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Framework for repetitive evaluation of experiments with large sets of parameters
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A framework to easily deploy experiments on an computing cluster with mpi. ClusterWork is based on the Python Experiment Suite by Thomas Rückstiess and uses the mpi4py package together with the cloudpickle package to distribute the work.

The PlotWork extension for IPython allows for easy visualization of of experiment results during run time or after the experiment has finished using Jupyter.


  1. Creating a virtual environment with virtualenv or conda is recommended. Create and activate the environment before installing ClusterWork:
    • Create a conda environment and activate it:
    conda create -n my_env python=3
    source activate my_env
    • Or create a virtualenv environment and activate it
    virtualenv -p python3 /path/to/my_env
    source /path/to/my_env/bin/activate
  2. Clone ClusterWork and install it into the environment
    git clone
    cd cluster_work
    pip install -e .
    The -e option of pip makes the project editable, i.e., pip will only reference to the git directory and hence changes in the git will be directly available in your environment. If you install without the -e option, pip will copy the source to your python packages.
  3. Install required packages for running experiments with MPI The packages required for executing experiments via MPI need to be installed manually
    pip install mpi4py cloudpickle

Get your code on the computing cluster

Running your code on the computing cluster is now a very simple task. Currently, this requires the following three steps:

  1. Write a Python class that inherits from ClusterWork and implements at least the methods reset(self, config: dict, rep: int) and iterate(self, config: dict, rep: int, n: int).
  2. Write a simple YAML-file to configure your experiment.
  3. Adopt a shell script that starts the experiment on your cluster.

Subclassing ClusterWork

from cluster_work import ClusterWork

class MyExperiment(ClusterWork):
    # ...

    def reset(self, config=None, rep=0):
        Run code that sets up repetition rep of  your experiment.

        :param config: a dictionary with the experiment configuration
        :param rep: the repetition counter

    def iterate(self, config=None, rep=0, n=0):
        Run iteration n of repetition rep of your experiment.

        :param config: a dictionary with the experiment configuration
        :param rep: the repetition counter
        :param n: the iteration counter
        # Return results as a dictionary, for each key there will be one column in a results pandas.DataFrame.
        # The DataFrame will be stored below the path defined in the experiment config.
        return {'results': None}

# to run the experiments, you simply call run on your derived class
if __name__ == '__main__':

Restarting your experiments

ClusterWork also implement a restart functionality. Since your results are stored after each iteration, your experiment can be restarted if its execution was interrupted for some reason. To obtain this functionality, you need to implement in addition at least the method restore_state(self, config: dict, rep: int, n: int). Additionally, the method save_state(self, config: dict, rep: int, n: int) can be implemented to store additional information the needs to be loaded in the restore_state method. Finally, a flag _restore_supported must be set to True.

from cluster_work import ClusterWork

class MyExperiment(ClusterWork):
    _restore_supported = True

    # ...

    def save_state(self, config: dict, rep: int, n: int):
        # save all the necessary information for restoring the state later

    def restore_state(self, config: dict, rep: int, n: int):
        # load or reconstruct the state at repetition rep and iteration n

Default parameters

The parameters for the experiment can be defined in an YAML-file that is passed as an command-line argument. Inside the derived class, we can define default parameters as a dictionary in the _default_params field:

from cluster_work import ClusterWork

class MyExperiment(ClusterWork):
    # ...

    _default_params = {
        # ...
        'num_episodes': 100,
        'num_test_episodes': 10,
        'num_eval_episodes': 10,
        'num_steps': 30,
        'num_observations': 30,

        'optimizer_options': {
            'maxiter': 100
        # ...

    # ...

The Configuration YAML

To configure the execution of the experiment, we need to write a small YAML-file. The YAML file consists several documents which are separated by a line of ---. Optionally, the first document can be made a default by setting the key name to "DEFAULT". This default document will then form the basis for all following experiment documents. Besides the optional default document, each document represents an experiment. However, experiments can be expanded by the list or grid feature, which is explained below.

The required keys for each experiment are name, repetitions, iterations, and path. The parameters found below the key params overwrite the default parameters defined in the experiment class. Since the config dictionary that is passed to the methods of the ClusterWork subclass is the full configuration generated from the YAML-file and the default parameters, additional keys can be used.

# default document denoted by the name "DEFAULT"
name: "DEFAULT"
repetitions: 20
iterations: 5
path: "path/to/experiment/folder"

    num_episodes: 150
        maxiter: 50
# 1. experiment
name: "more_test_episodes"
    num_test_episodes: False
# 2. experiment
name: "more_steps"
    num_steps: 50

The path defines the director where the results are stored. This path can be different from the location of the experiment scripts ClusterWork will create a directory with the experiment name below this path in which it stores the specific experiment configuration (with the missing values from the default parameters and for one set of parameters from the list/grid feature, see below). In a sub-folder log, ClusterWork will store the logged output and the results for each repetition and iteration. If you want to get the path to the experiment folder or the log folder use the fields self._path, self._log_path, and self._log_path_rep.

The list feature

If the key list is given in an experiment document, the experiment will be expanded for each value in the given list. For example

# ...
name: "test_parameter_a"
    b: 5
    a: [5, 10, 20, 30]

creates four experiments, one for each value of a. It is also possible define multiple parameters below the list key:

# ...
name: "test_parameter_a_and_c"
    b: 5
    a: [5, 10, 20, 30]
    c: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

In this case the experiment is run for the four parameter combinations {a: 5, c: 1}, {a: 10, c: 2}, ..., {a: 30, c: 4}. Since the list for a is shorter than the list for c, the remaining values for c are ignored.

The grid feature

The grid feature is similar to the list feature, however instead of iterating over all lists jointly it spans a grid with all the values given. For example

# ...
name: "test_parameters_foo_and_bar"
    a: 5
    foo: [5, 10, 20, 30]
    bar: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

would run an experiment for each combination of foo and bar, in this case 4x5=20 experiments. Note that with more parameters below the grid key the number of experiments explodes exponentially.

Run the experiment

To run your experiment, you can simply execute your python script:

python YOUR_CONFIG.yml [arguments]

The following arguments are available:

  • -c, --cluster runs the experiments distributed via MPI. By default the experiments are executed sequentially in a loop.
  • -d, --delete delete old results before running your experiments.
  • -o, --overwrite overwrite results if configuration has changed.
  • -e, --experiments [EXPERIMENTS] chooses the experiments that should run, by default all experiments will run.
  • -v, --verbose shows more output
  • -p, --progress displays only the progress of running or finished experiments.
  • -P, --full_progress displays the detailed (i.e., of each repetition) progress of running or finished experiments.
  • -l, --log_level [LEVEL] displays the detailed (i.e., of each repetition) progress of running or finished experiments.

Running the Experiments with MPI

To run the experiments via MPI, simply execute the python script via mpiexec. Usually, you need to provide a hostfile to mpiexec using the option -hostfile.

mpiexec -hostfile HOSTFILE python -m mpi4py YOUR_CONFIG.yml [arguments]

The hostfile should have the following form:


For a SLURM-based cluster, this hostfile can be created by

srun hostname > hostfile.$SLURM_JOB_ID
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