Prompts

Concept

Prompting is the fundamental input that gives LLMs their expressive power. LlamaIndex uses prompts to build the index, do insertion, perform traversal during querying, and to synthesize the final answer.

LlamaIndex uses a set of default prompt templates that work well out of the box.

In addition, there are some prompts written and used specifically for chat models like gpt-3.5-turbo here.

Users may also provide their own prompt templates to further customize the behavior of the framework. The best method for customizing is copying the default prompt from the link above, and using that as the base for any modifications.

Usage Pattern

Defining a custom prompt

Defining a custom prompt is as simple as creating a format string

from llama_index.prompts import PromptTemplate

template = (
    "We have provided context information below. \n"
    "---------------------\n"
    "{context_str}"
    "\n---------------------\n"
    "Given this information, please answer the question: {query_str}\n"
)
qa_template = PromptTemplate(template)

# you can create text prompt (for completion API)
prompt = qa_template.format(context_str=..., query_str=...)

# or easily convert to message prompts (for chat API)
messages = qa_template.format_messages(context_str=..., query_str=...)

Note: you may see references to legacy prompt subclasses such as QuestionAnswerPrompt, RefinePrompt. These have been deprecated (and now are type aliases of PromptTemplate). Now you can directly specify PromptTemplate(template) to construct custom prompts. But you still have to make sure the template string contains the expected parameters (e.g. {context_str} and {query_str}) when replacing a default question answer prompt.

You can also define a template from chat messages

from llama_index.prompts import ChatPromptTemplate, ChatMessage, MessageRole

message_templates = [
    ChatMessage(content="You are an expert system.", role=MessageRole.SYSTEM),
    ChatMessage(
        content="Generate a short story about {topic}",
        role=MessageRole.USER,
    ),
]
chat_template = ChatPromptTemplate(message_templates=message_templates)

# you can create message prompts (for chat API)
messages = chat_template.format_messages(topic=...)

# or easily convert to text prompt (for completion API)
prompt = chat_template.format(topic=...)

Passing custom prompts into the pipeline

Since LlamaIndex is a multi-step pipeline, it’s important to identify the operation that you want to modify and pass in the custom prompt at the right place.

At a high-level, prompts are used in 1) index construction, and 2) query engine execution

The most commonly used prompts will be the text_qa_template and the refine_template.

  • text_qa_template - used to get an initial answer to a query using retrieved nodes

  • refine_tempalate - used when the retrieved text does not fit into a single LLM call with response_mode="compact" (the default), or when more than one node is retrieved using response_mode="refine". The answer from the first query is inserted as an existing_answer, and the LLM must update or repeat the existing answer based on the new context.

Modify prompts used in index construction

Different indices use different types of prompts during construction (some don’t use prompts at all). For instance, TreeIndex uses a summary prompt to hierarchically summarize the nodes, and KeywordTableIndex uses a keyword extract prompt to extract keywords.

There are two equivalent ways to override the prompts:

  1. via the default nodes constructor

index = TreeIndex(nodes, summary_template=<custom_prompt>)
  1. via the documents constructor.

index = TreeIndex.from_documents(docs, summary_template=<custom_prompt>)

For more details on which index uses which prompts, please visit Index class references.

Modify prompts used in query engine

More commonly, prompts are used at query-time (i.e. for executing a query against an index and synthesizing the final response).

There are also two equivalent ways to override the prompts:

  1. via the high-level API

query_engine = index.as_query_engine(
    text_qa_template=<custom_qa_prompt>,
    refine_template=<custom_refine_prompt>
)
  1. via the low-level composition API

retriever = index.as_retriever()
synth = get_response_synthesizer(
    text_qa_template=<custom_qa_prompt>,
    refine_template=<custom_refine_prompt>
)
query_engine = RetrieverQueryEngine(retriever, response_synthesizer)

The two approaches above are equivalent, where 1 is essentially syntactic sugar for 2 and hides away the underlying complexity. You might want to use 1 to quickly modify some common parameters, and use 2 to have more granular control.

For more details on which classes use which prompts, please visit Query class references.

Check out the reference documentation for a full set of all prompts.