TensorFlow Basics

TensorFlow is Google’s open source library for numerical computation. All computations are represented as Data Flow Graphs. The Nodes in the graph represent operations and Edges represent the data-communication between nodes.


Every computation is a graph. That is, we first create a graph that represent our computation. Then we run/evaluate that graph. The evaluation always happen within a Session

import tensorflow as tf
x = tf.random_uniform([10])

What do you think the above code prints?

Tensor("random_uniform:0", shape=(10,), dtype=float32)

x is a Tensor. Remember that everytihing in tensorflow is graph made of nodes and edges. The call to tf.random_uniform() returns a Tensor.


A tensor is what is passed between nodes (edge). It represents the (input and) output of an Operation (node). A tensor does not hold the values of the operation’s output, but instead provides a means of computing those values in a Session.

In the above example, tf.random_uniform() is an Operation and it returns a Tensor.

Take another look at the output of previous example -

Tensor("random_uniform:0", shape=(10,), dtype=float32)

it tells us that x is a Tensor, the opration name is random_uniform (:0 says its the output), the shape of the tensor (a list of 10 elements) and data type of the elements in the list(float32).

You can get information about the tensor using many of the functions and attribute values available.

shape = x.get_shape().as_list()
ty = x.dtype
name = x.name
op_name = x.op.name
print([name, op_name, ty, shape])

['random_uniform:0', 'random_uniform', tf.float32, [10]]

So, how do we get the actual result?

Sessions and Graphs

Remember we mentioned earlier that every computation is represented as a graph? By default, every operation is added to a default graph. And a Session is where the operations in the graph are run.

g = tf.get_default_graph()
session = tf.Session(graph=g)

result = session.run(x)


The result -

[0.23983908 0.30026257 0.21374762 0.18318117 0.8556453  0.25169706
 0.8703637  0.69733584 0.9137391  0.20477629]


Operations are the nodes in the graph that consume and/or produce Tensors.

[op.name for op in g.get_operations()]


Variables are stateful nodes which output their current value. State is retained across multiple executions of a graph. A variable holds a value, which can be a Tensor of any type and shape. The type and shape of the variable are fixed at initialization time. The value can be changed using one of the assign methods.

import tensorflow as tf

mat = [ [1,2,3], [4,5,6], [7,8,9] ]
trans = tf.transpose(mat)

x = tf.Variable(mat)
y = tf.matmul(mat, trans)



Placeholders are nodes whose value is fed in at execution time.

import tensorflow as tf

x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=(1024, 1024))
y = tf.matmul(x, x)

with tf.Session() as sess:
  rand_array = np.random.rand(1024, 1024)
  print(sess.run(y, feed_dict={x: rand_array}))  # Will succeed.

Putting It All Together

We have so far learned what tensorFlow is about and got basic intuition towards Tensors, Graphs, Operations and Sessions. We have also learned about how to use Variables and Placeholders. Now, we will put all that togetther.

  • First, build a graph using variables and placeholders.
  • Then, deploy the graph onto a session, which is the execution environment
import numpy as np 
import tensorflow as tf

b = tf.Variable(tf.zeros((100,)))
W = tf.Variable(tf.random_uniform((784, 100),-1, 1))

x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, (100, 784))

# h = ReLu(Wx + b)
h = tf.nn.relu(tf.matmul(x, W) + b)

sess = tf.Session()
sess.run(h, {x: np.random.random_sample((100, 784))})

If you are not already familiar with NN and activation functions, don’t worry about the ReLU (tf.nn.relu()). Just know that TensorFlow provides a very rich set of tools to work with machine learning.