Custom operators

TensorFlow Lite currently supports a subset of TensorFlow operators. It supports the use of user-provided implementations (as known as custom implementations) if the model contains an operator that is not supported. Providing custom kernels is also a way of evaluating a series of TensorFlow operations as a single fused TensorFlow Lite operations.

Using custom operators consists of three steps.

  • Making sure the TensorFlow Graph Def or SavedModel refers to the correctly named TensorFlow Lite operator.

  • Registering a custom kernel with TensorFlow Lite so that the runtime knows how to map your operator and parameters in your graph to executable C/C++ code.

  • Testing and profiling your operator correctness and performance, respectively. If you wish to test just your custom operator it is best to create a model with just your custom operator and using the benchmark_model program

Below we describe a complete example of defining Sin and some links to existing conversion process involving custom operators.

Making a custom operator for Sin

Let’s walk through this an example of supporting a TensorFlow operator that TensorFlow Lite does not have. Assume we are using the Sin operator and that we are building a very simple model for a function y = sin(x + offset), where offset is trainable.

Generating the model from TensorFlow

The code to train the TensorFlow model will be something like:

offset = tf.get_variable("offset", [1,], tf.float32)
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=(None,))
y = tf.sin(x + offset)
y_ = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=(None,))
loss = tf.reduce_sum(tf.square(y - y_))
optimizer = tf.train.GradientDescentOptimizer(0.001)
train = optimizer.minimize(loss)

If you convert this model to Tensorflow Lite format using the TensorFlow Lite Optimizing Converter with --allow_custom_ops argument, and run it with the default interpreter, the interpreter will raise the following error messages:

Didn't find custom op for name 'Sin'
Registration failed.

Defining the kernel in the TensorFlow Lite runtime

All we need to do to use the op in TensorFlow Lite is define two functions (Prepare and Eval), and construct a TfLiteRegistration. This code would look something like this:

TfLiteStatus SinPrepare(TfLiteContext* context, TfLiteNode* node) {
  using namespace tflite;
  TF_LITE_ENSURE_EQ(context, NumInputs(node), 1);
  TF_LITE_ENSURE_EQ(context, NumOutputs(node), 1);

  const TfLiteTensor* input = GetInput(context, node, 0);
  TfLiteTensor* output = GetOutput(context, node, 0);

  int num_dims = NumDimensions(input);

  TfLiteIntArray* output_size = TfLiteIntArrayCreate(num_dims);
  for (int i=0; i<num_dims; ++i) {
    output_size->data[i] = input->dims->data[i];

  return context->ResizeTensor(context, output, output_size);

TfLiteStatus SinEval(TfLiteContext* context, TfLiteNode* node) {
  using namespace tflite;
  const TfLiteTensor* input = GetInput(context, node,0);
  TfLiteTensor* output = GetOutput(context, node,0);

  float* input_data = input->data.f;
  float* output_data = output->data.f;

  size_t count = 1;
  int num_dims = NumDimensions(input);
  for (int i = 0; i < num_dims; ++i) {
    count *= input->dims->data[i];

  for (size_t i=0; i<count; ++i) {
    output_data[i] = sin(input_data[i]);
  return kTfLiteOk;

TfLiteRegistration* Register_SIN() {
  static TfLiteRegistration r = {nullptr, nullptr, SinPrepare, SinEval};
  return &r;

When initializing the OpResolver, add the custom op into the resolver, this will register the operator with Tensorflow Lite so that TensorFlow Lite can use the new implementation. Note that the last two arguments in TfLiteRegistration correspond to the SinPrepare and SinEval() functions you defined for the custom op. If you used two functions to initialize variables used in the op and free up space: Init() and Free(), then they would be added to the first two arguments of TfLiteRegistration; they are set to nullptr in this example.

tflite::ops::builtin::BuiltinOpResolver builtins;
builtins.AddCustom("Sin", Register_SIN());

If you want to make your custom operators in Java, you would currently need to build your own custom JNI layer and compile your own AAR in this jni code. Similarly, if you wish to make these operators available in Python you can place your registrations in the Python wrapper code.

Note that a similar process as above can be followed for supporting for a set of operations instead of a single operator. Just add as many AddCustom operators as you need. In addition, BuiltinOpResolver also allows you to override implementations of builtins by using the AddBuiltin.

Best Practices

Writing TensorFlow Lite kernels best practices

  1. Optimize memory allocations and de-allocations cautiously. It is more efficient to allocate memory in Prepare() instead of Invoke(), and allocate memory before a loop instead of in every iteration. Use temporary tensors data rather than mallocing yourself (see item 2). Use pointers/references instead of copying as much as possible.

  2. If a data structure will persist during the entire operation, we advise pre-allocating the memory using temporary tensors. You may need to use OpData struct to reference the tensor indices in other functions. See example in the kernel for convolution. A sample code snippet is below

auto* op_data = reinterpret_cast<OpData*>(node->user_data);
node->temporaries = TfLiteIntArrayCreate(1);
node->temporaries->data[0] = op_data->temp_tensor_index;
TfLiteTensor* temp_tensor = &context->tensors[op_data->temp_tensor_index];
temp_tensor->type =  kTfLiteFloat32;
temp_tensor->allocation_type = kTfLiteArenaRw;
  1. If it doesn't cost too much wasted memory, prefer using a static fixed size array (or in Resize() pre-allocated std::vector) rather than using a dynamically allocating std::vector every iteration of execution.

  2. Avoid instantiating standard library container templates that don't already exist, because they affect binary size. For example, if you need a std::map in your operation that doesn't exist in other kernels, using a std::vector with direct indexing mapping could work while keeping the binary size small. See what other kernels use to gain insight (or ask).

  3. Check the pointer to the memory returned by malloc. If this pointer is nullptr, no operations should be performed using that pointer. If you malloc() in a function and have an error exit, deallocate memory before you exit.

  4. Use TF_LITE_ENSURE(context, condition) to check for a specific condition. Your code must not leave memory hanging when TF_LITE_ENSURE is done, i.e., these should be done before any resources are allocated that will leak.

Conversion best practices

The example above was easy to convert since it was a builtin operator in TensorFlow. If you are defining a new operator that fuses many operators or you have complicated shapes or types, you might need to provide more information and use graph transformations to rewrite an existing graph to use your operator instead of the builtin TensorFlow one.

Converting TensorFlow models to convert graphs

In TensorFlow you can use the tf.lite.OpHint class to encapsulate groups of operators when you create a TensorFlow graph. This allows you then to extract a graph def that has references to those operators. This is currently experimental and should only be used by advanced users. There is a full example of how to use this in the OpHint code.

In addition, you can also use a manual graph substitution approach to rewrite Tensorflow graphs. There is an example of how this is done in single shot object based detection models export script.

TF Graph Attributes

When tflite_convert converts a TensorFlow graph into TFLite format, it makes some assumption about custom operations that might not be correct. In this case, the generated graph may not execute.

It is possible to add additional information about your custom op output to TF graph before it is converted. The following attributes are supported:

  • _output_quantized a boolean attribute, true if the operation outputs are quantized
  • _output_types a list of types for output tensors
  • _output_shapes a list of shapes for output tensors

Setting the Attributes

This is an example how the attributes can be set:

frozen_graph_def = tf.graph_util.convert_variables_to_constants(...)
for node in frozen_graph_def.node:
    if node.op == 'sin':
      node.attr['_output_quantized'].b = False
tflite_model = tf.lite.toco_convert(