Home Page




Editorial Board

Special Issues

Open Source Software

Proceedings (PMLR)

Data (DMLR)

Transactions (TMLR)




Frequently Asked Questions

Contact Us

RSS Feed

Connectivity Matters: Neural Network Pruning Through the Lens of Effective Sparsity

Artem Vysogorets, Julia Kempe; 24(99):1−23, 2023.


Neural network pruning is a fruitful area of research with surging interest in high sparsity regimes. Benchmarking in this domain heavily relies on faithful representation of the sparsity of subnetworks, which has been traditionally computed as the fraction of removed connections (direct sparsity). This definition, however, fails to recognize unpruned parameters that detached from input or output layers of the underlying subnetworks, potentially underestimating actual effective sparsity: the fraction of inactivated connections. While this effect might be negligible for moderately pruned networks (up to 10–100 compression rates), we find that it plays an increasing role for sparser subnetworks, greatly distorting comparison between different pruning algorithms. For example, we show that effective compression of a randomly pruned LeNet-300-100 can be orders of magnitude larger than its direct counterpart, while no discrepancy is ever observed when using SynFlow for pruning (Tanaka et al., 2020). In this work, we adopt the lens of effective sparsity to reevaluate several recent pruning algorithms on common benchmark architectures (e.g., LeNet-300-100, VGG-19, ResNet-18) and discover that their absolute and relative performance changes dramatically in this new, and as we argue, more appropriate framework. To aim for effective, rather than direct, sparsity, we develop a low-cost extension to most pruning algorithms. Further, equipped with effective sparsity as a reference frame, we partially reconfirm that random pruning with appropriate sparsity allocation across layers performs as well or better than more sophisticated algorithms for pruning at initialization (Su et al., 2020). In response to this observation, using an analogy of pressure distribution in coupled cylinders from thermodynamics, we design novel layerwise sparsity quotas that outperform all existing baselines in the context of random pruning.

© JMLR 2023. (edit, beta)