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Shittu Olumide
Shittu Olumide

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Copy.deepcopy() vs clone() in Pytorch

PyTorch has become a popular deep learning framework in the machine learning community. Creating duplicates of items is a common requirement for developers and researchers using PyTorch. Understanding the distinctions between the copies is essential for retaining a model’s state, providing data augmentation, or enabling parallel processing. It is essential to use the copy.deepcopy() and clone() methods.

In this article, we examine the nuances of various object copying methods in PyTorch and their applications, performance issues, and best practices for selecting the appropriate method.

Understanding Copy.deepcopy()

In PyTorch, the copy.deepcopy() function is a powerful tool for creating deep copies of objects, including tensors and other PyTorch-specific objects. It belongs to the copy module in the Python standard library. It allows us to create independent copies of objects, ensuring that any modifications made to the original object do not affect the copied one.

To understand copy.deepcopy() in PyTorch, let's explore its working mechanism and the benefits it offers:

  1. Recursive copying: copy.deepcopy() operates by recursively traversing the object hierarchy and creating a copy of each object encountered. This means that the top-level object and all its nested objects are duplicated.

  2. Independent memory allocation: When copy.deepcopy() It creates a copy of an object and allocates new memory for the copied object. This ensures that the original and copied objects have separate memory spaces and are entirely independent.

  3. Handling complex structures: One of the key advantages of copy.deepcopy() is its ability to handle complex nested structures. This is particularly useful when working with PyTorch models, which consist of layers, parameters, gradients, and other interconnected components. copy.deepcopy() ensures that every element within the model is correctly replicated without any reference sharing, preserving the original structure's integrity.

  4. Immutable and mutable objects: copy.deepcopy() is suitable for both immutable and mutable objects. Immutable objects, such as tensors, require deep copying to maintain integrity. On the other hand, mutable objects, like lists or dictionaries, benefit from deep copying to avoid unintended modifications.

  5. Use Cases: copy.deepcopy() finds application in various scenarios. For instance, when training deep learning models, we may need to create copies of the model at different stages to compare training progress or perform model ensembling. Additionally, when working with complex data structures or preserving object states during program execution, copy.deepcopy() ensures that we have independent copies to work with.

It’s important to note that while copy.deepcopy() provides a comprehensive and independent copy of objects, it can be computationally expensive and memory-intensive. Traversing and duplicating large object hierarchies can increase execution times and memory usage. Therefore, evaluating the trade-offs between accuracy, performance, and memory consumption is essential when deciding to use copy.deepcopy() in PyTorch.


import torch
import copy
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First, we import the required libraries, including PyTorch and the copy module for using deepcopy().

# Creating a sample PyTorch tensor
tensor = torch.tensor([1, 2, 3])
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We start by creating a sample PyTorch tensor. This tensor will serve as an example object that we want to copy using deepcopy().

# Creating a deepcopy of the tensor
tensor_copy = copy.deepcopy(tensor)
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Next, we use copy.deepcopy() to create a deep copy of the tensor object. We assign the copied tensor to tensor_copy.

# Modifying the original tensor
tensor[0] = 10
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Here, we modify the original tensor object by changing the value of its first element to 10.

# Output: tensor([10,  2,  3])
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Printing the original tensor confirms that the modification was successful, and the first element is now 10.

# Output: tensor([1, 2, 3])
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However, when we print the tensor_copy, we can observe that it remains unchanged. This behavior demonstrates the effectiveness of copy.deepcopy(). It creates a completely independent copy of the original object, ensuring that modifications to the original object do not affect the copied one.

The copy.deepcopy() function in this example performs a recursive traversal of the tensor object, copying each element and its underlying memory allocation. This process ensures that any modifications to the original tensor are not propagated to the copied tensor.

By utilizing copy.deepcopy() in PyTorch, we can create fully independent copies of complex objects such as neural network models, enabling us to preserve their state, perform experiments, or compare different versions without any unintended side effects.

Exploring clone() in PyTorch

In PyTorch, the clone() method creates a shallow copy of an object. Unlike copy.deepcopy(), which creates an independent copy of the entire object hierarchy, clone() primarily operates on the top-level object and shallowly clones any nested objects within that hierarchy. The key distinction lies in the level of object hierarchy they copy.

When we call clone() on a PyTorch object, it creates a new object that shares the underlying memory with the original object. However, the memory content is duplicated, ensuring that the cloned object maintains independence from the original. This means that modifications to the cloned object do not affect the original, and vice versa.

The shallow copying nature of clone() makes it more memory-efficient and faster than copy.deepcopy() when dealing with large objects or scenarios where a complete deep copy is not necessary. Instead of traversing the entire object hierarchy, clone() focuses on duplicating the top-level attributes and references any nested objects, maintaining memory sharing.

One important thing to note is that clone() is designed to work specifically with PyTorch tensors and objects. It ensures that tensor memory is shared while creating independent instances of the tensor, allowing efficient computation and memory utilization. This behavior is clone() particularly useful when working with PyTorch models, as it avoids redundant memory allocation and copying operations.

However, it’s important to understand the limitations of clone(). Since it performs shallow copying, any changes made to the shared underlying memory in one object will be reflected in the other objects that share that memory. Therefore, it is crucial to use clone() carefully and consider the mutability of the objects being copied. In cases where a complete independent copy is required, copy.deepcopy() remains the safer option.


import torch

# Create a PyTorch tensor
original_tensor = torch.tensor([1, 2, 3, 4, 5])

# Clone the tensor using the clone() method
cloned_tensor = original_tensor.clone()

# Modify the cloned tensor
cloned_tensor[0] = 10

# Print the original and cloned tensors
print("Original tensor:", original_tensor)
print("Cloned tensor:", cloned_tensor)
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  1. We start by importing the necessary PyTorch library using import torch.

  2. Next, we create a PyTorch tensor named original_tensor using the torch.tensor() method. In this example, we initialize it with the values [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

  3. To create a clone of the original_tensor, we use the clone() method and assign it to the cloned_tensor variable. This will create a shallow copy of the tensor, meaning the underlying memory will be shared between the original and cloned tensors.

  4. We modify the first element of the cloned_tensor by assigning the value 10 to cloned_tensor[0].

  5. Finally, we print both the original and cloned tensors to observe the differences.


Original tensor: tensor([1, 2, 3, 4, 5])
Cloned tensor: tensor([10,  2,  3,  4,  5])
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The output shows that the modification made to the cloned tensor (changing the first element to 10) did not affect the original tensor. This demonstrates that the clone() method creates an independent copy of the top-level object (tensor) while sharing the underlying memory.

It’s important to note that clone() can be applied to various PyTorch objects, including tensors, models, and other complex structures. The behavior remains the same: creating a shallow copy of the object while maintaining memory sharing.

Best practices for selecting the appropriate method.

When selecting the appropriate method between clone() and copy.deepcopy() in PyTorch, it is essential to consider the following best practices:

  1. Understand the object hierarchy: Analyze the structure and complexity of the object we want to copy. If the object hierarchy is simple and shallow, clone() might suffice. However, if the hierarchy is complex with nested objects and interdependencies, copy.deepcopy() is better suited to ensure a completely independent copy.

  2. Consider memory usage: Evaluate the memory consumption of our application. If memory is a concern and we have large objects, clone() is generally more memory-efficient since it avoids duplicating memory for the entire object hierarchy. However, remember that memory sharing can introduce dependencies and requires caution when modifying shared data.

  3. Assess performance requirements: Take into account the performance requirements of our application. Working with large objects or computationally intensive tasks clone() is usually faster due to its shallow copying nature. On the other hand, copy.deepcopy() can be slower due to its recursive traversal of the entire object hierarchy.

  4. Evaluate object mutability: Consider the mutability of the objects we work with. If the object is mutable, and subsequent modifications should not affect the original, copy.deepcopy() is the safer option. clone() is more suitable for immutable objects or situations where shared memory is acceptable.

  5. Measure and compare: Benchmark and profile our code to measure each method's performance and memory impact in our specific use case. This empirical data can help guide our decision and identify the most efficient approach.

  6. Leverage PyTorch’s specialized methods: Keep in mind that PyTorch provides additional specialized methods, such as tensor.clone() and tensor.detach(), which offer more specific ways to create copies based on different requirements. Consider whether these specialized methods align better with our needs.


In conclusion, the copy.deepcopy() and clone() PyTorch's techniques are useful for creating copies of objects, but they have key differences.

The copy.deepcopy() function is a general-purpose method available in Python’s “copy” module. It creates a deep copy of an object, including all nested objects, by recursively copying every element. This technique is suitable when you need an independent copy of an object and its associated data. However, it can be slower and consume more memory than other techniques.

On the other hand, the clone() method is specific to PyTorch and is designed to create a shallow copy of a tensor or a module. It creates a new tensor or module with the same data references as the original object. This technique is efficient regarding memory usage and can be faster than copy.deepcopy() since it avoids the recursive copying of nested objects. It is particularly useful when creating a lightweight copy or dealing with large tensors or complex models.

And by the best practices in this article, we can make an informed decision and select the most appropriate method, either clone() or copy.deepcopy(), based on the specific requirements of our PyTorch application.

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