Using Chapel on Cray Systems

The following information is assembled to help Chapel users get up and running on Cray® systems including the Cray XC™, XE™, XK™, CS™, and Shasta™ series systems.

Support has been added for the Cray XC50™ system with ARM processors. This works the same as other Cray XC™ systems in the instructions below, except that there is no Intel compiler.

Getting Started with Chapel on Cray X-Series Systems

Chapel is available as a module for Cray X-series systems. When it is installed on your system, you do not need to build Chapel from the source release (though you can). To use Chapel with the default settings and confirm it is correctly installed, do the following:

  1. Load the Chapel module:

    module load chapel
  2. Compile an example program using:

    chpl -o hello6-taskpar-dist $CHPL_HOME/examples/hello6-taskpar-dist.chpl
  3. Execute the resulting executable (on four locales):

    ./hello6-taskpar-dist -nl 4

This may be all that is necessary to use Chapel on a Cray X-Series system. If the installation setup by your system administrator deviates from the default settings, or you are interested in other configuration options, see Using Chapel on a Cray System below. If instead you wish to build Chapel from source, continue on to Building Chapel for a Cray System from Source just below.

For information on obtaining and installing the Chapel module please contact your system administrator.

Getting Started with Chapel on Cray Shasta Systems

Chapel is available as a module for Cray Shasta systems. It should be installed on your system already. If it is not, contact your system administrator for information on obtaining and installing the Chapel module.

To use Chapel with the default settings and confirm it is correctly installed, do the following:

  1. Load the Chapel module:

    module load chapel

    Note that a side effect of loading the chapel module is that these other modules will either be loaded or swapped to, as needed:


    And this module will be unloaded, if it is loaded:

  2. Compile an example program like this:

    chpl -o hello6-taskpar-dist $CHPL_HOME/examples/hello6-taskpar-dist.chpl
  3. Execute the resulting executable on 2 locales:

    ./hello6-taskpar-dist -nl 2

Currently the number of Chapel configurations available on Shasta systems is quite limited. Only the following have been built into the module:

CHPL_TARGET_COMPILER: cray-prgenv-gnu
CHPL_TARGET_CPU: sandybridge
CHPL_COMM: none, ofi
CHPL_TASKS: qthreads
CHPL_TIMERS: generic
CHPL_MEM: jemalloc
CHPL_GMP: none

You may be able to build Chapel from source on a Shasta system if you do not have a module already. Generally you should be able to follow the instructions below for building from source, but be advised that so far only the above configurations have been built. Also, you’ll probably find that the module settings shown in 1) above will be required during the build.

Getting Started with Chapel on Cray CS Systems

On Cray CS systems, Chapel is not currently available as a module due to the wide diversity of software packages that Cray CS customers may choose to install on their system. For this reason, Chapel must be built from source on Cray CS systems using the Building Chapel for a Cray System from Source instructions just below.

Building Chapel for a Cray System from Source

  1. If using a XC, XE, or XK system, continue to step 2. If using a CS series system, set CHPL_HOST_PLATFORM to cray-cs.

    For example:

    export CHPL_HOST_PLATFORM=cray-cs

    These are the supported systems and strings. Note that these values are used by default when building on the given systems. They can also be set manually. Also note that the cray-xe configuration covers Cray XK systems as well as Cray XE systems.

    CS series cray-cs
    XC series cray-xc
    XE series cray-xe
    XK series cray-xe
  2. Optionally, set the CHPL_LAUNCHER environment variable to indicate how Chapel should launch jobs on your system:

    On a Cray CS system, to… set CHPL_LAUNCHER to…
    …run jobs interactively on your system gasnetrun_ibv
    …queue jobs using PBSPro (qsub) pbs-gasnetrun_ibv
    …queue jobs using SLURM (sbatch) slurm-gasnetrun_ibv
    On a Cray X-series system, to… set CHPL_LAUNCHER to…
    …run jobs interactively on your system aprun
    …queue jobs using PBS (qsub) pbs-aprun
    …queue jobs using SLURM (sbatch) slurm-srun

    You can also set CHPL_LAUNCHER to none if you prefer to manually manage all queuing and job launch commands yourself.

    On Cray CS systems, CHPL_LAUNCHER defaults to gasnetrun_ibv.

    On Cray X-Series systems, CHPL_LAUNCHER defaults to aprun if aprun is in your path, slurm-srun if srun is in your path and none otherwise.

    For more information on Chapel’s launcher capabilities and options, refer to Chapel Launchers.

  3. Select the target compiler that Chapel should use when compiling code for the compute node:

    On a Cray CS series system, set the CHPL_TARGET_COMPILER environment variable to indicate which compiler to use (and make sure that the compiler is in your path).

    To request… set CHPL_TARGET_COMPILER to…
    …the GNU compiler (gcc) gnu (default)
    …the Intel compiler (icc) intel

    On a Cray X-series system, ensure that you have one of the following Programming Environment modules loaded to specify your target compiler:

    PrgEnv-allinea (ARM only)
  4. Make sure you’re in the top-level chapel/ directory and make/re-make the compiler and runtime:


    Note that a single Chapel installation can support multiple configurations simultaneously and that you can switch between them simply by changing any of the above settings. However, each configuration must be built separately. Thus, you can change any of the settings in the steps before this, and then re-run this step in order to create additional installations. Thereafter, you can switch between any of these configurations without rebuilding.

Using Chapel on a Cray System

  1. If you are working from a Chapel module:

    1. Load the module using module load chapel
    2. Optionally select a launcher, as in step 2 above
    3. Select a target compiler, as in step 3 above

    If you are working from a source installation:

    1. Set your host platform as in step 1 above
    2. Optionally select a launcher, as in step 2 above
    3. Select a target compiler, as in step 3 above
    4. Set CHPL_HOME and your paths by invoking the appropriate util/setchplenv script for your shell. For example:
    source util/setchplenv.bash
  2. Compile your Chapel program. For example:

    chpl -o hello6-taskpar-dist $CHPL_HOME/examples/hello6-taskpar-dist.chpl

    See Compiling Chapel Programs or man chpl for further details.

  3. If CHPL_LAUNCHER is set to anything other than none, when you compile a Chapel program for your Cray system, you will see two binaries (e.g., hello6-taskpar-dist and hello6-taskpar-dist_real). The first binary contains code to launch the Chapel program onto the compute nodes, as specified by your CHPL_LAUNCHER setting. The second contains the program code itself; it is not intended to be executed directly from the shell prompt.

    You can use the -v flag to see the commands used by the launcher binary to start your program.

    If CHPL_LAUNCHER is pbs-aprun or pbs-gasnetrun_ibv:

    1. You can optionally specify a queue name using the environment variable CHPL_LAUNCHER_QUEUE. For example:

      export CHPL_LAUNCHER_QUEUE=batch

      If this variable is left unset, no queue name will be specified. Alternatively, you can set the queue name on your Chapel program command line using the --queue flag.

    2. You can also optionally set a wall clock time limit for the job using CHPL_LAUNCHER_WALLTIME. For example to specify a 10-minute time limit, use:

      export CHPL_LAUNCHER_WALLTIME=00:10:00

      Alternatively, you can set the wall clock time limit on your Chapel program command line using the --walltime flag.

    For further information about launchers, please refer to Chapel Launchers.

  4. Execute your Chapel program. Multi-locale executions require the number of locales (compute nodes) to be specified on the command line. For example:

    ./hello6-taskpar-dist -nl 2

    Requests the program to be executed using two locales.

  5. If your Cray system has compute nodes with varying numbers of cores, you can request nodes with at least a certain number of cores using the variable CHPL_LAUNCHER_CORES_PER_LOCALE. For example, on a Cray system in which some compute nodes have 24 or more cores per compute node, you could request nodes with at least 24 cores using:


    This variable may be needed when you are using the aprun launcher and running Chapel programs within batch jobs you are managing yourself. The aprun launcher currently creates aprun commands that request the maximum number of cores per locale found on any locale in the system, irrespective of the fact that the batch job may have a lower limit than that on the number of cores per locale. If the batch job limit is less than the maximum number of cores per locale, you will get the following error message when you try to run a Chapel program:

    apsched: claim exceeds reservation's CPUs

    You can work around this by setting CHPL_LAUNCHER_CORES_PER_LOCALE to the same or lesser value as the number of cores per locale specified for the batch job (for example, the mppdepth resource for the PBS qsub command). In the future we hope to achieve better integration between Chapel launchers and workload managers.

  6. If your Cray system has compute nodes with varying numbers of CPUs per compute unit, you can request nodes with a certain number of CPUs per compute unit using the variable CHPL_LAUNCHER_CPUS_PER_CU. For example, on a Cray XC series system with some nodes having at least 2 CPUs per compute unit, to request running on those nodes you would use:


    Currently, the only legal values for CHPL_LAUNCHER_CPUS_PER_CU are 0 (the default), 1, and 2.

For more information on… see…
…CHPL_* environment settings Setting up Your Environment for Chapel
…Compiling Chapel programs Compiling Chapel Programs
…Launcher options Chapel Launchers
…Executing Chapel programs Executing Chapel Programs
…Running multi-locale Chapel programs Multilocale Chapel Execution

Cray File Systems and Chapel execution

For best results, it is recommended that you execute your Chapel program by placing the binaries on a file system shared between the login node and compute nodes (typically Lustre), as this will provide the greatest degree of transparency when executing your program. In some cases, running a Chapel program from a non-shared file system will make it impossible to launch onto the compute nodes. In other cases, the launch will succeed, but any files read or written by the Chapel program will be opened relative to the compute node’s file system rather than the login node’s.

Special Notes for Cray XC, XE, and XK Series Systems

Native ugni Communication Layer

The Multilocale Chapel Execution page describes the runtime communication layer implementations that can be used by Chapel programs. In addition to the standard ones, Chapel supports a Cray-specific ugni communication layer. The ugni communication layer interacts with the system’s network interface very closely through a lightweight interface called uGNI (user Generic Network Interface). On Cray XC, XK, and XE systems the ugni communication layer is the default.

Using the ugni Communications Layer

To use ugni communications:

  1. Leave your CHPL_COMM environment variable unset or set it to ugni:

    export CHPL_COMM=ugni

    This specifies that you wish to use the Cray-specific communication layer.

  2. (Optional) Load an appropriate craype-hugepages module. For example:

    module load craype-hugepages16M

    The ugni communication layer can be used with or without so-called hugepages. Performance for remote variable references is much better when hugepages are used. The only downside of using hugepages is that the tasking layer may not be able to detect task stack overflows by means of guard pages (see below).

    To use hugepages, you must have a craype-hugepages module loaded both when building your program and when running it. There are several hugepage modules, with suffixes indicating the page size they support. For example, craype-hugepages16M supports 16 MiB hugepages. It does not matter which craype-hugepages module you have loaded when you build your program. Any of them will do. Which one you have loaded when you run a program does matter, however. For general use, the Chapel group recommends the craype-hugepages16M module. You can read on for more information about hugepage modules if you would like, but the recommended craype-hugepages16M module will probably give you satisfactory results.

    The Cray network interface chips (NICs) can only address memory that has been registered with them, and there are some caveats with respect to this memory registration. On Cray XE and XK systems, the Gemini(TM) NIC can register no more than 16k (2**14) pages of memory. There you should use a hugepage module whose pages are large enough that 16k of them will span your program’s per-node memory requirement or, if that is not known, the compute node memory size. For example, to cover a 32 GiB Cray XE compute node, you will need at least the 2 MiB hugepages in the craype-hugepages2M module.

    In practical terms, the Aries(TM) NIC on Cray XC systems is not limited as to how much memory it can register. However, it does have an on-board cache of 512 registered page table entries, and registering more than this can cause reduced performance if the program’s memory reference pattern causes refills in this cache. We have seen up to a 15% reduction from typical nightly XC-16 performance in an ra-rmo run using hugepages small enough that every reference should have missed in this cache. Covering an entire 128 GiB XC compute node with only 512 hugepages will require at least the craype-hugepages256M module’s 256 MiB hugepages.

    Offsetting this, using larger hugepages may reduce performance because it can result in poorer NUMA affinity. With the ugni communication layer, arrays larger than 2 hugepages are allocated separately from the heap, which improves NUMA affinity. An obvious side effect of using larger hugepages is that an array has to be larger to qualify. Thus, achieving the best performance for any given program may require striking a balance between using larger hugepages to reduce NIC page table cache refills and using smaller ones to improve NUMA locality.

    Note that when hugepages are used with the ugni comm layer, tasking layers cannot use guard pages for stack overflow detection. Qthreads tasking cannot detect stack overflow except by means of guard pages, so if ugni communications is combined with qthreads tasking and a hugepage module is loaded, stack overflow detection is unavailable.

Network Atomics

The Gemini and Aries networks on Cray XE, XK, and XC series systems support remote atomic memory operations (AMOs). When the CHPL_NETWORK_ATOMICS environment variable is set to ugni, the following operations on remote atomics are done using the network:

32- and 64-bit signed and unsigned integer types:
32- and 64-bit real types:
  add(), fetchAdd()
  sub(), fetchSub()

32- and 64-bit signed and unsigned integer types:
  or(),  fetchOr()
  and(), fetchAnd()
  xor(), fetchXor()

Note that on XE and XK systems, which have Gemini networks, out of the above list only the 64-bit integer operations are done natively by the network hardware. 32-bit integer and all real operations are done using implicit on statements inside the ugni communication layer, accelerated by Gemini hardware capabilities.

On XC systems, which have Aries networks, all of the operations shown above are done natively by the network hardware except 64-bit real add, which is disabled in hardware and thus done using on statements.

ugni Communication Layer and the Heap

The “heap” is an area of memory used for dynamic allocation of everything from user data to internal management data structures. When running on Cray XC/XE/XK systems using the default configuration with the ugni comm layer and a craype-hugepages module loaded, the heap is used for all dynamic allocations except data space for arrays larger than 2 hugepages. (See Using the ugni Communications Layer, just above, for more about hugepages.) It is normally extended dynamically, as needed. But if desired, the heap can instead be created at a specified fixed size at the beginning of execution. In some cases this will reduce certain internal comm layer overheads and marginally improve performance.

The disadvantage of a fixed heap is that it usually produces worse NUMA affinity, it limits available heap memory to the specified fixed size, and it limits memory for arrays to whatever remains after the fixed-size heap is created. If either of the latter are less than what a program needs, it will terminate prematurely with an “Out of memory” message.

To specify a fixed heap, set the CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE environment variable to indicate its size. For the value of this variable you can use any of the following formats, where num is a positive integer number:

Format Resulting Heap Size
num num bytes
num[kK] num * 2**10 bytes
num[mM] num * 2**20 bytes
num[gG] num * 2**30 bytes
num% percentage of compute node physical memory

Any of the following would specify an approximately 1 GiB heap on a 128-GiB compute node, for example:

export CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE=1073741824
export CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE=1048576k
export CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE=1024m
export CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE=1% # 1.28 GiB, really

Note that the resulting heap size may get rounded up to match the page alignment. How much this will add, if any, depends on the hugepage size in any craype-hugepage module you have loaded at the time you execute the program. It may also be reduced, if some resource limitation prevents making the heap as large as requested.

Communication Layer Concurrency

The CHPL_RT_COMM_CONCURRENCY environment variable tells the ugni communication layer how much program concurrency it should try to support. Basically, this controls how much of the communication resources on the NIC will be used by the program. The default value is the number of hardware processor cores the program will use for Chapel tasks. Usually this is enough, but for highly parallel codes that do a lot of remote references, increasing it may improve performance. Useful values for CHPL_RT_COMM_CONCURRENCY are in the range 1 to 30 on the Gemini-based Cray XE and XK systems, and 1 to 120 on the Aries-based Cray XC systems. Values specified outside this range are silently increased or reduced so as to fall within it.

ugni Communication Layer Registered Memory Regions

The ugni communication layer maintains information about every memory region it registers with the Gemini or Aries NIC. Roughly speaking there are a few memory regions for each tasking layer thread, plus one for each array larger than 2 hugepages allocated and registered separately from the heap. By default the comm layer can handle up to 16k (2**14) total memory regions on Cray XC systems or 2k on XE systems, which is plenty under normal circumstances. In the event a program needs more than this, a message like the following will be printed:

warning: no more registered memory region table entries (max is 16384).
         Change using CHPL_RT_COMM_UGNI_MAX_MEM_REGIONS.

To provide for more registered regions, set the CHPL_RT_COMM_UGNI_MAX_MEM_REGIONS environment variable to a number indicating how many you want to allow. For example:


Note that there are certain comm layer overheads that are proportional to the number of registered memory regions, so allowing a very high number of them may lead to reduced performance.

gasnet Communication Layer

The GASNet-based communication layer discussed in the Multilocale Chapel Execution page can be used on all Cray systems. For best performance it should be used with native substrates and fixed segments, though even then its performance will rarely match that of the ugni communication layer. The relevant configurations are:

  CHPL_GASNET_SEGMENT=fast or large

In these configurations the heap is created with a fixed size at the beginning of execution. The default size works well in most cases but if it doesn’t a different size can be specified, as discussed in the following section.

gasnet Communication Layer and the Heap

In contrast to the dynamic heap extension available in the ugni comm layer, when the gasnet comm layer is used with a native substrate for higher network performance, the runtime must know up front the maximum size the heap will grow to during execution.

In these cases the heap is used for all dynamic allocations, including arrays. By default it will occupy as much of the free memory on each compute node as the runtime can acquire, less some small amount to allow for demands from other (system) programs running there. Advanced users may want to make the heap smaller than the default. Programs start more quickly with a smaller heap, and in the unfortunate event that you need to produce core files, those will be written more quickly if the heap is smaller. Specify the heap size using the CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE environment variable, as discussed above in ugni Communication Layer and the Heap. But be aware that just as in the CHPL_COMM=ugni case, if you reduce the heap size to less than the amount your program actually needs and then run it, it will terminate prematurely due to not having enough memory.

Note that for CHPL_COMM=gasnet, CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE is synonymous with GASNET_MAX_SEGSIZE, and the former overrides the latter if both are set.

Known Constraints and Bugs

  • Our PBS launcher explicitly supports PBS Pro, Moab/Torque, and the NCCS site versions of PBS. It may also work with other versions. If our PBS launcher does not work for you, you can fall back on a more manual launch of your program. For example, supposing the program is compiled to myprogram:

    • Launch the myprogram_real binary manually using aprun and your own qsub script or command.
    • Use ./myprogram --generate-qsub-script to generate a qsub script. Then edit the generated script and launch the myprogram_real binary manually as above.
  • Redirecting stdin when executing a Chapel program under PBS/qsub may not work due to limitations of qsub.

  • GASNet targets multiple network conduits as the underlying communication mechanism. On certain platforms, the Chapel build will use the mpi conduit as the default. As a result of using the mpi conduit, you may see a GASNet warning message at program start up. To squelch this message, you can set the environment variable GASNET_QUIET=yes.

  • For X-series systems, there is a known issue with the Cray MPI release that causes some programs to assert and then hang during exit. A workaround is to set the environment variable, MPICH_GNI_DYNAMIC_CONN to disabled. Setting this environment variable affects all MPI programs, so remember to unset it after running your Chapel program.

  • The amount of memory available to a Chapel program running over GASNet with the aries conduit is allocated at program start up. The default memory segment size may be too high on some platforms, resulting in an internal Chapel error or a GASNet initialization error such as:

    node 1 log gasnetc_init_segment() at $CHPL_HOME/third-party/gasnet/gasnet-src/aries-conduit/gasnet_aries.c:<line#>: MemRegister segment fault 8 at  0x2aab6ae00000 60000000, code GNI_RC_ERROR_RESOURCE

    If your Chapel program exits with such an error, try setting the environment variable CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE or GASNET_MAX_SEGSIZE to a lower value than the default (say 1G) and re-running your program. For more information, refer to the discussion of CHPL_RT_MAX_HEAP_SIZE above and/or the discussion of GASNET_MAX_SEGSIZE here:


NCCS user notes

  • NCCS Cray systems use a different qsub mechanism in order to enforce their queuing policies. We have attempted to make our pbs-aprun launch code work with this version of qsub, but require a CHPL_LAUNCHER_ACCOUNT environment variable to be set to specify your NCCS account name. For example:

  • NCCS users either need to specify debug as their queue or set an explicit wall clock time limit using the mechanisms described above.