This tutorial introduces you to creating input functions in tf.contrib.learn.
You'll get an overview of how to construct an input_fn
to preprocess and feed
data into your models. Then, you'll implement an input_fn
that feeds training,
evaluation, and prediction data into a neural network regressor for predicting
median house values.
Custom Input Pipelines with input_fn
When training a neural network using tf.contrib.learn, it's possible to pass
your feature and target data directly into your fit
, evaluate
, or predict
operations. Here's an example taken from the tf.contrib.learn quickstart
tutorial:
training_set = tf.contrib.learn.datasets.base.load_csv_with_header(
filename=IRIS_TRAINING, target_dtype=np.int, features_dtype=np.float32)
test_set = tf.contrib.learn.datasets.base.load_csv_with_header(
filename=IRIS_TEST, target_dtype=np.int, features_dtype=np.float32)
...
classifier.fit(x=training_set.data,
y=training_set.target,
steps=2000)
This approach works well when little to no manipulation of source data is
required. But in cases where more feature engineering is needed,
tf.contrib.learn
supports using a custom input function (input_fn
) to
encapsulate the logic for preprocessing and piping data into your models.
Anatomy of an input_fn
The following code illustrates the basic skeleton for an input function:
def my_input_fn()
# Preprocess your data here...
# ...then return 1) a mapping of feature columns to Tensors with
# the corresponding feature data, and 2) a Tensor containing labels
return feature_cols, labels
The body of the input function contains the specific logic for preprocessing your input data, such as scrubbing out bad examples or feature scaling.
Input functions must return the following two values containing the final feature and label data to be fed into your model (as shown in the above code skeleton):
feature_cols
 A dict containing key/value pairs that map feature column
names to
Tensor
s (orSparseTensor
s) containing the corresponding feature data. labels
 A
Tensor
containing your label (target) values: the values your model aims to predict.
Converting Feature Data to Tensors
If your feature/label data is stored in pandas
dataframes or numpy arrays, you'll need to convert it
to Tensor
s before returning it from your input_fn
.
For continuous data, you can create and populate a Tensor
using tf.constant
:
feature_column_data = [1, 2.4, 0, 9.9, 3, 120]
feature_tensor = tf.constant(feature_column_data)
For sparse, categorical data
(data where the majority of values are 0), you'll instead want to populate a
SparseTensor
, which is instantiated with three arguments:
shape
 The shape of the tensor. Takes a list indicating the number of elements in each dimension. For example,
shape=[3,6]
specifies a twodimensional 3x6 tensor,shape=[2,3,4]
specifies a threedimensional 2x3x4 tensor, andshape=[9]
specifies a onedimensional tensor with 9 elements. indices
 The indices of the elements in your tensor that contain nonzero values. Takes a list of terms, where each term is itself a list containing the index of a nonzero element. (Elements are zeroindexed—i.e., [0,0] is the index value for the element in the first column of the first row in a twodimensional tensor.) For example,
indices=[[1,3], [2,4]]
specifies that the elements with indexes of [1,3] and [2,4] have nonzero values. values
 A onedimensional tensor of values. Term
i
invalues
corresponds to termi
inindices
and specifies its value. For example, givenindices=[[1,3], [2,4]]
, the parametervalues=[18, 3.6]
specifies that element [1,3] of the tensor has a value of 18, and element [2,4] of the tensor has a value of 3.6.
The following code defines a twodimensional SparseTensor
with 3 rows and 5
columns. The element with index [0,1] has a value of 6, and the element with
index [2,4] has a value of 0.5 (all other values are 0):
sparse_tensor = tf.SparseTensor(indices=[[0,1], [2,4]],
values=[6, 0.5],
shape=[3, 5])
This corresponds to the following dense tensor:
[[0, 6, 0, 0, 0]
[0, 0, 0, 0, 0]
[0, 0, 0, 0, 0.5]]
For more on SparseTensor
, see the
TensorFlow API documentation.
Passing input_fn Data to Your Model
To feed data to your model for training, you simply pass the input function
you've created to your fit
operation as the value of the input_fn
parameter,
e.g.:
classifier.fit(input_fn=my_input_fn, steps=2000)
Note that the input_fn
is responsible for supplying both feature and label
data to the model, and replaces both the x
and y
parameters in fit
. If you
supply an input_fn
value to fit
that is not None
in conjunction with
either an x
or y
parameter that is not None
, it will result in a
ValueError
.
Also note that the input_fn
parameter must receive a function object (i.e.,
input_fn=my_input_fn
), not the return value of a function call
(input_fn=my_input_fn()
). This means that if you try to pass parameters to the input
function in your fit
call, as in the following code, it will result in a
TypeError
:
classifier.fit(input_fn=my_input_fn(training_set), steps=2000)
However, if you'd like to be able to parameterize your input function, there are
other methods for doing so. You can employ a wrapper function that takes no
arguments as your input_fn
and use it to invoke your input function
with the desired parameters. For example:
def my_input_function_training_set():
return my_input_function(training_set)
classifier.fit(input_fn=my_input_fn_training_set, steps=2000)
Alternatively, you can use Python's functools.partial
function to construct a new function object with all parameter values fixed:
classifier.fit(input_fn=functools.partial(my_input_function,
data_set=training_set), steps=2000)
A third option is to wrap your input_fn invocation in a
lambda
and pass it to the input_fn
parameter:
classifier.fit(input_fn=lambda: my_input_fn(training_set), steps=2000)
One big advantage of architecting your input pipeline as shown above—to accept a
parameter for data set—is that you can pass the same input_fn
to evaluate
and predict
operations by just changing the data set argument, e.g.:
classifier.evaluate(input_fn=lambda: my_input_fn(test_set), steps=2000)
This approach enhances code maintainability: no need to capture x
and y
values in separate variables (e.g., x_train
, x_test
, y_train
, y_test
)
for each type of operation.
A Neural Network Model for Boston House Values
In the remainder of this tutorial, you'll write an input function for preprocessing a subset of Boston housing data pulled from the UCI Housing Data Set and use it to feed data to a neural network regressor for predicting median house values.
The Boston CSV data sets you'll use to train your neural network contain the following feature data for Boston suburbs:
Feature  Description 

CRIM  Crime rate per capita 
ZN  Fraction of residential land zoned to permit 25,000+ sq ft lots 
INDUS  Fraction of land that is nonretail business 
NOX  Concentration of nitric oxides in parts per 10 million 
RM  Average Rooms per dwelling 
AGE  Fraction of owneroccupied residences built before 1940 
DIS  Distance to Bostonarea employment centers 
TAX  Property tax rate per $10,000 
PTRATIO  Studentteacher ratio 
And the label your model will predict is MEDV, the median value of owneroccupied residences in thousands of dollars.
Setup
Download the following data sets: boston_train.csv, boston_test.csv, and boston_predict.csv.
The following sections provide a stepbystep walkthrough of how to create an input function, feed these data sets into a neural network regressor, train and evaluate the model, and make house value predictions. The full, final code is available here.
Importing the Housing Data
To start, set up your imports (including pandas
and tensorflow
) and set
logging verbosity to
INFO
for more detailed log output:
from __future__ import absolute_import
from __future__ import division
from __future__ import print_function
import pandas as pd
import tensorflow as tf
tf.logging.set_verbosity(tf.logging.INFO)
Define the column names for the data set in COLUMNS
. To distinguish features
from the label, also define FEATURES
and LABEL
. Then read the three CSVs
(train,
test, and
predict) into pandas
DataFrame
s:
COLUMNS = ["crim", "zn", "indus", "nox", "rm", "age",
"dis", "tax", "ptratio", "medv"]
FEATURES = ["crim", "zn", "indus", "nox", "rm",
"age", "dis", "tax", "ptratio"]
LABEL = "medv"
training_set = pd.read_csv("boston_train.csv", skipinitialspace=True,
skiprows=1, names=COLUMNS)
test_set = pd.read_csv("boston_test.csv", skipinitialspace=True,
skiprows=1, names=COLUMNS)
prediction_set = pd.read_csv("boston_predict.csv", skipinitialspace=True,
skiprows=1, names=COLUMNS)
Defining FeatureColumns and Creating the Regressor
Next, create a list of FeatureColumn
s for the input data, which formally
specify the set of features to use for training. Because all features in the
housing data set contain continuous values, you can create their
FeatureColumn
s using the tf.contrib.layers.real_valued_column()
function:
feature_cols = [tf.contrib.layers.real_valued_column(k)
for k in FEATURES]
NOTE: For a more indepth overview of feature columns, see
this introduction,
and for an example that illustrates how to define FeatureColumns
for
categorical data, see the Linear Model Tutorial.
Now, instantiate a DNNRegressor
for the neural network regression model.
You'll need to provide two arguments here: hidden_units
, a hyperparameter
specifying the number of nodes in each hidden layer (here, two hidden layers
with 10 nodes each), and feature_columns
, containing the list of
FeatureColumns
you just defined:
regressor = tf.contrib.learn.DNNRegressor(
feature_columns=feature_cols, hidden_units=[10, 10])
Building the input_fn
To pass input data into the regressor
, create an input function, which will
accept a pandas Dataframe
and return feature column and label values as
Tensor
s:
def input_fn(data_set):
feature_cols = {k: tf.constant(data_set[k].values
for k in FEATURES}
labels = tf.constant(data_set[LABEL].values)
return feature_cols, labels
Note that the input data is passed into input_fn
in the data_set
argument,
which means the function can process any of the DataFrame
s you've imported:
training_set
, test_set
, and prediction_set
.
Training the Regressor
To train the neural network regressor, run fit
with the training_set
passed
to the input_fn
as follows:
regressor.fit(input_fn=lambda: input_fn(training_set), steps=5000)
You should see log output similar to the following, which reports training loss for every 100 steps:
INFO:tensorflow:Step 1: loss = 483.179
INFO:tensorflow:Step 101: loss = 81.2072
INFO:tensorflow:Step 201: loss = 72.4354
...
INFO:tensorflow:Step 1801: loss = 33.4454
INFO:tensorflow:Step 1901: loss = 32.3397
INFO:tensorflow:Step 2001: loss = 32.0053
INFO:tensorflow:Step 4801: loss = 27.2791
INFO:tensorflow:Step 4901: loss = 27.2251
INFO:tensorflow:Saving checkpoints for 5000 into /tmp/boston_model/model.ckpt.
INFO:tensorflow:Loss for final step: 27.1674.
Evaluating the Model
Next, see how the trained model performs against the test data set. Run
evaluate
, and this time pass the test_set
to the input_fn
:
ev = regressor.evaluate(input_fn=lambda: input_fn(test_set), steps=1)
Retrieve the loss from the ev
results and print it to output:
loss_score = ev["loss"]
print("Loss: {0:f}".format(loss_score))
You should see results similar to the following:
INFO:tensorflow:Eval steps [0,1) for training step 5000.
INFO:tensorflow:Saving evaluation summary for 5000 step: loss = 11.9221
Loss: 11.922098
Making Predictions
Finally, you can use the model to predict median house values for the
prediction_set
, which contains feature data but no labels for six examples:
y = regressor.predict(input_fn=lambda: input_fn(prediction_set))
print ("Predictions: {}".format(str(y)))
Your results should contain six housevalue predictions in thousands of dollars, e.g:
Predictions: [ 33.30348587 17.04452896 22.56370163 34.74345398 14.55953979
19.58005714]
Additional Resources
This tutorial focused on creating an input_fn
for a neural network regressor.
To learn more about using input_fn
s for other types of models, check out the
following resources:

Largescale Linear Models with TensorFlow: This introduction to linear models in TensorFlow provides a highlevel overview of feature columns and techniques for transforming input data.

TensorFlow Linear Model Tutorial: This tutorial covers creating
FeatureColumn
s and aninput_fn
for a linear classification model that predicts income range based on census data. 
TensorFlow Wide & Deep Learning Tutorial: Building on the Linear Model Tutorial, this tutorial covers
FeatureColumn
andinput_fn
creation for a "wide and deep" model that combines a linear model and a neural network usingDNNLinearCombinedClassifier
.