Notes taken during the learning process

Parallel Computing

Julia introduced to me several different patterns of parallel execution. I learned from failures and unexpected performance. For example, the built-in one-sided parallel communication is very confusing and hard to use for me. I need more time and exprience.

Mechanisms for distributed computing are built into the Julia language. But to fully take advantage of it, we need much more than the built-in support, and often we need extra packages from the community.


In Julia now we have several options of utilizing the SIMD instructions in LLVM:

  • LoopVectorization.jl: focus on kernel loops, one macro for all;

  • SIMD.jl: explicit vectorization calls. Everything at programmers' hand, but may not be optimal. The concept is similar to, e.g., Agner's vectorization library in C++.


Julia provides built-in language functionality to run a program across many processes that can run locally, across a distributed network, or in a computational cluster.

  • Specify the number of required worker processes using the -p {N|auto} option on Julia startup.

    • It is important to understand that when you start N workers, then Julia will spin up N+1 processes. If I understand it correctly, the master process is independent from the work processes, but it does not need to map to an additional physical core: this is a software level isolation.

  • Check the number of workers in Julia by using the nworkers() function from the Distributed package.

  • If you want to execute some script on every worker on startup, you can do it using the -L option. When the -L option is passed, then Julia stays in command line after executing the script (as opposed to running a script normally, where we have to pass the -i option to remain in REPL).

  • You can also add processes after Julia has started using the addprocs function. addprocs does not execute the script that was specified by the -L switch on Julia startup. Typically this is used for experimenting interactively.

Check the ID numbers of the master and worker processes:

julia> using Distributed

julia> addprocs(1)

julia> Distributed.myid()


julia> workers()

1-element Array{Int64,1}:
julia> res = @spawnat 2 myid()

julia> fetch(res)

Simple function:

remote_f = function(s::Int=3)
    println("Worker $(myid()) will sleep for $s seconds")
    println("Completed worker $(myid()) - return $val")
    return val

Now, let's test the function:

julia> @fetchfrom 2 remote_f(4)

      From worker 2:    Worker 2 will sleep for 4 seconds
      From worker 2:    Completed worker 2 - return 466

Now, let's define a function that runs a remote process, waits a given time, and collects the results:

function run_timeout(timeout::Int, f::Function, params...)    
    wid = addprocs(1)[1]
    result = RemoteChannel(()->Channel{Tuple}(1));
    @spawnat wid put!(result, (f(params...), myid()))
    res = nothing    
    time_elapsed = 0.0
    while time_elapsed < timeout && !isready(result)
        time_elapsed += 0.25
    if !isready(result)
        println("Not completed! Computation at $wid will be 
        res = take!(result)
    return res

Now, let's use the run_timeout function to run the remote_f function remotely; we start by assigning an amount of time that a job can complete:

julia> run_timeout(3, remote_f, 2)

      From worker 3:    Worker 3 will sleep for 2 seconds
      From worker 3:    Completed worker 3 - return 335
(335, 3)

Then, run a job that lasts longer than an actual computation:

julia> run_timeout(3, remote_f, 10)

      From worker 4:    Worker 4 will sleep for 10 seconds
Not completed! Computation at 4 will be terminated!

We can see that this job has spawned a new process with an ID equal to 4, and this process terminated after three seconds (when the timeout was reached).

Functions must be defined on every processor that is being called:

julia> using Distributed

julia> @everywhere function myF2(); println("myF2 ", myid()); end;
julia> @spawnat workers()[end] myF2();

       From worker 3:    myF2 3

However, in the case of anonymous functions, they can be passed as parameters to the preceding macros. Still, if a function uses a method not defined on a remote process then it will fail:

julia> hello() = println("hello");
julia> @fetchfrom 2 hello()

ERROR: On worker 2:
UndefVarError: #hello not defined
julia> f_lambda = () -> hello();
julia> f_lambda()

julia> @fetchfrom 2 f_lambda()

ERROR: On worker 2:
UndefVarError: #hello not defined

The solution is, again, @everywhere.

Typically we want the number of workers to match the number of physical cores (nproc in Bash). The master process should not participate in computing.

There is a macro named @distributed which is very tempting to use for loop reductions, but use it with care. Nothing is shared from one iteration to another, and currently there is no way to control this behavior.

For more in-depth usage, checkout e.g. pmap which applys a function to each element of a collection using available workers.

Machine File On a Cluster

A typical scenario for distributed computing is running a parameter sweep over a significantly large set of computations.

We explain how to use the --machine-file Julia options to run Julia workers across many nodes. However, the computational example can also be run on a single machine using the multiprocessing mode (for example, in Julia launched with the julia -p 4 command).

In order to build a distributed cluster, we need to configure passwordless SSH. Julia uses SSH connections to spawn workers on remote nodes. For passwordless SSH, we will configure key-based authentication. In order for passwordless SSH to work, the master node needs to have the private key, while each slave node needs to have the public key in the ~/.ssh/authorized_users file.

We assume that Linux Ubuntu 18.04.1 LTS is used and the username for the computations is ubuntu. We start by creating the key. You will find the command and a sample output, as follows:

ssh-keygen -P "" -t rsa -f ~/.ssh/cluster

The next step is to edit the ~/.ssh/config file. Ensure that the following lines are present:

User ubuntu
PubKeyAuthentication yes
StrictHostKeyChecking no
IdentityFile ~/.ssh/cluster

Now, we need to add the contents of the public key to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file. Please note that the contents of ~/.ssh/ should be copied to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys on every node in the cluster:

Now, we can test our configuration on a local machine:

ssh ubuntu@localhost

Distributed multiprocessing in Julia is achieved using the --machine-file launch option of the julia command. The functionality is similar to the -p option but much more powerful since you can distribute Julia over any cluster size. Sample machinefile.txt content is presented in the following code snippet. The first number in each line provides the number of worker processes that should be started on the remote host. It is followed by an asterisk * character and the username on the remote host. In a production environment, you would provide IP addresses of the remote host rather than


The preceding options will allow you to use Julia's distributed cluster mechanism on just a single local machine. We recommend that you also try adding the IP addresses of the remote machines to the preceding file.

Once you have the machinefile.txt file ready, you can tell Julia to load it by running the following command:

julia --machine-file machinefile.txt

This will launch the Julia master process and a number of Julia slave processes, according to the definitions given in the machinefile.txt file.

If you use a High Performance Computing (HPC) system such as Cray, the passwordless SSH mechanism might not be available. However, such systems usually contain some form of cluster job management software, such as SLURM, SGE, or PBS. These job managers can be used from within Julia via the ClusterManagers.jl package.


There are supports to the SPMD through the package DistributedArray. However, currently it is not so easy to learn, and the performance is bad.

  1. To set the values of DArray, you need to first make them local. A typical way of doing this is by saying mylp = d_in[:L], and them work on the local reference mylp.

  2. The initialization of DArray requires special attention to the format. I opt for the do-block syntax, but the syntax itself needs some time to understand.


This is probably the way to go for large-scale HPC across hundreds of nodes, because it utilizes infiniband.

  1. I am still not sure about using MPI in Julia: since I can only do this in command line, does it mean that every time the code needs to be recompiled?

The answer is yes. This question reflects my misunderstanding of the underlying workflow: every Julia function and type is compiled the first time it is executed. This has nothing to do with MPI, which is a standard for inter-process communication. MPI is implemented in C, so the MPI.jl package is basically calling the C library for sending/receiving data from other processors.


Julia can be run in a multithreaded mode. This has gone through many improvements in recent versions, and may be subject to change in the future. This mode is achieved via the JULIA_NUM_THREADS system environment variable, or the -t option when opening Julia. One should perform the following steps:

  • To start Julia with the number of threads equal to the number of cores in your machine, you have to set the environment variable JULIA_NUM_THREADS first; otherwise start Julia with -p=N where N is the number of threads.

  • Check how many threads Julia is using with the Threads.nthreads() function.

As you have seen, in order to start Julia with multiple threads, you have to set the environment variable JULIA_NUM_THREADS. It is used by Julia to determine how many threads it should use. This value –- in order to have any effect –- must be set before Julia is started. This means that you can access it via the ENV["JULIA_NUM_THREADS"] option but changing it when Julia is running will not add or remove threads.

Many packages provides native threading support under the hood, for example, Tullio.jl. However, the built-in threading control is currently limited, especially for nested loops. I wish the native Julia threading can be as good as OpenMP one day.

There is also a new threading library Polyester.jl which is more restrictive but offers less overhead.

As of Julia 1.7,

  • the garbage collector is still single-threaded, which indicates that it would be better to create as few garbages as possible (i.e. as few allocations as possible);

  • there is no task migration: whichever thread creates the task is in charge of executing it. This is one of the reasons currently Julia won't benefit from hyperthreading.

Hybrid Parallelism

Based on my experiments, it is possible to combine multi-processing and multi-threading togther. Here is a simple example which can be run with julia -p 2 -t 2:

@everywhere function foo(n)
   a = zeros(10)
   Threads.@threads for i = 1:10
      a[i] = Threads.threadid()

out = pmap(foo, 1:10)

Checkout more about CPU parallel computing in Julia in ParallelJulia.