Setting up the Problem

If you have not done this before, it is recommended you first work through the Basics of Syne Tune tutorial, in order to become familiar with concepts such as configuration, configuration space, backend, scheduler.


In this tutorial, we will use a surrogate benchmark in order to obtain realistic results with little computation. To this end, you need to have the blackbox-repository dependencies installed, as detailed here. Note that the first time you use a surrogate benchmark, its data files are downloaded and stored to your S3 bucket, this can take a considerable amount of time. The next time you use the benchmark, it is loaded from your local disk or your S3 bucket, which is fast.

Running Example

For most of this tutorial, we will be concerned with one running example: the NASBench-201 benchmark. NASBench-201 is a frequently used neural architecture search benchmark with a configuration space of six categorical parameters, with five values each. The authors trained networks under all these configurations and provide metrics, such as training error, evaluation error and runtime after each epoch, free for researchers to use. In this tutorial, we make use of the CIFAR100 variant of this benchmark, where the model architectures have been trained on the CIFAR100 image classification dataset.

NASBench-201 is an example for a tabulated benchmark. Researchers can benchmark and compare HPO algorithms on the data without having to spend efforts to train models. They do not need expensive GPU computation in order to explore ideas or do comparative studies.

Syne Tune is particularly well suited to work with tabulated benchmarks. First, it contains a blackbox repository for maintenance and fast access to tabulated benchmarks. Second, it features a simulator backend which simulates training evaluations from a blackbox. The simulator backend can be used with any Syne Tune scheduler, and experiment runs are very close to what would be obtained by running training for real. In particular, the simulation maintains correct timings and temporal order of events. Importantly, time is simulated as well. Not only are experiments very cheap to run (on basic CPU hardware), they also finish many times faster than real time.

The Launcher Script

The most flexible way to run HPO experiments in Syne Tune is by writing a launcher script. In this tutorial, we will use the following launcher script.
import logging
from argparse import ArgumentParser

from syne_tune.experiments.benchmark_definitions import nas201_benchmark
from syne_tune.backend.simulator_backend.simulator_callback import (
from syne_tune.blackbox_repository.simulated_tabular_backend import (
from syne_tune.optimizer.baselines import (
from syne_tune import Tuner, StoppingCriterion

if __name__ == "__main__":
    parser = ArgumentParser()
        choices=("cifar10", "cifar100", "ImageNet16-120"),
    args = parser.parse_args()

    # [1]
    # Setting up simulator backend for blackbox repository
    # We use the NASBench201 blackbox for the training set `args.dataset`
    benchmark = nas201_benchmark(args.dataset)
    max_resource_attr = benchmark.max_resource_attr
    trial_backend = BlackboxRepositoryBackend(

    # [2]
    # Select configuration space for the benchmark. Here, we use the default
    # for the blackbox
    blackbox = trial_backend.blackbox
    # Common scheduler kwargs
    method_kwargs = dict(
    # Insert maximum resource level into configuration space. Doing so is
    # best practice and has advantages for pause-and-resume schedulers
    config_space = blackbox.configuration_space_with_max_resource_attr(

    scheduler = None
    if args.method in {"ASHA-STOP", "ASHA-PROM", "ASHA6-STOP"}:
        # [3]
        # Scheduler: Asynchronous Successive Halving (ASHA)
        # The 'stopping' variant stops trials which underperform compared to others
        # at certain resource levels (called rungs).
        # The 'promotion' variant pauses each trial at certain resource levels
        # (called rungs). Trials which outperform others at the same rung, are
        # promoted later on, to run to the next higher rung.
        # We configure this scheduler with random search: configurations for new
        # trials are drawn at random
        scheduler = ASHA(
            type="promotion" if args.method == "ASHA-PROM" else "stopping",
            brackets=6 if args.method == "ASHA6-STOP" else 1,
    elif args.method in {"MOBSTER-JOINT", "MOBSTER-INDEP"}:
        # Scheduler: Asynchronous MOBSTER
        # We configure the scheduler with GP-based Bayesian optimization, using
        # the "gp_multitask" or the "gp_independent" surrogate model.
        search_options = None
        if args.method == "MOBSTER-INDEP":
            search_options = {"model": "gp_independent"}
        scheduler = MOBSTER(
        # Scheduler: Hyper-Tune
        # We configure the scheduler with GP-based Bayesian optimization, using
        # the "gp_multitask" or the "gp_independent" surrogate model.
        search_options = None
        if args.method == "HYPERTUNE-JOINT":
            search_options = {"model": "gp_multitask"}
        scheduler = HyperTune(
            brackets=4 if args.method == "HYPERTUNE4-INDEP" else 1,
    elif args.method in {"SYNCHB", "SYNCSH"}:
        # Scheduler: Synchronous successive halving or Hyperband
        # We configure this scheduler with random search: configurations for new
        # trials are drawn at random
        scheduler = SyncHyperband(
            brackets=1 if args.method == "SYNCSH" else None,
    elif args.method == "SYNCMOBSTER":
        # Scheduler: Synchronous MOBSTER
        # We configure this scheduler with GP-BO search. The default surrogate
        # model is "gp_independent": independent processes at each rung level,
        # which share a common ARD kernel, but separate mean functions and
        # covariance scales.
        scheduler = SyncMOBSTER(
    elif args.method == "BOHB":
        # Scheduler: Synchronous BOHB
        # We configure this scheduler with KDE search, which is using the
        # "two-density" approximation of the EI acquisition function from
        # TPE (Bergstra & Bengio).
        scheduler = SyncBOHB(
    elif args.method == "DEHB":
        # Scheduler: Differential Evolution Hyperband (DEHB)
        # We configure this scheduler with random search.
        scheduler = DEHB(

    stop_criterion = StoppingCriterion(

    # [4]
    tuner = Tuner(
            "seed": args.random_seed,
            "algorithm": args.method,
            "tag": args.experiment_tag,
            "benchmark": "nas201-" + args.dataset,

Let us have a walk through this script, assuming it is called with the default --method ASHA-STOP:

  • If you worked through Basics of Syne Tune, you probably miss the training scripts. Since we use the simulator backend with a blackbox (NASBench-201), a training script is not required, since the backend is directly linked to the blackbox repository and obtains evaluation data from there.

  • [1] We first select the benchmark and create the simulator backend linked with this benchmark. Relevant properties of supported benchmarks are collected in syne_tune.experiments.benchmark_definitions, using SurrogateBenchmarkDefinition. Some properties are tied to the benchmark and must not be changed (elapsed_time_attr, metric, mode, blackbox_name, max_resource_attr). Other properties are default values suggested for the benchmark and may be changed by the user (n_workers, max_num_evaluations, max_wallclock_time, surrogate). Some of the blackboxes are not computed on a dense grid, they require a surrogate regression model in order to be functional. For such, surrogate and surrogate_kwargs need to be considered. However, NASBench-201 comes with a finite configuration space, which has been sampled exhaustively.

  • [1] We then create the BlackboxRepositoryBackend. Instead of a training script, this backend needs information about the blackbox used for the simulation. elapsed_time_attr is the name of the elapsed time metric of the blackbox (time from start of training until end of epoch). max_resource_attr is the name of the maximum resource entry in the configuration space (more on this shortly).

  • [2] Next, we select the configuration space and determine some attribute names. With a tabulated benchmark, we are bound to use the configuration space coming with the blackbox, trial_backend.blackbox.configuration_space. If another configuration space is to be used, a surrogate regression model has to be specified. In this case, config_space_surrogate can be passed at the construction of BlackboxRepositoryBackend. Since NASBench-201 has a native finite configuration space, we can ignore this extra complexity in this tutorial. However, choosing a suitable configuration space and specifying a surrogate can be important for model-based HPO methods. Some more informations are given here.

  • [2] We can determine resource_attr (name of resource attribute) from the blackbox as blackbox.fidelity_name(). Next, if max_resource_attr is specified, we attach the information about the largest resource level to the configuration space, via blackbox.configuration_space_with_max_resource_attr(max_resource_attr). Doing so is best practice in general. In the end, the training script needs to know how long to train for at most (i.e., the maximum number of epochs in our example), this should not be hardcoded. Another advantage of attaching the maximum resource information to the configuration space is that pause-and-resume schedulers can use it to signal the training script how long to really run for. This is explained in more detail when we come to these schedulers. In short, we strongly recommend to use max_resource_attr and to configure schedulers with it.

  • [2] If max_resource_attr is not to be used, the scheduler needs to be passed the maximum resource value explicitly. For ASHA-STOP, this is the max_t attribute. This is not recommended, and not shown here.

  • [3] At this point, we create the multi-fidelity scheduler, which is ASHA in the default case. Most supported schedulers can easily be imported from syne_tune.optimizer.baselines, using common names.

  • [4] Finally, we create a stopping criterion and a Tuner. This should be well known from Basics of Syne Tune. One speciality here is that we require sleep_time=0 and callbacks=[SimulatorCallback()] for things to work out with the simulator backend. Namely, since time is simulated, the Tuner does not really have to sleep between its iterations (simulated time will be increased in distinct steps). Second, SimulatorCallback is needed for simulation of time. It is fine to add additional callbacks here, as long as SimulatorCallback is one of them.

The Blackbox Repository

Giving a detailed account of the blackbox repository is out of scope of this tutorial. If you run the launcher script above, you will be surprised how quickly it finishes. The only real time spent is on logging, fetching metric values from the blackbox, and running the scheduler code. Since the latter is very fast (mostly some random sampling and data organization), whole simulated HPO experiments with many parallel workers can be done in mere seconds.

However, when you run it for the very first time, you will have to wait for quite some time. This is because the blackbox repository downloads the raw data for the benchmark of your choice, processes it, and (optionally) stores it to your S3 bucket. It also stores a local copy. If the data is already in your S3 bucket, it will be downloaded from there if you run on a different instance, this is rather fast. But downloading and processing the raw data can take an hour or more for some of the blackboxes.