jax.remat / jax.checkpoint changes: what you need to know#


What’s going on?#

As of #11830 we’re switching on a new implementation of jax.checkpoint(), aka jax.remat() (the two names are aliases of one another). For most code, there will be no changes. But there may be some observable differences in edge cases; see What are the possible issues after the upgrade?

How can I disable the change, and go back to the old behavior for now?#

In case you have a problem with this change, through version jax==0.3.16 it is possible to switch off the new implementation by setting the jax_new_checkpoint config option to be False, in any one of these ways:

  1. set the shell environment variable JAX_NEW_CHECKPOINT=0;

  2. execute jax.config.update('jax_new_checkpoint', False);

  3. if you parse flags with absl, pass the --jax_new_checkpoint=False option.

If you need to revert to the old implementation, please reach out on a GitHub issue so that we can make the new implementation work for you.

As of jax==0.3.17 the jax_new_checkpoint config option is no longer available. If you have an issue, please reach out on the issue tracker so we can help fix it!

Why are we doing this?#

At the time of writing, JAX has two parallel implementations of jax.checkpoint. The new one has been used for months (e.g. by Pax and Flaxformer/T5X) on an opt-in basis. But it hasn’t been on-by-default.

We want to switch the new implementation to be on-by-default, and then delete the old implementation. Using the new implementation, and removing the old implementation, gives users several benefits.

User-customizable rematerialization policies#

The main upside of the new implementation is a new feature corresponding to the policy argument. The idea is to give precise user control over what intermediates get saved (versus rematerialized) during the forward pass of automatic differentiation. By exercising this control over the memory-usage vs recomputation tradeoff, users can get significant performance wins, especially in large models and in our LLM MLPerf submission!

The full documentation for this feature is still forthcoming, but here’s a quick example:

from functools import partial
import jax

def apply_layer(W, x):
  return jnp.sin(jnp.dot(W, x))

@partial(jax.checkpoint, policy=jax.checkpoint_policies.checkpoint_dots)
def predict(params, x):
  for W in params[:-1]:
    x = apply_layer(W, x)
  return jnp.dot(params[-1], x)

By applying jax.checkpoint with policy=jax.checkpoint_policies.checkpoint_dots here, we ensure that only the results of matrix multiplies are allowed to be saved during the forward pass. The Jacobian coefficient values from cos applications, and the values of sin applications needed to compute them, are not saved from the forward pass and are instead recomputed during the backward pass. (Policies like this one can be effective on TPUs, where elementwise computations are effectively free but results from the matrix unit are worth saving.)

Ability to rematerialize constants, not just operations with data dependence on arguments#

The old jax.checkpoint implementation couldn’t actually rematerialize computations without a data dependence on arguments to the decorated function. Consider this toy example:

def f(x):
  a = some_function(jnp.arange(10_000_000))  # `a` does not depend on `x`
  return a * x

The old jax.checkpoint implementation was forced to save the value of a, which could require a lot of memory. The new jax.checkpoint implementation can rematerialize rather than save the value of a.

Significantly less Python overhead in some cases#

The new jax.checkpoint incurs significantly less Python overhead in some cases. Simple overhead benchmarks got 10x faster. These overheads only arise in eager op-by-op execution, so in the common case of using a jax.checkpoint under a jax.jit or similar the speedups aren’t relevant. But still, nice!

Enabling new JAX features by simplifying internals#

This change unlocks big future user benefits too, like custom batching rules (the vmap analogue of custom_vjp) and a forward-differentiable upgrade to custom_vjp. It also significantly reduces complexity in parts of the JAX codebase, which will be good for maintainability and bug-fixing in general.

What are the possible issues after the upgrade?#

Innocuous numerical changes#

Because the new implementation can rematerialize more computations, including those of potentially large constants, some code may see small numerical changes. The magnitude of any numerical changes should be within the range we expect from changing compiler optimizations, like reordering of floating point operations. But some overly tight test tolerances may need to be slightly relaxed.

The concrete=True option is removed.#

The old jax.checkpoint implementation had a boolean concrete option, which allowed tracing on concrete Python values (rather than delaying all computations and only tracing on abstracted values). That option was seldom used, and in the cases where it was used there were much simpler alternatives. So we removed the option in the new jax.checkpoint.

For example, the overwhelmingly common use of concrete=True in Google code was to support passing an argument like is_training:

@partial(jax.checkpoint, concrete=True)  # OLD jax.checkpoint API
def foo(x, is_training):
  if is_training:
    return g(x)
    return h(x)

With the new jax.checkpoint implementation, we can accomplish the same using the static\_argnums option:

@partial(jax.checkpoint, static_argnums=(1,))  # NEW jax.checkpoint API
def foo(x, is_training):
  if is_training:

If jax.numpy operations need to be performed on static arguments, with their numerical results computed during Python tracing rather than delayed, we can use static_argnums with jax.ensure_compile_time_eval(). But it seems unlikely that you’d need this!