How to inspect a pre-trained TensorFlow model

Dan Jarvis
4 min readAug 27, 2017

Let’s assume somebody has given us a pre-trained TensorFlow model and asked us to embed it in an Android app.

To do this (as we saw in Using a pre-trained TensorFlow model on Android), we need to know some information about the input and output nodes in the model.

TensorBoard is an awesome tool that we can use to inspect TensorFlow models (a.k.a. “graphs”). The TensorBoard: Graph Visualization documentation is very detailed, but I found it a bit intimidating to start.

In this article, we’re going to use to import an existing model into TensorBoard.

Installing TensorBoard

There are two ways to install TensorBoard:


The quickest option is to install TensorBoard using pip:

pip install tensorboard

There is also a standalone GitHub project that might work for you.

In a container

TensorBoard depends on TensorFlow, and you might want to isolate all your TensorFlow binaries inside a container (as I discuss here). If you go for this approach, you need to pass an extra -p argument to Docker to tell it to forward HTTP traffic from the container’s localhost port 6006 to the local machine.

docker run -p 6006:6006 -it bash

Importing an existing model

Once you have TensorBoard installed, you can run it like so:

tensorboard --logdir=/tmp/tensorflow_logdir

Then simply open http://localhost:6006 in your browser to see TensorBoard. At this point you won’t have anything to view in TensorBoard.

Now we can use the tool to import an existing model:

  1. Get I have the TensorFlow repository cloned onto my machine (the tools are in tensorflow/python/tools).
  2. Get a model file. I’m using the 12.5MB mnist_model_graph.pb from this article, and I saved it to /tmp.
  3. Pass the model file to It doesn’t matter what location you use for log_dir.
$ python --model_dir /tmp/mnist_model_graph.pb --log_dir /tmp/tensorflow_logdir


Model Imported. Visualize by running: tensorboard --logdir=/tmp/tensorflow_logdir

4. Run tensorboard --logdir=/tmp/tensorflow_logdir to start TensorBoard.

5. Now we can view this model in our browser at http://localhost:6006 (screenshots further below).

Warning: you need to be using TensorFlow r0.12 or above to use If your TensorFlow installation is too old, you’ll see this error. To check the version of your TensorFlow installation, run: python -c “import tensorflow as tf; print(tf.GIT_VERSION, tf.VERSION)”

Note: I’ve removed some warnings that appeared for me on Mac OS X Sierra. In case you care, here’s one of them:

2017–08–27 18:11:31.334823: W tensorflow/core/platform/] The TensorFlow library wasn’t compiled to use SSE4.2 instructions, but these are available on your machine and could speed up CPU computations.

Viewing the model in TensorBoard

When you first open the model in TensorBoard, you’ll just see one node called “import”. At the top right you’ll see “Subgraph: 18 nodes”, which is the hint that there is more to see.

You can double click on the “import” node and it will expand to show you the full graph. You’ll need to zoom out and scroll around to get it to fit nicely, but you should be able to see the full graph on one screen:

You can also zoom in and see the input node at the bottom of the screen:

…and the output node at the top:

The information window at the top right provides some extra information about the node. In this case, the output is a float value (DT_FLOAT), which was output by using a Softmax function.

You can click on any node that you like. In this case, the Conv2D node is quite interesting. You can see ?x28x28x1 listed in a couple of places here — which makes sense because this particular model processes 28x28 pixel images.