NNX Basics#

NNX is a Neural Network library for JAX that focuses on providing the best development experience, so building and experimenting with neural networks is easy and intuitive. It achieves this by representing objects as PyGraphs (instead of PyTrees), enabling reference sharing and mutability. This design allows your models to resemble familiar Python object-oriented code, particularly appealing to users of frameworks like PyTorch.

Despite its simplified implementation, NNX supports the same powerful design patterns that have allowed Linen to scale effectively to large codebases.

! pip install -U flax penzai
from flax 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 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).

As shown next, 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 such as Param 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.

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 + self.b

nnx.Variable’s inner values can be accessed using the .value property, however for convenience they implement all numeric operators and can be used directly in arithmetic expressions (as shown above). Additionally, Variables can passed to any JAX function as they implement the __jax_array__ protocol (as long as their inner value is a JAX array).

To actually initialize a Module you simply call the constructor, all the parameters of a Module are usually created eagerly. Since Modules hold their own state methods can be called directly without the no need for a separate apply method, this is very convenient for debugging as entire structure of the model can be inspected directly.

model = Linear(2, 5, rngs=nnx.Rngs(params=0))
y = model(x=jnp.ones((1, 2)))

[[1.245453   0.74195766 0.8553282  0.6763327  1.2617068 ]]

The above visualization by nnx.display is generated using the awesome Penzai library.

Stateful Computation#

Implementing layers such as BatchNorm requires performing state updates during the forward pass. To implement this in NNX you just create a Variable and update its .value during the forward pass.

class Count(nnx.Variable): pass

class Counter(nnx.Module):
  def __init__(self):
    self.count = Count(jnp.array(0))

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

counter = Counter()
print(f'{counter.count.value = }')
print(f'{counter.count.value = }')
counter.count.value = Array(0, dtype=int32, weak_type=True)
counter.count.value = Array(1, dtype=int32, weak_type=True)

Mutable references are usually avoided in JAX, however as we’ll see in later sections NNX provides sound mechanisms to handle them.

Nested Modules#

As expected, Modules can be used to compose other Modules in a nested structure, these can be assigned directly as attributes, or inside an attribute of any (nested) pytree type e.g. list, dict, tuple, etc. In the example below we define a simple MLP Module that consists of two Linear layers, a Dropout layer, and a BatchNorm layer.

class MLP(nnx.Module):
  def __init__(self, din: int, dmid: int, dout: int, *, rngs: nnx.Rngs):
    self.linear1 = Linear(din, dmid, rngs=rngs)
    self.dropout = nnx.Dropout(rate=0.1, rngs=rngs)
    self.bn = nnx.BatchNorm(dmid, rngs=rngs)
    self.linear2 = Linear(dmid, dout, rngs=rngs)

  def __call__(self, x: jax.Array):
    x = nnx.gelu(self.dropout(self.bn(self.linear1(x))))
    return self.linear2(x)
model = MLP(2, 16, 5, rngs=nnx.Rngs(0))

y = model(x=jnp.ones((3, 2)))


In NNX Dropout is a stateful module that stores an Rngs object so that it can generate new masks during the forward pass without the need for the user to pass a new key each time.

Model Surgery#

NNX Modules are mutable by default, this means their structure can be changed at any time, this makes model surgery quite easy as any submodule attribute can be replaced with anything else e.g. new Modules, existing shared Modules, Modules of different types, etc. More over, Variables can also be modified or replaced / shared.

The following example shows how to replace the Linear layers in the MLP model from before with LoraLinear layers.

class LoraParam(nnx.Param): pass

class LoraLinear(nnx.Module):
  def __init__(self, linear: Linear, rank: int, rngs: nnx.Rngs):
    self.linear = linear
    self.A = LoraParam(jax.random.normal(rngs(), (linear.din, rank)))
    self.B = LoraParam(jax.random.normal(rngs(), (rank, linear.dout)))

  def __call__(self, x: jax.Array):
    return self.linear(x) + x @ self.A @ self.B

rngs = nnx.Rngs(0)
model = MLP(2, 32, 5, rngs=rngs)

# model surgery
model.linear1 = LoraLinear(model.linear1, 4, rngs=rngs)
model.linear2 = LoraLinear(model.linear2, 4, rngs=rngs)

y = model(x=jnp.ones((3, 2)))


NNX Transforms#

NNX Transforms extend JAX transforms to support Modules and other objects. They are supersets of their equivalent JAX counterpart with the addition of being aware of the object’s state and providing additional APIs to transform it. One of the main features of NNX Transforms is the preservation of reference semantics, meaning that any mutation of the object graph that occurs inside the transform is propagated outisde as long as its legal within the transform rules. In practice this means that NNX programs can be express using imperative code, highly simplifying the user experience.

In the following example we define a train_step function that takes a MLP model, an Optimizer, and a batch of data, and returns the loss for that step. The loss and the gradients are computed using the nnx.value_and_grad transform over the loss_fn. The gradients are passed to the optimizer’s update method to update the model’s parameters.

import optax

# MLP contains 2 Linear layers, 1 Dropout layer, 1 BatchNorm layer
model = MLP(2, 16, 10, rngs=nnx.Rngs(0))
optimizer = nnx.Optimizer(model, optax.adam(1e-3))  # reference sharing

@nnx.jit  # automatic state management
def train_step(model, optimizer, x, y):
  def loss_fn(model: MLP):
    y_pred = model(x)
    return jnp.mean((y_pred - y) ** 2)

  loss, grads = nnx.value_and_grad(loss_fn)(model)
  optimizer.update(grads)  # inplace updates

  return loss

x, y = jnp.ones((5, 2)), jnp.ones((5, 10))
loss = train_step(model, optimizer, x, y)

print(f'{loss = }')
print(f'{optimizer.step.value = }')
loss = Array(1.0000279, dtype=float32)
optimizer.step.value = Array(1, dtype=uint32)

Theres a couple of things happening in this example that are worth mentioning:

  1. The updates to the BatchNorm and Dropout layer’s state is automatically propagated from within loss_fn to train_step all the way to the model reference outside.

  2. optimizer holds a mutable reference to model, this relationship is preserved inside the train_step function making it possible to update the model’s parameters using the optimizer alone.

Scan over layers#

Next lets take a look at a different example using nnx.vmap to create an MLP stack and nnx.scan to iteratively apply each layer in the stack to the input (scan over layers).

Notice the following:

  1. The create_model function creates a (single) MLP object that is lifted by nnx.vmap to have an additional dimension of size axis_size.

  2. The forward function indexes the MLP object’s state to get a different set of parameters at each step.

  3. nnx.scan automatically propagates the state updates for the BatchNorm and Dropout layers from within forward to the model reference outside.

from functools import partial

@partial(nnx.vmap, axis_size=5)
def create_model(rngs: nnx.Rngs):
  return MLP(10, 32, 10, rngs=rngs)

model = create_model(nnx.Rngs(0))

def forward(x, model: MLP):
  x = model(x)
  return x, None

x = jnp.ones((3, 10))
y, _ = forward(x, model)

print(f'{y.shape = }')
y.shape = (3, 10)

How do NNX transforms achieve this? To understand how NNX objects interact with JAX transforms lets take a look at the Functional API.

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=3, dout=5, rngs=nnx.Rngs(0))

State and GraphDef#

A Module can be decomposed into GraphDef and State using the split function. 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 = nnx.split(model)

nnx.display(graphdef, state)

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 an object inplace with the content of a given State. This pattern is used to propagate the state from a transform back to the source object outside.

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

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

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 = nnx.merge(graphdef, state)
  # 3. Call the Module
  y = model(x)
  # 4. Use split to propagate State updates
  _, state = nnx.split(model)
  return y, state

y, state = forward(graphdef, state, x=jnp.ones((1, 3)))
# 5. Update the state of the original Module
nnx.update(model, state)

print(f'{model.count.value = }')
model.count.value = 0
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 = nnx.split(model, nnx.Param, Count)

nnx.display(params, counts)

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

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

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