Code for the demo is available on github.


I received some questions about the demo I built for Named Entity Recognition and as I spent some time building it, struggling with what technique to use, I came to the conclusion that sharing my experience would certainly benefit others.

This article will quickly cover how to deploy a demo of a tensorflow model and serve it with a Flask API in python.

Our goal is to build an API that will look like


When I was googling about “serving a tf model” I stumbled upon Tensorflow serving which is the official framework to build a scalable API. If you’re looking to deploy a model in production and you are interested in scalability, batching over users, versionning etc., you should definetely have a look at this article.

I will cover a much simpler approach, similar to the one used here. We’ll use

  • Flask to build the API (back-end)
  • jquery.ajax to handle requests to the API from your client (front-end) - for instance github pages

A simple Flask API

To build the API, we need to perform 2 steps, that we’ll put in 2 different files

  1. wrap our model so that it can process the request sent by the client (file
  2. build the app - handle requests and return the output (file

1. Wrap the model

Assume we have a folder model in which we put all the code we used to develop our Tensorflow model (or any kind of model actually, doesn’t have to be TF).

The file defines a function get_model_api that returns a lambda function able to process the request. The steps are

  1. Initialize the model and reload the weights
  2. Process the input (from a sentence I love Paris to a list of words I love Paris for instance)
  3. Call the predict function of our model on the pre-processed input (here model.predict())
  4. Post-process the output of our model (here we just align strings)
from model.ner_model import NERModel
from model.config import Config
from model.utils import align_data

def get_model_api():
    """Returns lambda function for api"""
    # 1. initialize model once and for all and reload weights
    config = Config()
    model  = NERModel(config)

    def model_api(input_data):
        # 2. process input with simple tokenization and no punctuation
        punc = [",", "?", ".", ":", ";", "!", "(", ")", "[", "]"]
        s = "".join(c for c in input_data if c not in punc)
        words_raw = s.strip().split(" ")
        # 3. call model predict function
        preds = model.predict(words_raw)
        # 4. process the output
        output_data = align_data({"input": words_raw, "output": preds})
        # 5. return the output for the api
        return output_data

    return model_api

Why do we need to create this logic here? I could put everything in the model.predict() function…

Good point. This design choice is justified by the fact that usually your model is developped for a special type of input and when you build an API you want to preprocess the request before feeding it to the model. You could put everything in one file, either on the model side or the app side but it’s better to split functionnalities. You can also imagine creating some kind of versionning or specialized API by giving a special argument to get_model_api

To sum up, what we did is create a function get_model_api() that gives us our model model_api that we can apply to the request to get the response!

model_api = get_model_api()
response = model_api(request)

2. Building the app

This is where we communicate with the client and build an actual API with Flask. Now that we can get a lambda function that will process the request, we need to call it and actually serve our model.

First, let’s import the necessary modules

from flask import Flask, request, jsonify
from flask_cors import CORS
from serve import get_model_api  # see part 1.

and define the app and load the model

app = Flask(__name__)
CORS(app) # needed for cross-domain requests, allow everything by default
model_api = get_model_api()

Now, let’s define the behavior of our API, depending on the route it gets. We need to specify the default behavior and handle errors first

# default route
def index():
    return "Index API"

# HTTP Errors handlers
def url_error(e):
    return """
    Wrong URL!
    <pre>{}</pre>""".format(e), 404

def server_error(e):
    return """
    An internal error occurred: <pre>{}</pre>
    See logs for full stacktrace.
    """.format(e), 500

Finally, create the actual route for the API

# API route
@app.route('/api', methods=['POST'])
def api():
    input_data = request.json
    output_data = model_api(input_data)
    response = jsonify(output_data)
    return response

and this only takes 3 lines, as all the model-specific logic is defined in! Here we assume that the API posts data in json.

Now, let’s run the app

if __name__ == '__main__':'', debug=True)

and execute python It will reload the model and run the API locally. Navigate on your browser to (or any path printed in your Terminal window). You should see Index API, which is the default message for the default route!

Handle requests in Ajax

Now that we built the API, we need to create the client side that will send requests. It can be done easily with ajax and jquery. First, let’s consider a simple_client.html file

<!-- include ajax -->
<script src=""></script>

<!-- form, button and output -->
<input type="text" id="input" name="input" placeholder="Enter sentence"/>
<button id="btn">Call API</button>
<div id="api_output"> </div>

you should see something like this

Now, let’s define a function api_call that will handle the request when the button is clicked.

function api_call(input) {
        url: "",
        method: 'POST',
        contentType: 'application/json',
        data: JSON.stringify(input),
        success: function( data, textStatus, jQxhr ){
            $('#api_output').html( data.output );
        error: function( jqXhr, textStatus, errorThrown ){
            $('#api_output').html( "There was an error" );
            console.log( errorThrown );
        timeout: 3000
$( document ).ready(function() {
    // request when clicking on the button
    $('#btn').click(function() {
        var input = $("#input").val();
        input = "";

A few comments here. You need to change the url to the actual path of the API. We get values of different html fields by calling $('#id_name') (to get the element by id). For instance, $("#input").val() gets what we entered in the form. We also set a timeout of 3 seconds at which point we consider that the call to the API failed.

Now, test your client-API by running python and opening simple_client.html in your browser.

Deploy on Heroku

Here you are, you’ve coded your API. But where do you host it? Depending on your needs (and the number of expected requests) you might want to look for different solutions. For medium demand (more than 100 requests per day), you might want to have a look at plans from Google cloud, Amazon or Microsoft Azure. For lighter demand (my case), where the number of requests is too low to justify using these paid plans, a good option is to use the free plan of Heroku which has the competitive advantage of being extremely easy to setup and free. As there is nothing such as a free lunch, it will force your app to sleep after 30min of inactivity and limits RAM to 512MB…

Heroku requires 3 additionnal files

  • requirements.txt list the python dependencies
  • runtime.txt specifies the python version
  • Procfile that specifies what will be run in the Heroku environment
    web: gunicorn app:app

Now that your app is ready, deploy it on heroku (official documentation)

  1. Create an account on Heroku
  2. Install the Heroku Command Line Tools
  3. Create a new app and give it a name, for instance my-new-app
  4. Log-in to Heroku on your computer by entering in your terminal heroku login and enter your credentials.
  5. Go to your app directory, initialize git if necessary (git init) and add the heroku remote
    heroku git:remote -a my-new-app
  6. Push the code to heroku with
    git add .
    git commit -am "initial deployment"
    git push heroku master
  7. Now the url of your api is!


The code for this demo is available on github. You’ll also find the “good-looking” form as introduced at the beginning of the article!