December 5, 2019

495 words 3 mins read



Adaptive Attention Span in Transformers

repo name facebookresearch/adaptive-span
repo link
language Python
size (curr.) 91 kB
stars (curr.) 444
created 2019-05-31
license Other

Adaptive Attention Span for Transformers

This is a code for running experiments in Adaptive Attention Span for Transformers paper. It trains a Transformer model on character-level language modeling tasks. The adaptive span allows a model to learn an optimal context size for each self-attention head from training data. As shown in the below figure, only few heads require long attention span, thus making it possible to increase the context size to 8k tokens without increasing computation time and memory footprint significantly.


You need PyTorch 0.4.1 or above and a cuda-enabled GPU to run the code.

Running experiments in the paper

Scripts for running experiments in the paper are located in ./experiments/ directory. For example, a smaller 8-layer version of our model can be trained on a single GPU by running:

bash experiments/

It should reach about 1.3bpc on dev after 150k steps.

For training larger models, multiple GPUs are recommended. In the script files, you can configure the number of available GPUs. Increase the --batch-split argument if you run out of GPU memory (it splits batches into smaller pieces without changing the final result).

We obtained the following results in our experiments:

Experiment #params dev (bpc) test (bpc)
enwik8 38M 1.04 1.02
enwik8_large 209M 1.00 0.98
text8 39M 1.05 1.11
text8_large 209M 1.01 1.07

Pre-trained models

You can download pre-trained models by running the script. Then the same scripts in ./experiments/ can be used to evaluate those models. Since the download script puts models in ./checkpoints/, make sure there is no file with the same name. Note that these pre-trained models are obtained by rerunning the training scripts after the code cleanup, so there are small differences from the above results due to the randomness of the training.

More about the code

  • Multi GPUs and nodes: By default, the code uses nn.DataParallel to utilize all available GPUs. For more efficiency, enable distributed training by --distributed argument, which can run on multiple nodes.
  • Base model: As a base model, the code implements a Transformer model with relative position embeddings and hidden state caching for processing a sequence of tokens.
  • Adaptive attention span: An argument --adapt-span enables adaptive span. Otherwise a model will have a fixed attention span. The adaptive-span is implemented as a nn.Module to make it easier to plug it into other models.
  • Training time: A large model training takes about 1.2sec/batch near the end (initially it’s faster because the attention spans are smaller) on 8 V100 GPUs. So, for example, the whole enwik8_large training of 170k steps should take less than 2.4 days.


The code is licensed under CC-BY-NC license. See the LICENSE file for more details.


We thank Xavier Martinet for helping with cleaning the code. The data preprocessing scripts are downloaded from awd-lstm and transformer-XL repos. The is mostly adapted from PyTorch.

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