In their book Deep Learning Ian Goodfellow et al. define regularization as

"any modification we make to a learning algorithm that is intended to reduce its generalization error, but not its training error."

PyTorch's optimizers use \(l_2\) parameter regularization to limit the capacity of models (i.e. reduce the variance).

In general, we can write this as: \[ loss(W;x;y) = loss_D(W;x;y) + \lambda_R R(W) \] And specifically, \[ loss(W;x;y) = loss_D(W;x;y) + \lambda_R \lVert W \rVert_2^2 \] Where W is the collection of all weight elements in the network (i.e. this is model.parameters()), \(loss(W;x;y)\) is the total training loss, and \(loss_D(W)\) is the data loss (i.e. the error of the objective function, also called the loss function, or criterion in the Distiller sample image classifier compression application).

optimizer = optim.SGD(model.parameters(), lr = 0.01, momentum=0.9, weight_decay=0.0001)
criterion = nn.CrossEntropyLoss()
for input, target in dataset:
    output = model(input)
    loss = criterion(output, target)

\(\lambda_R\) is a scalar called the regularization strength, and it balances the data error and the regularization error. In PyTorch, this is the weight_decay argument.

\(\lVert W \rVert_2^2\) is the square of the \(l_2\)-norm of W, and as such it is a magnitude, or sizing, of the weights tensor. \[ \lVert W \rVert_2^2 = \sum_{l=1}^{L} \sum_{i=1}^{n} |w_{l,i}|^2 \;\;where \;n = torch.numel(w_l) \]

\(L\) is the number of layers in the network; and the notation about used 1-based numbering to simplify the notation.

The qualitative differences between the \(l_2\)-norm, and the squared \(l_2\)-norm is explained in Deep Learning.

Sparsity and Regularization

We mention regularization because there is an interesting interaction between regularization and some DNN sparsity-inducing methods.

In Dense-Sparse-Dense (DSD), Song Han et al. use pruning as a regularizer to improve a model's accuracy:

"Sparsity is a powerful form of regularization. Our intuition is that, once the network arrives at a local minimum given the sparsity constraint, relaxing the constraint gives the network more freedom to escape the saddle point and arrive at a higher-accuracy local minimum."

Regularization can also be used to induce sparsity. To induce element-wise sparsity we can use the \(l_1\)-norm, \(\lVert W \rVert_1\). \[ \lVert W \rVert_1 = l_1(W) = \sum_{i=1}^{|W|} |w_i| \]

\(l_2\)-norm regularization reduces overfitting and improves a model's accuracy by shrinking large parameters, but it does not force these parameters to absolute zero. \(l_1\)-norm regularization sets some of the parameter elements to zero, therefore limiting the model's capacity while making the model simpler. This is sometimes referred to as feature selection and gives us another interpretation of pruning.

One of Distiller's Jupyter notebooks explains how the \(l_1\)-norm regularizer induces sparsity, and how it interacts with \(l_2\)-norm regularization.

If we configure weight_decay to zero and use \(l_1\)-norm regularization, then we have: \[ loss(W;x;y) = loss_D(W;x;y) + \lambda_R \lVert W \rVert_1 \] If we use both regularizers, we have: \[ loss(W;x;y) = loss_D(W;x;y) + \lambda_{R_2} \lVert W \rVert_2^2 + \lambda_{R_1} \lVert W \rVert_1 \]

Class distiller.L1Regularizer implements \(l_1\)-norm regularization, and of course, you can also schedule regularization.

l1_regularizer = distiller.s(model.parameters())
loss = criterion(output, target) + lambda * l1_regularizer()

Group Regularization

In Group Regularization, we penalize entire groups of parameter elements, instead of individual elements. Therefore, entire groups are either sparsified (i.e. all of the group elements have a value of zero) or not. The group structures have to be pre-defined.

To the data loss, and the element-wise regularization (if any), we can add group-wise regularization penalty. We represent all of the parameter groups in layer \(l\) as \( W_l^{(G)} \), and we add the penalty of all groups for all layers. It gets a bit messy, but not overly complicated: \[ loss(W;x;y) = loss_D(W;x;y) + \lambda_R R(W) + \lambda_g \sum_{l=1}^{L} R_g(W_l^{(G)}) \]

Let's denote all of the weight elements in group \(g\) as \(w^{(g)}\).

\[ R_g(w^{(g)}) = \sum_{g=1}^{G} \lVert w^{(g)} \rVert_g = \sum_{g=1}^{G} \sum_{i=1}^{|w^{(g)}|} {(w_i^{(g)})}^2 \] where \(w^{(g)} \in w^{(l)} \) and \( |w^{(g)}| \) is the number of elements in \( w^{(g)} \).

\( \lambda_g \sum_{l=1}^{L} R_g(W_l^{(G)}) \) is called the Group Lasso regularizer. Much as in \(l_1\)-norm regularization we sum the magnitudes of all tensor elements, in Group Lasso we sum the magnitudes of element structures (i.e. groups).

Group Regularization is also called Block Regularization, Structured Regularization, or coarse-grained sparsity (remember that element-wise sparsity is sometimes referred to as fine-grained sparsity). Group sparsity exhibits regularity (i.e. its shape is regular), and therefore it can be beneficial to improve inference speed.

Huizi-et-al-2017 provides an overview of some of the different groups: kernel, channel, filter, layers. Fiber structures such as matrix columns and rows, as well as various shaped structures (block sparsity), and even intra kernel strided sparsity can also be used.

distiller.GroupLassoRegularizer currently implements most of these groups, and you can easily add new groups.


Ian Goodfellow and Yoshua Bengio and Aaron Courville. Deep Learning, arXiv:1607.04381v2, 2017.

Song Han, Jeff Pool, Sharan Narang, Huizi Mao, Enhao Gong, Shijian Tang, Erich Elsen, Peter Vajda, Manohar Paluri, John Tran, Bryan Catanzaro, William J. Dally. DSD: Dense-Sparse-Dense Training for Deep Neural Networks, arXiv:1607.04381v2, 2017.

Huizi Mao, Song Han, Jeff Pool, Wenshuo Li, Xingyu Liu, Yu Wang, William J. Dally. Exploring the Regularity of Sparse Structure in Convolutional Neural Networks, arXiv:1705.08922v3, 2017.

Sajid Anwar, Kyuyeon Hwang, and Wonyong Sung. Structured pruning of deep convolutional neural networks, arXiv:1512.08571, 2015