5 Best Ways to Fit Data to a Model in TensorFlow with Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: TensorFlow provides various methods to fit data to models for training machine learning algorithms. This article demonstrates how one can utilize TensorFlow with Python to effectively train models using different techniques. We aim to illustrate both the implementation and the varying advantages of each method, providing a broad understanding for data scientists and AI practitioners. For instance, given a dataset (input) of housing prices and their features, we want to train a model (output) that can predict prices of new houses based on these features.

Method 1: Using the fit Method

TensorFlow’s fit method is the most straightforward approach for fitting data to a model. It takes in the training data, labels, number of epochs, and batch size, among other parameters, to guide the training process. It’s part of the Keras API within TensorFlow and is designed for ease of use.

Here’s an example:

import tensorflow as tf

model = tf.keras.models.Sequential([
    tf.keras.layers.Dense(1, input_shape=[1])

model.compile(optimizer='sgd', loss='mean_squared_error')
history = model.fit(x_train, y_train, epochs=10)


Output: {‘loss’: [2.345, 1.234, …], ‘epochs’: [1, 2, …]}

This snippet shows the creation of a simple linear regression model using a Sequential model with one dense layer. The model is compiled with an optimizer and loss function before being fit to training data for a specified number of epochs. The fit function returns a history object containing loss metrics over each epoch.

Method 2: Custom Training Loop Using GradientTape

For more control over the training process, TensorFlow offers tf.GradientTape, which allows for customized training loops. This is useful for complex models where one might need to make adjustments or computations at each training step.

Here’s an example:

import tensorflow as tf

model = tf.keras.models.Sequential([tf.keras.layers.Dense(1)])

optimizer = tf.keras.optimizers.SGD()
loss_fn = tf.keras.losses.MeanSquaredError()

for epoch in range(epochs):
    with tf.GradientTape() as tape:
        predictions = model(x_train, training=True)
        loss = loss_fn(y_train, predictions)
    gradients = tape.gradient(loss, model.trainable_variables)
    optimizer.apply_gradients(zip(gradients, model.trainable_variables))

Custom training processes provide the versatile application of gradients and optimization steps, allowing for detailed manipulation of the training process.

Method 3: Using train_on_batch

The train_on_batch method in TensorFlow is suitable for when you need to control batch training manually or when working with extremely large datasets that cannot fit into memory all at once. It updates the model for one iteration with a single batch of data.

Here’s an example:

import tensorflow as tf

model = tf.keras.Sequential([tf.keras.layers.Dense(1)])

model.compile(optimizer='sgd', loss='mean_squared_error')

for batch, (batch_x, batch_y) in enumerate(dataset):
    loss = model.train_on_batch(batch_x, batch_y)
    print('Batch', batch, 'Loss', loss)

This code trains the model using one batch at a time by calling train_on_batch within a loop over the dataset. Each call updates the model’s weights once and returns the loss for the processed batch.

Method 4: Transfer Learning with fit

Transfer Learning is another powerful technique in TensorFlow where a pre-trained model is adapted to a new task. It involves fine-tuning where the higher-level feature representations are slightly adjusted.

Here’s an example:

import tensorflow as tf

base_model = tf.keras.applications.VGG16(input_shape=(224, 224, 3),
base_model.trainable = False

global_average_layer = tf.keras.layers.GlobalAveragePooling2D()
prediction_layer = tf.keras.layers.Dense(1)

model = tf.keras.Sequential([


history = model.fit(x_train, y_train, epochs=5)

This approach leverages a pre-trained network (VGG16) by freezing its layers, and only training the final layers specifically added to perform a specific task, which in this case is a binary classification.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using fit_generator

For handling data that needs to be augmented or when the data cannot fit in memory, TensorFlow’s fit_generator allows you to train a model using Python generators that yield batches of training data.

Here’s an example:

history = model.fit_generator(data_gen, steps_per_epoch=100, epochs=5)

This succinct piece of code begins the training of the model using data provided by data_gen generator, running for a specified number of steps per epoch.


  • Method 1: Using the fit Method. Most user-friendly and common method. Limited customization.
  • Method 2: Custom Training Loop Using GradientTape. Offers maximum control and customization. Requires deeper understanding of backpropagation.
  • Method 3: Using train_on_batch. Grants control over individual batches. Less straightforward than fit.
  • Method 4: Transfer Learning with fit. Efficient for leveraging pre-existing models. Limited by the choice of the base model.
  • Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using fit_generator. Good for large datasets and data augmentation. Deprecated in TensorFlow 2.0 in favor of fit method, which now supports generators.