Tutorial: Create a Windows Machine Learning Desktop application (C++)

Windows ML APIs can be leveraged to easily interact with machine learning models within C++ desktop (Win32) applications. Using the three steps of loading, binding, and evaluating, your application can benefit from the power of machine learning.

Load -> Bind -> Evaluate

We will be creating a somewhat simplified version of the SqueezeNet Object Detection sample, which is available on GitHub. You can download the complete sample if you want to see what it will be like when you finish.

We'll be using C++/WinRT to access the WinML APIs. See C++/WinRT for more information.

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to:

  • Load a machine learning model
  • Load an image as a VideoFrame
  • Bind the model's inputs and outputs
  • Evaluate the model and print meaningful results


Create the project

First, we will create the project in Visual Studio:

  1. Select File > New > Project to open the New Project window.
  2. In the left pane, select Installed > Visual C++ > Windows Desktop, and in the middle, select Windows Console Application (C++/WinRT).
  3. Give your project a Name and Location, then click OK.
  4. In the New Universal Windows Platform Project window, set the Target and Minimum Versions both to build 17763 or later, and click OK.
  5. Make sure the dropdown menus in the top toolbar are set to Debug and either x64 or x86 depending on your computer's architecture.
  6. Press Ctrl+F5 to run the program without debugging. A terminal should open with some "Hello world" text. Press any key to close it.

Load the model

Next, we'll load the ONNX model into our program using LearningModel.LoadFromFilePath:

  1. In pch.h (in the Header Files folder), add the following include statements (these give us access to all the APIs that we'll need):

    #include <winrt/Windows.AI.MachineLearning.h>
    #include <winrt/Windows.Foundation.Collections.h>
    #include <winrt/Windows.Graphics.Imaging.h>
    #include <winrt/Windows.Media.h>
    #include <winrt/Windows.Storage.h>
    #include <string>
    #include <fstream>
    #include <Windows.h>
  2. In main.cpp (in the Source Files folder), add the following using statements:

    using namespace Windows::AI::MachineLearning;
    using namespace Windows::Foundation::Collections;
    using namespace Windows::Graphics::Imaging;
    using namespace Windows::Media;
    using namespace Windows::Storage;
    using namespace std;
  3. Add the following variable declarations after the using statements:

    // Global variables
    hstring modelPath;
    string deviceName = "default";
    hstring imagePath;
    LearningModel model = nullptr;
    LearningModelDeviceKind deviceKind = LearningModelDeviceKind::Default;
    LearningModelSession session = nullptr;
    LearningModelBinding binding = nullptr;
    VideoFrame imageFrame = nullptr;
    string labelsFilePath;
    vector<string> labels;
  4. Add the following forward declarations after your global variables:

    // Forward declarations
    void LoadModel();
    VideoFrame LoadImageFile(hstring filePath);
    void BindModel();
    void EvaluateModel();
    void PrintResults(IVectorView<float> results);
    void LoadLabels();
  5. In main.cpp, remove the "Hello world" code (everything in the main function after init_apartment).

  6. Find the SqueezeNet.onnx file in your local clone of the Windows-Machine-Learning repo. It should be located in \Windows-Machine-Learning\SharedContent\models.

  7. Copy the file path and assign it to your modelPath variable where we defined it at the top. Remember to prefix the string with an L to make it a wide character string so that it works properly with hstring, and to escape any backslashes (\) with an extra backslash. For example:

    hstring modelPath = L"C:\\Repos\\Windows-Machine-Learning\\SharedContent\\models\\SqueezeNet.onnx";
  8. First, we'll implement the LoadModel method. Add the following method after the main method. This method loads the model and outputs how long it took:

    void LoadModel()
         // load the model
         printf("Loading modelfile '%ws' on the '%s' device\n", modelPath.c_str(), deviceName.c_str());
         DWORD ticks = GetTickCount();
         model = LearningModel::LoadFromFilePath(modelPath);
         ticks = GetTickCount() - ticks;
         printf("model file loaded in %d ticks\n", ticks);
  9. Finally, call this method from the main method:

  10. Run your program without debugging. You should see that your model loads successfully!

Load the image

Next, we'll load the image file into our program:

  1. Add the following method. This method will load the image from the given path and create a VideoFrame from it:

    VideoFrame LoadImageFile(hstring filePath)
        printf("Loading the image...\n");
        DWORD ticks = GetTickCount();
        VideoFrame inputImage = nullptr;
            // open the file
            StorageFile file = StorageFile::GetFileFromPathAsync(filePath).get();
            // get a stream on it
            auto stream = file.OpenAsync(FileAccessMode::Read).get();
            // Create the decoder from the stream
            BitmapDecoder decoder = BitmapDecoder::CreateAsync(stream).get();
            // get the bitmap
            SoftwareBitmap softwareBitmap = decoder.GetSoftwareBitmapAsync().get();
            // load a videoframe from it
            inputImage = VideoFrame::CreateWithSoftwareBitmap(softwareBitmap);
        catch (...)
            printf("failed to load the image file, make sure you are using fully qualified paths\r\n");
        ticks = GetTickCount() - ticks;
        printf("image file loaded in %d ticks\n", ticks);
        // all done
        return inputImage;
  2. Add a call to this method in the main method:

    imageFrame = LoadImageFile(imagePath);
  3. Find the media folder in your local clone of the Windows-Machine-Learning repo. It should be located at \Windows-Machine-Learning\SharedContent\media.

  4. Choose one of the images in that folder, and assign its file path to the imagePath variable where we defined it at the top. Remember to prefix it with an L to make it a wide character string, and to escape any backslashes with another backslash. For example:

    hstring imagePath = L"C:\\Repos\\Windows-Machine-Learning\\SharedContent\\media\\kitten_224.png";
  5. Run the program without debugging. You should see the image loaded successfully!

Bind the input and output

Next, we'll create a session based on the model and bind the input and output from the session using LearningModelBinding.Bind. For more information on binding, see Bind a model.

  1. Implement the BindModel method. This creates a session based on the model and device, and a binding based on that session. We then bind the inputs and outputs to variables we've created using their names. We happen to know ahead of time that the input feature is named "data_0" and the output feature is named "softmaxout_1". You can see these properties for any model by opening them in Netron, an online model visualization tool.

    void BindModel()
        printf("Binding the model...\n");
        DWORD ticks = GetTickCount();
        // now create a session and binding
        session = LearningModelSession{ model, LearningModelDevice(deviceKind) };
        binding = LearningModelBinding{ session };
        // bind the intput image
        binding.Bind(L"data_0", ImageFeatureValue::CreateFromVideoFrame(imageFrame));
        // bind the output
        vector<int64_t> shape({ 1, 1000, 1, 1 });
        binding.Bind(L"softmaxout_1", TensorFloat::Create(shape));
        ticks = GetTickCount() - ticks;
        printf("Model bound in %d ticks\n", ticks);
  2. Add a call to BindModel from the main method:

  3. Run the program without debugging. The model's inputs and outputs should be bound successfully. We're almost there!

Evaluate the model

We're now on the last step in the diagram at the beginning of this tutorial, Evaluate. We'll evaluate the model using LearningModelSession.Evaluate:

  1. Implement the EvaluateModel method. This method takes our session and evaluates it using our binding and a correlation ID. The correlation ID is something we could possibly use later to match a particular evaluation call to the output results. Again, we know ahead of time that the output's name is "softmaxout_1".

    void EvaluateModel()
        // now run the model
        printf("Running the model...\n");
        DWORD ticks = GetTickCount();
        auto results = session.Evaluate(binding, L"RunId");
        ticks = GetTickCount() - ticks;
        printf("model run took %d ticks\n", ticks);
        // get the output
        auto resultTensor = results.Outputs().Lookup(L"softmaxout_1").as<TensorFloat>();
        auto resultVector = resultTensor.GetAsVectorView();
  2. Now let's implement PrintResults. This method gets the top three probabilities for what object could be in the image, and prints them:

    void PrintResults(IVectorView<float> results)
        // load the labels
        // Find the top 3 probabilities
        vector<float> topProbabilities(3);
        vector<int> topProbabilityLabelIndexes(3);
        // SqueezeNet returns a list of 1000 options, with probabilities for each, loop through all
        for (uint32_t i = 0; i < results.Size(); i++)
            // is it one of the top 3?
            for (int j = 0; j < 3; j++)
                if (results.GetAt(i) > topProbabilities[j])
                    topProbabilityLabelIndexes[j] = i;
                    topProbabilities[j] = results.GetAt(i);
        // Display the result
        for (int i = 0; i < 3; i++)
            printf("%s with confidence of %f\n", labels[topProbabilityLabelIndexes[i]].c_str(), topProbabilities[i]);
  3. We also need to implement LoadLabels. This method opens the labels file that contains all of the different objects that the model can recognize, and parses it:

    void LoadLabels()
        // Parse labels from labels file.  We know the file's entries are already sorted in order.
        ifstream labelFile{ labelsFilePath, ifstream::in };
        if (labelFile.fail())
            printf("failed to load the %s file.  Make sure it exists in the same folder as the app\r\n", labelsFilePath.c_str());
        std::string s;
        while (std::getline(labelFile, s, ','))
            int labelValue = atoi(s.c_str());
            if (labelValue >= labels.size())
                labels.resize(labelValue + 1);
            std::getline(labelFile, s);
            labels[labelValue] = s;
  4. Locate the Labels.txt file in your local clone of the Windows-Machine-Learning repo. It should be in \Windows-Machine-Learning\Samples\SqueezeNetObjectDetection\Desktop\cpp.

  5. Assign this file path to the labelsFilePath variable where we defined it at the top. Make sure to escape any backslashes with another backslash. For example:

    string labelsFilePath = "C:\\Repos\\Windows-Machine-Learning\\Samples\\SqueezeNetObjectDetection\\Desktop\\cpp\\Labels.txt";
  6. Add a call to EvaluateModel in the main method:

  7. Run the program without debugging. It should now correctly recognize what's in the image! Here is an example of what it might output:

    Loading modelfile 'C:\Repos\Windows-Machine-Learning\SharedContent\models\SqueezeNet.onnx' on the 'default' device
    model file loaded in 250 ticks
    Loading the image...
    image file loaded in 78 ticks
    Binding the model...Model bound in 15 ticks
    Running the model...
    model run took 16 ticks
    tabby, tabby cat with confidence of 0.931461
    Egyptian cat with confidence of 0.065307
    Persian cat with confidence of 0.000193

Next steps

Hooray, you've got object detection working in a C++ desktop application! Next, you can try using command line arguments to input the model and image files rather than hardcoding them, similar to what the sample on GitHub does. You could also try running the evaluation on a different device, like the GPU, to see how the performance differs.

Play around with the other samples on GitHub and extend them however you like!

See also


Use the following resources for help with Windows ML:

  • To ask or answer technical questions about Windows ML, please use the windows-machine-learning tag on Stack Overflow.
  • To report a bug, please file an issue on our GitHub.
  • To request a feature, please head over to Windows Developer Feedback.