TVM Codebase Walkthrough by Example

Getting to know a new codebase can be a challenge. This is especially true for a codebase like that of TVM, where different components interact in non-obvious ways. In this guide, we try to illustrate the key elements that comprise a compilation pipeline with a simple example. For each important step, we show where in the codebase it is implemented. The purpose is to let new developers and interested users dive into the codebase more quickly.

Codebase Structure Overview

At the root of the TVM repository, we have following subdirectories that together comprise a bulk of the codebase.

  • src - C++ code for operator compilation and deployment runtimes.
  • src/relay - Implementation of Relay, a new IR for deep learning framework superseding nnvm below.
  • python - Python frontend that wraps C++ functions and objects implemented in src.
  • topi - Compute definitions and backend schedules for standard neural network operators.
  • nnvm - C++ code and Python frontend for graph optimization and compilation. After the introduction of Relay, it remains in the codebase for backward compatibility.

Using standard Deep Learning terminologies, src/relay is the component that manages a computational graph, and nodes in a graph are compiled and executed using infrastructures implemented in the rest of src. python provides python bindings for the C++ API and driver code that users can use to execute compilation. Operators corresponding to each node are registered in src/relay/op. Implementations for operators are in topi, and they are coded in either C++ or Python.

Relay is the new IR for deep networks that is intended to replace NNVM. If you have used NNVM, Relay provides equivalent or better functionalities. In fact, Relay goes beyond a traditional way of thinking deep networks in terms of computational graphs. But for the purpose of this document, we can think of Relay as a traditional computational graph framework. You can read more about Relay here.

When a user invokes graph compilation by (or for the older API), the following sequence of actions happens for each node in the graph:

  • Look up an operator implementation by querying the operator registry
  • Generate a compute expression and a schdule for the operator
  • Compile the operator into object code

One of the interesting aspects of TVM codebase is that interop between C++ and Python is not unidirectional. Typically, all code that do heavy liftings are implemented in C++, and Python bindings are provided for user interface. This is also true in TVM, but in TVM codebase, C++ code also call into functions defined in a Python module. For example, the convolution operator is implemented in Python, and its implementation is invoked from C++ code in Relay.

Vector Add Example

We use a simple example that uses the low level TVM API directly. The example is vector addition, which is covered in detail in this tutorial.

n = 1024
A = tvm.placeholder((n,), name='A')
B = tvm.placeholder((n,), name='B')
C = tvm.compute(A.shape, lambda i: A[i] + B[i], name="C")

Here, types of A, B, C are tvm.tensor.Tensor, defined in python/tvm/ The Python Tensor is backed by C++ Tensor, implemented in include/tvm/tensor.h and src/lang/ All Python types in TVM can be thought of as a handle to the underlying C++ type with the same name. If you look at the definition of Python Tensor type below, you can see it is a subclass of NodeBase.

class Tensor(NodeBase, _expr.ExprOp):
    """Tensor object, to construct, see function.Tensor"""

    def __call__(self, *indices):

The Node system is the basis of exposing C++ types to frontend languages, including Python. The way TVM implements Python wrapping is not straightforward. It is briefly covered in this document, and details are in python/tvm/_ffi/ if you are interested.

Tensor is created by functions in python/tvm/, which in turn calls into C++ functions exposed in src/api/ All C++ functions that are callable from Python are exposed in the src/api subdirectory. For example, the tvm.compute() function above calls into _ComputeOp api exposed in src/api/

.set_body([](TVMArgs args,  TVMRetValue* ret) {
    *ret = ComputeOpNode::make(args[0],

We use TVM_REGISTER_* macro to expose C++ functions to frontend languages, in the form of PackedFunc. PackedFunc is another mechanism by which TVM implements C++ and Python interop. In particular, this is what makes calling Python functions from the C++ codebase very easy.

A Tensor object has an Operation object associated with it, defined in python/tvm/, include/tvm/operation.h, and src/tvm/op subdirectory. A Tensor is an output of its Operation object. Each Operation object has in turn input_tensors() method, which returns a list of input Tensor to it. This way we can keep track of dependencies between Operation.

We pass the operation corresponding to the output tensor C to tvm.create_schedule() function in python/tvm/

s = tvm.create_schedule(C.op)

This function is mapped to the C++ function in include/tvm/schedule.h.

inline Schedule create_schedule(Array<Operation> ops) {
  return ScheduleNode::make(ops);

Schedule consists of collections of Stage and output Operation.

Stage corresponds to one Operation. In the vector add example above, there are two placeholder ops and one compute op, so the schedule s contains three stages. Each Stage holds information about a loop nest structure, types of each loop (Parallel, Vectorized, Unrolled), and where to execute its computation in the loop nest of the next Stage, if any.

Schedule and Stage are defined in tvm/python/, include/tvm/schedule.h, and src/schedule/

To keep it simple, we call on the default schedule created by create_schedule() function above.

target = "cuda"
fadd =, [A, B, C], target), defined in python/tvm/, takes a schedule, input and output Tensor, and a target, and returns a tvm.Module object, defined in python/tvm/ A Module object contains a compiled function which can be invoked with function call syntax.

The process of can be divided into two steps:

  • Lowering, where a high level, initial loop nest structures are transformed into a final, low level IR
  • Code generation, where target machine code is generated from the low level IR

Lowering is done by tvm.lower() function, defined in python/tvm/ First, bound inference is peformed, and an initial loop nest structure is created.

def lower(sch,
   bounds = schedule.InferBound(sch)
   stmt = schedule.ScheduleOps(sch, bounds)

Bound inference is the process where all loop bounds and sizes of intermidiate buffers are inferred. If you target the CUDA backend and you use shared memory, its required minimum size is automatically determined here. Bound inference is implemented in src/schedule/, src/schedule/ and src/schedule/

stmt, which is the output of ScheduleOps(), represents an initial loop nest structure. If you have applied reorder or split primitives to your schedule, then the initial loop nest already reflects that changes. ScheduleOps() is defined in src/schedule/

Next, we apply a number of lowering passes to stmt. These passes are implemented in src/pass subdirectory. For example, if you have applied vectorize or unroll primitives to your schedule, they are applied in loop vectorization and unrolling passes below.

stmt = ir_pass.VectorizeLoop(stmt)
stmt = ir_pass.UnrollLoop(

After lowering is done, build() function generates target machine code from the lowered function. This code can contain SSE or AVX instructions if you target x86, or PTX instructions for CUDA target. In addition to target specific machine code, TVM also generates host side code that is responsible for memory management, kernel launch etc.

Code generation is done by build_module() function, defined in python/tvm/ On the C++ side, code generation is implemented in src/codegen subdirectory. build_module() Python function will reach Build() function below in src/codegen/

runtime::Module Build(const Array<LoweredFunc>& funcs,
                      const std::string& target) {
  std::string build_f_name = "codegen.build_" + target;
  const PackedFunc* bf = runtime::Registry::Get(build_f_name);
  runtime::Module m = (*bf)(funcs, target);
  return m;

Build() function looks up the code generator for the given target in the PackedFunc registry, and invokes the function found. For example, codegen.build_cuda function is registered in src/codegen/, like this:

.set_body([](TVMArgs args, TVMRetValue* rv) {
    *rv = BuildCUDA(args[0]);

BuildCUDA() above generates CUDA kernel source from the lowered IR using CodeGenCUDA class defined in src/codegen/, and compile the kernel using NVRTC. If you target a backend that uses LLVM, which includes x86, ARM, NVPTX and AMDGPU, code generation is done primarily by CodeGenLLVM class defined in src/codegen/llvm/ CodeGenLLVM translates TVM IR into LLVM IR, runs a number of LLVM optimization passes, and generates target machine code.

Build() function in src/codegen/ returns a runtime::Module object, defined in include/tvm/runtime/module.h and src/runtime/ A Module object is a container for the underlying target specific ModuleNode object. Each backend implements a subclass of ModuleNode to add target specific runtime API calls. For example, the CUDA backend implements CUDAModuleNode class in src/runtime/cuda/, which manages CUDA driver API. BuildCUDA() function above wraps CUDAModuleNode with runtime::Module and return it to the Python side. The LLVM backend implements LLVMModuleNode in src/codegen/llvm/, which handles JIT execution of compiled code. Other subclasses of ModuleNode can be found under subdirectories of src/runtime corresponding to each backend.

The returned module, which can be thought of as a combination of a compiled function and a device API, can be invoked on TVM’s NDArray objects.

ctx = tvm.context(target, 0)
a = tvm.nd.array(np.random.uniform(size=n).astype(A.dtype), ctx)
b = tvm.nd.array(np.random.uniform(size=n).astype(B.dtype), ctx)
c = tvm.nd.array(np.zeros(n, dtype=C.dtype), ctx)
fadd(a, b, c)
output = c.asnumpy()

Under the hood, TVM allocates device memory and manages memory transfers automatically. To do that, each backend needs to subclass DeviceAPI class, defined in include/tvm/runtime/device_api.h, and override memory management methods to use device specific API. For example, the CUDA backend implements CUDADeviceAPI in src/runtime/cuda/ to use cudaMalloc, cudaMemcpy etc.

The first time you invoke the compiled module with fadd(a, b, c), GetFunction() method of ModuleNode is called to get a PackedFunc that can be used for a kernel call. For example, in src/runtime/cuda/ the CUDA backend implements CUDAModuleNode::GetFunction() like this:

PackedFunc CUDAModuleNode::GetFunction(
      const std::string& name,
      const std::shared_ptr<ModuleNode>& sptr_to_self) {
  auto it = fmap_.find(name);
  const FunctionInfo& info = it->second;
  CUDAWrappedFunc f;
  f.Init(this, sptr_to_self, name, info.arg_types.size(), info.thread_axis_tags);
  return PackFuncVoidAddr(f, info.arg_types);

The PackedFunc’s overloaded operator() will be called, which in turn calls operator() of CUDAWrappedFunc in src/runtime/cuda/, where finally we see the cuLaunchKernel driver call:

class CUDAWrappedFunc {
  void Init(...)
  void operator()(TVMArgs args,
                  TVMRetValue* rv,
                  void** void_args) const {
    int device_id;
    if (fcache_[device_id] == nullptr) {
      fcache_[device_id] = m_->GetFunc(device_id, func_name_);
    CUstream strm = static_cast<CUstream>(CUDAThreadEntry::ThreadLocal()->stream);
    ThreadWorkLoad wl = thread_axis_cfg_.Extract(args);
    CUresult result = cuLaunchKernel(
        0, strm, void_args, 0);

This concludes an overview of how TVM compiles and executes a function. Although we did not detail TOPI or Relay, at the end all neural network operators go through the same compilation process as above. You are encouraged to dive into the details of the rest of the codebase.