I wasn't sure to ask this here, but based on the related questions, I think this is appropriate.

For starters, I'm trying to build a Neural Network using the website below as a reference. It seems like it's just trying to implement Perceptron with a single hidden layer.


Following the guide, it makes sense, but I'm having trouble understanding the mathematics behind the back propagation part. I understand that you have to use the error function to derive the rate of change for the biases and weights, but I'm confused as to how the derivatives (w.r.t. the parameters) ends up being a 'scalar' multiplication. The derivatives have to be the same size as the parameters, but how do you get to that point (using ${\partial J\over\partial B_2}$ as the example here)? Also, when deriving ${\partial J\over\partial W_2}$, using the chain rule, how does the derivative of ${\partial Y\over\partial W_2}$ result in the transpose of $H,$ and why does it end up being a dot product with the derivative of the error function (w.r.t the result)?

Sorry, my background in Matrix Algebra is not incredibly strong, so having the mathematics explained to me would really help a lot.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Andrew Ng's Machine Learning course on Coursera is excellent, and would give you a great background in all this. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


The author seems to have conflated the terminology for several kinds of products of matrices, all of which are involved in the article:

  1. ordinary matrix product of matrices with compatible dimensions,
  2. scalar (or dot) product of row or column vectors with identical dimensions,
  3. Hadamard (or entrywise) product of matrices with identical dimensions, and
  4. outer product of vectors with possibly different dimensions.

We're given the scalar quantity $J$ defined as half of a scalar (dot) product $$J= {1\over 2}(Y-Y^*)(Y-Y^*)^\mathsf{T}={1\over 2}\sum_i(Y_i-Y_i^*)^2$$ where (supressing unneeded subsripts) $$Y=f(HW+B)$$ with $HW$ the ordinary matrix product of $H$ and $W$, the various matrices having the following dimensions: $$\begin{align} Y&:1\times y\\ H&:1\times h\\ W&:h\times y\\ B&:1\times y. \end{align}$$ Here $f(M)$ denotes the matrix whose $i$th element is just $f$ applied to the $i$th element of matrix $M$ (i.e., $[f(M)]_i = f(M_i),$ using $[...]_i$ to mean "the $i$th element of $...$"); so the $i$th element of $Y$ is $$\begin{align} Y_i&=f([HW+B]_i)\\ &=f([HW]_i+B_i)\\ &=f(\sum_jH_jW_{ji}+B_i).\end{align}$$

Now, we find ${\partial J\over\partial B}$ and ${\partial J\over\partial W}$, which are matrices with dimensions $1\times y$ and $h\times y$, respectively; thus: $$\left[{\partial J\over\partial B}\right]_k={\partial J\over\partial B_k}=\sum_i{\partial J\over\partial Y_i}{\partial Y_i\over\partial B_k} $$ where $$\begin{align}{\partial J\over\partial Y_i} &={\partial \over \partial Y_i} {1\over 2}\sum_j(Y_j-Y_j^*)^2\\ &={1\over 2}\sum_j2(Y_j-Y_j^*)\delta_{ij}\\ &=Y_i-Y_i^*\\ &=[Y-Y^*]_i \end{align}$$ and $$\begin{align}{\partial Y_i\over\partial B_k} &={\partial \over\partial B_k}f([HW]_i+B_i)\\ &=f'([HW]_i+B_i)\,\delta_{ik}\\ &=[f'(HW+B)]_i\,\delta_{ik} \end{align}$$ giving $$\begin{align}\left[{\partial J\over\partial B}\right]_k &=\sum_i [Y-Y^*]_i [f'(HW+B)]_i\,\delta_{ik}\\ &=[Y-Y^*]_k[f'(HW+B)]_k\\ &=[(Y-Y^*)* f'(HW+B)]_k. \end{align}$$ and therefore $${\partial J\over\partial B} =(Y-Y^*)* f'(HW+B) $$ where $*$ denotes the Hadamard ("entrywise") product of the two matrices having identical dimensions $(1\times y)$.

Similarly, $$\left[{\partial J\over\partial W}\right]_{kl}={\partial J\over\partial W_{kl}}=\sum_i{\partial J\over\partial Y_i}{\partial Y_i\over\partial W_{kl}} $$ where $$\begin{align}{\partial Y_i\over\partial W_{kl}} &={\partial \over\partial W_{kl}}f([HW]_i+B_i)\\ &=f'([HW]_i+B_i) {\partial \over\partial W_{kl}}[HW]_i\\ &=f'([HW]_i+B_i) {\partial \over\partial W_{kl}}\sum_jH_jW_{ji}\\ &=f'([HW]_i+B_i) \sum_jH_j\delta_{jk}\delta_{il}\\ &=[f'(HW+B)]_i\,H_k\,\delta_{il} \end{align}$$ giving $$\begin{align}\left[{\partial J\over\partial W}\right]_{kl} &=\sum_i [Y-Y^*]_i\,[f'(HW+B)]_i\,H_k\,\delta_{il}\\ &=H_k\,[Y-Y^*]_l\,[f'(HW+B)]_l\\ &=[H^\mathsf{T} ((Y-Y^*)* f'(HW+B))]_{kl}. \end{align}$$ and therefore $$\begin{align}{\partial J\over\partial W} &=H^\mathsf{T}\,((Y-Y^*)* f'(HW+B)) \end{align}$$ where the transpose is necessary to have compatible dimensions for the ordinary matrix multiplication; that is, $H^\mathsf{T}$ is $h\times 1$ and $(Y-Y^*)* f'(HW+B)$ is $1\times y$, producing an $h\times y$ result (called an outer product).

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your reply. Your explanation really helps, but if you don't mind, I have a question about it. In ${\partial J\over\partial B_k}$ in your example, you need the summation because scalar J is a summation of matrix Y, correct? That's why you need to get the changes of each component of Y to relate to the k-th component of matrix B? Also, just to be clear, is that a dot product between ${\partial J\over\partial Y_i}$ and ${\partial Y_i \over\partial B_k}$ ? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ "Yes" to all of those questions, except that $J$ is not a "summation of matrix $\mathbf Y$"; rather, $J$ is any (differentiable) function of $\mathbf{Y}$. Intuitively, the summation in the chain rule comes about because a variation in $J$ that's produced by small variations in the components of $\mathbf Y$ is, to first order, the linear combination ... $\endgroup$
    – r.e.s.
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ ... $\delta J = \sum_i{\partial J\over \partial Y_i}\delta Y_i={\partial J\over \partial \mathbf Y}\cdot \delta \mathbf Y$ (dot product), which leads to ${\partial J\over\partial B_k}=\sum_i{\partial J\over \partial Y_i}{\partial Y_i\over\partial B_k}={\partial J\over \partial \mathbf Y}\cdot {\partial\mathbf{Y}\over\partial B_k}$. $\endgroup$
    – r.e.s.
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your reply. It's indeed easier to understand when looking at things from a component perspective rather than the whole matrix. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ When referring to the derivatives, what exactly is ${\delta_{ik}}$ (as one example)? Are they identity matrices? How do they come about in the derivation? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 14:18

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