The timm DataLoaders that are a bit different than the torch.utils.data.DataLoader and a little bit faster. Let's explore them here.

The simplest way to create a dataloader in timm is to call the create_loader function in timm.data.loader. It expects a dataset object, an input_size parameter and finally a batch_size. Everything else is preset for us to make things easy. Let's see a quck example on how to create dataloaders using timm.

## Example Usage

!tree ../../imagenette2-320/ -d

../../imagenette2-320/
├── train
│   ├── n01440764
│   ├── n02102040
│   ├── n02979186
│   ├── n03000684
│   ├── n03028079
│   ├── n03394916
│   ├── n03417042
│   ├── n03425413
│   ├── n03445777
│   └── n03888257
└── val
├── n01440764
├── n02102040
├── n02979186
├── n03000684
├── n03028079
├── n03394916
├── n03417042
├── n03425413
├── n03445777
└── n03888257

22 directories

from timm.data.dataset import ImageDataset

dataset = ImageDataset('../../imagenette2-320/')
dataset[0]

(<PIL.Image.Image image mode=RGB size=426x320 at 0x7F8379C26190>, 0)

Great, so we have created our dataset. This ImageDataset in timm is very similar to torchvision.datasets.ImageFolder with some nice added features. Let's visualize the first image in our dataset. As expected, it's an image of a tench! ;)

from matplotlib import pyplot as plt

# visualize image
plt.imshow(dataset[0][0])

<matplotlib.image.AxesImage at 0x7f83702a7bd0>

from timm.data.loader import create_loader

try:
# only works if gpu present on machine
except:


Here, you might ask why do we have a try-except block above? What's the difference between the first train_loader and the second one? What is use_prefetcher argument and what does it do?

Internally, timm has a class called PrefetchLoader. And by default, we use this prefetch loader to create our data loader. But, it only works on GPU enabled machines. Since, GPUs are available for me, the train_loader for me is an instance of this PrefetchLoader class.

train_loader

<timm.data.loader.PrefetchLoader at 0x7f836fd8c9d0>

Let's now see what does this PrefetchLoader do? All the interesting bits happen inside the __iter__ method of this class.

def __iter__(self):
stream = torch.cuda.Stream()
first = True

with torch.cuda.stream(stream):
next_input = next_input.cuda(non_blocking=True)
next_target = next_target.cuda(non_blocking=True)
if self.fp16:
next_input = next_input.half().sub_(self.mean).div_(self.std)
else:
next_input = next_input.float().sub_(self.mean).div_(self.std)
if self.random_erasing is not None:
next_input = self.random_erasing(next_input)

if not first:
yield input, target
else:
first = False

torch.cuda.current_stream().wait_stream(stream)
input = next_input
target = next_target

yield input, target


Let's try and understand what's actually going on? All we need to know is about cuda.streams to be able to understand this __iter__ method inside PrefetchLoader.

From the documentation available on PyTorch:

A CUDA stream is a linear sequence of execution that belongs to a specific device. You normally do not need to create one explicitly: by default, each device uses its own “default” stream.

Operations inside each stream are serialized in the order they are created, but operations from different streams can execute concurrently in any relative order, unless explicit synchronization functions (such as synchronize() or wait_stream()) are used.

When the “current stream” is the default stream, PyTorch automatically performs necessary synchronization when data is moved around. However, when using non-default streams, it is the user’s responsibility to ensure proper synchronization.


In simple words, each CUDA device can have it's own "stream" that is a sequence of commands to be run in order. But, doesn't mean that all streams (if multiple CUDA devices exist) are in sync with each other. It could be that while command-1 is running on 1st CUDA device's "stream", command-3 could be running on 2nd CUDA device's "stream".

But, how is this relevant? Can 'stream's be used to make our data loader faster?

Ofcourse! That is the whole point! Basically the key idea behind the PrefetchLoader in Ross's words is this:

"The prefetching with async cuda transfer helps a little to reduce likelihood of the batch transfer to GPU stalling by (hopefully) initiating it sooner and giving it more flexibility to operate in its own cuda stream concurrently with other ops."

Basically, we are performing the "moving to CUDA" step inside a device's own "stream" instead of the default stream. Which means that this step can be performed asynchronously while some other operations might be happening on the CPU or in the default "stream". This helps speed things up a little bit as now data is available on CUDA to be passed through the model faster.

And that's what's going inside the __iter__ method.

For the first batch, we iterate through the loader as we would have normally in torch.utils.data.DataLoader, and return the input, target.

But, for every batch onwards - We first instantiate a "stream" for CUDA device using with torch.cuda.stream(stream):, next, we perform the CUDA transfer inside this device's own "stream" in an asynchronus manner, and yielf this next_input and next_target.

Thus, every time we iterate through the data loader, we actually returned a prefetched input and target, therefore, the name PrefetchLoader.