The Inner Workings of LLMs: A Deep Dive into Language Model Architecture

Babina Banjara 11 Aug, 2023
11 min read


Language Models based on Large- scale pre- training LLMs have revolutionized the field of natural language processing. Thus, enabling machines to comprehend and generate human-like text with remarkable accuracy. To truly appreciate the capabilities of LLMs, it is essential to take a deep dive into their inner workings and understand the intricacies of their architecture. By unraveling the mysteries behind LLMs’ language model architecture, we can gain valuable insights into how these models process and generate language, paving the way for language understanding, text generation, and information extraction advancements.

In this blog, we will dive deep into the inner workings of LLMs and uncover the magic that allows them to comprehend and generate language in a way that has forever transformed the possibilities of human-machine interaction.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the fundamental components of LLMs, including transformers and self-attention mechanisms.
  • Explore the layered architecture of LLMs, comprising encoders and decoders.
  • Gain insights into the pre-training and finetuning stages of LLM training.
  • Discover recent advancements in LLM architectures, such as GPT-3, T5, and BERT.
  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of attention mechanisms and their significance in LLMs.

This article was published as a part of the Data Science Blogathon.

Learn More: What are Large Language Models (LLMs)?

The Foundations of LLMs: Transformers and Self-Attention Mechanisms

Step into the foundation of LLMs, where transformers and self-attention mechanisms form the building blocks that enable these models to comprehend and generate language with exceptional prowess.


Transformers initially introduced in the “Attention is All You Need” paper by Vaswani et al. in 2017, revolutionized the field of natural language processing. These robust architectures eliminate the need for recurrent neural networks (RNNs) and instead rely on self-attention mechanisms to capture relationships between words in an input sequence.

Transformers allow LLMs to process text in parallel, enabling more efficient and effective language understanding. By simultaneously attending to all words in an input sequence, transformers capture long-range dependencies and contextual relationships that might be challenging for traditional models. This parallel processing empowers LLMs to extract intricate patterns and dependencies from text, leading to a richer understanding of language semantics.

Input Encoding and Output Encoding | Transformers | Foundation of LLM

Self Attention

Delving deeper, we encounter the concept of self-attention, which lies at the core of transformer-based architectures. Self-attention allows LLMs to focus on different parts of the input sequence when processing each word.

During self-attention, LLMs assign attention weights to different words based on their relevance to the current word being processed. This dynamic attention mechanism enables LLMs to attend to crucial contextual information and disregard irrelevant or noisy input parts.

By selectively attending to relevant words, LLMs can effectively capture dependencies and extract meaningful information, enhancing their language understanding capabilities.

Neural Self Attention Mechanism

The self-attention mechanism enables transformers to consider the importance of each word in the context of the entire input sequence. Consequently, dependencies between words can be efficiently captured, regardless of distance. This capability is valuable for understanding nuanced meanings, maintaining coherence, and generating contextually relevant responses.

Layers, Encoders, and Decoders

Within the architecture of LLMs, a complex tapestry is woven with multiple layers of encoders and decoders, each playing a vital role in the language understanding and generation process. These layers form a hierarchical structure that allows LLMsto to capture the nuances and intricacies of language progressively.


At the heart of this tapestry are the encoder layers. Encoders analyze and process the input text, extracting meaningful representations that capture the essence of the language. These representations encode crucial information about the input’s semantics, syntax, and context. By analyzing the input text at multiple layers, encoders capture both local and global dependencies, enabling LLMs to comprehend the intricacies of language.

Encoders | Architecture of LLM


As the encoded information flows through the layers, it reaches the decoder components. Decoders generate coherent and contextually relevant responses based on the encoded representations. The decoders utilize the encoded data to predict the next word or create a sequence of terms that form a meaningful response. LLMs refine and improve their response generation with each decoder layer, incorporating the context and information extracted from the input text.

Decoder | Architecture of LLM

The hierarchical structure of LLMs allows them to grasp the nuances of language layer by layer. At each layer, encoders and decoders refine the understanding and generation of text, progressively capturing more complex relationships and context. The lower layers capture lower-level features,s such as word-level semantics, while higher layers capture more abstract and contextual information. This hierarchical approach enables LLMs to generate coherent, contextually appropriate, and semantically rich responses.

The layered architecture of LLMs not only allows for extracting meaning and context from input text but also enables the generation of responses beyond mere word associations. The interplay between encoders and decoders in multiple layers allows LLMs to capture the fine-grained details of language, including syntactic structures, semantic relationships, and even nuances of tone and style.

Attention at Its Core, Enabling Contextual Understanding

Language models have greatly benefited from attention mechanisms, transforming how we approach language understanding. Let’s explore the transformative role of attention mechanisms in Language Models and their contribution to contextual awareness.

The Power of Attention

Attention mechanisms in Language Models allow for a dynamic and context-aware understanding of language. Traditional language models, such as n-gram models, treat words as isolated units without considering their relationships within a sentence or document.

In contrast, attention mechanisms enable LMs to assign varying weights to different words, capturing their relevance within the given context. By focusing on essential terms and disregarding irrelevant ones, attention mechanisms help language models to understand the underlying meaning of a text more accurately.

Attention neural net

Weighted Relevance

One of the critical advantages of attention mechanisms is their ability to assign different weights to different words in a sentence. When processing a comment, the language model calculates its relevance to other words in the context by considering their semantic and syntactic relationships.

For example, in the sentence, “The cat sat on the mat,” the language model using attention mechanisms would assign higher weights to “cat” and “mat” as they are more relevant to the action of sitting. This weighted relevance allows the language model to prioritize the most salient information while ignoring irrelevant details, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of the context.

Modeling Long-Range Dependencies

Language often involves dependencies that span across multiple words or even sentences. Attention mechanisms excel at capturing these long-range dependencies, enabling LMs to connect the fabric of language seamlessly. By attending to different parts of the input sequence, language models can learn to establish meaningful relationships between words far apart in a sentence.

This capability is precious in tasks such as machine translation, where maintaining coherence and understanding the context over longer distances is crucial.

Pre-training and Finetuning: Unleashing the Power of Data

Language Models possess a unique training process that empowers them to comprehend and generate language with proficiency. This process consists of two key stages: pre-training and finetuning. We will explore the secrets behind these stages and unravel how LLMs unleash the power of data to become language masters.

Using pre-trained transformers

import torch
from transformers import TransformerModel, AdamW

# Load the pretrained Transformer model
pretrained_model_name = 'bert-base-uncased'
pretrained_model = TransformerModel.from_pretrained(pretrained_model_name)

# Example input
input_ids = torch.tensor([[1, 2, 3, 4, 5]])

# Get the output from the pretrained model
outputs = pretrained_model(input_ids)

# Access the last hidden states or pooled output
last_hidden_states = outputs.last_hidden_state
pooled_output = outputs.pooler_output


Once LLMs have acquired a general understanding of language through pre-training, they enter the finetuning stage, where they are tailored to specific tasks or domains. Finetuning involves exposing LLMs to labeled data particular to the desired job, such as sentiment analysis or question answering. This labeled data allows LLMs to adapt their pre-trained knowledge to the specific nuances and requirements of the task.

During finetuning, LLMs refine their language understanding and generation capabilities, specializing in domain-specific language patterns and contextual nuances. By training on labeled data, LLMs gain a deeper understanding of the specific task’s intricacies, enabling them to provide more accurate and contextually relevant responses.

Finetuning the Transformer

import torch
from transformers import TransformerModel, AdamW

# Load the pretrained Transformer model
pretrained_model_name = 'bert-base-uncased'
pretrained_model = TransformerModel.from_pretrained(pretrained_model_name)

# Modify the pretrained model for a specific downstream task
pretrained_model.config.num_labels = 2  # Number of labels for the task

# Example input
input_ids = torch.tensor([[1, 2, 3, 4, 5]])
labels = torch.tensor([1])

# Define the fine-tuning optimizer and loss function
optimizer = AdamW(pretrained_model.parameters(), lr=1e-5)
loss_fn = torch.nn.CrossEntropyLoss()

# Fine-tuning loop
for epoch in range(num_epochs):
    # Forward pass
    outputs = pretrained_model(input_ids)
    logits = outputs.logits
    # Compute loss
    loss = loss_fn(logits.view(-1, 2), labels.view(-1))
    # Backward pass and optimization
    # Print the loss for monitoring
    print(f"Epoch {epoch+1}/{num_epochs} - Loss: {loss.item():.4f}")

The beauty of this two-stage training process lies in its ability to leverage the power of data. Pre-training on vast amounts of unlabeled text data provides LLMs with a general understanding of language while finetuning on labeled data refines their knowledge for specific tasks. This combination enables LLMs to possess a broad knowledge base while excelling in particular domains, offering remarkable language comprehension and generation abilities.s

Advances in Modern Architecture Beyond LLMs

The recent advancements in language model architectures that go beyond traditional LLM showcase the remarkable capabilities of models such as GPT-3, T5, and BERT. We will explore how these models have pushed the boundaries of language understanding and generation, opening up new possibilities in various domains.


GPT-3, Generative Pre-trained Transformer, has emerged as a groundbreaking language model architecture, revolutionizing natural language understanding and generation. The architecture of GPT-3 is built upon the Transformer model, incorporating many parameters to achieve exceptional performance.

The Architecture of GPT-3

GPT-3 comprises a stack of Transformer encoder layers. Each layer consists of multi-head self-attention mechanisms and feed-forward neural networks. The attention mechanism allows the model to capture dependencies and relationships between words while the feed-forward networks process and transform the encoded representations. GPT-3’s key innovation lies in its enormous size, with a staggering 175 billion parameters, enabling it to capture vast language knowledge.

Architecture of GPT-3 Model

Code Implementation

You can use the OpenAI API to interact with the GPT- 3 model of openAI. Here is an illustration of how to use GPT-3 to generate text.

import openai

# Set up your OpenAI API credentials
openai.api_key = 'YOUR_API_KEY'

# Define the prompt for text generation
prompt = ""

# Make a request to GPT-3 for text generation
response = openai.Completion.create(

# Retrieve the generated text from the API response
generated_text = response.choices[0].text

# Print the generated text


Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer, or T5, represents a groundbreaking advancement in language model architectures. It takes a unified approach to various natural language processing tasks by framing them as text-to-text transformations. This approach enables a single model to handle multiple tasks, including text classification, summarization, and question-answering.

By unifying the task-specific architectures into a single model, T5 achieves impressive performance and efficiency, streamlining the model development and deployment process.

The Architecture of T5

T5 is built upon the Transformer architecture, consisting of an encoder-decoder structure. Unlike traditional models finetuned for specific tasks, T5 is trained using a multi-task objective where a diverse set of functions are cast as text-to-text transformations. During training, the model learns to map a text input to a text output, making it highly adaptable and capable of performing a wide range of NLP tasks, including text classification, summarization, translation, and more.

Architecture of T5 | Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer

Code Implementation

The transformers library, which offers a simple interface to interact with different transformer models, including T5, can use the T5 model in Python. Here is an illustration of how to use T5 to perform text-to-text tasks.

 from transformers import T5Tokenizer, T5ForConditionalGeneration

tokenizer = T5Tokenizer.from_pretrained("t5-small")
model = T5ForConditionalGeneration.from_pretrained("t5-small")

input_ids = tokenizer("translate English to German: The house is wonderful.", 
# Generate the translation using T5  
outputs = model.generate(input_ids)

# Print the generated text
print(tokenizer.decode(outputs[0], skip_special_tokens=True))


BERT, Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, introduced a revolutionary shift in language understanding. By leveraging bidirectional training, BERT captures context from both left and right contexts, enabling a deeper understanding of language semantics.

BERT has significantly improved performance in tasks such as named entity recognition, sentiment analysis, and natural language inference. Its ability to comprehend the nuances of language with fine-grained contextual understanding has made it a cornerstone in modern natural language processing.

The Architecture of BERT

BERT consists of a stack of transformer encoder layers. It leverages bidirectional training, enabling the model to capture context from both left and right contexts. This bidirectional approach provides a deeper understanding of language semantics. It also allows BERT to excel in tasks such as named entity recognition, sentiment analysis, question answering, and more. BERT also incorporates unique tokens, including [CLS] for classification and [SEP] to separate sentences or document boundaries

Architecture of BERT model

Code Implementation

The transformers library offers a simple interface to interact with various transformer models. It also includes BERT and can be used in Python. Here is an illustration of how to use BERT to perform language understanding.

from transformers import BertTokenizer, BertForSequenceClassification

# Load the BERT model and tokenizer
model = BertForSequenceClassification.from_pretrained('bert-base-uncased')
tokenizer = BertTokenizer.from_pretrained('bert-base-uncased')

# Define the input text
input_text = "Hello, my dog is cute"

# Tokenize the input text and convert into Pytorch tensor
input_ids = tokenizer.encode(input_text, add_special_tokens=True)
input_tensors = torch.tensor([input_ids])

# Make the model prediction
outputs = model(input_tensors)

# Print the predicted label
print("Predicted label:", torch.argmax(outputs[0]).item())


The inner workings of LLMs reveal a sophisticated architecture. Thus, enabling these models to comprehend and generate language with unparalleled accuracy and versatility.

Each component is crucial in language understanding and generation, from transformers and self-attention mechanisms to layered encoders and decoders. As we unravel the secrets behind LLMs’ architecture, we gain a deeper appreciation for their capabilities and potential for transforming various industries.

Key Takeaways:

  • LLMs, powered by transformers and self-attention mechanisms, have revolutionized natural language processing. Thus, enabling machines to comprehend and generate human-like text with remarkable accuracy.
  • The layered architecture of LLMs comprises encoders and decoders. This allows for extracting meaning and context from the input text, leading to generating coherent and contextually relevant responses.
  • Pre-training and finetuning are crucial stages in the training process of LLMs. Pre-training enables models to acquire general language understanding from unlabeled text data while finetuning tailors the models to specific tasks using labeled data, refining their knowledge and specialization.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are LLMs, and how do they differ from traditional language models?

A. LLMs, or Language Models based on Large-scale pre-training, are advanced models trained on vast amounts of text data. Thanks to their sophisticated architecture and training process, they differ from traditional language models in their ability to comprehend and generate text with remarkable accuracy.

Q2. What is the role of transformers in LLMs?

A. Transformers form the core of LLM architecture and enable parallel processing and capturing of complex relationships in language. They revolutionized the field of natural language processing by enhancing the models’ ability to understand and generate text.

Q3. How do self-attention mechanisms contribute to LLMs?

A. Self-attention mechanisms allow LLMs to assign varying weights to different words, capturing their relevance within the context. They enable the models to focus on relevant information and understand the contextual relationships between words.

Q4. How do LLMs benefit from pre-training and finetuning?

A. Pre-training exposes LLMs to vast amounts of unlabeled text data, allowing them to acquire general language understanding. Finetuning tailors the models to specific tasks using labeled data, refining their knowledge and specialization. This two-stage training process enhances their performance in various domains.

Q5. How do the inner workings of LLMs impact real-world applications?

A.  The inner workings of LLMs have revolutionized various industries, including natural language understanding, sentiment analysis, language translation, and more. They have opened up new possibilities for human-machine interaction, automated content generation, and improved information retrieval systems. The insights gained from understanding LLM architecture continue to drive advancements in natural language processing.

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Babina Banjara 11 Aug, 2023

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