Getting Started with Keras


Keras is a high-level neural networks API developed with a focus on enabling fast experimentation. Being able to go from idea to result with the least possible delay is key to doing good research. Keras has the following key features:

This website provides documentation for the R interface to Keras. See the main Keras website at for additional information on the project.


First, install the keras R package from CRAN as follows:


The Keras R interface uses the TensorFlow backend engine by default. To install both the core Keras library as well as the TensorFlow backend use the install_keras() function:


This will provide you with default CPU-based installations of Keras and TensorFlow. If you want a more customized installation, e.g. if you want to take advantage of NVIDIA GPUs, see the documentation for install_keras().

MNIST Example

We can learn the basics of Keras by walking through a simple example: recognizing handwritten digits from the MNIST dataset. MNIST consists of 28 x 28 grayscale images of handwritten digits like these:

The dataset also includes labels for each image, telling us which digit it is. For example, the labels for the above images are 5, 0, 4, and 1.

Preparing the Data

The MNIST dataset is included with Keras and can be accessed using the dataset_mnist() function. Here we load the dataset then create variables for our test and training data:

The x data is a 3-d array (images,width,height) of grayscale values . To prepare the data for training we convert the 3-d arrays into matrices by reshaping width and height into a single dimension (28x28 images are flattened into length 784 vectors). Then, we convert the grayscale values from integers ranging between 0 to 255 into floating point values ranging between 0 and 1:

Note that we use the array_reshape() function rather than the dim<-() function to reshape the array. This is so that the data is re-interpreted using row-major semantics (as opposed to R’s default column-major semantics), which is in turn compatible with the way that the numerical libraries called by Keras interpret array dimensions.

The y data is an integer vector with values ranging from 0 to 9. To prepare this data for training we one-hot encode the vectors into binary class matrices using the Keras to_categorical() function:

Defining the Model

The core data structure of Keras is a model, a way to organize layers. The simplest type of model is the Sequential model, a linear stack of layers.

We begin by creating a sequential model and then adding layers using the pipe (%>%) operator:

The input_shape argument to the first layer specifies the shape of the input data (a length 784 numeric vector representing a grayscale image). The final layer outputs a length 10 numeric vector (probabilities for each digit) using a softmax activation function.

Use the summary() function to print the details of the model:

Layer (type)                        Output Shape                    Param #     
dense_1 (Dense)                     (None, 256)                     200960      
dropout_1 (Dropout)                 (None, 256)                     0           
dense_2 (Dense)                     (None, 128)                     32896       
dropout_2 (Dropout)                 (None, 128)                     0           
dense_3 (Dense)                     (None, 10)                      1290        
Total params: 235,146
Trainable params: 235,146
Non-trainable params: 0

Next, compile the model with appropriate loss function, optimizer, and metrics:

Training and Evaluation

Use the fit() function to train the model for 30 epochs using batches of 128 images:

The history object returned by fit() includes loss and accuracy metrics which we can plot:

Evaluate the model’s performance on the test data:

[1] 0.1149

[1] 0.9807

Generate predictions on new data:

  [1] 7 2 1 0 4 1 4 9 5 9 0 6 9 0 1 5 9 7 3 4 9 6 6 5 4 0 7 4 0 1 3 1 3 4 7 2 7 1 2
 [40] 1 1 7 4 2 3 5 1 2 4 4 6 3 5 5 6 0 4 1 9 5 7 8 9 3 7 4 6 4 3 0 7 0 2 9 1 7 3 2
 [79] 9 7 7 6 2 7 8 4 7 3 6 1 3 6 9 3 1 4 1 7 6 9
 [ reached getOption("max.print") -- omitted 9900 entries ]

Keras provides a vocabulary for building deep learning models that is simple, elegant, and intuitive. Building a question answering system, an image classification model, a neural Turing machine, or any other model is just as straightforward.


To learn the basics of Keras, we recommend the following sequence of tutorials:

These tutorials walk you through the main components of the