Understanding what a PyTorch leaf node is intuitive when you remember that PyTorch automatic differentiation is in the backward direction compared to the way the program is executed to compute its value – i.e., it is a backward-mode automatic differentiation.

Below are a couple of slides I’ve used before to illustrate backward mode autodiff:

slide 1

slide 2

In PyTorch leaf nodes are therefore the values from which the computation begins. Here a simple program illustrating this:

# The following two values are the leaf nodes
x=T.ones(10, requires_grad=True)
y=T.ones(10, requires_grad=True)

# The remaining nodes are not leaves:
def H(z1, z2):
    return T.sin(z1**3)*T.cos(z2**2)
def G(z1, z2):
    return T.exp(z1)+T.log(z2)
def F(z1, z2):
    return z1**3*z2**0.5

The graph illustrating this is below – the leaf nodes are the two blue nodes (i.e., our x and y above) at the start of the computational graph:

computational graph