GPU Programming

Chapel includes preliminary work to target NVidia GPUs by generating and packing PTX assembly and linking against and using the CUDA driver API at runtime. This work is under active development and has not yet been tested under a wide variety of environments. We have tested it on systems with NVidia Tesla P100s using CUDA 11.0 and on a system with NVidia Ampere A100 with CUDA 11.6. The current implementation will generate CUDA kernel code (PTX assembly) for certain forall and foreach loops and these kernels will be launched onto a GPU when the current locale (e.g. here) is assigned to a special (sub)locale representing the GPU.

For more information about what loops are eligible for GPU execution see the Overview section. For more information about what is supported see the requirements and Requirements and Limitations section. To see an example program written in Chapel that will execute on a GPU see the code listing in the Example section. For more information about specific features related to GPU support see the subsections under GPU Support Features. Additional information about GPU Support can be found in the “Ongoing Efforts” slide decks of our release notes; however, be aware that information presented in release notes for prior releases may be out-of-date.


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

  • They are order-independent (e.g., forall or foreach).

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

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]); }

Setup and Compilation

To enable GPU support set the environment variable CHPL_LOCALE_MODEL=gpu before building Chapel. Chapel’s build system will automatically try and deduce where your installation of CUDA exists. If the build system fails to do this, or you would like to use a different CUDA installation, you can set CHPL_CUDA_PATH environment variable to the CUDA installation root.

We also suggest setting CHPL_RT_NUM_THREADS_PER_LOCALE=1 (this is necessary if using CUDA 10).

To compile a program simply execute chpl as normal. By default the generated code will target compute capability 6.0 (specifically by passing --cuda-gpu-arch=sm_60 when invoking clang). If you would like to target a different compute capability (necessary for example, when targeting Tesla K20 GPUs) you can pass --gpu-arch to chpl and specify a different value there. This may also be set using the CHPL_CUDA_ARCH environment variable.

If you would like to view debugging information you can pass --verbose to your generated executable. This output will show the invocation of CUDA kernel calls along with various other interactions with the GPU such as memory operations. You may also use the GPUDiagnostics module to gather similar information.

Requirements and Limitations

Because of the early nature of the GPU support project there are a number of limitations. We provide a (non exhaustive) list of these limitations in this section; many of them will be addressed in upcoming editions.

  • We currently only target NVIDIA GPUs (although we intend to support AMD GPUs in a future release).

  • 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 install of LLVM we expect this to be the same version as the bundled version (currently 14). Older versions may work; however, we only make efforts to test GPU support with this version.

  • CHPL_TASKS=qthreads is required for GPU support.

  • 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.

  • There is no user-level feature to specify GPU block size on a per-kernel basis. This can be set on a program wide basis at compile-time by passing --gpu-block-size=size to the compiler or setting it with the CHPL_GPU_BLOCK_SIZE environment variable.

  • There is no user-level feature to allocate or access block shared memory.

  • 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).

    • Various functions within Chapel’s standard modules call unsupported extern functions and thus are not supported in GPU eligible loops.

  • Runtime checks such as bounds checks and nil-dereference checks are automatically disabled for CHPL_LOCALE_MODEL=gpu.

  • For loops to be considered eligible for execution on a GPU they must fulfill the requirements discussed in the Overview section.

GPU Support Features

In the following subsections we discuss various features or aspects of GPU supports that are relatively new or otherwise noteworthy.

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.

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.

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.

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 {
    forall {
      // ...

For more examples see the tests under test/gpu/native/multiLocale on the release/1.28 branch of Chapel under test/gpu/native/page-locked-mem/ available from our public Github repository.

Memory Strategies

Currently by default Chapel uses NVIDIA’s unified memory feature to store data that is allocated on a GPU sublocale (i.e. here.gpus[0]). Under unified memory the CUDA driver implicitly manages the migration of data to and from the GPU as necessary.

We provide an alternate memory allocation strategy that stores array data directly on the device and store other data on the host. 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.

To use this new strategy set the environment variable CHPL_GPU_MEM_STRATEGY to array_on_device. For more examples that work with this strategy the tests on the release/1.28 branch of Chapel under test/gpu/native/page-locked-mem/ available from our public Github repository.

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

One limitation with memory access in this mode is that we do not support direct reads or writes from the host into individual elements of array data allocated on the GPU (e.g. use(A[i]) or A[i] = ...). Array data accessed “as a whole” (e.g. writeln(A)) will work, however.