Frequently Asked Questions

Via Slack: Where to Ask Questions:

For help and realtime updates related to TextAttack, please join the TextAttack Slack!

Via CLI: --help

  • Easiest self help: textattack --help

  • More concrete self help:

    • textattack attack --help

    • textattack augment --help

    • textattack train --help

    • textattack peek-dataset --help

    • textattack list, e.g., textattack list search-methods

Via our papers: More details on results

Via readthedocs: More details on APIs

More Concrete Questions:

0. For many of the dependent library issues, the following command is the first you could try:

pip install --force-reinstall textattack


pip install textattack[tensorflow,optional]

Besides, we highly recommend you to use virtual environment for textattack use, see information here. Here is one conda example:

conda create -n textattackenv python=3.8
conda activate textattackenv
conda env list

If you want to use the most-up-to-date version of textattack (normally with newer bug fixes), you can run the following:

git clone
cd TextAttack
pip install .[dev]

1. How to Train

For example, you can Train our default LSTM for 50 epochs on the Yelp Polarity dataset:

textattack train --model-name-or-path lstm --dataset yelp_polarity  --epochs 50 --learning-rate 1e-5

Fine-Tune bert-base on the CoLA dataset for 5 epochs:

textattack train --model-name-or-path bert-base-uncased --dataset glue^cola --per-device-train-batch-size 8 --epochs 5

2. Use Custom Models

TextAttack is model-agnostic! You can use TextAttack to analyze any model that outputs IDs, tensors, or strings. To help users, TextAttack includes pre-trained models for different common NLP tasks. This makes it easier for users to get started with TextAttack. It also enables a more fair comparison of attacks from the literature. A list of available pretrained models and their validation accuracies is available at HERE.

You can easily try out an attack on a local model you prefer. To attack a pre-trained model, create a short file that loads them as variables model and tokenizer. The tokenizer must be able to transform string inputs to lists or tensors of IDs using a method called encode(). The model must take inputs via the __call__ method.

Model from a file

To experiment with a model you’ve trained, you could create the following file and name it

model = load_your_model_with_custom_code() # replace this line with your model loading code
tokenizer = load_your_tokenizer_with_custom_code() # replace this line with your tokenizer loading code

Then, run an attack with the argument --model-from-file The model and tokenizer will be loaded automatically.

TextAttack is model-agnostic - meaning it can run attacks on models implemented in any deep learning framework. Model objects must be able to take a string (or list of strings) and return an output that can be processed by the goal function. For example, machine translation models take a list of strings as input and produce a list of strings as output. Classification and entailment models return an array of scores. As long as the user’s model meets this specification, the model is fit to use with TextAttack.

3. Use Custom Datasets

From a file

Loading a dataset from a file is very similar to loading a model from a file. A ‘dataset’ is any iterable of (input, output) pairs. The following example would load a sentiment classification dataset from file

dataset = [('Today was....', 1), ('This movie is...', 0), ...]

You can then run attacks on samples from this dataset by adding the argument --dataset-from-file

Dataset loading via other mechanism, see: more details at here

import textattack
my_dataset = [("text",label),....]
new_dataset = textattack.datasets.Dataset(my_dataset)

Custom Dataset via AttackedText class

To allow for word replacement after a sequence has been tokenized, we include an AttackedText object which maintains both a list of tokens and the original text, with punctuation. We use this object in favor of a list of words or just raw text.

4. Benchmarking Attacks

  • See our analysis paper: Searching for a Search Method: Benchmarking Search Algorithms for Generating NLP Adversarial Examples at EMNLP BlackBoxNLP.

  • As we emphasized in the above paper, we don’t recommend to directly compare Attack Recipes out of the box.

  • This comment is due to that attack recipes in the recent literature used different ways or thresholds in setting up their constraints. Without the constraint space held constant, an increase in attack success rate could from an improved search or transformation method or a less restrictive search space.

5. Create Custom or New Attacks

The attack_one method in an Attack takes as input an AttackedText, and outputs either a SuccessfulAttackResult if it succeeds or a FailedAttackResult if it fails.

We formulate an attack as consisting of four components: a goal function which determines if the attack has succeeded, constraints defining which perturbations are valid, a transformation that generates potential modifications given an input, and a search method which traverses through the search space of possible perturbations. The attack attempts to perturb an input text such that the model output fulfills the goal function (i.e., indicating whether the attack is successful) and the perturbation adheres to the set of constraints (e.g., grammar constraint, semantic similarity constraint). A search method is used to find a sequence of transformations that produce a successful adversarial example.

This modular design unifies adversarial attack methods into one system, enables us to easily assemble attacks from the literature while re-using components that are shared across attacks. We provides clean, readable implementations of 16 adversarial attack recipes from the literature (see our tool paper and our benchmark search paper). For the first time, these attacks can be benchmarked, compared, and analyzed in a standardized setting.

6. The attacking is too slow

  • Tip: If your machine has multiple GPUs, you can distribute the attack across them using the --parallel option. For some attacks, this can really help performance.

  • If you want to attack Keras models in parallel, please check out examples/attack/ instead. (This is a hotfix for issues caused by a recent update of Keras in TF)