Squadrick AKA Dheeraj R. Reddy

Neural Network Compiler (NNC)

This was the documentation for a project I completed as part of my compilers class. It’s a language to define neural networks, which is then optimized and compiled into efficient executable C++ code. The code of the compiler needs some refining, and will be released shortly. Also, note that the entire project was completed in around 48 hours, so forgive any errors and lack of foresight.

Input to the compiler is a .nnc file. The file is divided into two sections:

  1. Model properties
  2. Model definition

Model Properties

Each property of the model is preceded by ~. Currently the following properties are available:

  1. NAME: Name of the network
  2. DTYPE: Data type of the network (float16, float32, float64)
  4. LOSS: Loss function to be minimized (crossentropy, l2, abs)
  5. OPTIMIZER: Optimizer (SGD(lr), MOMENTUM(lr, mom))

Example of model properties:

~NAME: example_neural_network
~DTYPE: float32
~LOSS: crossentropy

Model Definition

With the propeties of the model finished, we need to now define the model.

Every tensor in the definition has @ before the name, and every tensor has BATCH_SIZE as the 0-th dimension. All other variables are considered scalars if they don’t have @ preceding it.

Only single input and single output networks are supported.

Primitive Modules

NCC has some modules defined that can directly emit machine code:

  1. @: DENSE(@, shape:1)
  2. @: ACTIVATION(@, relu/softmax/sigmoid/tanh)
  3. @: ELEMWISE(@, scalar, add/sub/mul/div/mod)
  4. @: DROPOUT(@, scalar)
  5. @: INPUT(shape:n)
  6. OUTPUT(@)
  7. @: TRANSPOSE(@, shape:n)
  8. @: REDUCE(@, axis, sum/mul)
  9. @: CONCAT(@, @)
  10. @: CONV2D(@, (shape:3), scalar, same/none)

Example of model definition:

@A: INPUT({28*28})
@B: DENSE(@A, (100))
@C: ACTIVATION(@B, relu)
@R: DROPOUT(@C, d)
@D: DENSE(@R, (10))
@E: ACTIVATION(@D, softmax)


All mathematical operations that need to be evaluated prior to compilation can be wrapped in {mathematical_op}. You can assign values to scalar in preprocessors.


{a = 12}
{b = a + 1}
@A: DENSE(@B, ({a * b})


We can define a reusable module as a composition of primitive module as a single block in the following way:

block BLOCK_NAME(@tensor1, @tensor2, param1, param2) [
  spit @OUT

where spit is used to define the output of a block. A block can only spit a single tensor. A block can take any number of tensors and scalars as params. No preprocessor operations are allowed in a block.


! is used for single line comments.

No multiline comments are supported.


You can compile a network using the following command:

nncgo filename.nnc

This generates two files: filename.h and filename.so.

filename.h will have a class called the same as given in ~NAME property.

You can instantiate an object of a class which creates the weight matrices required. If filename.h5 is in the same directory, the weights are loaded from a file.

The class has the following methods:

  1. forward()
  2. minimize()
  3. finalize()


Takes a tensor as input, and returns a tensor as a output.


Takes a tensor as input, and returns the loss as output. Performs one step of optimization.


Writes the weight matrices into filename.h5, which can be loaded up for later.

Steps during compilation

The .nnc file goes through multiple phases:

  1. Preprocessor operations
  2. Block replacement
  3. Graph generation
  4. Graph optimization
  5. High-level code generation (C++)
  6. Use LLVM to generate machine code

Preprocessor operations

Uses inline python to compute all the preprocessor operations.

Block replacement

Expands each block call into a pure module definition. A pure module definition uses only primitive blocks without any blocks or preprocessors. This is written to a .nccpure file.

Graph Generation

We use flex and bison to convert a .nccpure into a DAG where each edge is an operation, and each node is the intermediate tensor result.

Graph optimization

We optimize the graph by fusing operations that are faster, and we remove dead end operations that aren’t used for the calculation of output tensor. Example: consecutive matmuls, consecutive transposes, matmul+transpose, etc.

High-level code generation (C++)

We generate C++ code using the optimized graph as well as model properties. We make calls to BLAS functions for various primitive modules. The various functions are also generated along with functionality to load and store weights.

Use LLVM to generate machine code

The generated C++ file is compiled using LLVM (clang) into the final .h and .so files.


.nnc to .nncpure convertion is done using python.

.nncpure to machine code is done using C++ along with flex and bison.

Most of the BLAS operations are self-implementated, but it can be easily replaced with faster alternatives such as Intel MKL or OpenBLAS. We can extend this further to use CUDA/CuDNN or OpenCL.