GPU Programming

Chapel includes preliminary work to target NVIDIA and AMD GPUs. This work is under active development and has not yet been tested under a wide variety of environments although we have tested it with NVIDIA Tesla P100, V100, and RTX A2000 GPUs; for AMD we have tested it with MI60 and MI100 GPUs.

The current implementation will generate GPU kernels for certain forall and foreach loops and launch these onto a GPU when the current locale (e.g. here) is assigned to a special (sub)locale representing a GPU.


To deploy code to a GPU, put the relevant code in an on statement targeting a GPU sublocale (i.e. here.gpus[0]).

Any arrays that are declared by tasks executing on a GPU sublocale will, by default, be allocated into unified memory and be accessible on the GPU (see the Memory Strategies subsection for more information about alternate memory strategies).

Chapel will launch kernels for all eligible loops that are encountered by tasks executing on a GPU sublocale. Loops are eligible when:

  • They are order-independent. i.e., forall or foreach loops over iterators that are also order-independent.

  • They only make use of known compiler primitives that are fast and local. Here “fast” means “safe to run in a signal handler” and “local” means “doesn’t cause any network communication”.

  • They do not call out to extern functions (aside from those in an exempted set of Chapel runtime functions).

  • They are free of any call to a function that fails to meet the above criteria or accesses outer variables.

Any code in an on statement for a GPU sublocale that is not within an eligible loop will be executed on the CPU.


The following example illustrates running a computation on a GPU as well as a CPU. When jacobi is called with a GPU locale it will allocate the arrays A and B on the device memory of the GPU and we generate three GPU kernels for the forall loops in the function.

config const nSteps = 10;
config const n = 10;

writeln("on GPU:");
writeln("on CPU:");

proc jacobi(loc) {
  on loc {
    var A, B: [0..n+1] real;

    A[0] = 1; A[n+1] = 1;
    forall i in 1..n { A[i] = i:real; }

    for step in 1..nSteps {
      forall i in 1..n { B[i] = 0.33333 * (A[i-1] + A[i] + A[i+1]); }
      forall i in 1..n { A[i] = 0.33333 * (B[i-1] + B[i] + B[i+1]); }

For additional examples we suggest looking at some of our internal tests. Note that these are not packaged in the Chapel release but are accessible from our public Github repository.

Tests of particular interest include:

Benchmark examples

  • Jacobi – Jacobi example (shown above)

  • Stream – GPU enabled version of Stream benchmark

  • SHOC Triad (Direct) – a transliterated version of the SHOC Triad benchmark

  • SHOC Triad (Chapeltastic) – a version of the SHOC benchmark simplified to use Chapel language features (such as promotion)

  • SHOC Sort – SHOC radix sort benchmark

Test examples

  • assertOnFailToGpuize – various examples of loops that are not eligible for GPU execution

  • math – calls to various math functions within kernels that call out to the CUDA Math library

  • measureGpuCycles – measuring time within a GPU kernel

  • promotion2 – GPU kernels from promoted expressions

Examples with multiple GPUs

  • multiGPU – simple example using all GPUs within a locale

  • workSharing – stream-like example showing computation shared between GPUs and CPU

  • onAllGpusOnAllLocales – simple example using all GPUs and locales

  • copyToLocaleThenToGpu – stream-like example (with data initialized on Locale 0 then transferred to other locales and GPUs)



  • LLVM must be used as Chapel’s backend compiler (i.e. CHPL_LLVM must be set to system or bundled). For more information about these settings see Optional Settings.

    • If using a system LLVM it must have been built with support for the relevant target of GPU you wish to generate code for (e.g. NVPTX to target NVIDIA GPUs and AMDGPU to target AMD GPUs).

    • If using a system install of LLVM we expect this to be the same version as the bundled version (currently 15). Older versions may work; however, we only make efforts to test GPU support with this version.

  • Unless using CPU as Device mode, either the CUDA toolkit (for NVIDIA), or ROCm (for AMD) must be installed.

    • If targeting NVIDIA GPUs, we require CUDA toolkit to be version 10.x or 11.x (inclusive). If using version 10.x you must set CHPL_RT_NUM_THREADS_PER_LOCALE=1. Versions as early as 7.x may work, although we have not tested this.

    • If targeting AMD GPUs, we require ROCm version 4.x; we suspect version 5.x will work as well although we have not tested so.


In the following subsections we discuss various features of GPU supports.

Vendor Portability

Chapel is able to generate code that will execute on either NVIDIA or AMD GPUs. Chapel’s build system will automatically try and deduce what type of GPU you have and where your installation of relevant runtime (e.g. CUDA or ROCm) are. If the type of GPU is not detected you may set the CHPL_GPU environment variable manually to either nvidia or amd. CHPL_GPU may also manually be set to cpu to use CPU as Device mode.

Based on the value of CHPL_GPU, Chapel’s build system will also attempt to automatically detect the path to the relevant runtime. If it is not automatically detected (or you would like to use a different installation) you may set CHPL_CUDA_PATH and/or CHPL_ROCM_PATH explicitly.

The CHPL_GPU_ARCH environment variable can be set to control the desired GPU architecture to compile for. The default value is sm_60 for CHPL_GPU_CODEGEN=cuda. You may also use the --gpu-arch compiler flag to set GPU architecture. If using AMD, this table in the LLVM documentation has possible architecture values (see the “processor” column). For NVIDIA, see the CUDA Programming Guide.

CPU as Device Mode

The CHPL_GPU environment variable can be set to cpu to enable many GPU features to be used without requiring any GPUs and/or vendor SDKs to be installed. This mode is mainly for initial development steps or quick feature tests where access to GPUs may be limited. In this mode:

  • The compiler will generate GPU kernels from order-independent loops normally.

  • It will call the internal runtime API for GPU operations, so that features outlined under Diagnostics and Utilities will work as expected.

    • For example, assertOnGpu will fail at compile time normally. This can allow testing if a loop is GPU-eligible.

    • It will generate a warning per-iteration at execution time.

    • The CHPL_GPU_NO_CPU_MODE_WARNING environment can be set to suppress these warnings. Alternatively, you can pass --gpuNoCpuModeWarning to your application to the same effect.

  • Even though the GPU diagnostics are collected, the loop will be executed for correctness testing and there will not be any kernel launch

  • Advanced features like syncThreads and createSharedArray will compile and run, but in all likelihood code that uses those features will not generate correct results

  • The asyncGpuComm procedure will do a blocking memcpy and gpuCommWait will return immediately

  • There will be one GPU sublocale per locale by default. CHPL_RT_NUM_GPUS_PER_LOCALE can be set to control how many GPU sublocales will be created per locale.


This mode should not be used for performance studies. Application correctness is not guaranteed in complex cases.

Diagnostics and Utilities

The GpuDiagnostics module contains functions to help users count and track kernel launches.

To count the number of kernel launches that occur in a section of code, surround that code with calls to startGpuDiagnostics and stopGpuDiagnostics and then call getGpuDiagnostics. If called in a multi-locale environment getGpuDiagnostics will return an array of counts of launches on a per-locale basis.

To get verbose output (indicating the location of each kernel launch) surround the code with calls to startVerboseGpu and stopVerboseGpu. This output will directed to stdout.

To get a list of all GPU eligible loops at compile-time (regardless of if they will actually run on a GPU or not) pass chpl the --report-gpu flag.

The GPU module contains additional utility functions. One particularly useful function is assertOnGpu(). This function will conduct a runtime assertion that will halt execution when not being performed on a GPU. If assertOnGpu() appears as the first line of forall or foreach loop the Chapel compiler will do a compile-time check and produce an error if one of the aforementioned requirements is not met. This check might also occur if assertOnGpu() is placed elsewhere in the loop depending on the presence of control flow.

Utilities in the MemDiagnostics module can be used to monitor GPU memory allocations and detect memory leaks. For example, startVerboseMem() and stopVerboseMem() can be used to enable and disable output from memory allocations and deallocations. GPU-based operations will be marked in the generated output.

Multi-Locale Support

As of Chapel 1.27.0 the GPU locale model may be used alongside communication layers (values of CHPL_COMM) other than none. This enables programs to use GPUs across nodes. We have tested multi-locale support with both NVIDIA and AMD GPUs.

In this mode, normal remote access is supported outside of loops that are offloaded to the GPU; however, remote access within a kernel is not supported. An idiomatic way to use all GPUs available across locales is with nested coforall loops like the following:

coforall loc in Locales do on loc {
  coforall gpu in here.gpus do on gpu {
    foreach {
      // ...

For more examples see the tests under test/gpu/native/multiLocale available from our public Github repository.

Device-to-Device Communication Support

Chapel supports direct communication between interconnected GPUs. The supported connection types are dictated by the GPU vendor; PCIe and NVLink (on NVIDIA GPUs) are known to work.

This feature is disabled by default; it can be enabled by setting the enableGpuP2P configuration constant using the compiler flag -senableGpuP2P=true. The following example demonstrates using Device-to-Device communication to send data between two GPUs:

var dev1 = here.gpus[0],
    dev2 = here.gpus[1];
on dev1 {
  var dev1Data: [0..#1024] int;
  on dev2 {
    var dev2Data: [0..#1024] int;
    dev2Data = dev1Data;

Notice that in this example, the GPU locales were stored into variables dev1 and dev2. Writing on here.gpus[1] in the second on statement directly would not be correct, since neither GPU locale has GPU sublocales of its own.

Memory Strategies

The CHPL_GPU_MEM_STRATEGY environment variable can be used to choose between two different memory strategies. Memory strategies determine how memory is allocated when on a GPU locale.

The current default strategy is unified_memory. The strategy applies to all data allocated on a GPU sublocale (i.e. here.gpus[0]). Under unified memory the underlying GPU implementation implicitly manages the migration of data to and from the GPU as necessary.

The alternative is to set the environment variable explicitly to array_on_device. This strategy stores array data directly on the device and store other data on the host in a page-locked manner. There are multiple benefits to using this strategy including that it enables users to have more explicit control over memory management, may be required for Chapel to interoperate with various third-party communication libraries, and may be necessary to achieve good performance. As such it may become the default memory strategy we use in the future. Be aware though that because this strategy is relatively new addition it hasn’t been as thoroughly tested as our unified memory based approach.

Note that host data can be accessed from within a GPU eligible loop running on the device via a direct-memory transfer.

Debugger and Profiler Support for NVIDIA

As of Chapel 1.30.0 cuda-gdb and NVIDIA NSight Compute can be used to debug and profile GPU kernels. We have limited experience with both of these tools. However, compiling with -g and running the application in cuda-gdb help uncover segmentation faults coming from GPU kernels.

Similarly, NSight Compute can be used to collect detailed performance metrics from GPU kernels generated by the Chapel compiler. By default, using -g only enables Chapel line numbers to be associated with performance metrics, however it thwarts optimizations done by the backend assembler. In our experience, this can reduce execution performance significantly, making profiling less valuable. To avoid this, please use --gpu-ptxas-enforce-optimization while compiling alongside -g, and of course, --fast.

Known Limitations

We are aware of the following limitations and plan to work on them among other improvements in the future.

  • Intel GPUs are not supported, yet.

  • For AMD GPUs:

    • Certain 64-bit math functions are unsupported. To see what does and doesn’t work see this test and note which operations are executed when excludeForRocm == true.

  • Distributed arrays cannot be used within GPU kernels.

  • PGAS style communication is not available within GPU kernels; that is: reading from or writing to a variable that is stored on a different locale from inside a GPU eligible loop (when executing on a GPU) is not supported.

  • Runtime checks such as bounds checks and nil-dereference checks are automatically disabled for CHPL_LOCALE_MODEL=gpu. i.e., --no-checks is implied when compiling.

  • The use of most extern functions within a GPU eligible loop is not supported (a limited set of functions used by Chapel’s runtime library are supported).

  • Associative arrays cannot be used on GPU sublocales with CHPL_GPU_MEM_STRATEGY=array_on_device.

  • If using CUDA 10, single thread per locale can be used. i.e., you have to set CHPL_RT_NUM_THREADS_PER_LOCALE=1.

  • CHPL_TASKS=fifo is not supported. Note that fifo tasking layer is the default in only Cygwin and NetBSD.

Using C Interoperability

C interoperability on the host side is supported. However, GPU programming implies C++ linkage. To handle that, the Chapel compiler compiles the .c files passed via the command line and/or require statements with clang -x [cuda|hip]. This implies that some C features may fail to compile if they are not supported by the above clang compilation.

Further Information

  • Please refer to issues with GPU Support label for other known limitations and issues.

  • Alternatively, you can add the bug label for known bugs only.

  • Additional information about GPU Support can be found in the “GPU Support” slide decks from our release notes; however, be aware that information presented in release notes for prior releases may be out-of-date.