Model conversion

The core CTranslate2 implementation is framework agnostic. The logic that is specific to each framework is moved to a conversion step that loads supported models into a unified representation. The weights are then optionally quantized and saved into an optimized binary format.

Supported frameworks

The Python module includes a conversion API and conversion scripts for multiple frameworks:

Model structure

The conversion produces a model directory containing a binary model file, a JSON configuration, and one or more vocabulary files:



The Python API exposes the function ctranslate2.contains_model to check if a directory is a CTranslate2 model.

Quantization and reduced precision

The converters support reducing the weights precision to save on space and possibly accelerate the model execution. See the Quantization documentation.

Backward compatibility

New versions of CTranslate2 are backward compatible with models that were previously converted. This compatibility is rarely broken, even for major versions.


Forward compatibility is not guaranteed, however. The CTranslate2 version loading the model should not be older than the version that converted the model.


Converted models are portable in the sense they can be loaded on another machine using a different operating system or CPU architecture.

The only restriction is the 2 machines must use the same endianness.

Add a new converter

You can write your own converter as long as the model architecture is supported by CTranslate2. The converter should populate a model specification with trained weights.


See the existing converters which could be used as templates.

Model specification

A model specification defines the structures and names of the model weights. Converters should fill out this specification with weights coming from a trained model.

In the Python code, a model specification is represented as nested LayerSpec objects, where intermediate objects define weights scopes and leaf objects define the weights name and value. This is similar to how you would define a model in PyTorch (using nn.Module) or TensorFlow (using tf.Module).

The final structure defines the full name of each weight that the C++ code should read when building the model. For example, a weight that can be accessed with root.encoder.embeddings.weight (where root is the top-level LayerSpec object) will have for name encoder/embeddings/weight in the serialized model.

Changes in this structure are tracked by a revision number (see next section).

Model serialization

The model serialization is defined in the Python file It is a simple binary serialization that is easy and fast to load from C++.

Converted models have 2 levels of versioning to manage backward compatibility:

  1. Binary version: the structure of the binary file

  2. Model specification revision: the variable names expected by each model.

For example, adding a new field in the binary file will increment (1), but changing a variable name will increment (2).