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Tensor Processing Unit (TPU)

Lightning supports running on TPUs. At this moment, TPUs are available on Google Cloud (GCP), Google Colab and Kaggle Environments. For more information on TPUs watch this video.

TPU Terminology

A TPU is a Tensor processing unit. Each TPU has 8 cores where each core is optimized for 128x128 matrix multiplies. In general, a single TPU is about as fast as 5 V100 GPUs!

A TPU pod hosts many TPUs on it. Currently, TPU v3 Pod has up to 2048 TPU cores and 32 TiB of memory! You can request a full pod from Google cloud or a “slice” which gives you some subset of those 2048 cores.

How to access TPUs

To access TPUs, there are three main ways.

  1. Using Google Colab.

  2. Using Google Cloud (GCP).

  3. Using Kaggle.

Kaggle TPUs

For starting Kaggle projects with TPUs, refer to this kernel.

Colab TPUs

Colab is like a jupyter notebook with a free GPU or TPU hosted on GCP.

To get a TPU on colab, follow these steps:

  1. Go to https://colab.research.google.com/.

  2. Click “new notebook” (bottom right of pop-up).

  3. Click runtime > change runtime settings. Select Python 3, and hardware accelerator “TPU”. This will give you a TPU with 8 cores.

  4. Next, insert this code into the first cell and execute. This will install the xla library that interfaces between PyTorch and the TPU.

    !pip install cloud-tpu-client==0.10 https://storage.googleapis.com/tpu-pytorch/wheels/torch_xla-1.9-cp37-cp37m-linux_x86_64.whl
  5. Once the above is done, install PyTorch Lightning.

    !pip install pytorch-lightning
  6. Then set up your LightningModule as normal.


Lightning automatically inserts the correct samplers - no need to do this yourself!

Usually, with TPUs (and DDP), you would need to define a DistributedSampler to move the right chunk of data to the appropriate TPU. As mentioned, this is not needed in Lightning


Don’t add distributedSamplers. Lightning does this automatically

If for some reason you still need to, this is how to construct the sampler for TPU use

import torch_xla.core.xla_model as xm

def train_dataloader(self):
    dataset = MNIST(os.getcwd(), train=True, download=True, transform=transforms.ToTensor())

    # required for TPU support
    sampler = None
    if use_tpu:
        sampler = torch.utils.data.distributed.DistributedSampler(
            dataset, num_replicas=xm.xrt_world_size(), rank=xm.get_ordinal(), shuffle=True

    loader = DataLoader(dataset, sampler=sampler, batch_size=32)

    return loader

Configure the number of TPU cores in the trainer. You can only choose 1 or 8. To use a full TPU pod skip to the TPU pod section.

import pytorch_lightning as pl

my_model = MyLightningModule()
trainer = pl.Trainer(accelerator="tpu", devices=8)

That’s it! Your model will train on all 8 TPU cores.

TPU core training

Lightning supports training on a single TPU core or 8 TPU cores.

The Trainer parameters devices along with accelerator="tpu" defines how many TPU cores to train on (1 or 8) / Single TPU to train on [1].

For Single TPU training, Just pass the TPU core ID [1-8] in a list.

Single TPU core training. Model will train on TPU core ID 5.

trainer = pl.Trainer(accelerator="tpu", devices=[5])

8 TPU cores training. Model will train on 8 TPU cores.

trainer = pl.Trainer(accelerator="tpu", devices=8)

Distributed Backend with TPU

The accelerator option used for GPUs does not apply to TPUs. TPUs work in DDP mode by default (distributing over each core)


Lightning supports training on the new Cloud TPU VMs. Previously, we needed separate VMs to connect to the TPU machines, but as Cloud TPU VMs run on the TPU Host machines, it allows direct SSH access for the users. Hence, this architecture upgrade leads to cheaper and significantly better performance and usability while working with TPUs.

The TPUVMs come pre-installed with latest versions of PyTorch and PyTorch XLA. After connecting to the VM and before running your Lightning code, you would need to set the XRT TPU device configuration.

$ export XRT_TPU_CONFIG="localservice;0;localhost:51011"

You could learn more about the Cloud TPU VM architecture here


To train on more than 8 cores, your code actually doesn’t change! All you need to do is submit the following command:

$ python -m torch_xla.distributed.xla_dist
-- python /usr/share/torch-xla-1.8.1/pytorch/xla/test/test_train_imagenet.py --fake_data

See this guide on how to set up the instance groups and VMs needed to run TPU Pods.

16 bit precision

Lightning also supports training in 16-bit precision with TPUs. By default, TPU training will use 32-bit precision. To enable 16-bit, set the 16-bit flag.

import pytorch_lightning as pl

my_model = MyLightningModule()
trainer = pl.Trainer(accelerator="tpu", devices=8, precision=16)

Under the hood the xla library will use the bfloat16 type.

Weight Sharing/Tying

Weight Tying/Sharing is a technique where in the module weights are shared among two or more layers. This is a common method to reduce memory consumption and is utilized in many State of the Art architectures today.

PyTorch XLA requires these weights to be tied/shared after moving the model to the TPU device. To support this requirement Lightning provides a model hook which is called after the model is moved to the device. Any weights that require to be tied should be done in the on_post_move_to_device model hook. This will ensure that the weights among the modules are shared and not copied.

PyTorch Lightning has an inbuilt check which verifies that the model parameter lengths match once the model is moved to the device. If the lengths do not match Lightning throws a warning message.


from pytorch_lightning.core.lightning import LightningModule
from torch import nn
from pytorch_lightning.trainer.trainer import Trainer

class WeightSharingModule(LightningModule):
    def __init__(self):
        self.layer_1 = nn.Linear(32, 10, bias=False)
        self.layer_2 = nn.Linear(10, 32, bias=False)
        self.layer_3 = nn.Linear(32, 10, bias=False)
        # TPU shared weights are copied independently
        # on the XLA device and this line won't have any effect.
        # However, it works fine for CPU and GPU.
        self.layer_3.weight = self.layer_1.weight

    def forward(self, x):
        x = self.layer_1(x)
        x = self.layer_2(x)
        x = self.layer_3(x)
        return x

    def on_post_move_to_device(self):
        # Weights shared after the model has been moved to TPU Device
        self.layer_3.weight = self.layer_1.weight

model = WeightSharingModule()
trainer = Trainer(max_epochs=1, accelerator="tpu", devices=8)

See XLA Documentation

Performance considerations

The TPU was designed for specific workloads and operations to carry out large volumes of matrix multiplication, convolution operations and other commonly used ops in applied deep learning. The specialization makes it a strong choice for NLP tasks, sequential convolutional networks, and under low precision operation. There are cases in which training on TPUs is slower when compared with GPUs, for possible reasons listed:

  • Too small batch size.

  • Explicit evaluation of tensors during training, e.g. tensor.item()

  • Tensor shapes (e.g. model inputs) change often during training.

  • Limited resources when using TPU’s with PyTorch Link

  • XLA Graph compilation during the initial steps Reference

  • Some tensor ops are not fully supported on TPU, or not supported at all. These operations will be performed on CPU (context switch).

  • PyTorch integration is still experimental. Some performance bottlenecks may simply be the result of unfinished implementation.

The official PyTorch XLA performance guide has more detailed information on how PyTorch code can be optimized for TPU. In particular, the metrics report allows one to identify operations that lead to context switching.


  • Missing XLA configuration

File "/usr/local/lib/python3.8/dist-packages/torch_xla/core/xla_model.py", line 18, in <lambda>
    _DEVICES = xu.LazyProperty(lambda: torch_xla._XLAC._xla_get_devices())
RuntimeError: tensorflow/compiler/xla/xla_client/computation_client.cc:273 : Missing XLA configuration
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/home/kaushikbokka/pytorch-lightning/pytorch_lightning/utilities/device_parser.py", line 125, in parse_tpu_cores
    raise MisconfigurationException('No TPU devices were found.')
pytorch_lightning.utilities.exceptions.MisconfigurationException: No TPU devices were found.

This means the system is missing XLA configuration. You would need to set up XRT TPU device configuration.

For TPUVM architecture, you could set it in your terminal by:

export XRT_TPU_CONFIG="localservice;0;localhost:51011"

And for the old TPU + 2VM architecture, you could set it by:

export TPU_IP_ADDRESS=  # You could get the IP Address in the GCP TPUs section
export XRT_TPU_CONFIG="tpu_worker;0;$TPU_IP_ADDRESS:8470"
  • How to clear up the programs using TPUs in the background

lsof -w /lib/libtpu.so | grep "python" |  awk '{print $2}' | xargs -r kill -9

Sometimes, there can still be old programs running on the TPUs, which would make the TPUs unavailable to use. You could use the above command in the terminal to kill the running processes.

  • Replication issue

File "/usr/local/lib/python3.6/dist-packages/torch_xla/core/xla_model.py", line 200, in set_replication
    replication_devices = xla_replication_devices(devices)
File "/usr/local/lib/python3.6/dist-packages/torch_xla/core/xla_model.py", line 187, in xla_replication_devices
    .format(len(local_devices), len(kind_devices)))
RuntimeError: Cannot replicate if number of devices (1) is different from 8

This error is raised when the XLA device is called outside the spawn process. Internally in TPUSpawn Strategy for training on multiple tpu cores, we use XLA’s xmp.spawn. Don’t use xm.xla_device() while working on Lightning + TPUs!

  • Unsupported datatype transfer to TPU

File "/usr/local/lib/python3.8/dist-packages/torch_xla/utils/utils.py", line 205, in _for_each_instance_rewrite
    v = _for_each_instance_rewrite(result.__dict__[k], select_fn, fn, rwmap)
File "/usr/local/lib/python3.8/dist-packages/torch_xla/utils/utils.py", line 206, in _for_each_instance_rewrite
    result.__dict__[k] = v
TypeError: 'mappingproxy' object does not support item assignment

PyTorch XLA only supports Tensor objects for CPU to TPU data transfer. Might cause issues if the User is trying to send some non-tensor objects through the DataLoader or during saving states.

  • Using `tpu_spawn_debug` Strategy alias

import pytorch_lightning as pl

my_model = MyLightningModule()
trainer = pl.Trainer(accelerator="tpu", devices=8, strategy="tpu_spawn_debug")

Example Metrics report:

Metric: CompileTime
    TotalSamples: 202
    Counter: 06m09s401ms746.001us
    ValueRate: 778ms572.062us / second
    Rate: 0.425201 / second
    Percentiles: 1%=001ms32.778us; 5%=001ms61.283us; 10%=001ms79.236us; 20%=001ms110.973us; 50%=001ms228.773us; 80%=001ms339.183us; 90%=001ms434.305us; 95%=002ms921.063us; 99%=21s102ms853.173us

A lot of PyTorch operations aren’t lowered to XLA, which could lead to significant slowdown of the training process. These operations are moved to the CPU memory and evaluated, and then the results are transferred back to the XLA device(s). By using the tpu_spawn_debug Strategy, users could create a metrics report to diagnose issues.

The report includes things like (XLA Reference):

  • how many times we issue XLA compilations and time spent on issuing.

  • how many times we execute and time spent on execution

  • how many device data handles we create/destroy etc.

  • TPU Pod Training Startup script

All TPU VMs in a Pod setup are required to access the model code and data. One easy way to achieve this is to use the following startup script when creating the TPU VM pod. It will perform the data downloading on all TPU VMs. Note that you need to export the corresponding environment variables following the instruction in Create TPU Node.

gcloud alpha compute tpus tpu-vm create ${TPU_NAME} --zone ${ZONE} --project ${PROJECT_ID} --accelerator-type v3-32 --version ${RUNTIME_VERSION} --metadata startup-script=setup.py

Then users could ssh to any TPU worker, e.g. worker 0, check if data/model downloading is finished and start the training after generating the ssh-keys to ssh between VM workers on a pod:

python3 -m torch_xla.distributed.xla_dist --tpu=$TPU_NAME -- python3 train.py --max_epochs=5 --batch_size=32

About XLA

XLA is the library that interfaces PyTorch with the TPUs. For more information check out XLA.

Guide for troubleshooting XLA