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Posted on • Originally published at saransh-cpp.github.io

My experience working as a Technical Writer with FluxML - Part 1

“One thing that open-source can’t get enough of is documentation”

— Anonymous

This summer, I started working as a technical writer with FluxML under Julia Season of Contributions, and as expected, this experience was very different from writing code.

During the beginning of the summer, I decided to take up a technical writer’s job that involved writing documentation and tutorials for Machine Learning. At the same time, I was learning Julia, and the FluxML ecosystem sounded like a perfect place for me. I applied for the position through Google Season of Docs but unfortunately couldn’t get in because of limited openings. Fortunately, the Julia Language decided to fund me for the next few months to work on FluxML under Julia Season of Contributions!

In the following blog, I will share my experience and the work I have done so far as a part of Julia Season of Contributions!


Flux’s documentation lacked doctests, making its code examples stale after each release. Further, many current examples thought to be covered by doctests, were already outdated.

Some of the doctests were straightforward to add, but most of them require in-depth discussions with the mentors and the community members. In addition, the documentation written in markdown format also required periodic testing to ensure that the changing API does not break the examples.

Flux now has doctests written for every single public API, and most of the markdown example are also covered under these doctests. Some of these changes haven’t been merged yet, but they are under review!

Missing docstrings

Some of Flux’s public API was undocumented, or had a relatively less clear documentation. For example, most of the neural network layers provided by Flux have two constructors — one for initializing layers with pre-defined weights and biases and another for generating weights and biases from a distribution. In most cases, only one constructor was documented, and the other was not.

Other such instance of missing docstrings was Flux‘s manual. Here the docstrings were present in the codebase, but they were not present in the manual. Such cases were solved by adding the docstrings to the manual or creating a new section for such missing docstrings.

In addition to Flux, other packages under FluxML also had a similar problem. Some of these packages like NNLib.jl, Zygote.jl, Optimisers.jl, Functors.jl, and MLUtils.jl (under JuliaML) were also referenced in Flux‘s documentation. The missing docstrings in these packages were transmitted to Flux‘s docs, resulting in even more missing docstrings.

All the missing docstrings have now been added to the respective manuals and functions, including that of other FluxML packages!

Broken documentation

Documentation is incomplete without cross-references, and Julia’s wonderful documentation package makes this super smooth. Flux had these cross-references in place, but some of them lead to nowhere.

Additionally, some of the docstrings were not rendered correctly in the manual, making the newcomers stray off from the ecosystem. These instances of broken documentation have been fixed, and once the PR is merged, users should not see 404 pages or un-rendered docstrings anymore!


The user-facing documentation of Flux is facilitated by a CI/CD service, which keeps this documentation deployed and available to users at all times. It is common for open-source projects to open-source their deployment recipes and work on it collaboratively.

FluxML‘s ecosystem had some minor issues in this CI service. For instance - Zygote.jl had doctests running twice, using twice the CI time and resources. On the other hand, Flux specified different versions of Julia in its CI and make.jl file, making the CI environment very ambiguous.

Further, Documenter.jl allows a user to generate documentation previews for pull requests, and Flux had a bot set up to facilitate this, but it was down for a long time. These documentation previews are collected in the gh-pages branch, which was getting very bulky and had to be cleaned up with an automated workflow.

I have restarted this bot and have added a workflow for cleaning these generated previews periodically! I have also fixed some issues in Optimisers.jl‘s documentation that were causing its CI to fail.

FluxML’s ecosystem

The FluxML ecosystem, in addition to Flux.jl, also had some documentation problems. For instance, Optimisers.jl and Zygote.jl had shortcomings in their CI suite, which have been discussed above. Similarly, Functors.jl and MLUtils.jl had broken documentation, missing docstrings, and an incomplete manual, which has also been discussed in great detail above!

Lastly, the “ecosystem” pages present on Flux‘s website and documentation were out of sync and had redundant information. The “ecosystem” page was completely revamped and updated with the latest advancements related to Machine Learning in Julia!

Minor code changes

Yes! The documentation changes were also accompanied by minor code changes!

Flux‘s public and internal API is very hard to differentiate if you are new to the codebase; hence, newcomers used to find it hard to navigate through this. The API was made clear by removing internal instances from the documentation and prepending an underscore to the internal API.

Furthermore, I also stumbled upon a bug while writing doctests for tversky loss. The tversky loss has two parameters, α, and β, and Flux internally calculates the value of α as 1-β. The loss mathematically is defined as 1-tversky index, and the tversky index mathematically is defined as:

S(P, G; α, β) = |P G| / (|P G| + α|P \ G| + β|G \ P|)

where α and β control the magnitude of penalties for FPs and FNs, respectively.

Flux implements the loss in the following way -

1  sum(|y .* ŷ| + 1) / (sum(y .* ŷ + β*(1 .- y) .* ŷ + (1  β)*y .* (1 .- ŷ)) + 1)
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with the following code -

     tversky_loss(ŷ, y; β = 0.7)

 Return the [Tversky loss](https://arxiv.org/abs/1706.05721).
 Used with imbalanced data to give more weight to false negatives.
 Larger β weigh recall more than precision (by placing more emphasis on false negatives)
 Calculated as:
     1 - sum(|y .* ŷ| + 1) / (sum(y .* ŷ + β*(1 .- y) .* ŷ + (1 - β)*y .* (1 .- ŷ)) + 1)
 function tversky_loss(ŷ, y; β = ofeltype(ŷ, 0.7))
     _check_sizes(ŷ, y)
     #TODO add agg
     num = sum(y .* ŷ) + 1
     den = sum(y .* ŷ + β * (1 .- y) .* ŷ + (1 - β) * y .* (1 .- ŷ)) + 1
     1 - num / den
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Notice how the term (1 .- y) .* ŷ (False Positives) is multiplied by β, whereas it should be multiplied with α (which is 1-β). Similarly, the term y .* (1 .- ŷ) is multiplied with α (that is 1-β), whereas it should be multiplied with β.

This detail makes the loss function behave in a manner opposite to its documentation. For example -

julia> y = [0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 1];

julia> ŷ_fp = [1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1]; # 2 false positive -> 2 wrong predictions

julia> ŷ_fnp = [1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 0]; # 1 false negative, 1 false positive -> 2 wrong predictions

julia> Flux.tversky_loss(ŷ_fnp, y)

julia> Flux.tversky_loss(ŷ_fp, y) # should be smaller than tversky_loss(ŷ_fnp, y), as FN is given more weight
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Here the loss for ŷ_fnp, y should have been larger than the loss for ŷ_fp, y as the loss should give more weight or penalize the False Negatives (default β is 0.7; hence it should give more weight to FN), but the exact opposite happens.

Changing the implementation of the loss yields the following results -

julia> y = [0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 1];

julia> ŷ_fp = [1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1]; # 2 false positive -> 2 wrong predictions

julia> ŷ_fnp = [1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 0]; # 1 false negative, 1 false positive -> 2 wrong predictions

julia> Flux.tversky_loss(ŷ_fnp, y)

julia> Flux.tversky_loss(ŷ_fp, y) # should be smaller than tversky_loss(ŷ_fnp, y), as FN is given more weight
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which looks right!

(This bug has not been confirmed by someone other than me yet, and the fix is still under review.)

Getting started section

Flux has a lot of tutorials and examples, but they are scattered around and are very hard to navigate through. The current “Getting Started” section, “Overview” section, and “Basics” section have valuable information for beginners, but the information is scattered among these three sections.

Additionally, one of these three sections is on Flux’s website, and two are available on the documentation website, making it difficult for newcomers to navigate between these hackable yet basic examples. Instead, these three tutorials could be moved out of their current places and combined under a single section named “Getting Started”, which could then be added to the documentation and linked on the website.

I have started working on this section, and two extensive tutorials have already been added as PRs: one on linear regression (with and without Flux) and one on logistic regression (with and without Flux). These PRs are currently under review and should be merged in the upcoming weeks.

I have had an incredible time contributing to Flux and its neighbor repositories, and I hope to continue these contributions with the same momentum. I have also learned a lot, including that documentation additions require more discussions than code additions.

This work wouldn’t have been possible without my mentor @DhairyaLGandhi and a lot of other FluxML’s maintainers (@ToucheSir, @mcabbott, @CarloLucibello, @darsnack). They have been very patient with my questions and messy PRs 😆




Pull requests






Issues / discussions




Top comments (4)

youainti profile image
William King

Thank you, not only for the documentation, but also for the writeup to help demonstrate what it takes to write good documentation.

As a question, are you familiar with the Diataxis framework for documentation? If so, what are your thoughts on it? I'd like to hear some thoughts from people with experience before spending too much time using it in my personal documentation.

saransh profile image
Saransh Author

Thank you! :)

I am unfamiliar with the framework, but it looks good from a high-level overview.

The framework looks a lot like mkdocs (see for instance the docs of OCRed and Lux.jl), but it is based on sphinx!

I usually use sphinx based frameworks/themes if I am documenting a considerably large project. For smaller, more confined projects, I would go with mkdocs!

(For instance, vector uses a sphinx theme.)

In the end, your style and taste might play a significant role in choosing the desired framework.

fortunewalla profile image
Fortune Walla

using it in my personal documentation.

What do you mean by personal documentation? Do you want to use it as knowledge base?

sindoudedv profile image

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