Quickstart for the TensorFlow Core APIs

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This quickstart tutorial demonstrates how you can use the TensorFlow Core low-level APIs to build and train a multiple linear regression model that predicts fuel efficiency. It uses the Auto MPG dataset which contains fuel efficiency data for late-1970s and early 1980s automobiles.

You will follow the typical stages of a machine learning process:

  1. Load the dataset.
  2. Build an input pipeline.
  3. Build a multiple linear regression model.
  4. Evaluate the performance of the model.


Import TensorFlow and other necessary libraries to get started:

import tensorflow as tf
import pandas as pd
import matplotlib
from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
print("TensorFlow version:", tf.__version__)
# Set a random seed for reproducible results 

Load and preprocess the dataset

Next, you need to load and preprocess the Auto MPG dataset from the UCI Machine Learning Repository. This dataset uses a variety of quantitative and categorical features such as cylinders, displacement, horsepower and weight to predict the fuel efficiencies of automobiles in the late-1970s and early 1980s.

The dataset contains a few unknown values. Make sure to drop any missing values with pandas.DataFrame.dropna, and convert the dataset to a tf.float32 tensor type with the tf.convert_to_tensor and tf.cast functions.

url = 'http://archive.ics.uci.edu/ml/machine-learning-databases/auto-mpg/auto-mpg.data'
column_names = ['MPG', 'Cylinders', 'Displacement', 'Horsepower', 'Weight',
                'Acceleration', 'Model Year', 'Origin']

dataset = pd.read_csv(url, names=column_names, na_values='?', comment='\t',
                          sep=' ', skipinitialspace=True)

dataset = dataset.dropna()
dataset_tf = tf.convert_to_tensor(dataset, dtype=tf.float32)

Next, split the dataset into training and test sets. Make sure to shuffle the dataset with tf.random.shuffle to avoid biased splits.

dataset_shuffled = tf.random.shuffle(dataset_tf, seed=22)
train_data, test_data = dataset_shuffled[100:], dataset_shuffled[:100]
x_train, y_train = train_data[:, 1:], train_data[:, 0]
x_test, y_test = test_data[:, 1:], test_data[:, 0]

Perform basic feature engineering by one-hot-encoding the "Origin" feature. The tf.one_hot function is useful for transforming this categorical column into 3 separate binary columns.

def onehot_origin(x):
  origin = tf.cast(x[:, -1], tf.int32)
  # Use `origin - 1` to account for 1-indexed feature
  origin_oh = tf.one_hot(origin - 1, 3)
  x_ohe = tf.concat([x[:, :-1], origin_oh], axis = 1)
  return x_ohe

x_train_ohe, x_test_ohe = onehot_origin(x_train), onehot_origin(x_test)

This example shows a multiple regression problem with predictors or features on vastly different scales. Therefore, it is beneficial to standardize the data so that each feature has zero mean and unit variance. Use the tf.reduce_mean and tf.math.reduce_std functions for standardization. The regression model's prediction can then be unstandardized to obtain its value in terms of the original units.

class Normalize(tf.Module):
  def __init__(self, x):
    # Initialize the mean and standard deviation for normalization
    self.mean = tf.math.reduce_mean(x, axis=0)
    self.std = tf.math.reduce_std(x, axis=0)

  def norm(self, x):
    # Normalize the input
    return (x - self.mean)/self.std

  def unnorm(self, x):
    # Unnormalize the input
    return (x * self.std) + self.mean
norm_x = Normalize(x_train_ohe)
norm_y = Normalize(y_train)
x_train_norm, y_train_norm = norm_x.norm(x_train_ohe), norm_y.norm(y_train)
x_test_norm, y_test_norm = norm_x.norm(x_test_ohe), norm_y.norm(y_test)

Build a machine learning model

Build a linear regression model with the TensorFlow Core APIs. The equation for multiple linear regression is as follows:

\[{\mathrm{Y} } = {\mathrm{X} }w + b\]


  • \(\underset{m\times 1}{\mathrm{Y} }\): target vector
  • \(\underset{m\times n}{\mathrm{X} }\): feature matrix
  • \(\underset{n\times 1}w\): weight vector
  • \(b\): bias

By using the @tf.function decorator, the corresponding Python code is traced to generate a callable TensorFlow graph. This approach is beneficial for saving and loading the model after training. It can also provide a performance boost for models with many layers and complex operations.

class LinearRegression(tf.Module):

  def __init__(self):
    self.built = False

  def __call__(self, x):
    # Initialize the model parameters on the first call
    if not self.built:
      # Randomly generate the weight vector and bias term
      rand_w = tf.random.uniform(shape=[x.shape[-1], 1])
      rand_b = tf.random.uniform(shape=[])
      self.w = tf.Variable(rand_w)
      self.b = tf.Variable(rand_b)
      self.built = True
    y = tf.add(tf.matmul(x, self.w), self.b)
    return tf.squeeze(y, axis=1)

For each example, the model returns a prediction for the input automobile's MPG by computing the weighted sum of its features plus a bias term. This prediction can then be unstandardized to obtain its value in terms of the original units.

lin_reg = LinearRegression()
prediction = lin_reg(x_train_norm[:1])
prediction_unnorm = norm_y.unnorm(prediction)

Define a loss function

Now, define a loss function to evaluate the model's performance during the training process.

Since regression problems deal with continuous outputs, the mean squared error (MSE) is an ideal choice for the loss function. The MSE is defined by the following equation:

\[MSE = \frac{1}{m}\sum_{i=1}^{m}(\hat{y}_i -y_i)^2\]


  • \(\hat{y}\): vector of predictions
  • \(y\): vector of true targets

The goal of this regression problem is to find the optimal weight vector, \(w\), and bias, \(b\), that minimizes the MSE loss function.

def mse_loss(y_pred, y):
  return tf.reduce_mean(tf.square(y_pred - y))

Train and evaluate your model

Using mini-batches for training provides both memory efficiency and faster convergence. The tf.data.Dataset API has useful functions for batching and shuffling. The API enables you to build complex input pipelines from simple, reusable pieces. Learn more about building TensorFlow input pipelines in this guide.

batch_size = 64
train_dataset = tf.data.Dataset.from_tensor_slices((x_train_norm, y_train_norm))
train_dataset = train_dataset.shuffle(buffer_size=x_train.shape[0]).batch(batch_size)
test_dataset = tf.data.Dataset.from_tensor_slices((x_test_norm, y_test_norm))
test_dataset = test_dataset.shuffle(buffer_size=x_test.shape[0]).batch(batch_size)

Next, write a training loop to iteratively update your model's parameters by making use of the MSE loss function and its gradients with respect to the input parameters.

This iterative method is referred to as gradient descent. At each iteration, the model's parameters are updated by taking a step in the opposite direction of their computed gradients. The size of this step is determined by the learning rate, which is a configurable hyperparameter. Recall that the gradient of a function indicates the direction of its steepest ascent; therefore, taking a step in the opposite direction indicates the direction of steepest descent, which ultimately helps to minimize the MSE loss function.

# Set training parameters
epochs = 100
learning_rate = 0.01
train_losses, test_losses = [], []

# Format training loop
for epoch in range(epochs):
  batch_losses_train, batch_losses_test = [], []

  # Iterate through the training data
  for x_batch, y_batch in train_dataset:
    with tf.GradientTape() as tape:
      y_pred_batch = lin_reg(x_batch)
      batch_loss = mse_loss(y_pred_batch, y_batch)
    # Update parameters with respect to the gradient calculations
    grads = tape.gradient(batch_loss, lin_reg.variables)
    for g,v in zip(grads, lin_reg.variables):
      v.assign_sub(learning_rate * g)
    # Keep track of batch-level training performance 

  # Iterate through the testing data
  for x_batch, y_batch in test_dataset:
    y_pred_batch = lin_reg(x_batch)
    batch_loss = mse_loss(y_pred_batch, y_batch)
    # Keep track of batch-level testing performance 

  # Keep track of epoch-level model performance
  train_loss = tf.reduce_mean(batch_losses_train)
  test_loss = tf.reduce_mean(batch_losses_test)
  if epoch % 10 == 0:
    print(f'Mean squared error for step {epoch}: {train_loss.numpy():0.3f}')

# Output final losses
print(f"\nFinal train loss: {train_loss:0.3f}")
print(f"Final test loss: {test_loss:0.3f}")

Plot the changes in MSE loss over time. Calculating performance metrics on a designated validation set or test set ensures the model does not overfit to the training dataset and can generalize well to unseen data.

matplotlib.rcParams['figure.figsize'] = [9, 6]

plt.plot(range(epochs), train_losses, label = "Training loss")
plt.plot(range(epochs), test_losses, label = "Testing loss")
plt.ylabel("Mean squared error loss")
plt.title("MSE loss vs training iterations");

It seems like the model does a good job of fitting the training data while also generalizing well to the unseen test data.

Save and load the model

Start by making an export module that takes in raw data and performs the following operations:

  • Feature extraction
  • Normalization
  • Prediction
  • Unnormalization
class ExportModule(tf.Module):
  def __init__(self, model, extract_features, norm_x, norm_y):
    # Initialize pre and postprocessing functions
    self.model = model
    self.extract_features = extract_features
    self.norm_x = norm_x
    self.norm_y = norm_y

  @tf.function(input_signature=[tf.TensorSpec(shape=[None, None], dtype=tf.float32)]) 
  def __call__(self, x):
    # Run the ExportModule for new data points
    x = self.extract_features(x)
    x = self.norm_x.norm(x)
    y = self.model(x)
    y = self.norm_y.unnorm(y)
    return y
lin_reg_export = ExportModule(model=lin_reg,

If you want to save the model at its current state, use the tf.saved_model.save function. To load a saved model for making predictions, use the tf.saved_model.load function.

import tempfile
import os

models = tempfile.mkdtemp()
save_path = os.path.join(models, 'lin_reg_export')
tf.saved_model.save(lin_reg_export, save_path)
lin_reg_loaded = tf.saved_model.load(save_path)
test_preds = lin_reg_loaded(x_test)


Congratulations! You have trained a regression model using the TensorFlow Core low-level APIs.

For more examples of using TensorFlow Core APIs, check out the following guides: