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This MANIFESTO describes motives, rules and recommendations for designing software and pipelines for current day biological and biomedical research.

Large scale data acquisition in research has led to fundamental challenges in (1) scaling of calculations, (2) full data integration and (3) data interaction and visualisation. We think that, because of researchers reaching out to turn-key solutions, the research community is losing sight of the importance of building software on the shoulders of giants and providing solutions in a modular, flexible and open way.

This MANIFESTO counters current trends in bioinformatics where institutes and companies are creating monolithic software solutions aimed mostly at end-users. This MANIFESTO builds on the Unix computer tradition of providing small tools that can be used in a modular and pluggable way to create efficient computational solutions where individual parts can be easily replaced. The manifesto also counters current trends in software licensing which are not truly free and open source (FOSS). We think such a MANIFESTO is necessary, even though history suggests that software created with true FOSS licenses will ultimately prevail over less open licenses, including those licenses that are for academic use only.

Small tools for bioinformatics consists of researchers, software developers, statisticians and system administrators who work on biological and biomedical data

Small tools for bioinformatics is concerned about the reinvention of the wheel across research projects and, for example, the lack of reproducible scripted solutions in sequencing pipelines.

Small tools for bioinformatics is about small collaborating tools and software solutions in the Unix tradition.

Small tools for bioinformatics creates free and open source software, shares software solutions, and encourages transparency and reproducibility of results.

Small tools for bioinformatics allows the building of modular solutions where individual tools can easily be understood, tested and replaced.

Small tools for bioinformatics is a rescue plan and forward looking central effort to bring together solutions suitable for big data analysis and create ways of having these tools interact with each other.

The following simple rules apply to anyone signing up to Small tools for bioinformatics

  • Every single tool should do the smallest possible task really well

  • Every single tool lives in its own public source code repository

  • All tools are free and open source software (FOSS) and come with a license approved by the Free Software Foundation (FSF).

  • Source code should be easy to read and understand by any competent software developer

  • Error conditions and exceptions should be descriptive and handled in a clear way

  • When possible tools should support (Unix) pipes

  • When possible tools provide a useful command line interface

  • Tools should avoid system dependencies, such as named (absolute) file paths

  • Every single tool comes with a simple build protocol, at least for Linux

  • Software installation and deployment dependencies are handled through external package management systems

The following are recommendations:

  • Use distributed revision control — and sites promoting social coding — for hosting source code, such as Github.

  • Use a Continuous Integration tool for automatic testing, such as Travis.

  • Provide a package definition for the GNU package system (GUIX).

  • All tools that match the criteria of the MANIFESTO will be part of standard bioinformatics pipelines across the world.

This MANIFESTO Small tools for bioinformatics is signed by

  1. Pjotr Prins
  2. Raoul Bonnal
  3. Francesco Strozzi
  4. Artem Tarasov
  5. Richard Smith-Unna
  6. John Prince
  7. Francisco Pina-Martins
  8. Yannick Wurm
  9. Karl Broman
  10. Vince buffalo
  11. Daniel Standage
  12. Felipe da Veiga Leprevost
  13. Matt Shirley
  14. Melissa Gymrek
  15. Kevin Murray
  16. Joep de Ligt
  17. Morris Swertz
  18. C. Titus Brown
  19. Surya Saha
  20. Josh Herr
  21. Dan MacLean
  22. Rob Davey
  23. Hugh French
  24. Qingpeng Zhang
  25. Botond Sipos
  26. George Githinji
  27. Ryan Taylor
  28. Bruno Vieira
  29. Bruno P. Kinoshita
  30. Ward Vandewege
  31. Nathan Weeks
  32. Chris Fields
  33. Ilya Sytchev
  34. Eric Talevich
  35. Daniel Swan
  36. Wibowo Arindrarto
  37. Hilmar Lapp
  38. Peter Cock
  39. Joachim Baran
  40. Konrad Förstner
  41. Paolo Di Tommaso
  42. Wim Spee
  43. Wai Yi Leung
  44. Norman Warthmann
  45. Daisie Huang
  46. Saulius Gražulis
  47. Laurent Gatto
  48. Mateusz Kuzak
  49. Daniel Mietchen
  50. Ivars Silamiķelis
  51. Scott Lohr
  52. Marco van Zwetselaar
  53. Abram Connelly
  54. Benjamin D. Lee
  55. Tommaso Leonardi
  56. Alexander Kanitz

Please clone, copy, BLOG this document. The original can be found at If you'd like to be added to this list, fork this repository and submit a pull request with your name added to the list. Also check out the wiki which contains background information and a road map.


At this point bioinformatics is thriving because of the sequencing bonanza. Arguably, bioinformatics is in a crisis because existing software engineering efforts are not really matching the requirements of big data. Not so long ago, programmers got by writing specialised (small) tools in Perl, Python, R or C. Today, bioinformatics software engineering has to deal with multi-core programming, IO bottlenecks, RAM constraints and demanding users. The overall challenge has become too large a job for the isolated student trying to write the next great all-inclusive software solution. We are increasingly depending on collaborative efforts involving researchers with a background in biology, statistics, software development and system administration. This is where the MANIFESTO kicks in - by encouraging researchers and students to come out of isolation and write small tools that can be bolted together with other tools.

Also, there is a lack of good workflow management solutions in bioinformatics pipelines, a gap that sits somewhere between generic cluster management software, such as Sun Grid Engine, on the one end, and user oriented workflow solutions, such as Galaxy, on the other. This gap has led to sequencing centres around the world creating their own scripted and often fragile pipelines, thereby reinventing the wheel and ending with a semi-optimal and hard to maintain workflow solution. This MANIFESTO calls for a collaborative effort in changing the way we write software for pipelines and making such bioinformatics software pipelines simpler, flexible, 'antifragile' and more manageable.

The MANIFESTO accentuates command line tools with a clear input/output stream supporting (Unix) pipes, which make the components of a (sequencing) pipeline. Also for web based tools and GUI programs, most of above rules and recommendations are applicable. By making software solutions self contained and modular they become pluggable and can be easily replaced by a new generation of tools. Software is software. Software should be easy to change, replace and improve. The MANIFESTO champions that philosophy.



To cite the MANIFESTO use the following BibTex or equivalent

      author        = {Pjotr Prins},
      title         = {Small tools MANIFESTO for Bioinformatics},
      month         = {Feb.},
      year          = {2014},
      doi           = "{10.5281/zenodo.11321}",
      url           = "{}",
      howpublished  = {}


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