An Axis (ngraph.op_graph.axes.Axis) labels a dimension of a tensor. The op-graph uses the identity of Axis objects to pair and specify dimensions in symbolic expressions. This system has several advantages over using the length and position of the axis as in other frameworks:

1. Convenience. The dimensions of tensors, which may be nested deep in a computation graph, can be specified without having to calculate their lengths.

2. Safety. Axis labels are analogous to types in general-purpose programming languages, allowing objects to interact only when they are permitted to do so in advance. In symbolic computation, this prevents interference between axes that happen to have the same lengths but are logically distinct. For example, if the number of training examples and the number of input features are both 50.

3. Generic. The order of axes for multidimensional tensors does not imply a specific data layout or striding, making the graph specification compatible across different hardware with different constraints.

Core concepts

Axis and axes

The Axis object represents one dimension of a tensor, and can be created with the ng.make_axis method.

H = ng.make_axis(length=3, name='height')
W = ng.make_axis(length=4, name='width')

For tensors with multiple dimensions, we create an Axes passing in a list of individual Axis objects.


The ordering does not matter in specifying the axes, and has no bearing on the eventual data layout during execution. Refer to the Properties section below for a full description of axes properties.

axes = ng.make_axes([H, W])

We use Axes to define the shape of tensors in Intel® Nervana™ graph (ngraph). For example:

image = ng.placeholder(axes)

We can also delay the specification of the axis length.

H = ng.make_axis(name='height')
W = ng.make_axis(name='width')
image = ng.placeholder([H, W])
H.length = 3
W.length = 4


In Intel Nervana graph, our axis design is very flexible. Axes can be given arbitrary names and the ordering of the axes does not matter. Sometimes, however, axes need to have additional semantic information provided to operations.


  1. The order of axes does not matter.
  • Two tensors x and y are considered having the same type if: - x and y have the same number of axes and same set of axes. - After shuffling of y‘s axes to be the same order of x‘s, the underlying values are the same.

  • We can check element-wise tensor equality using ng.equal().

    import numpy as np
    import ngraph as ng
    import ngraph.transformers as ngt
    H = ng.make_axis(length=2)
    W = ng.make_axis(length=3)
    np_val = np.random.rand(2, 3)
    x = ng.constant(np_val, [H, W])
    y = ng.constant(np_val.T, [W, H])
    z = ng.equal(x, y)
    trans = ngt.make_transformer()
    comp = trans.computation([z])
    z_val = comp()[0]
    # [[ True  True  True]
    #  [ True  True  True]]
  1. An axis can occur at most once in the axes of a tensor.

For example:

H = ng.make_axis(length=2)
W = ng.make_axis(length=2)
x = ng.constant(np.ones((2, 2)), [H, H])  # throws exception
x = ng.constant(np.ones((2, 2)), [H, W])  # good
  1. Axes have context. A set of standard neon™ axes are defined for neon frontends.
  • Axes roles:
ar = Namespace()
ar.Height = ng.make_axis_role()
ar.Width = ng.make_axis_role()
ar.Depth = ng.make_axis_role()
ar.Channel = ng.make_axis_role()
ar.Channelout = ng.make_axis_role()
ar.Time = ng.make_axis_role()
  • Image / feature map:
ax = Namespace()
ax.N = ng.make_axis(name='N', docstring="minibatch size")
ax.C = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Channel], docstring="number of input feature maps")
ax.D = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Depth], docstring="input image depth")
ax.H = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Height], docstring="input image height")
ax.W = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Width], docstring="input image width")
  • Filter (convolution kernel):
ax.R = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Height], docstring="filter height")
ax.S = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Width], docstring="filter width")
ax.T = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Depth], docstring="filter depth")
ax.J = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Channel], docstring="filter channel size (for crossmap pooling)")
ax.K = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Channelout], docstring="number of output feature maps")
  • Output:
ax.M = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Depth], docstring="output image depth")
ax.P = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Height], docstring="output image height")
ax.Q = ng.make_axis(roles=[ar.Width], docstring="output image width")
  • Recurrent:
ax.REC = ng.make_axis(name='R', roles=[ar.Time], docstring="recurrent axis")
  • Target:
ax.Y = ng.make_axis(docstring="target")

Axes operations

Axes (ngraph.op_graph.axes.Axes) has list and set behaviors at the same time. Axes are internally stored and can be used as list, while we also have use cases of Axes as set. Here’s a list of supported operations by Axes and their expected behavors.

  • __add__: list operation, concatenated axes, throws exception when there are axis duplications
  • __sub__: set operation, returns the ordered set difference of axes
  • __or__: set operation, returns ordered set union of axes
  • __and__: set operation, returns ordered set intersection of axes
  • __eq__: list operation, true if each Axis are matching and in same order
  • __ne__: list operation, true if not all Axis are matching or in different order
  • is_sub_set, is_super_set, is_equal_set and is_not_equal_set: set operations

Element-wise binary ops

  • When axes match, output the same axes.
(H,) + (H,) -> (H,)
(H, W) + (H, W) -> (H, W)
  • Automatic broadcasting / dim shuffle, the output axis order is determined by the input axis order of the left and right operands.

    (H, W) + (H,) -> (H, W)
    (H, W) + (W,) -> (H, W)
    (H, W) + (W, N) -> (H, W, N)
    (H, W) + (N, W) -> (H, W, N)
    (C, H) + (W, H, N) -> (C, H, W, N)

    Axis order is determined by the following rules:

    1. If the set of axes for both operands match exactly, but the order is different, use the order of the left operand.
    2. If one operand’s axes are a superset of the other’s, use that operand’s axis order
    3. Otherwise the order is determined by concatenating the left operand’s axes with the axes from the right operand that are not present in the left operand (left_axes + (right_axes - left_axes)).
    (H, W, N) + (N, H) -> (H, W, N)
    (H, W) + (N, H, W) -> (N, H, W)
    (H, W) + (N, W, H) -> (N, W, H)
    (C, H, W) + (N, W, H) -> (C, H, W, N)
    (N, C, H, W) + (C, H, W, N) -> (N, C, H, W)
  • Commutative property is as usual, although the axis order of the equivalent tensors can be different.

(H,) + (W,) -> (H, W)
(W,) + (H,) -> (W, H)
(C,) + (H, W) -> (C, H, W)
(H, W) + (C,) -> (H, W, C)

In the following example, ``z`` from left and right are equivalent, although the axis orders are different.


  x = ng.constant(np.ones((2, 3)), [H, W]) | x = ng.constant(np.ones((2, 3)), [H, W])
  y = ng.constant(np.ones((3, 2)), [W, H]) | y = ng.constant(np.ones((3, 2)), [W, H])
  z = x + y                                | z = y + x  # <== changed order
  trans = ngt.make_transformer()           | trans = ngt.make_transformer()
  comp = trans.computation([z])            | comp = trans.computation([z])
  z_val = comp()[0]                        | z_val = comp()[0]
  print(z_val)                             | print(z_val)
  print(z_val.shape)                       | print(z_val.shape)
  Output:                                  | Output:
  [[ 2.  2.  2.]                           | [[ 2.  2.]
   [ 2.  2.  2.]]                          |  [ 2.  2.]
  (2, 3)                                   |  [ 2.  2.]]
                                           | (3, 2)
  • Associative property is as usual.
((H,) + (W,)) + (N,) -> (H, W) + (N,) -> (H, W, N)
(H,) + ((W,) + (N,)) -> (H,) + (W, N) -> (H, W, N)
  • Distributive property is as usual.
(H,) * ((W,) + (N,)) = (H,) * (W, N) = (H, W, N)
(H,) * (W,) + (H,) * (N,) = (H, W) * (H, N) = (H, W, N)

Dot operation

When two tensors are provided to a multiaxis operation, such as, we need to indicate the corresponding axes that should be paired together.

For example:

# 2d dot
(H, W) • (W, N) -> (H, N)

# 4d dot
(M, C, H, W) • (C, H, W, N) -> (M, N)

# swapping the order of the axes is allowed
(M, C, H, W) • (C, H, W, N) -> (M, N)
(M, W, H, C) • (C, H, W, N) -> (M, N)

Axes reduction

  • We specify the reduction axes in reduction_axes. Reduction operations can have an arbitrary number of reduction axes. The order of the reduction axes can be arbitrary.
  • When reduction_axes is empty, reduction is performed on none of the axes.


ax_C = ng.make_axis(name="C", docstring="number of input feature maps")
ax_H = ng.make_axis(name="H", docstring="input image height")
ax_W = ng.make_axis(name="W", docstring="input image width")
x = ng.placeholder([ax_C, ax_H, ax_W])
ng.sum(x, reduction_axes=[])            #-> [C, H, W]
ng.sum(x, reduction_axes=[ax_C])        #-> [H, W]
ng.sum(x, reduction_axes=[ax_C, ax_W])  #-> [H]
ng.sum(x, reduction_axes=[ax_W, ax_C])  #-> [H]
ng.sum(x, reduction_axes=x.axes)        #-> []

Axes casting

Use ng.cast_axes to cast at axes to targeting axes with the same dimensions. For example, we might want to sum two layers’ outputs, where they have the same dimensions but different axes. Examples are shown below:

# assume C1.length == C2.length == 100
hidden_1 = ng.constant(np.ones((100, 128)), [C1, N])
hidden_2 = ng.constant(np.ones((100, 128)), [C2, N])

# if we add directly without casting
sum_direct = hidden_1 + hidden_2  # sum_direct has axes: [C1, C2, N]

# cast before sum
hidden_2_cast = ng.cast_axes(hidden_2, [C1, N])
sum_cast = hidden_1 + hidden_2_cast  # sum_cast has axes: [C1, N]

Axes broadcasting

Use ng.broadcast to broadcast to new axes. The new axes must be a superset of the original axes. The order of the new axes can be arbitrary. For example:

x = ng.placeholder([ax_C, ax_H])
ng.broadcast(x, [ax_C, ax_H, ax_W])  #-> [C, H, W]
ng.broadcast(x, [ax_W, ax_H, ax_C])  #-> [W, H, C]