Proposed MPIEXEC Extensions

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Proposed extensions for all MPIEXEC implementations

The following are proposed extension of the command-line options and environment variables accepted by mpiexec. These address environment variables, labeling of output, and return status, and make sense only in environments where those features exist. This is a draft for discussion only. It does describe the behavior, at least in part, of the mpd and gforker mpiexecs. That is, some of the behavior described here is already supported by one or more mpiexec programs.

To reduce the burden on both users (to know which command line options to use) and on implementers (to avoid bug reports caused by confusion over which mpiexec is in use), at least one person feels that it would be a good idea to have uniform syntax and semantics for these extensions. In particular, it would be best if an mpiexec implementation did not implement similar functionality with different syntax.

-np <num>

A synonym for the standard -n argument

-env <name> <value>

Set the environment variable <name> to <value> for the processes being run by mpiexec


Pass no environment variables (other than ones specified with other -env or -genv arguments) to the processes being run by mpiexec. By default, all environment variables are provided to each MPI process (rationale: principle of least surprise for the user).

-envlist <list>

Pass the listed environment variables (names separated by commas), with their current values, to the processes being run by mpiexec.

-genv <name> <value>

The -genv options have the same meaning as their corresponding -env version, except they apply to all executables, not just the current executable (in the case that the colon syntax is used to specify multiple execuables).


Like -envnone, but for all executables

-genvlist <list>

Like -envlist, but for all executables

-usize <n>

Specify the value returned for the value of the attribute MPI_UNIVERSE_SIZE.


Label standard out and standard error (stdout and stderr) with the rank of the process

-maxtime <n>

Set a timelimit of <n> seconds.


Provide more information on the reason each process exited if there is an abnormal exit.


Set the buffering type for stdout. Type may be none, line, or block.

Set the buffering type for stderr. Type may be none, line,

or block.

Some environment variables may be needed by the MPI or process management system to help launch the MPI processes. These variables are always present, even if the -envnone or -genvnone options are used. These environment variables may include


No other environment variables should be present if -envnone or -genvnone are set, other than ones that the operating system provides for every process.

Notes to implementors: Any other data can be communicated once a connection is established between the MPI process and the process manager. These environment variables are intended to all that connection to take place (PMI_FD and PMI_PORT) and to control debugging information before the connection is established (MPI_DEBUG). The remaining variables are present for backward compatibility. This definition matches the documentation provided for MPICH as of version 1.0.3 (see "Other Command-Line Arguments to mpiexec" in the User's Manual).

Notes to users: These environment variables may or may not be present. In particular, MPI_APPNUM and MPI_UNIVERSE_SIZE are not required. For both of these, the value of this environment variable, if used by the process manager or mpiexec, will be set by mpiexec and will override any value set by the user. In other words, you cannot use

mpiexec a.out

to run a.out with a universe size of 100.

Environment variables for mpiexec

The following environment variables are understood by some versions of mpiexec. The command line arguments have priority over these; that is, if both the environment variable and command line argument are used, the value specified by the command line argument is used.

Maximum running time in seconds. mpiexec will

terminate MPI programs that take longer than the value specified by MPIEXEC_TIMEOUT.

Set the universe size

Set the range of ports that mpiexec will use in communicating with the processes that it starts. The format of this is <low>:<high>. For example, to specify any port between 10000 and 10100, use 10000:10100.


Has the same meaning as MPIEXEC_PORT_RANGE and is used if MPIEXEC_PORT_RANGE is not set.


If this environment variable is set, output to standard output is prefixed by the rank in MPI_COMM_WORLD of the process and output to standard error is prefixed by the rank and the text (err); both are followed by an angle bracket (>). If this variable is not set, there is no prefix.


Set the prefix used for lines sent to standard output. A %d is replaced with the rank in MPI_COMM_WORLD; a %w is replaced with an indication of which MPI_COMM_WORLD in MPI jobs that involve multiple MPI_COMM_WORLDs (e.g., ones that use MPI_Comm_spawn or MPI_Comm_connect).


Like MPIEXEC_PREFIX_STDOUT, but for standard error.


Set the buffering type for stdout. Type may be NONE, LINE, or BLOCK.


Set the buffering type for stderr. Type may be NONE, LINE, or BLOCK.

Return Status

mpiexec returns the maximum of the exit status values of all of the processes created by mpiexec, with the status values defined as an unsigned int. On many systems, the status value may be a smaller integer, such as an unsigned char.

Support for Multithreaded and Multicore Applications

In multithreaded applications, it can be important to both place the processes and threads carefully (so that processor resources are available to the threads) and to communicate to the thread library how many threads should be used for thread parallelism (to avoid over-subscribing the node because there may be multiple MPI processes on the node).

A draft proposal, titled "MPIT: Requirements for a Common Runtime Environment for Multi-process, Multi-threaded Applications," has been circulated. This section describes some thoughts on support for mpiexec for achieving the same aims. Among the differences are the use of distinct environment variable names for values that may be different at each MPI process (to allow for process managers that cannot provide different values) and a clear separation between what are called "User Variables" and "Runtime Variables" in that document (where variables with the same name may have different values).


Provides information about the number of CPUs available to each MPI process. This could be a comma separated list of items of the form


where first and last are ranks (in MPI_COMM_WORLD) of processes, stride is an increment, and ncpu is the number of CPUs for each of the processes. For example,


produces this arrangement:

rank # of CPUs
0 2
1 2
2 2
3 2
4 2
5 1
6 4
7 1
8 4

The number of processors (CPUS) available to this process. If the process manager does not support providing each process with a unique value for each environment variable, then MPIT_CPUS_Rrank, where rank is the rank of the process in MPI_COMM_WORLD, may be used instead.

When processes are created with MPI_Comm_spawn or MPI_Comm_spawn_multiple, this information can be provided though the info argument to those routines. The natural info keys are the lower-case versions of the environment variables.

Another issue that applies to both multithreaded applications and to multiple processes on the same node is that of processor affinity - how are threads and processes mapped only processors? For some memory-bound applications, it can be important to bind their threads to a single processor. In other situations, particularly when load balancing is paramount, it is important not to bind threads to a single processor. To provide this one hint, we could consider


If this value is true, the MPI processes are bound to some processors. Note that this refers to the MPI process; if the MPI process is multithreaded, and the desire of the programmer is for each thread to have a processor, then the process must be bound to a set of processors (the size of the set can be determined from MPIT_CPUS).

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