Simulating MPI Applications


This document is still in early stage. You can try to take this tutorial, but should not be surprised if things fall short. It will be completed for the next release, v3.22, released by the end of 2018.

Discover SMPI

SimGrid can not only simulate algorithms, but it can also be used to execute real MPI applications on top of virtual, simulated platforms with the SMPI module. Even complex C/C++/F77/F90 applications should run out of the box in this environment. In fact, almost all proxy apps provided by the ExaScale Project only require minor modifications to run on top of SMPI.

This setting permits to debug your MPI applications in a perfectly reproducible setup, with no Heisenbugs. Enjoy the full Clairevoyance provided by the simulator while running what-if analysis on platforms that are still to be built! Several production-grade MPI applications use SimGrid for their integration and performance testing.

MPI 2.2 is already partially covered: over 160 primitives are supported. Some parts of the standard are still missing: MPI-IO, MPI3 collectives, spawning ranks, and some others. If one of the functions you use is still missing, please drop us an email. We may find the time to implement it for you.

Multi-threading support is very limited in SMPI. Only funneled applications are supported: at most one thread per rank can issue any MPI calls. For better timing predictions, your application should even be completely mono-threaded. Using OpenMP (or pthreads directly) may greatly decrease SimGrid predictive power. That may still be OK if you only plan to debug your application in a reproducible setup, without any performance-related analysis.

How does it work?

In SMPI, communications are simulated while computations are emulated. This means that while computations occur as they would in the real systems, communication calls are intercepted and achived by the simulator.

To start using SMPI, you just need to compile your application with smpicc instead of mpicc, or with smpiff instead of mpiff, or with smpicxx instead of mpicxx. Then, the only difference between the classical mpirun and the new smpirun is that it requires a new parameter -platform with a file describing the simulated platform on which your application shall run.

Internally, all ranks of your application are executed as threads of a single unix process. That’s not a problem if your application has global variables, because smpirun loads one application instance per MPI rank as if it was another dynamic library. Then, MPI communication calls are implemented using SimGrid: data is exchanged through memory copy, while the simulator’s performance models are used to predict the time taken by each communications. Any computations occuring between two MPI calls are benchmarked, and the corresponding time is reported into the simulator.


Describing Your Platform

As a SMPI user, you are supposed to provide a description of your simulated platform, that is mostly a set of simulated hosts and network links with some performance characteristics. SimGrid provides a plenty of documentation and examples (in the examples/platforms source directory), and this section only shows a small set of introductory examples.

Feel free to skip this section if you want to jump right away to usage examples.

Simple Example with 3 hosts

At the most basic level, you can describe your simulated platform as a graph of hosts and network links. For instance:

<?xml version='1.0'?>
<!DOCTYPE platform SYSTEM "">
<platform version="4.1">
  <zone id="AS0" routing="Full">
    <host id="host0" speed="1Gf"/>
    <host id="host1" speed="2Gf"/>
    <host id="host2" speed="40Gf"/>
    <link id="link0" bandwidth="125MBps" latency="100us"/>
    <link id="link1" bandwidth="50MBps" latency="150us"/>
    <link id="link2" bandwidth="250MBps" latency="50us"/>
    <route src="host0" dst="host1"><link_ctn id="link0"/><link_ctn id="link1"/></route>
    <route src="host1" dst="host2"><link_ctn id="link1"/><link_ctn id="link2"/></route>
    <route src="host0" dst="host2"><link_ctn id="link0"/><link_ctn id="link2"/></route>

Note the way in which hosts, links, and routes are defined in this XML. All hosts are defined with a speed (in Gflops), and links with a latency (in us) and bandwidth (in MBytes per second). Other units are possible and written as expected. Routes specify the list of links encountered from one route to another. Routes are symmetrical by default.

Cluster with a Crossbar

A very common parallel computing platform is a homogeneous cluster in which hosts are interconnected via a crossbar switch with as many ports as hosts, so that any disjoint pairs of hosts can communicate concurrently at full speed. For instance:

<?xml version='1.0'?>
<!DOCTYPE platform SYSTEM "">
<platform version="4.1">
  <zone id="world" routing="Full">
    <cluster id="cluster-crossbar" 
             prefix="node-" radical="0-65536" suffix=""
	     speed="1Gf" bw="125MBps" lat="50us"/>

One specifies a name prefix and suffix for each host, and then give an integer range. In the example the cluster contains 65535 hosts (!), named to All hosts have the same power (1 Gflop/sec) and are connected to the switch via links with same bandwidth (125 MBytes/sec) and latency (50 microseconds).


Add the picture.

Cluster with a Shared Backbone

Another popular model for a parallel platform is that of a set of homogeneous hosts connected to a shared communication medium, a backbone, with some finite bandwidth capacity and on which communicating host pairs can experience contention. For instance:

<?xml version='1.0'?>
<!DOCTYPE platform SYSTEM "">
<platform version="4.1">
  <cluster id="cluster0" prefix="node-" radical="0-99" suffix=""
	   speed="1Gf" bw="125MBps" lat="50us"
           bb_bw="2.25GBps"  bb_lat="500us"/>

The only differences with the crossbar cluster above are the bb_bw and bb_lat attributes that specify the backbone characteristics (here, a 500 microseconds latency and a 2.25 GByte/sec bandwidth). This link is used for every communication within the cluster. The route from to counts 3 links: the private link of, the backbone and the private link of


Add the picture.

Torus Cluster

Many HPC facilities use torus clusters to reduce sharing and performance loss on concurrent internal communications. Modeling this in SimGrid is very easy. Simply add a topology="TORUS" attribute to your cluster. Configure it with the topo_parameters="X,Y,Z" attribute, where X, Y and Z are the dimension of your torus.

<?xml version='1.0'?>
<!DOCTYPE platform SYSTEM "">
<platform version="4.1">
  <zone id="world" routing="Full">
    <cluster id="bob_cluster" topology="TORUS" topo_parameters="3,2,2"
	     prefix="node-" radical="0-11" suffix=""
	     speed="1Gf" bw="125MBps" lat="50us"
	     loopback_bw="100MBps" loopback_lat="0"/>

Note that in this example, we used loopback_bw and loopback_lat to specify the characteristics of the loopback link of each node (i.e., the link allowing each node to communicate with itself). We could have done so in previous example too. When no loopback is given, the communication from a node to itself is handled as if it were two distinct nodes: it goes twice through the private link and through the backbone (if any).

Fat-Tree Cluster

This topology was introduced to reduce the amount of links in the cluster (and thus reduce its price) while maintaining a high bisection bandwidth and a relatively low diameter. To model this in SimGrid, pass a topology="FAT_TREE" attribute to your cluster. The topo_parameters=#levels;#downlinks;#uplinks;link count follows the semantic introduced in the Figure 1B of this article.

Here is the meaning of this example: 2 ; 4,4 ; 1,2 ; 1,2

  • That’s a two-level cluster (thus the initial 2).
  • Routers are connected to 4 elements below them, regardless of its level. Thus the 4,4 component that is used as #downlinks. This means that the hosts are grouped by 4 on a given router, and that there is 4 level-1 routers (in the middle of the figure).
  • Hosts are connected to only 1 router above them, while these routers are connected to 2 routers above them (thus the 1,2 used as #uplink).
  • Hosts have only one link to their router while every path between a level-1 routers and level-2 routers use 2 parallel links. Thus the 1,2 that is used as link count.
<?xml version='1.0'?>
<!DOCTYPE platform SYSTEM "">
<platform version="4.1">
  <zone id="world" routing="Full">
    <cluster id="bob_cluster"
	     prefix="node-" radical="0-15" suffix=""
	     speed="1Gf" bw="125MBps" lat="50us" 
             topology="FAT_TREE" topo_parameters="2;4,4;1,2;1,2"
	     loopback_bw="100MBps" loopback_lat="0" />

Dragonfly Cluster

This topology was introduced to further reduce the amount of links while maintaining a high bandwidth for local communications. To model this in SimGrid, pass a topology="DRAGONFLY" attribute to your cluster. It’s based on the implementation of the topology used on Cray XC systems, described in paper Cray Cascade: A scalable HPC system based on a Dragonfly network.

System description follows the format topo_parameters=#groups;#chassis;#routers;#nodes For example, 3,4 ; 3,2 ; 3,1 ; 2:

  • 3,4: There are 3 groups with 4 links between each (blue level). Links to nth group are attached to the nth router of the group on our implementation.
  • 3,2: In each group, there are 3 chassis with 2 links between each nth router of each group (black level)
  • 3,1: In each chassis, 3 routers are connected together with a single link (green level)
  • 2: Each router has two nodes attached (single link)
<?xml version='1.0'?>
<!DOCTYPE platform SYSTEM "">
<platform version="4.1">
  <zone id="world" routing="Full">
    <cluster id="bob_cluster" topology="DRAGONFLY" topo_parameters="3,4;4,3;5,1;2"
             prefix="node-" radical="0-119" suffix=""
	     speed="1Gf" bw="125MBps" lat="50us"
             loopback_bw="100MBps" loopback_lat="0" limiter_link="150MBps"/>

Final Word

We only glanced over the abilities offered by SimGrid to describe the platform topology. Other networking zones model non-HPC platforms (such as wide area networks, ISP network comprising set-top boxes, or even your own routing schema). You can interconnect several networking zones in your platform to form a tree of zones, that is both a time- and memory-efficient representation of distributed platforms. Please head to the dedicated documentation for more information.


It is time to start using SMPI yourself. For that, you first need to install it somehow, and then you will need a MPI application to play with.

Using Docker

The easiest way to take the tutorial is to use the dedicated Docker image. Once you installed Docker itself, simply do the following:

docker pull simgrid/tuto-smpi
docker run -it --rm --name simgrid --volume ~/smpi-tutorial:/source/tutorial simgrid/tuto-smpi bash

This will start a new container with all you need to take this tutorial, and create a smpi-tutorial directory in your home on your host machine that will be visible as /source/tutorial within the container. You can then edit the files you want with your favorite editor in ~/smpi-tutorial, and compile them within the container to enjoy the provided dependencies.


Any change to the container out of /source/tutorial will be lost when you log out of the container, so don’t edit the other files!

All needed dependencies are already installed in this container (SimGrid, the C/C++/Fortran compilers, make, pajeng and R). Vite being only optional in this tutorial, it is not installed to reduce the image size.

The container also include the example platform files from the previous section as well as the source code of the NAS Parallel Benchmarks. These files are available under /source/simgrid-template-smpi in the image. You should copy it to your working directory when you first log in:

cp -r /source/simgrid-template-smpi/* /source/tutorial
cd /source/tutorial

Using your Computer Natively

To take the tutorial on your machine, you first need to install SimGrid, the C/C++/Fortran compilers and also pajeng to visualize the traces. You may want to install Vite to get a first glance at the traces. The provided code template requires make to compile. On Debian and Ubuntu for example, you can get them as follows:

sudo apt install simgrid pajeng make gcc g++ gfortran vite

To take this tutorial, you will also need the platform files from the previous section as well as the source code of the NAS Parallel Benchmarks. Just clone this repository to get them all:

git clone
cd simgrid-template-smpi/

If you struggle with the compilation, then you should double check your SimGrid installation. On need, please refer to the Troubleshooting your Project Setup section.

Lab 0: Hello World

It is time to simulate your first MPI program. Use the simplistic example roundtrip.c that comes with the template.

#include <mpi.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

#define N (1024 * 1024 * 1)

int main(int argc, char* argv[])
  int size, rank;
  struct timeval start, end;
  char hostname[256];
  int hostname_len;

  MPI_Init(&argc, &argv);

  MPI_Comm_rank(MPI_COMM_WORLD, &rank);
  MPI_Comm_size(MPI_COMM_WORLD, &size);
  MPI_Get_processor_name(hostname, &hostname_len);

  // Allocate a 1 MiB buffer
  char* buffer = malloc(sizeof(char) * N);

  // Communicate along the ring
  if (rank == 0) {
    gettimeofday(&start, NULL);
    printf("Rank %d (running on '%s'): sending the message rank %d\n", rank, hostname, 1);
    MPI_Send(buffer, N, MPI_BYTE, 1, 1, MPI_COMM_WORLD);
    MPI_Recv(buffer, N, MPI_BYTE, size - 1, 1, MPI_COMM_WORLD, MPI_STATUS_IGNORE);
    printf("Rank %d (running on '%s'): received the message from rank %d\n", rank, hostname, size - 1);
    gettimeofday(&end, NULL);
    printf("%f\n", (end.tv_sec * 1000000.0 + end.tv_usec - start.tv_sec * 1000000.0 - start.tv_usec) / 1000000.0);

  } else {
    MPI_Recv(buffer, N, MPI_BYTE, rank - 1, 1, MPI_COMM_WORLD, MPI_STATUS_IGNORE);
    printf("Rank %d (running on '%s'): receive the message and sending it to rank %d\n", rank, hostname,
           (rank + 1) % size);
    MPI_Send(buffer, N, MPI_BYTE, (rank + 1) % size, 1, MPI_COMM_WORLD);

  return 0;

Compiling and Executing

Compiling the program is straightforward (double check your SimGrid installation if you get an error message):

$ smpicc -O3 roundtrip.c -o roundtrip

Once compiled, you can simulate the execution of this program on 16 nodes from the cluster_crossbar.xml platform as follows:

$ smpirun -np 16 -platform cluster_crossbar.xml -hostfile cluster_hostfile ./roundtrip
  • The -np 16 option, just like in regular MPI, specifies the number of MPI processes to use.
  • The -hostfile cluster_hostfile option, just like in regular MPI, specifies the host file. If you omit this option, smpirun will deploy the application on the first machines of your platform.
  • The -platform cluster_crossbar.xml option, which doesn’t exist in regular MPI, specifies the platform configuration to be simulated.
  • At the end of the line, one finds the executable name and command-line arguments (if any – roundtrip does not expect any arguments).

Feel free to tweak the content of the XML platform file and the program to see the effect on the simulated execution time. It may be easier to compare the executions with the extra option --cfg=smpi/display_timing:yes. Note that the simulation accounts for realistic network protocol effects and MPI implementation effects. As a result, you may see “unexpected behavior” like in the real world (e.g., sending a message 1 byte larger may lead to significant higher execution time).

Lab 1: Visualizing LU

We will now simulate a larger application: the LU benchmark of the NAS suite. The version provided in the code template was modified to compile with SMPI instead of the regular MPI. Compare the difference between the original config/make.def.template and the config/make.def that was adapted to SMPI. We use smpiff and smpicc as compilers, and don’t pass any additional library.

Now compile and execute the LU benchmark, class S (i.e., for small data size) with 4 nodes.

$ make lu NPROCS=4 CLASS=S
(compilation logs)
$ smpirun -np 4 -platform ../cluster_backbone.xml bin/lu.S.4
(execution logs)

To get a better understanding of what is going on, activate the vizualization tracing, and convert the produced trace for later use:

smpirun -np 4 -platform ../cluster_backbone.xml -trace --cfg=tracing/filename:lu.S.4.trace bin/lu.S.4
pj_dump --ignore-incomplete-links lu.S.4.trace | grep State > lu.S.4.state.csv

You can then produce a Gantt Chart with the following R chunk. You can either copy/paste it in a R session, or turn it into a Rscript executable to run it again and again.


# Read the data
df_state = read.csv("lu.S.4.state.csv", header=F, strip.white=T)
names(df_state) = c("Type", "Rank", "Container", "Start", "End", "Duration", "Level", "State");
df_state = df_state[!(names(df_state) %in% c("Type","Container","Level"))]
df_state$Rank = as.numeric(gsub("rank-","",df_state$Rank))

# Draw the Gantt Chart
gc = ggplot(data=df_state) + geom_rect(aes(xmin=Start, xmax=End, ymin=Rank, ymax=Rank+1,fill=State))

# Produce the output

This produces a file called Rplots.pdf with the following content. You can find more visualization examples online.


Lab 2: Tracing and Replay of LU

Now compile and execute the LU benchmark, class A, with 32 nodes.

$ make lu NPROCS=32 CLASS=A

This takes several minutes to to simulate, because all code from all processes has to be really executed, and everything is serialized.

SMPI provides several methods to speed things up. One of them is to capture a time independent trace of the running application, and replay it on a different platform with the same amount of nodes. The replay is much faster than live simulation, as the computations are skipped (the application must be network-dependent for this to work).

You can even generate the trace during as live simulation, as follows:

$ smpirun -trace-ti --cfg=tracing/filename:LU.A.32 -np 32 -platform ../cluster_backbone.xml bin/lu.A.32

The produced trace is composed of a file LU.A.32 and a folder LU.A.32_files. To replay this with SMPI, you need to first compile the provided smpi_replay.cpp file, that comes from simgrid/examples/smpi/replay.

$ smpicxx ../replay.cpp -O3 -o ../smpi_replay

Afterward, you can replay your trace in SMPI as follows:

$ smpirun -np 32 -platform ../cluster_torus.xml -ext smpi_replay ../smpi_replay LU.A.32

All the outputs are gone, as the application is not really simulated here. Its trace is simply replayed. But if you visualize the live simulation and the replay, you will see that the behavior is unchanged. The simulation does not run much faster on this very example, but this becomes very interesting when your application is computationally hungry.


smpi_replay should be installed by SimGrid, and smpirun interface could be simplified here.

Lab 3: Execution Sampling on EP

The second method to speed up simulations is to sample the computation parts in the code. This means that the person doing the simulation needs to know the application and identify parts that are compute intensive and take time, while being regular enough not to ruin simulation accuracy. Furthermore there should not be any MPI calls inside such parts of the code.

Use the EP benchmark, class B, 16 processes.


write this section, and the following ones.

Further Readings

You may also be interested in the SMPI reference article or these introductory slides. The SMPI reference documentation covers much more content than this short tutorial.

Finally, we regularly use SimGrid in our teachings on MPI. This way, our student can experiment with platforms that they do not have access to, and the associated visualisation tools helps them to understand their work. The whole material is available online, in a separate project: the SMPI CourseWare.