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N-Bit Precision (Intermediate)

Audience: Users looking to scale larger models or take advantage of optimized accelerators.

What is Mixed Precision?

PyTorch, like most deep learning frameworks, trains on 32-bit floating-point (FP32) arithmetic by default. However, many deep learning models do not require this to reach complete accuracy. By conducting operations in half-precision format while keeping minimum information in single-precision to maintain as much information as possible in crucial areas of the network, mixed precision training delivers significant computational speedup. Switching to mixed precision has resulted in considerable training speedups since the introduction of Tensor Cores in the Volta and Turing architectures. It combines FP32 and lower-bit floating-points (such as FP16) to reduce memory footprint and increase performance during model training and evaluation. It accomplishes this by recognizing the steps that require complete accuracy and employing a 32-bit floating-point for those steps only, while using a 16-bit floating-point for the rest. When compared to complete precision training, mixed precision training delivers all of these benefits while ensuring that no task-specific accuracy is lost. [2].


In some cases, it is essential to remain in FP32 for numerical stability, so keep this in mind when using mixed precision. For example, when running scatter operations during the forward (such as torchpoint3d), computation must remain in FP32.


Do not cast anything to other dtypes manually using torch.autocast or tensor.half() when using native precision because this can bring instability.

class LitModel(LightningModule):
    def training_step(self, batch, batch_idx):
        outs = self(batch)

        a_float32 = torch.rand((8, 8), device=self.device, dtype=self.dtype)
        b_float32 = torch.rand((8, 4), device=self.device, dtype=self.dtype)

        # casting to float16 manually
        with torch.autocast(device_type=self.device.type):
            c_float16 = torch.mm(a_float32, b_float32)
            target = self.layer(c_float16.flatten()[None])

        # here outs is of type float32 and target is of type float16
        loss = torch.mm(target @ outs).float()
        return loss

trainer = Trainer(accelerator="gpu", devices=1, precision=32)

BFloat16 Mixed Precision


BFloat16 may not provide significant speedups or memory improvements or offer better numerical stability. For GPUs, the most significant benefits require Ampere based GPUs or newer, such as A100s or 3090s.

BFloat16 Mixed precision is similar to FP16 mixed precision, however, it maintains more of the “dynamic range” that FP32 offers. This means it is able to improve numerical stability than FP16 mixed precision. For more information, see this TPU performance blogpost.

Under the hood, we use torch.autocast with the dtype set to bfloat16, with no gradient scaling.

Trainer(accelerator="gpu", devices=1, precision="bf16-mixed")

It is also possible to use BFloat16 mixed precision on the CPU, relying on MKLDNN under the hood.


True Half Precision

As mentioned before, for numerical stability mixed precision keeps the model weights in full float32 precision while casting only supported operations to lower bit precision. However, in some cases it is indeed possible to train completely in half precision. Similarly, for inference the model weights can often be cast to half precision without a loss in accuracy (even when trained with mixed precision).

# Select FP16 precision
trainer = Trainer(precision="16-true")
trainer.fit(model)  # model gets cast to torch.float16

# Select BF16 precision
trainer = Trainer(precision="bf16-true")
trainer.fit(model)  # model gets cast to torch.bfloat16

Tip: For faster initialization, you can create model parameters with the desired dtype directly on the device:

trainer = Trainer(precision="bf16-true")

# init the model directly on the device and with parameters in half-precision
with trainer.init_module():
    model = MyModel()


See also: Efficient initialization

Float8 Mixed Precision via Nvidia’s TransformerEngine

Transformer Engine (TE) is a library for accelerating models on the latest NVIDIA GPUs using 8-bit floating point (FP8) precision on Hopper GPUs, to provide better performance with lower memory utilization in both training and inference. It offers improved performance over half precision with no degradation in accuracy.

Using TE requires replacing some of the layers in your model. Fabric automatically replaces the torch.nn.Linear and torch.nn.LayerNorm layers in your model with their TE alternatives, however, TE also offers fused layers to squeeze out all the possible performance. If Fabric detects that any layer has been replaced already, automatic replacement is not done.

This plugin is a combination of “mixed” and “true” precision. The computation is downcasted to FP8 precision on the fly, but the model and inputs can be kept in true full or half precision.

# Select 8bit mixed precision via TransformerEngine, with model weights in bfloat16
trainer = Trainer(precision="transformer-engine")

# Select 8bit mixed precision via TransformerEngine, with model weights in float16
trainer = Trainer(precision="transformer-engine-float16")

# Customize the fp8 recipe or set a different base precision:
from lightning.trainer.plugins import TransformerEnginePrecision

recipe = {"fp8_format": "HYBRID", "amax_history_len": 16, "amax_compute_algo": "max"}
precision = TransformerEnginePrecision(dtype=torch.bfloat16, recipe=recipe)
trainer = Trainer(plugins=precision)

Under the hood, we use transformer_engine.pytorch.fp8_autocast with the default fp8 recipe.


This requires Hopper based GPUs or newer, such the H100.

Quantization via Bitsandbytes

bitsandbytes (BNB) is a library that supports quantizing torch.nn.Linear weights.

Both 4-bit (paper reference) and 8-bit (paper reference) quantization is supported. Specifically, we support the following modes:

  • nf4: Uses the normalized float 4-bit data type. This is recommended over “fp4” based on the paper’s experimental results and theoretical analysis.

  • nf4-dq: “dq” stands for “Double Quantization” which reduces the average memory footprint by quantizing the quantization constants. In average, this amounts to about 0.37 bits per parameter (approximately 3 GB for a 65B model).

  • fp4: Uses regular float 4-bit data type.

  • fp4-dq: “dq” stands for “Double Quantization” which reduces the average memory footprint by quantizing the quantization constants. In average, this amounts to about 0.37 bits per parameter (approximately 3 GB for a 65B model).

  • int8: Uses unsigned int8 data type.

  • int8-training: Meant for int8 activations with fp16 precision weights.

While these techniques store weights in 4 or 8 bit, the computation still happens in 16 or 32-bit (float16, bfloat16, float32). This is configurable via the dtype argument in the plugin. If your model weights can fit on a single device with 16 bit precision, it’s recommended that this plugin is not used as it will slow down training.

Quantizing the model will dramatically reduce the weight’s memory requirements but may have a negative impact on the model’s performance or runtime.

The BitsandbytesPrecision automatically replaces the torch.nn.Linear layers in your model with their BNB alternatives.

from lightning.pytorch.plugins import BitsandbytesPrecision

# this will pick out the compute dtype automatically, by default `bfloat16`
precision = BitsandbytesPrecision(mode="nf4-dq")
precision = BitsandbytesPrecisionPlugin()
trainer = Trainer(plugins=precision)

# Customize the dtype, or skip some modules
precision = BitsandbytesPrecision(mode="int8-training", dtype=torch.float16, ignore_modules={"lm_head"})
trainer = Trainer(plugins=precision)

class MyModel(LightningModule):
    def configure_model(self):
        # instantiate your model in this hook
        self.model = MyModel()


Only supports CUDA devices and the Linux operating system. Windows users should use WSL2.

This plugin does not take care of replacing your optimizer with an 8-bit optimizer e.g. bitsandbytes.optim.Adam8bit. You might want to do this for extra memory savings.

import bitsandbytes as bnb

class MyModel(LightningModule):
    def configure_optimizers(self):
        optimizer = bnb.optim.Adam8bit(model.parameters(), lr=0.001, betas=(0.9, 0.995))

        # (optional) force embedding layers to use 32 bit for numerical stability
        # https://github.com/huggingface/transformers/issues/14819#issuecomment-1003445038
        for module in model.modules():
            if isinstance(module, torch.nn.Embedding):
                    module, "weight", {"optim_bits": 32}

        return optimizer