching
def awesome_layer(x): return x
model.blocks[2] = awesome_layer

# Variable sharing (weight tying)
model.blocks[-1].linear.kernel = model.blocks[0].linear.kernel

model(jnp.ones((1, 2)))
Array([[0., 0.]], dtype=float32)

The Functional API#

The Functional API establishes a clear boundary between reference/object semantics and value/pytree semantics. It also allows same amount of fine-grained control over the state that Linen/Haiku users are used to. The Functional API consists of 3 basic methods: split, merge, and update.

The StatefulLinear Module shown below will serve as an example for the use of the Functional API. It contains some nnx.Param Variables and a custom Count Variable type which is used to keep track of integer scalar state that increases on every forward pass.

class Count(nnx.Variable): pass

class StatefulLinear(nnx.Module):
  def __init__(self, din: int, dout: int, *, rngs: nnx.Rngs):
    self.w = nnx.Param(jax.random.uniform(rngs(), (din, dout)))
    self.b = nnx.Param(jnp.zeros((dout,)))
    self.count = Count(0)

  def __call__(self, x: jax.Array):
    self.count.value += 1
    return x @ self.w.value + self.b.value
model = StatefulLinear(din=2, dout=3, rngs=nnx.Rngs(0))

State and GraphDef#

A Module can be decomposed into GraphDef and State using the .split() method. State is a Mapping from strings to Variables or nested States. GraphDef contains all the static information needed to reconstruct a Module graph, it is analogous to JAX’s PyTreeDef.

graphdef, state = model.split()

print(f'{state = }\n')
print(f'{graphdef = }'[:200] + '...')
state = State({
  'b': Param(
    raw_value=Array([0., 0., 0.], dtype=float32)
  'count': Count(
  'w': Param(
    raw_value=Array([[0.9913868 , 0.45571804, 0.7215481 ],
           [0.8873962 , 0.2008096 , 0.72537684]], dtype=float32)

graphdef = GraphDef(nodedef=NodeDef(type=<class '__main__.StatefulLinear'>, index=0, attributes=('b', 'count', 'w'), subgraphs={}, static_fields={}, variables={'b': VariableDef(

Split, Merge, and Update#

merge is the reverse of split, it takes the GraphDef + State and reconstructs the Module. As shown in the example below, by using split and merge in sequence any Module can be lifted to be used in any JAX transform. update can update a Module structure from a compatible State. This is often used to propagate the state updates from a transform back to the source object outside.

print(f'{model.count = }')

# 1. Use split to create a pytree representation of the Module
graphdef, state = model.split()

def forward(graphdef: nnx.GraphDef, state: nnx.State, x: jax.Array) -> tuple[jax.Array, nnx.State]:
  # 2. Use merge to create a new model inside the JAX transformation
  model = graphdef.merge(state)
  # 3. Call the Module
  y = model(x)
  # 4. Use split to propagate State updates
  _, state = model.split()
  return y, state

y, state = forward(graphdef, state, x=jnp.ones((1, 2)))
# 5. Update the state of the original Module

print(f'{model.count.value = }')
model.count = Count(
model.count.value = Array(1, dtype=int32, weak_type=True)

The key insight of this pattern is that using mutable references is fine within a transform context (including the base eager interpreter) but its necessary to use the Functional API when crossing boundaries.

Why aren’t Module’s just Pytrees? The main reason is that it is very easy to lose track of shared references by accident this way, for example if you pass two Module that have a shared Module through a JAX boundary you will silently lose that sharing. The Functional API makes this behavior explicit, and thus it is much easier to reason about.

Fine-grained State Control#

Seasoned Linen and Haiku users might recognize that having all the state in a single structure is not always the best choice as there are cases in which you might want to handle different subsets of the state differently. This a common occurrence when interacting with JAX transforms, for example, not all the model’s state can or should be differentiated when interacting which grad, or sometimes there is a need to specify what part of the model’s state is a carry and what part is not when using scan.

To solve this, split allows you to pass one or more Filters to partition the Variables into mutually exclusive States. The most common Filter being types as shown below.

# use Variable type filters to split into multiple States
graphdef, params, counts = model.split(nnx.Param, Count)

print(f'{params = }\n')
print(f'{counts = }')
params = State({
  'b': Param(
    raw_value=Array([0., 0., 0.], dtype=float32)
  'w': Param(
    raw_value=Array([[0.9913868 , 0.45571804, 0.7215481 ],
           [0.8873962 , 0.2008096 , 0.72537684]], dtype=float32)

counts = State({
  'count': Count(
    raw_value=Array(1, dtype=int32, weak_type=True)

Note: filters must be exhaustive, if a Variable is not matched an error will be raised.

As expected the merge and update methods naturally consume multiple States:

# merge multiple States
model = graphdef.merge(params, counts)
# update with multiple States
model.update(params, counts)