PyTorch Quickstart#

In this code tutorial we will learn how to quickly train a model to understand some of PyTorch’s basic building blocks to train a deep learning model. After completion of this tutorial, you should be able to import data, transform it, and efficiently feed the data in batches to a convolution neural network (CNN) model for image classification.

This quickstart was adapted from dair-ai’s notebook.

import torch
import torch.nn as nn
import torch.nn.functional as F
import torchvision
import torchvision.transforms as transforms

Import The Data#

The first step before training the model is to import the data. We will use the MNIST dataset which is like the Hello World dataset of machine learning.

Besides importing the data, we will also do a few more things:

  • We will tranform the data into tensors using the transforms module

  • We will use DataLoader to build convenient data loaders or what are referred to as iterators, which makes it easy to efficiently feed data in batches to deep learning models.

  • As hinted above, we will also create batches of the data by setting the batch parameter inside the data loader. Notice we use batches of 32 in this tutorial but you can change it to 64 if you like. I encourage you to experiment with different batches.


## transformations
transform = transforms.Compose(

## download and load training dataset
trainset = torchvision.datasets.MNIST(root='./data', train=True,
                                        download=True, transform=transform)
trainloader =, batch_size=BATCH_SIZE,
                                          shuffle=True, num_workers=2)

## download and load testing dataset
testset = torchvision.datasets.MNIST(root='./data', train=False,
                                       download=True, transform=transform)
testloader =, batch_size=BATCH_SIZE,
                                         shuffle=False, num_workers=2)
Downloading to ./data/MNIST/raw/train-images-idx3-ubyte.gz
100%|██████████| 9912422/9912422 [00:00<00:00, 169169937.07it/s]
Extracting ./data/MNIST/raw/train-images-idx3-ubyte.gz to ./data/MNIST/raw

Downloading to ./data/MNIST/raw/train-labels-idx1-ubyte.gz
100%|██████████| 28881/28881 [00:00<00:00, 8180974.80it/s]
Extracting ./data/MNIST/raw/train-labels-idx1-ubyte.gz to ./data/MNIST/raw

Downloading to ./data/MNIST/raw/t10k-images-idx3-ubyte.gz
100%|██████████| 1648877/1648877 [00:00<00:00, 54085331.95it/s]
Extracting ./data/MNIST/raw/t10k-images-idx3-ubyte.gz to ./data/MNIST/raw

Downloading to ./data/MNIST/raw/t10k-labels-idx1-ubyte.gz
100%|██████████| 4542/4542 [00:00<00:00, 50666299.91it/s]
Extracting ./data/MNIST/raw/t10k-labels-idx1-ubyte.gz to ./data/MNIST/raw

Exploring the Data#

As a practioner and researcher, I am always spending a bit of time and effort exploring and understanding the dataset. It’s fun and this is a good practise to ensure that everything is in order.

Let’s check what the train and test dataset contains. I will use matplotlib to print out some of the images from our dataset.

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np

## functions to show an image
def imshow(img):
    #img = img / 2 + 0.5     # unnormalize
    npimg = img.numpy()
    plt.imshow(np.transpose(npimg, (1, 2, 0)))

## get some random training images
dataiter = iter(trainloader)
images, labels = next(dataiter)

## show images

Let’s check the dimensions of a batch.

for images, labels in trainloader:
    print("Image batch dimensions:", images.shape)
    print("Image label dimensions:", labels.shape)
Image batch dimensions: torch.Size([32, 1, 28, 28])
Image label dimensions: torch.Size([32])

The Model#

Now using the classical deep learning framework pipeline, let’s build the 1 convolutional layer model.

Here are a few notes for those who are beginning with PyTorch:

  • The model below consists of an __init__() portion which is where you include the layers and components of the neural network. In our model, we have a convolutional layer denoted by nn.Conv2d(...). We are dealing with an image dataset that is in a grayscale so we only need one channel going in, hence in_channels=1. We hope to get a nice representation of this layer, so we use out_channels=32. Kernel size is 3, and for the rest of parameters we use the default values which you can find here.

  • We use 2 back to back dense layers or what we refer to as linear transformations to the incoming data. Notice for d1 I have a dimension which looks like it came out of nowhere. 128 represents the size we want as output and the (26*26*32) represents the dimension of the incoming data. If you would like to find out how to calculate those numbers refer to the PyTorch documentation. In short, the convolutional layer transforms the input data into a specific dimension that has to be considered in the linear layer. The same applies for the second linear transformation (d2) where the dimension of the output of the previous linear layer was added as in_features=128, and 10 is just the size of the output which also corresponds to the number of classes.

  • After each one of those layers, we also apply an activation function such as ReLU. For prediction purposes, we then apply a softmax layer to the last transformation and return the output of that.

class MyModel(nn.Module):
    def __init__(self):
        super(MyModel, self).__init__()

        # 28x28x1 => 26x26x32
        self.conv1 = nn.Conv2d(in_channels=1, out_channels=32, kernel_size=3)
        self.d1 = nn.Linear(26 * 26 * 32, 128)
        self.d2 = nn.Linear(128, 10)

    def forward(self, x):
        # 32x1x28x28 => 32x32x26x26
        x = self.conv1(x)
        x = F.relu(x)

        # flatten => 32 x (32*26*26)
        x = x.flatten(start_dim = 1)

        # 32 x (32*26*26) => 32x128
        x = self.d1(x)
        x = F.relu(x)

        # logits => 32x10
        logits = self.d2(x)
        out = F.softmax(logits, dim=1)
        return out
## test the model with 1 batch
model = MyModel()
for images, labels in trainloader:
    print("batch size:", images.shape)
    out = model(images)
batch size: torch.Size([32, 1, 28, 28])
torch.Size([32, 10])

Training the Model#

Now we are ready to train the model but before that we are going to setup a loss function, an optimizer and a function to compute accuracy of the model.

learning_rate = 0.001
num_epochs = 5

device = torch.device("cuda:0" if torch.cuda.is_available() else "cpu")
model = MyModel()
model =
criterion = nn.CrossEntropyLoss()
optimizer = torch.optim.Adam(model.parameters(), lr=learning_rate)
## compute accuracy
def get_accuracy(logit, target, batch_size):
    ''' Obtain accuracy for training round '''
    corrects = (torch.max(logit, 1)[1].view(target.size()).data ==
    accuracy = 100.0 * corrects/batch_size
    return accuracy.item()

Now it’s time for training.

for epoch in range(num_epochs):
    train_running_loss = 0.0
    train_acc = 0.0

    model = model.train()

    ## training step
    for i, (images, labels) in enumerate(trainloader):
        images =
        labels =

        ## forward + backprop + loss
        logits = model(images)
        loss = criterion(logits, labels)

        ## update model params

        train_running_loss += loss.detach().item()
        train_acc += get_accuracy(logits, labels, BATCH_SIZE)
    print('Epoch: %d | Loss: %.4f | Train Accuracy: %.2f' \
          %(epoch, train_running_loss / i, train_acc/i))        
Epoch: 0 | Loss: 1.5510 | Train Accuracy: 91.52
Epoch: 1 | Loss: 1.4933 | Train Accuracy: 97.08
Epoch: 2 | Loss: 1.4826 | Train Accuracy: 98.08
Epoch: 3 | Loss: 1.4779 | Train Accuracy: 98.54
Epoch: 4 | Loss: 1.4747 | Train Accuracy: 98.82

We can also compute accuracy on the testing dataset to see how well the model performs on the image classificaiton task. As you can see below, our basic CNN model is performing very well on the MNIST classification task.

test_acc = 0.0
for i, (images, labels) in enumerate(testloader, 0):
    images =
    labels =
    outputs = model(images)
    test_acc += get_accuracy(outputs, labels, BATCH_SIZE)
print('Test Accuracy: %.2f'%( test_acc/i))
Test Accuracy: 98.26

Final Words#

That’s it for this tutorial! Congratulations! You are now able to implement a basic CNN model in PyTorch for image classification. If you would like, you can further extend the CNN model by adding more convolution layers and max pooling, but as you saw, you don’t really need it here as results look good. If you are interested in implementing a similar image classification model using RNNs see the references below.