Home What's the difference between `tf.random_normal` and `tf.random_normal_initializer`?
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What's the difference between `tf.random_normal` and `tf.random_normal_initializer`?

imhuay Published in 2018-01-10 07:03:44Z

Using the two functions seems to get the same result.

t4 = tf.get_variable('t4', initializer=tf.random_normal((2,), seed=0))
t5 = tf.get_variable('t5', shape=(2,), initializer=tf.random_normal_initializer(seed=0))

And I find inside the random_normal_initializer() also use the random_normal().

I indistinctly realize the difference between them. The random_normal will return a constant tensor, but the random_normal_initializer will return value after init.

I want to know more about how to use of these two functions at the right time.

Does it use random_normal to init a variable will actually init twice(after init the variable)? In other words, if there performance problems between them.

Maxim Reply to 2018-01-10 17:53:48Z

tf.random_normal returns a tensor of the specified shape filled with random normal values. In addition, it creates a number of under-the-hood ops to compute the value:


At runtime, consecutive evaluations of this tensor produce a new value, but not other nodes are added.

tf.random_normal_initializer is an Initializer instance, which invokes tf.random_normal upon calling. So there is no big difference between tf.random_normal_initializer and tf.random_normal. Even if you call the init twice, neither of those will add new nodes to the graph. But both add 6 additional nodes in compilation.

Another alternative (that may be even more efficient in some cases) is initialization with numpy.random.normal array, like this:

t1 = tf.Variable(name='t1', initial_value=np.random.normal(size=(2,)))

This way no random_normal nodes are added to the graph, neither in compilation or in runtime.

UPD: tensorflow adds the const op .../initial_value in this case and the whole numpy array is going to be present in the graph, which may be a problem if the array is large.

muskrat Reply to 2018-01-10 21:21:02Z

Maxim's answer to this question is excellent, but I want to answer a slightly more simple question (with a few examples) that the OP might be asking:

Most basic answer: tf.random_normal is a Tensor; buttf.random_normal_initializer is a RandomNormal, not a Tensor. I think simple code best clarifies the difference between these two:

# Simple examples to clarify tf.random_normal from tf.random_normal_initializer
# OP's code
t4 = tf.get_variable('t4', initializer=tf.random_normal((2,), seed=0))
t5 = tf.get_variable('t5', shape=(2,), initializer=tf.random_normal_initializer(seed=0))
# clarifying Tensor vs Initializer outside the context of get_variable.
t6 = tf.random_normal((2,),seed=0)
t7 = tf.random_normal_initializer(seed=0)
# types
print(type(t6)) # <class 'tensorflow.python.framework.ops.Tensor'>
print(type(t7)) # <class 'tensorflow.python.ops.init_ops.RandomNormal'>
# run the graph...
with tf.Session() as sess:
    # OP's code
    print(sess.run(t4)) #[-0.39915761  2.10443926]
    print(sess.run(t5)) #[-0.39915761  2.10443926]
    # tf.random_normal is a Tensor
    print(sess.run(t6)) #[-0.39915761  2.10443926]
    # tf.random_normal_initializer returns a tf.RandomNormal, not a Tensor or Op, so can't be sess.run()!
        print(sess.run(t7)) # Exception!
    # But notice that you don't need to initialize an initializer, just a variable.
    t8 = tf.random_normal_initializer(seed=0)
    t9 = tf.get_variable('t9',shape=(2,), initializer=t8)
    sess.run(t9.initializer)  # still need to initialize the variable
    print(sess.run(t9)) #[-0.39915761  2.10443926]

In your setting: Now, as far as the code you are calling goes, there is no real difference; the initializer keyword is overloaded to accept both and will behave as Maxim indicates. From the tf/ops/variable_scope docs:

if initializer is None:
          init, initializing_from_value = self._get_default_initializer(
              name=name, shape=shape, dtype=dtype)
          if initializing_from_value:
            init_shape = None
            init_shape = var_shape
        elif callable(initializer):
          init = initializer
          init_shape = var_shape
        elif isinstance(initializer, ops.Tensor):
          init = array_ops.slice(initializer, var_offset, var_shape)
          # Use the dtype of the given tensor.
          dtype = init.dtype.base_dtype
          init_shape = None
          init = ops.convert_to_tensor(initializer, dtype=dtype)
          init = array_ops.slice(init, var_offset, var_shape)
          init_shape = None
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