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UL HPC Tutorial: Prototyping with Python

  Copyright (c) 2017-2018 UL HPC Team <>

Python is a high-level interpreted language widely used in research. It lets you work quickly and comes with a lot of available packages which give more useful functionalities.

In this tutorial, we are going to explain the steps to run a Python script on the cluster and install a Python package as a user. We will also create a virtual environment and switch from one to the other. We will show how to use different versions of Python on a node. Finally, we will parallelize your code with Scoop and compile it in C to fasten its execution.

Examples used in this tutorial

Example 1

The first example used in this tutorial is fully inspired from PythonCExtensions. This code simply computes the mean value of an array of random numbers. The naïve code used to compute the mean of an array is:

def mean(lst):
    return sum(lst) / len(lst)

def standard_deviation(lst):
    m = mean(lst)
    variance = sum([(value - m) ** 2 for value in lst])
    return math.sqrt(variance / len(lst))

The variable will be the size of the array on which we want to compute the mean. The idea is to reduce the time used to compute this value by using libraries (numpy) or compile the code in C.

Example 2

The second example used in this tutorial comes from Scoop example computation of pi. We will use a Monte-Carlo method to compute the value of pi. As written in the Scoop documentation, it spawns two pseudo-random numbers that are fed to the hypot function which calculates the hypotenuse of its parameters. This step computes the Pythagorean equation (\sqrt{x^2+y^2}) of the given parameters to find the distance from the origin (0,0) to the randomly placed point (which X and Y values were generated from the two pseudo-random values). Then, the result is compared to one to evaluate if this point is inside or outside the unit disk. If it is inside (have a distance from the origin lesser than one), a value of one is produced (red dots in the figure), otherwise the value is zero (blue dots in the figure). The experiment is repeated tries number of times with new random values.

alt text

The variable here will be the number of workers (cores on which the script runs) compared to the time of execution.

Python usage

In this part we will simply run our Python script on the UL HPC platform, on a single node.

Get all the scripts

Clone the UL HPC python tutorial under your home directory on the Iris cluster. If you have cloned it before, simply run git pull to update it to the latest version.

(laptop)$> ssh iris-cluster
(access)$> git clone
(access)$> cd tutorials/
(access)$> git stash && git pull -r && git stash pop

All the scripts used in this tutorial can be found under tutorials/advanced/Python/.

Execute your first python script on the cluster (Example 1)

First, connect to iris-cluster and go to example 1:

(laptop)$> ssh iris-cluster
(access)$> cd tutorials/advanced/Python/example1/

To run your script interactively on the cluster, you should do:

(access)>$ si
(iris-001)$> python

You should see the output of your script directly written in your terminal. It prints the length of the array and the number of seconds it took to compute the standard deviation 10,000 times.

To run your script in a passive way, you should create a batch script to run your python script.

  • Create a file under tutorials/advanced/Python/example1/.
  • Edit it by using your favorite editor (vim, nano, emacs...)
  • Add a shebang at the beginning (#!/bin/bash)
  • Add #SBATCH parameters (see Slurm documentation)
  • 1 core
  • example1 name
  • maximum 10m walltime
  • logfile under example1.out

Now run the script using

(access)$> sbatch

Now, check that the content of example1.out corresponds to the expected output (in interactive mode).

HINT: You can find the answer under tutorials/advanced/Python/example1/answer/

Compare version of Python

You can switch between several version of Python that are already install on UL HPC iris cluster. To list the versions available, you should use this command on a compute node:

(iris-001)$> module spider Python


  • What are the versions of Python available on Iris cluster ? On Gaia cluster ?
  • Which toolchains have been used to build them ?

Here we will compare the performance of Python 2.7 and Python 3.

Here are the steps to compare 2 codes:

  • Go to tutorials/advanced/Python/example2
  • Create a batch script named
  • Edit it with your favorite editor (vim, nano, emacs...)
  • Add a shebang at the beginning (#!/bin/bash)
  • Add #SBATCH parameters
  • 1 core
  • example2 name
  • maximum 10m walltime
  • logfile under example2.out
  • Load Python version 2.7
  • Execute the script a first time with this version of Python
  • Load Python version 3
  • Execute the script a second time with this Python version.
  • Check the content of the file example2.out and identify the 2 executions and the module load.


  • What is the fastest version of Python ?
  • There are both foss and intel compiled versions of Python available on the Iris cluster. Modify your script to compare their execution time. Which is the fastest one ?


  • You can use module load command to load a specific version of Python.
  • An example of a BATCH script can be found under tutorials/advanced/Python/example2/answer/

Use a library to optimize your code

In this part we will try to use Numpy, a Python library, to optimize our code.

In tutorials/advanced/Python/example3/ you should see a version of the previous script using Numpy.

Try to execute the script on iris cluster in interactive mode.

(access)$> si
(iris-001)$> python


  • Why did the execution fail ? What is the problem ?

We need to install the numpy library. Hopefully, numpy is available as a module on iris cluster. Use the commands from example2 to:

  • Load numpy module
  • Execute your script on the node
(access)$> si
(iris-001)$> module spider numpy
(iris-001)$> module load math/numpy
(iris-001)$> python

As you can see, there is only one version of numpy available with module. If we want to use a more recent or older version of numpy, we can install it ourselves in our home directory. For that we will use the pip tool.

pip is a package manager for Python. With this tool you can manage Python packages easily: install, uninstall, list, search packages or upgrade them. If you specify the --user parameter, the package will be installed under your home directory and will be available on all the compute nodes. Let's install numpy using pip.

(access)$> si
(iris-001)$> pip install --user numpy==1.13.0
(iris-001)$> python -c "import numpy as np; print np.__version__"


  • Which execution is faster between numpy code ( and naïve code ( ?
  • Why do you think that numpy is not as powerful as intended ? Which parameter can we change to compare the performances ?

Create virtual environment to switch between several versions of a package

Here comes a very specific case. Sometimes you have to use tools which depend on a specific version of a package. You probably don't want to uninstall and reinstall the package with pip each time you want to use one tool or the other.

Virtualenv allows you to create several environments which will contain their own list of Python packages. The basic usage is to create one virtual environment per project.

In this tutorial we will create a new virtual environment for the previous code in order to install a different version of numpy and check the performances of our code with it.

First of all, install virtualenv package using pip:

(access)$> si
(iris-001)$> pip install --user virtualenv

Now you can create your environment for this project. Name it numpy12.

(iris-001)$> cd ~/tutorials/advanced/Python/example3/
(iris-001)$> virtualenv numpy12

So now you should be able to active this environment with this source command. Please notice the (numpy12) present in your prompt that indicates that the numpy12 environment is active.

(iris-001)$> source numpy12/bin/activate


  • Using pip freeze, what are the modules available before the activation of your virtual environment ?
  • What are the module available after ?
  • What version of python is used inside the virtual environment ? Where is it located ? (You can use which command.)

To exit a virtual environment run the deactivate command.

So now, we can install a different numpy version inside our virtual environment. Check that the version installed corresponds to numpy 1.12.

(iris-001)$> source numpy12/bin/activate
(numpy12)(iris-001)$> pip install numpy==1.12
(numpy12)(iris-001)$> python -c "import numpy as np; print np.__version__"
(numpy12)(iris-001)$> deactivate
(iris-001) python -c "import numpy as np; print np.__version__"

Now you can adapt your script to load the right virtualenv and compare the performance of different versions of numpy.


  • Check the size of numpy12 folder. Why is it so big ? What does it contain ?

Compile your code in C language

C language is known to be very powerful and to execute faster. It has to be compiled (typically using GCC compiler) to be executed. There exist many tools that can convert your Python code to C code to benefit from its performances (Cython, Pythran, ...).

The goal of this part is to adapt our naïve code and use the Pythran tool to convert it to C code. This code will then be imported as a standard Python module and executed.

The code can be found under tutorials/advanced/Python/example4/

  • Open the file
  • Referring to Pythran documentation, add a comment before the standard_deviation function to help pythran to convert your python function into a C one.
  • Parameter should be a list of float
  • Function name should be standard_dev
#code to insert in

#pythran export standard_dev(float list)
def standard_dev(lst):
  • Be sure to have pythran installed! If not, use pip install --user pythran command (within a job) to install it in your home directory.
  • Compile your code using pythran:
(iris-001)$> pythran -o # NEVER COMPILE ON ACCESS
(iris-001)$> python -c "import std" # this imports the newly generated module with C implementation
  • Have a look at that contains the code to
  • import your module
  • and execute the mean function from this module on a random array
  • Execute your code on a node and compare the execution time to the other one.


  • What is the fastest execution ? Why ?
  • Where can I find the code that has been generated from my Python script ?

HINT: If you run pythran -e -o std.c it will generate the C code. Have a look at the *.c files in your directory.

Overview graph of runtimes


Use Scoop to parallelize execution of your Python code with Slurm

In this part, we will use Scoop library to parallelize our Python code and execute it on iris cluster. This example uses the Monte-Carlo algorithm to compute the value of pi. Please have a look at the top of this page to check how it works.

Attention: Scoop only works with the system python and neither with modules nor virtual environments. Make sure you start with a clean environment by starting a new job.

We will first have to install the scoop library using pip:

(access)$> si
(iris-001)$> pip install --user filelock
(iris-001)$> pip install --user

Scoop comes with direct Slurm bindings. If you run your code on a single node, it will try to use the most cores that it can. If you have reserved several nodes, it will use all the nodes of your reservation and distribute work on it.

You can specify the number of cores to use with the -n option in scoop.

We will write a batch script to execute our python script. We want to compare time of execution to the number of workers used in scoop. We want to go from 1 worker (single core) to 50 workers, increasing the worker number 1 by 1. As you can see, our script takes 1 parameter x in input which corresponds to the number of workers.

The batch script should contain:

  • 50 tasks reserved
  • maximum execution time of 35m
  • name of the job should be scoop
  • a job array which goes from 1 to 56 (maximal number of core on 2 nodes)
  • a minimum number of 2 nodes reserved
  • a call to python -m scoop [...] to call the script with increasing number of cores reserved ($SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID)
  • a command to disable concurrent run of this job
  • be the only user to use those ressources to avoid conflicting with other scoop users (see --exclusive option of sbatch)
  • output file should go to scoop.log

HINT Have a look at tutorials/advanced/Python/example5/ for the batch script example

Run this script with sbatch command. Check the content of scoop.log using tail scoop.log to see if everything is going well.

When your job is over, you can use make graph command to generate the graph.


  • What is the correlation between number of workers and execution time ?
  • Use what you learned in the previous part to optimize your code!