Writing Custom Keras Layers

If the existing Keras layers don’t meet your requirements you can create a custom layer. For simple, stateless custom operations, you are probably better off using layer_lambda() layers. But for any custom operation that has trainable weights, you should implement your own layer.

The example below illustrates the skeleton of a Keras custom layer. The mnist_antirectifier example includes another demonstration of creating a custom layer.

KerasLayer R6 Class

To create a custom Keras layer, you create an R6 class derived from KerasLayer. There are three methods to implement (only one of which, call(), is required for all types of layer):


CustomLayer <- R6::R6Class("CustomLayer",
  inherit = KerasLayer,
  public = list(
    output_dim = NULL,
    kernel = NULL,
    initialize = function(output_dim) {
      self$output_dim <- output_dim
    build = function(input_shape) {
      self$kernel <- self$add_weight(
        name = 'kernel', 
        shape = list(input_shape[[2]], self$output_dim),
        initializer = initializer_random_normal(),
        trainable = TRUE
    call = function(x, mask = NULL) {
      k_dot(x, self$kernel)
    compute_output_shape = function(input_shape) {
      list(input_shape[[1]], self$output_dim)

Note that tensor operations are executed using the Keras backend(). See the Keras Backend article for details on the various functions available from Keras backends.

Layer Wrapper Function

In order to use the custom layer within a Keras model you also need to create a wrapper function which instantiates the layer using the create_layer() function. For example:

# define layer wrapper function
layer_custom <- function(object, output_dim, name = NULL, trainable = TRUE) {
  create_layer(CustomLayer, object, list(
    output_dim = as.integer(output_dim),
    name = name,
    trainable = trainable

# use it in a model
model <- keras_model_sequential()
model %>% 
  layer_dense(units = 32, input_shape = c(32,32)) %>% 
  layer_custom(output_dim = 32)

Some important things to note about the layer wrapper function:

  1. It accepts object as its first parameter (the object will either be a Keras sequential model or another Keras layer). The object parameter enables the layer to be composed with other layers using the magrittr pipe (%>%) operator.

  2. It converts it’s output_dim to integer using the as.integer() function. This is done as convenience to the user because Keras variables are strongly typed (you can’t pass a float if an integer is expected). This enables users of the function to write output_dim = 32 rather than output_dim = 32L.

  3. Some additional parameters not used by the layer (name and trainable) are in the function signature. Custom layer functions can include any of the core layer function arguments (input_shape, batch_input_shape, batch_size, dtype, name, trainable, and weights) and they will be automatically forwarded to the Layer base class.

See the mnist_antirectifier example for another demonstration of creating a custom layer.