June 23, 2020

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TextAttack is a Python framework for adversarial attacks, data augmentation, and model training in NLP

repo name QData/TextAttack
repo link https://github.com/QData/TextAttack
homepage https://textattack.readthedocs.io/en/latest/
language Python
size (curr.) 110582 kB
stars (curr.) 554
created 2019-10-15
license MIT License


TextAttack is a Python framework for adversarial attacks, data augmentation, and model training in NLP.

Slack Channel

For help and realtime updates related to TextAttack, please join the TextAttack Slack!

Why TextAttack?

There are lots of reasons to use TextAttack:

  1. Understand NLP models better by running different adversarial attacks on them and examining the output
  2. Research and develop different NLP adversarial attacks using the TextAttack framework and library of components
  3. Augment your dataset to increase model generalization and robustness downstream
  4. Train NLP models using just a single command (all downloads included!)



You should be running Python 3.6+ to use this package. A CUDA-compatible GPU is optional but will greatly improve code speed. TextAttack is available through pip:

pip install textattack

Once TextAttack is installed, you can run it via command-line (textattack ...) or via python module (python -m textattack ...).

Tip: TextAttack downloads files to ~/.cache/textattack/ by default. This includes pretrained models, dataset samples, and the configuration file config.yaml. To change the cache path, set the environment variable TA_CACHE_DIR. (for example: TA_CACHE_DIR=/tmp/ textattack attack ...).


TextAttack’s main features can all be accessed via the textattack command. Two very common commands are textattack attack <args>, and textattack augment <args>. You can see more information about all commands using textattack --help, or a specific command using, for example, textattack attack --help.

The examples/ folder includes scripts showing common TextAttack usage for training models, running attacks, and augmenting a CSV file. Thedocumentation website contains walkthroughs explaining basic usage of TextAttack, including building a custom transformation and a custom constraint..

Running Attacks

The easiest way to try out an attack is via the command-line interface, textattack attack.

Tip: If your machine has multiple GPUs, you can distribute the attack across them using the --parallel option. For some attacks, this can really help performance.

Here are some concrete examples:

TextFooler on an LSTM trained on the MR sentiment classification dataset:

textattack attack --recipe textfooler --model bert-base-uncased-mr --num-examples 100

DeepWordBug on DistilBERT trained on the Quora Question Pairs paraphrase identification dataset:

textattack attack --model distilbert-base-uncased-qqp --recipe deepwordbug --num-examples 100

Beam search with beam width 4 and word embedding transformation and untargeted goal function on an LSTM:

textattack attack --model lstm-mr --num-examples 20 \
 --search-method beam-search:beam_width=4 --transformation word-swap-embedding \
 --constraints repeat stopword max-words-perturbed:max_num_words=2 embedding:min_cos_sim=0.8 part-of-speech \
 --goal-function untargeted-classification

Tip: Instead of specifying a dataset and number of examples, you can pass --interactive to attack samples inputted by the user.

Attacks and Papers Implemented (“Attack Recipes”)

We include attack recipes which implement attacks from the literature. You can list attack recipes using textattack list attack-recipes.

To run an attack recipe: textattack attack --recipe [recipe_name]

Attacks on classification tasks, like sentiment classification and entailment:

Attacks on sequence-to-sequence models:

Recipe Usage Examples

Here are some exampes of testing attacks from the literature from the command-line:

TextFooler against BERT fine-tuned on SST-2:

textattack attack --model bert-base-uncased-sst2 --recipe textfooler --num-examples 10

seq2sick (black-box) against T5 fine-tuned for English-German translation:

 textattack attack --model t5-en-de --recipe seq2sick --num-examples 100

Augmenting Text

Many of the components of TextAttack are useful for data augmentation. The textattack.Augmenter class uses a transformation and a list of constraints to augment data. We also offer three built-in recipes for data augmentation:

  • textattack.WordNetAugmenter augments text by replacing words with WordNet synonyms
  • textattack.EmbeddingAugmenter augments text by replacing words with neighbors in the counter-fitted embedding space, with a constraint to ensure their cosine similarity is at least 0.8
  • textattack.CharSwapAugmenter augments text by substituting, deleting, inserting, and swapping adjacent characters

Augmentation Command-Line Interface

The easiest way to use our data augmentation tools is with textattack augment <args>. textattack augment takes an input CSV file and text column to augment, along with the number of words to change per augmentation and the number of augmentations per input example. It outputs a CSV in the same format with all the augmentation examples corresponding to the proper columns.

For example, given the following as examples.csv:

"the rock is destined to be the 21st century's new conan and that he's going to make a splash even greater than arnold schwarzenegger , jean- claud van damme or steven segal.", 1
"the gorgeously elaborate continuation of 'the lord of the rings' trilogy is so huge that a column of words cannot adequately describe co-writer/director peter jackson's expanded vision of j . r . r . tolkien's middle-earth .", 1
"take care of my cat offers a refreshingly different slice of asian cinema .", 1
"a technically well-made suspenser . . . but its abrupt drop in iq points as it races to the finish line proves simply too discouraging to let slide .", 0
"it's a mystery how the movie could be released in this condition .", 0

The command textattack augment --csv examples.csv --input-column text --recipe embedding --num-words-to-swap 4 --transformations-per-example 2 --exclude-original will augment the text column with four swaps per augmentation, twice as many augmentations as original inputs, and exclude the original inputs from the output CSV. (All of this will be saved to augment.csv by default.)

After augmentation, here are the contents of augment.csv:

"the rock is destined to be the 21st century's newest conan and that he's gonna to make a splashing even stronger than arnold schwarzenegger , jean- claud van damme or steven segal.",1
"the rock is destined to be the 21tk century's novel conan and that he's going to make a splat even greater than arnold schwarzenegger , jean- claud van damme or stevens segal.",1
the gorgeously elaborate continuation of 'the lord of the rings' trilogy is so huge that a column of expression significant adequately describe co-writer/director pedro jackson's expanded vision of j . rs . r . tolkien's middle-earth .,1
the gorgeously elaborate continuation of 'the lordy of the piercings' trilogy is so huge that a column of mots cannot adequately describe co-novelist/director peter jackson's expanded vision of j . r . r . tolkien's middle-earth .,1
take care of my cat offerings a pleasantly several slice of asia cinema .,1
taking care of my cat offers a pleasantly different slice of asiatic kino .,1
a technically good-made suspenser . . . but its abrupt drop in iq points as it races to the finish bloodline proves straightforward too disheartening to let slide .,0
a technically well-made suspenser . . . but its abrupt drop in iq dot as it races to the finish line demonstrates simply too disheartening to leave slide .,0
it's a enigma how the film wo be releases in this condition .,0
it's a enigma how the filmmaking wo be publicized in this condition .,0

The ‘embedding’ augmentation recipe uses counterfitted embedding nearest-neighbors to augment data.

Augmentation Python Interface

In addition to the command-line interface, you can augment text dynamically by importing the Augmenter in your own code. All Augmenter objects implement augment and augment_many to generate augmentations of a string or a list of strings. Here’s an example of how to use the EmbeddingAugmenter in a python script:

>>> from textattack.augmentation import EmbeddingAugmenter
>>> augmenter = EmbeddingAugmenter()
>>> s = 'What I cannot create, I do not understand.'
>>> augmenter.augment(s)
['What I notable create, I do not understand.', 'What I significant create, I do not understand.', 'What I cannot engender, I do not understand.', 'What I cannot creating, I do not understand.', 'What I cannot creations, I do not understand.', 'What I cannot create, I do not comprehend.', 'What I cannot create, I do not fathom.', 'What I cannot create, I do not understanding.', 'What I cannot create, I do not understands.', 'What I cannot create, I do not understood.', 'What I cannot create, I do not realise.']

Training Models

Our model training code is available via textattack train to help you train LSTMs, CNNs, and transformers models using TextAttack out-of-the-box. Datasets are automatically loaded using the nlp package.

Training Examples

Train our default LSTM for 50 epochs on the Yelp Polarity dataset:

textattack train --model lstm --dataset yelp_polarity --batch-size 64 --epochs 50 --learning-rate 1e-5

Fine-Tune bert-base on the CoLA dataset for 5 epochs*:

textattack train --model bert-base-uncased --dataset glue:cola --batch-size 32 --epochs 5

textattack peek-dataset

To take a closer look at a dataset, use textattack peek-dataset. TextAttack will print some cursory statistics about the inputs and outputs from the dataset. For example, textattack peek-dataset --dataset-from-nlp snli will show information about the SNLI dataset from the NLP package.

textattack list

There are lots of pieces in TextAttack, and it can be difficult to keep track of all of them. You can use textattack list to list components, for example, pretrained models (textattack list models) or available search methods (textattack list search-methods).



To allow for word replacement after a sequence has been tokenized, we include an AttackedText object which maintains both a list of tokens and the original text, with punctuation. We use this object in favor of a list of words or just raw text.

Models and Datasets

TextAttack is model-agnostic! You can use TextAttack to analyze any model that outputs IDs, tensors, or strings.

Built-in Models

TextAttack also comes built-in with models and datasets. Our command-line interface will automatically match the correct dataset to the correct model. We include various pre-trained models for each of the nine GLUE tasks, as well as some common datasets for classification, translation, and summarization. You can see the full list of provided models & datasets via textattack attack --help.

Here’s an example of using one of the built-in models (the SST-2 dataset is automatically loaded):

textattack attack --model roberta-base-sst2 --recipe textfooler --num-examples 10

HuggingFace support: transformers models and nlp datasets

We also provide built-in support for transformers pretrained models and datasets from the nlp package! Here’s an example of loading and attacking a pre-trained model and dataset:

textattack attack --model-from-huggingface distilbert-base-uncased-finetuned-sst-2-english --dataset-from-nlp glue:sst2 --recipe deepwordbug --num-examples 10

You can explore other pre-trained models using the --model-from-huggingface argument, or other datasets by changing --dataset-from-nlp.

Loading a model or dataset from a file

You can easily try out an attack on a local model or dataset sample. To attack a pre-trained model, create a short file that loads them as variables model and tokenizer. The tokenizer must be able to transform string inputs to lists or tensors of IDs using a method called encode(). The model must take inputs via the __call__ method.

Model from a file

To experiment with a model you’ve trained, you could create the following file and name it my_model.py:

model = load_model()
tokenizer = load_tokenizer()

Then, run an attack with the argument --model-from-file my_model.py. The model and tokenizer will be loaded automatically.

Dataset from a file

Loading a dataset from a file is very similar to loading a model from a file. A ‘dataset’ is any iterable of (input, output) pairs. The following example would load a sentiment classification dataset from file my_dataset.py:

dataset = [('Today was....', 1), ('This movie is...', 0), ...]

You can then run attacks on samples from this dataset by adding the argument --dataset-from-file my_dataset.py.


The attack_one method in an Attack takes as input an AttackedText, and outputs either a SuccessfulAttackResult if it succeeds or a FailedAttackResult if it fails. We formulate an attack as consisting of four components: a goal function which determines if the attack has succeeded, constraints defining which perturbations are valid, a transformation that generates potential modifications given an input, and a search method which traverses through the search space of possible perturbations.

Goal Functions

A GoalFunction takes as input an AttackedText object, scores it, and determines whether the attack has succeeded, returning a GoalFunctionResult.


A Constraint takes as input a current AttackedText, and a list of transformed AttackedTexts. For each transformed option, it returns a boolean representing whether the constraint is met.


A Transformation takes as input an AttackedText and returns a list of possible transformed AttackedTexts. For example, a transformation might return all possible synonym replacements.

Search Methods

A SearchMethod takes as input an initial GoalFunctionResult and returns a final GoalFunctionResult The search is given access to the get_transformations function, which takes as input an AttackedText object and outputs a list of possible transformations filtered by meeting all of the attack’s constraints. A search consists of successive calls to get_transformations until the search succeeds (determined using get_goal_results) or is exhausted.

Contributing to TextAttack

We welcome suggestions and contributions! Submit an issue or pull request and we will do our best to respond in a timely manner. TextAttack is currently in an “alpha” stage in which we are working to improve its capabilities and design.

See CONTRIBUTING.md for detailed information on contributing.

Citing TextAttack

If you use TextAttack for your research, please cite TextAttack: A Framework for Adversarial Attacks in Natural Language Processing.

    Author = {John X. Morris and Eli Lifland and Jin Yong Yoo and Yanjun Qi},
    Title = {TextAttack: A Framework for Adversarial Attacks in Natural Language Processing},
    Year = {2020},
    Eprint = {arXiv:2005.05909},
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