Parameter Aggregation in Fed-BioMed

Aggregation of model parameters plays an important role in federated learning, where we naturally deal with data heterogeneity. Unlike the distributed learning datasets, model parameters are saved as same-sized data blocks for each node training the same model. The number of samples, the quality of the samples cand their data distribution can vary in every Node. In Fed-BioMed, we currently work on providing various solutions for this heterogeneity. Up to now, we support FedAverage which performs the standard aggregation scheme in federated learning: federated averaging. We also provide FedProx and SCAFFOLD aggregation methods.


The following Aggregators can also be used with declearn Optimizers, providing advanced gradient-based optimization modules. These Optimizers are cross-framework, meaning it is possible to use it with all machine learning framework provided by Fed-BioMed. Please visit the webpage dedicated to advanced optimization.

Fed-BioMed Aggregators:

Fed-BioMed Aggregators are showcased in the following tutorial.

Federated Averaging (FedAveraging)

FedAveraging is the default Aggregator in Fed-BioMed, introduced by McMahan et al.. It performs a weighted mean of local model parameters based on the size of node specific datasets. This operation occurs after each round of training in the Nodes.

\[w_{t+1} := \sum_{k=1}^K\frac{n_k}{n}w_{t+1}^k\]

where \( w_{t} \) are the weights at round \(t\), \(K\) is the number of Nodes participating at round \(t\), and \( n_k, n \) are the number of samples of the \(k\)-th node and of the total federation respectively.


Similar to FedAveraging, FedProx performs a weighted sum of local model parameters. FedProx however introduces a regularization operation, using \(\mathcal{L}_2\) norm, in order to tackle statistical heterogeneity. Basically, it reformulates the loss function by:

\[F_k(w) + \frac{\mu}{2}|| w - w^t ||^2_2\]

using the same notation as above, with \(\mu\) the regularization parameter (we obtain FedAveraging by setting \(\mu=0\)) and \(F_k\) the objective function.

To use FedProx, use FedAverage from fedbiomed.researcher.aggregators and specify a value for \(\mu\) in the training arguments training_args using the argument name fedprox_mu.


SCAFFOLD stands for Stochastic Controlled Averaging for Federated Learning. It introduces a correction state parameter in order to tackle the client drift, depicting the fact that when data across each Node are heterogeneous, each of the Nodes pushes the model in a different direction in the optimization space and the global model does not converge towards the true optima. In Fed-BioMed, only option 2 of the SCAFFOLD paper has been implemented. Additional details about the implementation can be found in the developer API reference.

The corrected loss function used to update the model is computed as follows:

\[F_k(w) + c \cdot w - c_k \cdot w\]

where \(c_k\) is the Node correction term, \(c = \frac{1}{K}\sum_{k=1}^K{c_k}\) is the server's correction term,
and \(K\) is the total number of participating Nodes as above.

On the Researcher side, the global model is updated by performing gradient descent.

Additional parameters are needed when working with SCAFFOLD:

  • server_lr: Researcher's learning rate for performing a gradient step
  • num_updates: the number of updates (ie gradient descent optimizer steps) to be performed on each Node. Relying only on epochs could lead to some inconsistencies in the computation of the correction term: thus, in Fed-BioMed, SCAFFOLD aggregator cannot be used with epochs.

Please note that:

  • SCAFFOLD should be used only with SGD optimizer. Using other Optimizers in Fed-BioMed is possible, but without any convergence guarantees.
  • SCAFFOLD can only be used with the PyTorch framework at the moment, and correction terms are not encrypted when exchanged (even when using SecAgg).
  • SCAFFOLD requires using the num_updates training argument to control the number of training iterations. Using only epochs will raise an error.
  • SCAFFOLD also exists as an declearn cross framework optimizer. Using SCAFFOLD implementation in declearn enables the use of other machine learning frameworks such as scikit-learn.

How to Create Your Custom Aggregator

Designing your own Aggregator class: the aggregation method

Before designing your custom aggregation algorithm we recommend you to see default FedAverage aggregate method

aggregate method is expecting at least model_params and weights arguments. Additional argument can be passed through *args and kwargs depending, on the values needed for your Aggregator.

It is possible to create your custom aggregator by creating a new class which inherits from the Aggregator class defined in fedbiomed.researcher.aggregators.Aggregator.

class Aggregator:
    Defines methods for aggregating strategy
    (eg FedAvg, FedProx, SCAFFOLD, ...).
    def __init__(self):

    def normalize_weights(weights) -> list:
        # Load list of weights assigned to each node and
        # normalize these weights so they sum up to 1
        norm = [w/sum(weights) for w in weights]
        return norm

    def aggregate(self,  model_params: list, weights: list, *args, **kwargs) -> Dict: # pragma: no cover
        """Strategy to aggregate models"""

Your child class should extend the method aggregate that gets model parameters and weights as arguments. The model parameters are those which have been locally updated in each node during the last round. The weights represent the ratio of the number of samples in each node and the total number of samples. Your custom aggregator class should return aggregated parameters.

You should also pay attention to the way the parameters are loaded. For example, it may be a dictionary that contains tensor data types or just an array. As you can see from the following example, the aggregator first checks the data type of the parameters, and then it does the averaging.

    if t == 'tensor':
        for model, weight in zip(model_params, proportions):
            for key in avg_params.keys():
                avg_params[key] += weight * model[key]

    if t == 'array':
        for key in avg_params.keys():
            matr = np.array([ d[key] for d in model_params ])
            avg_params[key] = np.average(matr,weights=np.array(weights),axis=0)

Desinging your own Aggregator class: the create_aggregator_args method

For some advanced Aggregators, you may need to send some argument to Nodes in order to update the local model. For instance, SCAFFOLD Aggregator sends specific correction terms for each of the Nodes involved in the training.

The method that has this responsability is create_aggregator_args, and is designed as follow (in the fedbiomed.researcher.aggregators.Aggregator class):

def create_aggregator_args(self, *args, **kwargs) -> Tuple[dict, dict]:
    """Returns aggregator arguments that are expecting by the nodes

    dict: contains `Aggregator` parameters that will be sent to nodes 
    dict: contains parameters that will be sent through file exchange message.
            Both dictionaries are mapping node_id to `Aggregator` parameters specific 
            to each Node.

    return self._aggregator_args or {}, {}

How to use your aggregator?

Once your aggregator has been created, you can pass it to your Experiment instance by calling the set_aggregator method.

from fedbiomed.researcher.federated_workflow import Experiment

exp = Experiment()


In this article, the aggregation process has been explained. Currently, Fed-BioMed only supports the vanilla federated averaging scheme for the aggregation operation called FedAverage, as well as FedProx and SCAFFOLD. However, Fed-BioMed also allows you to create your custom aggregator using the Aggregator parent class. It means that you can define your custom aggregator based on your use case(s). You can define it in your notebook or python script and passed into the Experiment as an argument.