Datastores for Deep Learning

Datastores in MATLAB® are a convenient way of working with and representing collections of data that are too large to fit in memory at one time. Because deep learning often requires large amounts of data, datastores are an important part of the deep learning workflow in MATLAB.

Select Datastore

For many applications, the easiest approach is to start with a built-in datastore. For more information about the available built-in datastores, see Select Datastore for File Format or Application (MATLAB). However, only some types of built-in datastores can be used directly as input for network training, validation, and inference. These datastores are:

DatastoreDescriptionAdditional Toolbox Required
ImageDatastoreDatastore for image datanone

Datastore for resizing and augmenting training images

Datastore is nondeterministic


Datastore for pixel label data

Computer Vision Toolbox™


Datastore for training semantic segmentation networks

Datastore is nondeterministic

Computer Vision Toolbox


Datastore for bounding box label data

Computer Vision Toolbox


Datastore for extracting random patches from image-based data

Datastore is nondeterministic

Image Processing Toolbox™

bigimageDatastoreDatastore to manage blocks of single large images that do not fit in memoryImage Processing Toolbox

Datastore to train an image denoising deep neural network

Datastore is nondeterministic

Image Processing Toolbox

Other built-in datastores can be used as input for deep learning, but the data read from these datastores must be preprocessed into a format required by a deep learning network. For more information on the required format of read data, see Input Datastore for Training, Validation, and Inference. For more information on how to preprocess data read from datastores, see Transform and Combine Datastores.

For some applications, there may not be a built-in datastore type that fits your data well. For these problems, you can create a custom datastore. For more information, see Develop Custom Datastore (MATLAB). All custom datastores are valid inputs to deep learning interfaces as long as the read function of the custom datastore returns data in the required form.

Input Datastore for Training, Validation, and Inference

Datastores are valid inputs in Deep Learning Toolbox™ for training, validation, and inference.

Training and Validation

To use an image datastore as a source of training data, use the imds argument of trainNetwork. To use all other types of datastore as a source of training data, use the ds argument of trainNetwork. To use a datastore for validation, use the 'ValidationData' name-value pair argument in trainingOptions.

To be a valid input for training or validation, the read function of a datastore (with the exception of ImageDatastore) must return data as either a cell array or a table.

For networks with a single input, the table or cell array returned by the datastore must have two columns. The first column of data represents inputs to the network and the second column of data represents responses. Each row of data represents a separate observation. For ImageDatastore only, trainNetwork and trainingOptions support data returned as integer arrays and single-column cell array of integer arrays.

For networks with multiple inputs, the datastore must be a combined or transformed datastore that returns a cell array with (numInputs+1) columns containing the predictors and the responses, where numInputs is the number of network inputs and numResponses is the number of responses. For i less than or equal to numInputs, the ith element of the cell array corresponds to the input layers.InputNames(i), where layers is the layer graph defining the network architecture. The last column of the cell array corresponds to the responses.

The table shows sample output of calling the read function for datastore ds.

Type of NetworkFormat of Read DataExample Output
Single-inputTwo-column cell array
data = read(ds)
data =

  4×2 cell array

    {28×28 double}    {[7]}
    {28×28 double}    {[7]}
    {28×28 double}    {[9]}
    {28×28 double}    {[9]}
Two-column table
data = read(ds)
data =

  4×2 table

        input         response
    ______________    ________

    {28×28 double}       7    
    {28×28 double}       7    
    {28×28 double}       9    
    {28×28 double}       9  
Multiple-input(numInputs+1)-column cell array
data = read(ds)
data =

  4×3 cell array

    {28×28 double}    {128×128 double}    {[7]}
    {28×28 double}    {128×128 double}    {[7]}
    {28×28 double}    {128×128 double}    {[9]}
    {28×28 double}    {128×128 double}    {[9]}


For inference using predict, classify, and activations, a datastore is only required to yield the columns corresponding to the predictors. The inference functions ignore additional columns of data beyond the first.

Specify Read Size and Mini-Batch Size

A datastore may return any number of rows (observations) for each call to read. Functions such as trainNetwork, predict, classify, and activations that accept datastores and support specifying a 'MiniBatchSize' call read as many times as is necessary to form complete mini-batches of data. As these functions form mini-batches, they use internal queues in memory to store read data. For example, if a datastore consistently returns 64 rows per call to read and MiniBatchSize is 128, then to form each mini-batch of data requires two calls to read.

For best runtime performance, it is recommended to configure datastores such that the number of observations returned by read is equal to the 'MiniBatchSize'. For datastores that have a 'ReadSize' property, set the 'ReadSize' to change the number of observations returned by the datastore for each call to read.

Transform and Combine Datastores

Deep learning frequently requires the data to be preprocessed and augmented before data is in an appropriate form to input to a network. The transform and combine functions of datastore are useful in preparing data to be fed into a network.

For networks with multiple inputs, use a combined datastore to combine multiple data sources of data.

Transform Datastores

The transform function creates an altered form of a datastore, called an underlying datastore, by transforming the data read by the underlying datastore.

  • For complex transformations involving several preprocessing operations, define the complete set of transformations in your own function. Then, specify a handle to your function as the @fcn argument of transform. For more information, see Create Functions in Files (MATLAB).

  • For simple transformations that can be expressed in one line of code, you can specify a handle to an anonymous function as the @fcn argument of transform. For more information, see Anonymous Functions (MATLAB).

The function handle provided to transform must accept input data in the same format as returned by the read function of the underlying datastore.

Example: Transform Image Datastore to Train Digit Classification Network

This example uses the transform function to create a training set in which randomized 90 degree rotation is added to each image within an image datastore. Pass the resulting TransformedDatastore to trainNetwork to train a simple digit classification network.

Create an image datastore containing digit images.

digitDatasetPath = fullfile(matlabroot,'toolbox','nnet', ...
imds = imageDatastore(digitDatasetPath, ...
    'IncludeSubfolders',true, ...

Set the mini-batch size equal to the ReadSize of the image datastore.

miniBatchSize = 128;
imds.ReadSize = miniBatchSize;

Transform images in the image datastore by adding randomized 90 degree rotation. The transformation function, preprocessForTraining, is defined at the end of this example.

dsTrain = transform(imds,@preprocessForTraining,'IncludeInfo',true)
dsTrain = 

  TransformedDatastore with properties:

    UnderlyingDatastore: [1×1]
             Transforms: {@preprocessForTraining}
            IncludeInfo: 1

Specify layers of the network and training options, then train the network using the transformed datastore dsTrain as a source of data.

layers = [ ...
    imageInputLayer([28 28 1],'Normalization','none')
options = trainingOptions('adam', ...
    'Plots','training-progress', ...
net = trainNetwork(dsTrain,layers,options);

Define a function that performs the desired transformations of data, data, read from the underlying datastore. The function loops through each read image and performs randomized rotation, then returns the transformed image and corresponding label as a cell array as expected by trainNetwork.

function [dataOut,info] = preprocessForTraining(data,info)
numRows = size(data,1);
dataOut = cell(numRows,2);
for idx = 1:numRows
    % Randomized 90 degree rotation
    imgOut = rot90(data{idx,1},randi(4)-1);
    % Return the label from info struct as the 
    % second column in dataOut.
    dataOut(idx,:) = {imgOut,info.Label(idx)};

Combine Datastores

The combine function associates two datastores of the same length to create the format expected of training and validation data. Combining datastores maintains the parity between the datastores. Each call to the read function of the resulting CombinedDatastore returns data from corresponding parts of the underlying datastores.

For example, if you are training an image-to-image regression network, then you can create the training data set by combining two image datastores. This sample code demonstrates combining two image datastores named imdsX and imdsY. Image datastores return data as a cell array, therefore the combined datastore imdsTrain returns data as a two-column cell array.

imdsX = imageDatastore(___);
imdsY = imageDatastore(___);
imdsTrain = combine(imdsX,imdsY)
imdsTrain = 

  CombinedDatastore with properties:

    UnderlyingDatastores: {1×2 cell}

If you have Image Processing Toolbox, then the randomPatchExtractionDatastore provides an alternate solution to associating image-based data in ImageDatastores, PixelLabelDatastores, and TransformedDatastores. A randomPatchExtractionDatastore has several advantages over associating data using the combine function. Specifically, a random patch extraction datastore:

  • Provides an easy way to extract patches from both 2-D and 3-D data without requiring you to implement a custom cropping operation using transform and combine

  • Provides an easy way to generate multiple patches per image per mini-batch without requiring you to define a custom concatenation operation using transform.

  • Supports efficient conversion between categorical and numeric data when applying image transforms to categorical data

  • Supports parallel training

  • Improves performance by caching images

Use Datastore for Parallel Training and Background Dispatching

Datastores used for parallel training or multi-GPU training must be partitionable. Specify parallel or multi-GPU training using the 'ExecutionEnvironment' name-value pair argument of trainingOptions.

Many built-in datastores are already partitionable because they support the partition function. Transformed and combined datastores are partitionable if their underlying datastores are partitionable. Using the transform and combine functions with built-in datastores frequently maintains support for parallel and multi-GPU training.

If you need to create a custom datastore that supports parallel or multi-GPU training, then your datastore must implement the class.

Partitionable datastores support reading training data using background dispatching. Background dispatching queues data in memory while the GPU is working. Specify background dispatching using the 'DispatchInBackground' name-value pair argument of trainingOptions. Background dispatching requires Parallel Computing Toolbox™.

Datastores do not support specifying the 'Shuffle' name-value pair argument of trainingOptions as 'none'.

See Also

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