Saving and Restoring

This document explains how to save and restore variables and models.

Saving and restoring variables

A TensorFlow variable provides the best way to represent shared, persistent state manipulated by your program. (See Variables for details.) This section explains how to save and restore variables. Note that Estimators automatically saves and restores variables (in the model_dir).

The tf.train.Saver class provides methods for saving and restoring models. The tf.train.Saver constructor adds save and restore ops to the graph for all, or a specified list, of the variables in the graph. The Saver object provides methods to run these ops, specifying paths for the checkpoint files to write to or read from.

The saver will restore all variables already defined in your model. If you're loading a model without knowing how to build its graph (for example, if you're writing a generic program to load models), then read the Overview of saving and restoring models section later in this document.

TensorFlow saves variables in binary checkpoint files that, roughly speaking, map variable names to tensor values.

Saving variables

Create a Saver with tf.train.Saver() to manage all variables in the model. For example, the following snippet demonstrates how to call the method to save variables to a checkpoint file:

# Create some variables.
v1 = tf.get_variable("v1", shape=[3], initializer = tf.zeros_initializer)
v2 = tf.get_variable("v2", shape=[5], initializer = tf.zeros_initializer)

inc_v1 = v1.assign(v1+1)
dec_v2 = v2.assign(v2-1)

# Add an op to initialize the variables.
init_op = tf.global_variables_initializer()

# Add ops to save and restore all the variables.
saver = tf.train.Saver()

# Later, launch the model, initialize the variables, do some work, and save the
# variables to disk.
with tf.Session() as sess:
  # Do some work with the model.
  # Save the variables to disk.
  save_path =, "/tmp/model.ckpt")
  print("Model saved in file: %s" % save_path)

Restoring variables

The tf.train.Saver object not only saves variables to checkpoint files, it also restores variables. Note that when you restore variables from a file you do not have to initialize them beforehand. For example, the following snippet demonstrates how to call the tf.train.Saver.restore method to restore variables from a checkpoint file:


# Create some variables.
v1 = tf.get_variable("v1", shape=[3])
v2 = tf.get_variable("v2", shape=[5])

# Add ops to save and restore all the variables.
saver = tf.train.Saver()

# Later, launch the model, use the saver to restore variables from disk, and
# do some work with the model.
with tf.Session() as sess:
  # Restore variables from disk.
  saver.restore(sess, "/tmp/model.ckpt")
  print("Model restored.")
  # Check the values of the variables
  print("v1 : %s" % v1.eval())
  print("v2 : %s" % v2.eval())

Choosing which variables to save and restore

If you do not pass any arguments to tf.train.Saver(), the saver handles all variables in the graph. Each variable is saved under the name that was passed when the variable was created.

It is sometimes useful to explicitly specify names for variables in the checkpoint files. For example, you may have trained a model with a variable named "weights" whose value you want to restore into a variable named "params".

It is also sometimes useful to only save or restore a subset of the variables used by a model. For example, you may have trained a neural net with five layers, and you now want to train a new model with six layers that reuses the existing weights of the five trained layers. You can use the saver to restore the weights of just the first five layers.

You can easily specify the names and variables to save or load by passing to the tf.train.Saver() constructor either of the following:

  • A list of variables (which will be stored under their own names).
  • A Python dictionary in which keys are the names to use and the values are the variables to manage.

Continuing from the save/restore examples shown earlier:

# Create some variables.
v1 = tf.get_variable("v1", [3], initializer = tf.zeros_initializer)
v2 = tf.get_variable("v2", [5], initializer = tf.zeros_initializer)

# Add ops to save and restore only `v2` using the name "v2"
saver = tf.train.Saver({"v2": v2})

# Use the saver object normally after that.
with tf.Session() as sess:
  # Initialize v1 since the saver will not.
  saver.restore(sess, "/tmp/model.ckpt")

  print("v1 : %s" % v1.eval())
  print("v2 : %s" % v2.eval())


  • You can create as many Saver objects as you want if you need to save and restore different subsets of the model variables. The same variable can be listed in multiple saver objects; its value is only changed when the Saver.restore() method is run.

  • If you only restore a subset of the model variables at the start of a session, you have to run an initialize op for the other variables. See tf.variables_initializer for more information.

  • To inspect the variables in a checkpoint, you can use the inspect_checkpoint library, particularly the print_tensors_in_checkpoint_file function.

  • By default, Saver uses the value of the property for each variable. However, when you create a Saver object, you may optionally choose names for the variables in the checkpoint files.

Overview of saving and restoring models

When you want to save and load variables, the graph, and the graph's metadata--basically, when you want to save or restore your model--we recommend using SavedModel. SavedModel is a language-neutral, recoverable, hermetic serialization format. SavedModel enables higher-level systems and tools to produce, consume, and transform TensorFlow models. TensorFlow provides several mechanisms for interacting with SavedModel, including tf.saved_model APIs, Estimator APIs and a CLI.

APIs to build and load a SavedModel

This section focuses on the APIs for building and loading a SavedModel, particularly when using lower-level TensorFlow APIs.

Building a SavedModel

We provide a Python implementation of the SavedModel builder. The SavedModelBuilder class provides functionality to save multiple MetaGraphDefs. A MetaGraph is a dataflow graph, plus its associated variables, assets, and signatures. A MetaGraphDef is the protocol buffer representation of a MetaGraph. A signature is the set of inputs to and outputs from a graph.

If assets need to be saved and written or copied to disk, they can be provided when the first MetaGraphDef is added. If multiple MetaGraphDefs are associated with an asset of the same name, only the first version is retained.

Each MetaGraphDef added to the SavedModel must be annotated with user-specified tags. The tags provide a means to identify the specific MetaGraphDef to load and restore, along with the shared set of variables and assets. These tags typically annotate a MetaGraphDef with its functionality (for example, serving or training), and optionally with hardware-specific aspects (for example, GPU).

For example, the following code suggests a typical way to use SavedModelBuilder to build a SavedModel:

export_dir = ...
builder = tf.saved_model_builder.SavedModelBuilder(export_dir)
with tf.Session(graph=tf.Graph()) as sess:
# Add a second MetaGraphDef for inference.
with tf.Session(graph=tf.Graph()) as sess:

Loading a SavedModel in Python

The Python version of the SavedModel loader provides load and restore capability for a SavedModel. The load operation requires the following information:

  • The session in which to restore the graph definition and variables.
  • The tags used to identify the MetaGraphDef to load.
  • The location (directory) of the SavedModel.

Upon a load, the subset of variables, assets, and signatures supplied as part of the specific MetaGraphDef will be restored into the supplied session.

export_dir = ...
with tf.Session(graph=tf.Graph()) as sess:
  tf.saved_model.loader.load(sess, [tag_constants.TRAINING], export_dir)

Loading a Savedmodel in C++

The C++ version of the SavedModel loader provides an API to load a SavedModel from a path, while allowing SessionOptions and RunOptions. You have to specify the tags associated with the graph to be loaded. The loaded version of SavedModel is referred to as SavedModelBundle and contains the MetaGraphDef and the session within which it is loaded.

const string export_dir = ...
SavedModelBundle bundle;
LoadSavedModel(session_options, run_options, export_dir, {kSavedModelTagTrain},

Standard constants

SavedModel offers the flexibility to build and load TensorFlow graphs for a variety of use-cases. For the most common use-cases, SavedModel's APIs provide a set of constants in Python and C++ that are easy to reuse and share across tools consistently.

Standard MetaGraphDef tags

You may use sets of tags to uniquely identify a MetaGraphDef saved in a SavedModel. A subset of commonly used tags is specified in:

Standard SignatureDef constants

A SignatureDef is a protocol buffer that defines the signature of a computation supported by a graph. Commonly used input keys, output keys, and method names are defined in:

Using SavedModel with Estimators

After training an Estimator model, you may want to create a service from that model that takes requests and returns a result. You can run such a service locally on your machine or deploy it scalably in the cloud.

To prepare a trained Estimator for serving, you must export it in the standard SavedModel format. This section explains how to:

  • Specify the output nodes and the corresponding APIs that can be served (Classify, Regress, or Predict).
  • Export your model to the SavedModel format.
  • Serve the model from a local server and request predictions.

Preparing serving inputs

During training, an input_fn() ingests data and prepares it for use by the model. At serving time, similarly, a serving_input_receiver_fn() accepts inference requests and prepares them for the model. This function has the following purposes:

  • To add placeholders to the graph that the serving system will feed with inference requests.
  • To add any additional ops needed to convert data from the input format into the feature Tensors expected by the model.

The function returns a tf.estimator.export.ServingInputReceiver object, which packages the placeholders and the resulting feature Tensors together.

A typical pattern is that inference requests arrive in the form of serialized tf.Examples, so the serving_input_receiver_fn() creates a single string placeholder to receive them. The serving_input_receiver_fn() is then also responsible for parsing the tf.Examples by adding a tf.parse_example op to the graph.

When writing such a serving_input_receiver_fn(), you must pass a parsing specification to tf.parse_example to tell the parser what feature names to expect and how to map them to Tensors. A parsing specification takes the form of a dict from feature names to tf.FixedLenFeature, tf.VarLenFeature, and tf.SparseFeature. Note this parsing specification should not include any label or weight columns, since those will not be available at serving time—in contrast to a parsing specification used in the input_fn() at training time.

In combination, then:

feature_spec = {'foo': tf.FixedLenFeature(...),
                'bar': tf.VarLenFeature(...)}

def serving_input_receiver_fn():
  """An input receiver that expects a serialized tf.Example."""
  serialized_tf_example = tf.placeholder(dtype=tf.string,
  receiver_tensors = {'examples': serialized_tf_example}
  features = tf.parse_example(serialized_tf_example, feature_spec)
  return tf.estimator.export.ServingInputReceiver(features, receiver_tensors)

The tf.estimator.export.build_parsing_serving_input_receiver_fn utility function provides that input receiver for the common case.

Even if you require no parsing or other input processing—that is, if the serving system will feed feature Tensors directly—you must still provide a serving_input_receiver_fn() that creates placeholders for the feature Tensors and passes them through. The tf.estimator.export.build_raw_serving_input_receiver_fn utility provides for this.

If these utilities do not meet your needs, you are free to write your own serving_input_receiver_fn(). One case where this may be needed is if your training input_fn() incorporates some preprocessing logic that must be recapitulated at serving time. To reduce the risk of training-serving skew, we recommend encapsulating such processing in a function which is then called from both input_fn() and serving_input_receiver_fn().

Note that the serving_input_receiver_fn() also determines the input portion of the signature. That is, when writing a serving_input_receiver_fn(), you must tell the parser what signatures to expect and how to map them to your model's expected inputs. By contrast, the output portion of the signature is determined by the model.

Performing the export

To export your trained Estimator, call tf.estimator.Estimator.export_savedmodel with the export base path and the serving_input_receiver_fn.

estimator.export_savedmodel(export_dir_base, serving_input_receiver_fn)

This method builds a new graph by first calling the serving_input_receiver_fn() to obtain feature Tensors, and then calling this Estimator's model_fn() to generate the model graph based on those features. It starts a fresh Session, and, by default, restores the most recent checkpoint into it. (A different checkpoint may be passed, if needed.) Finally it creates a time-stamped export directory below the given export_dir_base (i.e., export_dir_base/<timestamp>), and writes a SavedModel into it containing a single MetaGraphDef saved from this Session.

Specifying the outputs of a custom model

When writing a custom model_fn, you must populate the export_outputs element of the tf.estimator.EstimatorSpec return value. This is a dict of {name: output} describing the output signatures to be exported and used during serving.

In the usual case of making a single prediction, this dict contains one element, and the name is immaterial. In a multi-headed model, each head is represented by an entry in this dict. In this case the name is a string of your choice that can be used to request a specific head at serving time.

Each output value must be an ExportOutput object such as tf.estimator.export.ClassificationOutput, tf.estimator.export.RegressionOutput, or tf.estimator.export.PredictOutput.

These output types map straightforwardly to the TensorFlow Serving APIs, and so determine which request types will be honored.

Serving the exported model locally

For local deployment, you can serve your model using TensorFlow Serving, an open-source project that loads a SavedModel and exposes it as a gRPC service.

First, install TensorFlow Serving.

Then build and run the local model server, substituting $export_dir_base with the path to the SavedModel you exported above:

bazel build //tensorflow_serving/model_servers:tensorflow_model_server
bazel-bin/tensorflow_serving/model_servers/tensorflow_model_server --port=9000 --model_base_path=$export_dir_base

Now you have a server listening for inference requests via gRPC on port 9000!

Requesting predictions from a local server

The server responds to gRPC requests according to the PredictionService gRPC API service definition. (The nested protocol buffers are defined in various neighboring files).

From the API service definition, the gRPC framework generates client libraries in various languages providing remote access to the API. In a project using the Bazel build tool, these libraries are built automatically and provided via dependencies like these (using Python for example):

  deps = [

Python client code can then import the libraries thus:

from tensorflow_serving.apis import classification_pb2
from tensorflow_serving.apis import regression_pb2
from tensorflow_serving.apis import predict_pb2
from tensorflow_serving.apis import prediction_service_pb2

Sending a gRPC request is then accomplished by assembling a protocol buffer containing the request data and passing it to the service stub. Note how the request protocol buffer is created empty and then populated via the generated protocol buffer API.

from grpc.beta import implementations

channel = implementations.insecure_channel(host, int(port))
stub = prediction_service_pb2.beta_create_PredictionService_stub(channel)

request = classification_pb2.ClassificationRequest()
example = request.input.example_list.examples.add()

result = stub.Classify(request, 10.0)  # 10 secs timeout

The returned result in this example is a ClassificationResponse protocol buffer.

This is a skeletal example; please see the Tensorflow Serving documentation and examples for more details.

CLI to inspect and execute SavedModel

You can use the SavedModel Command Line Interface (CLI) to inspect and execute a SavedModel. For example, you can use the CLI to inspect the model's SignatureDefs. The CLI enables you to quickly confirm that the input Tensor dtype and shape match the model. Moreover, if you want to test your model, you can use the CLI to do a sanity check by passing in sample inputs in various formats (for example, Python expressions) and then fetching the output.

Installing the SavedModel CLI

Broadly speaking, you can install TensorFlow in either of the following two ways:

  • By installing a pre-built TensorFlow binary.
  • By building TensorFlow from source code.

If you installed TensorFlow through a pre-built TensorFlow binary, then the SavedModel CLI is already installed on your system at pathname bin\saved_model_cli.

If you built TensorFlow from source code, you must run the following additional command to build saved_model_cli:

$ bazel build tensorflow/python/tools:saved_model_cli

Overview of commands

The SavedModel CLI supports the following two commands on a MetaGraphDef in a SavedModel:

  • show, which shows a computation on a MetaGraphDef in a SavedModel.
  • run, which runs a computation on a MetaGraphDef.

show command

A SavedModel contains one or more MetaGraphDefs, identified by their tag-sets. To serve a model, you might wonder what kind of SignatureDefs are in each model, and what are their inputs and outputs. The show command let you examine the contents of the SavedModel in hierarchical order. Here's the syntax:

usage: saved_model_cli show [-h] --dir DIR [--all]
[--tag_set TAG_SET] [--signature_def SIGNATURE_DEF_KEY]

For example, the following command shows all available MetaGraphDef tag-sets in the SavedModel:

$ saved_model_cli show --dir /tmp/saved_model_dir
The given SavedModel contains the following tag-sets:
serve, gpu

The following command shows all available SignatureDef keys in a MetaGraphDef:

$ saved_model_cli show --dir /tmp/saved_model_dir --tag_set serve
The given SavedModel `MetaGraphDef` contains `SignatureDefs` with the
following keys:
SignatureDef key: "classify_x2_to_y3"
SignatureDef key: "classify_x_to_y"
SignatureDef key: "regress_x2_to_y3"
SignatureDef key: "regress_x_to_y"
SignatureDef key: "regress_x_to_y2"
SignatureDef key: "serving_default"

If a MetaGraphDef has multiple tags in the tag-set, you must specify all tags, each tag separated by a comma. For example:

$ saved_model_cli show --dir /tmp/saved_model_dir --tag_set serve,gpu

To show all inputs and outputs TensorInfo for a specific SignatureDef, pass in the SignatureDef key to signature_def option. This is very useful when you want to know the tensor key value, dtype and shape of the input tensors for executing the computation graph later. For example:

$ saved_model_cli show --dir \
/tmp/saved_model_dir --tag_set serve --signature_def serving_default
The given SavedModel SignatureDef contains the following input(s):
inputs['x'] tensor_info:
    dtype: DT_FLOAT
    shape: (-1, 1)
    name: x:0
The given SavedModel SignatureDef contains the following output(s):
outputs['y'] tensor_info:
    dtype: DT_FLOAT
    shape: (-1, 1)
    name: y:0
Method name is: tensorflow/serving/predict

To show all available information in the SavedModel, use the --all option. For example:

$ saved_model_cli show --dir /tmp/saved_model_dir --all
MetaGraphDef with tag-set: 'serve' contains the following SignatureDefs:

The given SavedModel SignatureDef contains the following input(s):
inputs['inputs'] tensor_info:
    dtype: DT_FLOAT
    shape: (-1, 1)
    name: x2:0
The given SavedModel SignatureDef contains the following output(s):
outputs['scores'] tensor_info:
    dtype: DT_FLOAT
    shape: (-1, 1)
    name: y3:0
Method name is: tensorflow/serving/classify


The given SavedModel SignatureDef contains the following input(s):
inputs['x'] tensor_info:
    dtype: DT_FLOAT
    shape: (-1, 1)
    name: x:0
The given SavedModel SignatureDef contains the following output(s):
outputs['y'] tensor_info:
    dtype: DT_FLOAT
    shape: (-1, 1)
    name: y:0
Method name is: tensorflow/serving/predict

run command

Invoke the run command to run a graph computation, passing inputs and then displaying (and optionally saving) the outputs. Here's the syntax:

usage: saved_model_cli run [-h] --dir DIR --tag_set TAG_SET --signature_def
                           SIGNATURE_DEF_KEY [--inputs INPUTS]
                           [--input_exprs INPUT_EXPRS] [--outdir OUTDIR]
                           [--overwrite] [--tf_debug]

The run command provides the following two ways to pass inputs to the model:

  • --inputs option enables you to pass numpy ndarray in files.
  • --input_exprs option enables you to pass Python expressions.


To pass input data in files, specify the --inputs option, which takes the following general format:

--inputs <INPUTS>

where INPUTS is either of the following formats:

  • <input_key>=<filename>
  • <input_key>=<filename>[<variable_name>]

You may pass multiple INPUTS. If you do pass multiple inputs, use a semicolon to separate each of the INPUTS.

saved_model_cli uses numpy.load to load the filename. The filename may be in any of the following formats:

  • .npy
  • .npz
  • pickle format

A .npy file always contains a numpy ndarray. Therefore, when loading from a .npy file, the content will be directly assigned to the specified input tensor. If you specify a variable_name with that .npy file, the variable_name will be ignored and a warning will be issued.

When loading from a .npz (zip) file, you may optionally specify a variable_name to identify the variable within the zip file to load for the input tensor key. If you don't specify a variable_name, the SavedModel CLI will check that only one file is included in the zip file and load it for the specified input tensor key.

When loading from a pickle file, if no variable_name is specified in the square brackets, whatever that is inside the pickle file will be passed to the specified input tensor key. Otherwise, the SavedModel CLI will assume a dictionary is stored in the pickle file and the value corresponding to the variable_name will be used.


To pass inputs through Python expressions, specify the --input_exprs option. This can be useful for when you don't have data files lying around, but still want to sanity check the model with some simple inputs that match the dtype and shape of the model's SignatureDefs. For example:

`input_key=[[1], [2], [3]]`

In addition to Python expressions, you may also pass numpy functions. For example:

input_key=np.ones((32, 32, 3))

(Note that the numpy module is already available to you as np.)

Save Output

By default, the SavedModel CLI writes output to stdout. If a directory is passed to --outdir option, the outputs will be saved as npy files named after output tensor keys under the given directory.

Use --overwrite to overwrite existing output files.

TensorFlow Debugger (tfdbg) Integration

If --tf_debug option is set, the SavedModel CLI will use the TensorFlow Debugger (tfdbg) to watch the intermediate Tensors and runtime graphs or subgraphs while running the SavedModel.

Full examples of run


  • Your model simply adds x1 and x2 to get output y.
  • All tensors in the model have shape (-1, 1).
  • You have two npy files:
  • /tmp/my_data1.npy, which contains a numpy ndarray [[1], [2], [3]].
  • /tmp/my_data2.npy, which contains another numpy ndarray [[0.5], [0.5], [0.5]].

To run these two npy files through the model to get output y, issue the following command:

$ saved_model_cli run --dir /tmp/saved_model_dir --tag_set serve \
--signature_def x1_x2_to_y --inputs x1=/tmp/my_data1.npy;x2=/tmp/my_data2.npy \
--outdir /tmp/out
Result for output key y:
[[ 1.5]
 [ 2.5]
 [ 3.5]]

Let's change the preceding example slightly. This time, instead of two .npy files, you now have an .npz file and a pickle file. Furthermore, you want to overwrite any existing output file. Here's the command:

$ saved_model_cli run --dir /tmp/saved_model_dir --tag_set serve \
--signature_def x1_x2_to_y \
--inputs x1=/tmp/my_data1.npz[x];x2=/tmp/my_data2.pkl --outdir /tmp/out \
Result for output key y:
[[ 1.5]
 [ 2.5]
 [ 3.5]]

You may specify python expression instead of an input file. For example, the following command replaces input x2 with a Python expression:

$ saved_model_cli run --dir /tmp/saved_model_dir --tag_set serve \
--signature_def x1_x2_to_y --inputs x1=/tmp/my_data1.npz[x] \
--input_exprs 'x2=np.ones((3,1))'
Result for output key y:
[[ 2]
 [ 3]
 [ 4]]

To run the model with the TensorFlow Debugger on, issue the following command:

$ saved_model_cli run --dir /tmp/saved_model_dir --tag_set serve \
--signature_def serving_default --inputs x=/tmp/data.npz[x] --tf_debug

Structure of a SavedModel directory

When you save a model in SavedModel format, TensorFlow creates a SavedModel directory consisting of the following subdirectories and files:



  • assets is a subfolder containing auxiliary (external) files, such as vocabularies. Assets are copied to the SavedModel location and can be read when loading a specific MetaGraphDef.
  • assets.extra is a subfolder where higher-level libraries and users can add their own assets that co-exist with the model, but are not loaded by the graph. This subfolder is not managed by the SavedModel libraries.
  • variables is a subfolder that includes output from tf.train.Saver.
  • saved_model.pb or saved_model.pbtxt is the SavedModel protocol buffer. It includes the graph definitions as MetaGraphDef protocol buffers.

A single SavedModel can represent multiple graphs. In this case, all the graphs in the SavedModel share a single set of checkpoints (variables) and assets. For example, the following diagram shows one SavedModel containing three MetaGraphDefs, all three of which share the same set of checkpoints and assets:

SavedModel represents checkpoints, assets, and one or more MetaGraphDefs

Each graph is associated with a specific set of tags, which enables identification during a load or restore operation.