Resolving the Tug-of-War: A Separation of Communication and Learning in Federated Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Junyi Li, Heng Huang


Federated learning (FL) is a promising privacy-preserving machine learning paradigm over distributed data. In this paradigm, each client trains the parameter of a model locally and the server aggregates the parameter from clients periodically. Therefore, we perform the learning and communication over the same set of parameters. However, we find that learning and communication have fundamentally divergent requirements for parameter selection, akin to two opposite teams in a tug-of-war game. To mitigate this discrepancy, we introduce FedSep, a novel two-layer federated learning framework. FedSep consists of separated communication and learning layers for each client and the two layers are connected through decode/encode operations. In particular, the decoding operation is formulated as a minimization problem. We view FedSep as a federated bilevel optimization problem and propose an efficient algorithm to solve it. Theoretically, we demonstrate that its convergence matches that of the standard FL algorithms. The separation of communication and learning in FedSep offers innovative solutions to various challenging problems in FL, such as Communication-Efficient FL and Heterogeneous-Model FL. Empirical validation shows the superior performance of FedSep over various baselines in these tasks.