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Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2018 Lester Hedges.

Released under the GPL.


Execute a list of system commands from a task file one-by-one. This allows many simulations to be run within a single mpirun allocation. A new task is launched whenever a process becomes available, hence ensuring 100% utilization of the cores for the duration of the wall time, or until the task file is empty, whichever occurs first. This is useful for running many short simulations on a small number of cores, or to avoid resource wastage when individual simulations have markedly different run times. The task file can be updated dynamically, allowing simulations to be added or deleted as required.

A master-worker type scenario is avoided by exploiting a file lock. This ensures that only one process has access to the task file at any given time.

The order of operations is as follows:

  • A process opens the task file and obtains an exclusive lock.
  • All tasks are read into a buffer.
  • First task is read and buffer is truncated.
  • Truncated buffer is written back to the file.
  • File is unlocked and closed (other processes can now access it).
  • Task is launched.

A Python implementation is provided in the python/ directory, although this is known to suffer from significant start up lag on clusters that don't natively support Python shared libraries on their compute nodes.


A Makefile is included for building and installing TaskFarmer. You will first need to make sure that you have Open MPI installed. If you use an alternative MPI implementation, such as aprun on the Cray Linux Environment (CLE), you will need to change the compiler variable CC in the Makefile or override the variable from the command-line (change to cc for compiling on Hopper at NERSC).

To compile TaskFarmer, then install the executable and man page:

sudo make install

TaskFarmer can be completely removed from your system as follows:

sudo make uninstall

To build TaskFarmer using a different compiler (e.g. Cray):

make CC=cc


mpirun -np CORES taskfarmer [-h] -f FILE [-v] [-w] [-r] [-s SLEEP_TIME] [-m MAX_RETRIES]

TaskFarmer supports the following short- and long-form command-line options:

-h/--help               show help message and exit
-f FILE, --file FILE    location of task file (required)
-v, --verbose           enable verbose mode (status updates to stdout)
-w, --wait-on-idle      wait for more tasks when idle
-r, --retry             retry failed tasks
-s SLEEP_TIME, --sleep-time SLEEP_TIME
                        sleep duration when idle (seconds)
-m MAX_RETRIES, --max-retries MAX_RETRIES
                        maximum number of times to retry failed tasks

It is possible to change the state of idle cores using the --wait-on-idle option. When set, a core will sleep for a specified period of time if it cannot find a task to execute. After the waiting period the process will check whether more tasks have been added to the task file. The amount of time that a process sleeps for can be changed with the --sleep-time option, the default is 300 seconds. This cycle will continue until the wall time is reached. By default wait-on-idle is deavtivated meaning that each process exits when the task file is empty.

The --retry and --max-retries options allow TaskFarmer to retry failed tasks up to a maximum number of attempts. The default number of retries is 10.


Try the following:

shuf examples/commands.txt | head -n 100 > tasks.txt | mpirun -np 4 taskfarmer -f tasks.txt

The movie below shows an example of TaskFarmer in action.

TaskFarmer in action.

A collection of example PBS and SLURM batch scripts are included in the examples/ directory.


  • System commands in the task file should redirect their standard output to a separate log file to avoid littering the standard output of TaskFarmer itself. As an example, the tasks.txt file could contain a command like

     echo "Hello, I'm a task" > job.log

    with TaskFarmer launched as follows

     mpirun -np 4 taskfarmer -f tasks.txt > tasks.log
  • The wc command-line utility is handy for checking the number of remaining tasks in a task file without the need to trawl through any of TaskFarmer's logs. For example, if task files are stored in a directory called task_files then the following command will provide a concise output showing the number of remaining tasks in each file as well as the total.

     wc -l task_files/*
  • Since tasks are read from the task file line-by-line it is possible to introduce dependencies between tasks by placing multiple tasks on a single line separated by semicolons. For example

     perform_calculation > data.txt; analyze_data < data.txt

Words of caution

  • When individual simulations are very short it is probably dangerous to modify the task file externally as it will likely conflict with TaskFarmer's I/O. The file should only be modified when all cores are active (running tasks) or in an idle state (task file is emtpy). It is recommended to modify the task file using a redirection, rather than opening it and editing directly, e.g. cat more_tasks >> tasks.txt.

  • Clusters that use InfiniBand interconnects can cause problems when using fork() in OpenMPI. A workaround can be achieved by disabling InfiniBand support for fork by setting the following (BASH style) environment variables:

export OMPI_MCA_mpi_warn_on_fork=0
export OMPI_MCA_btl_openib_want_fork_support=0
  • If you are using a BeeGFS parallel file system (formerly FhGFS) then you'll need to set the client configuration variable tuneUseGlobalFileLocks = true to enable file locking across multiple nodes. (By default file locking only works locally on individual nodes.)

  • At present, when the --retry option is set, failed tasks are only relaunched by the same process on which they failed. This is fine when task failures are caused by buggy or unstable code, but is unlikely to help when failure results from a bad core or node on a cluster.

  • Very large task files containing complex shell commands can be problematic since each process needs to be able to load the file to memory. This problem can be mitigated through judicious choice of command names (e.g. using short form options) and use of relative paths where possible.

  • For clusters that don't impose a wall time, TaskFarmer provides a way of running an infinite number of tasks. As long as the task file isn't empty tasks will continue to be launched on free cores within the allocation. Use your new power wisely!


A simple task farmer for running serial tasks with mpirun, written in C.








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