# How to use an `optimizer` to update non-differentiable parameters?

Assume there is a non-differentiable `nn.Parameter` in an equation whose gradient needs to be estimated using a straight-through estimator (STE) before the parameter can be updated. For example,

`y = 0.5(|x| - |x - alpha| + alpha)`
`y_q = round(y * (2 ** k - 1) / alpha) * alpha / (2 ** k - 1)`.

In this equation, `alpha` is a trainable parameter and the derivative of `y_q` w.r.t `alpha` needs to be estimated using an STE.

How can I define the approximated gradient and use it in an `optimizer` to update the parameter along with the rest of parameters in the network?

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Note that it should likely be `**`, not `^`.
I like the trick of `y_q_diffable = y + (y_q - y).detach()`. (In fact, I once proposed to give a lightning talk just on this line of code and whereit is useful.)

I always like to credit @hughperkins for sharing the trick here on the forums when he seen it in a paper and he knows a ton references for applications, too. Best regards

Thomas

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Yes, you’re right. It should be `**`.

Do you mind explaining this trick a little bit more in detail?

y_q_diffable is y_q ( = y + y_q - y) for the forward. But during backwards, the gradients propagate as if y_q_diffable were y.

Best regards

Thomas

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@tom I am curious, did you prepare that talk in the end? Would you mind sharing some references for applications?

No, I didn’t, but my favourite application that I use in my autograd course is to emulate quantization aware training with it. The course are not freely available, but the particular example is also included in the ACDL “Advanced introduction to PyTorch” talk of which I published the slides. I don’t know of any video recording and there wasn’t enough interest to re-record it back then.

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