Support Knowledge Center

Barcelona Supercomputing Center

StarLife User's Guide

StarLife User's Guide

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. System Overview
    1. Compilation for the architecture
    2. Login Nodes
    3. Password Management
  3. File Systems
    1. GPFS Filesystem
    2. Local Hard Drive
    3. Quotas
  4. Running Jobs
    1. Queues
    2. Submitting jobs
    3. Interactive Sessions
    4. Job directives
    5. Examples
    6. Interpreting job status and reason codes
  5. Software Environment
    1. C Compilers
    2. FORTRAN Compilers
    3. Modules Environment
    4. BSC Commands
  6. Getting help
    1. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  7. Appendices
    1. SSH
    2. Transferring files
    3. Using X11

Introduction ↩

This user’s guide for the StarLife cluster is intended to provide the minimum amount of information needed by a new user of this system. As such, it assumes that the user is familiar with many of the standard features of supercomputing as the Unix operating system.

Here you can find most of the information you need to use our computing resources and the technical documentation about the machine. Please read carefully this document and if any doubt arises do not hesitate to contact us (Getting help).

System Overview ↩

StarLife is a cluster based on Intel Xeon Gold processors from the Skylake generation with a Linux Operating System and an Infiniband interconnection network.

It has the following configuration:

The operating system is SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12 SP3.

The processors support well-known vectorization instructions such as SSE, AVX up to AVX–512.

Compilation for the architecture ↩

To generate code that is optimized for the target architecture and the supported features such as SSE, MMX, AVX instruction sets you will have to use the corresponding compile flags. For compilations of MPI applications an MPI installation needs to be loaded in your session as well. For example Intel MPI via module load impi

Intel Compilers

The latest Intel compilers provide the best possible optimizations for the Xeon Gold architecture. By default, when starting a new session on the system the basic modules for the Intel suite will be automatically loaded. That is the compilers (intel/2018.3), the Intel MPI software stack (impi/2018.3) and the math kernel libraries MKL (mkl/2018.3) in their latest versions. We highly recommend linking against MKL where supported to achieve the best performance results.

To separately load the Intel compilers please use

    module load intel

The corresponding optimization flags for icc are CFLAGS=“-xCORE-AVX512 -mtune=skylake”. As the login nodes are of the exact same architecture as the compute node you can also use the flag -xHost which enables all possible optimizations available on the compile host.


The GCC provided by the system is version 4.8.5. For better support of new hardware features we recommend to use the latest version that can be loaded via the provided modules. Currently the latest version available in StarLife is GCC 8.1.0

    module load gcc/8.1.0

The corresponding flags are CFLAGS=“-march=skylake-avx512”

Login Nodes ↩

You can connect to StarLife using two public login nodes. Please note that only incoming connections are allowed in the whole cluster. The logins are:

Password Management ↩

In order to change the password, you have to login to a different machine ( This connection must be established from your local machine.

    % ssh -l username

    username@dtransfer1:~> passwd
    Changing password for username.
    Old Password: 
    New Password: 
    Reenter New Password: 
    Password changed.

Mind that that the password change takes about 10 minutes to be effective.

File Systems ↩

IMPORTANT: It is your responsibility as a user of our facilities to backup all your critical data. We only guarantee a daily backup of user data under /gpfs/home. Any other backup should only be done exceptionally under demand of the interested user.

Each user has several areas of disk space for storing files. These areas may have size or time limits, please read carefully all this section to know about the policy of usage of each of these filesystems. There are 3 different types of storage available inside a node:

GPFS Filesystem ↩

The IBM General Parallel File System (GPFS) is a high-performance shared-disk file system providing fast, reliable data access from all nodes of the cluster to a global filesystem. GPFS allows parallel applications simultaneous access to a set of files (even a single file) from any node that has the GPFS file system mounted while providing a high level of control over all file system operations. In addition, GPFS can read or write large blocks of data in a single I/O operation, thereby minimizing overhead.

An incremental backup will be performed daily only for /gpfs/home.

These are the GPFS filesystems available in the machine from all nodes:

Local Hard Drive ↩

Every node has a local solid state (SSD) that can be used as a local scratch space to store temporary files during executions of one of your jobs. This space is mounted over /scratch/tmp/$JOBID directory and pointed out by $TMPDIR environment variable. The amount of space within the /scratch filesystem is about 70 GB. All data stored in these local hard drives at the compute nodes will not be available from the login nodes. You should use the directory referred to by $TMPDIR to save your temporary files during job executions. This directory will automatically be cleaned after the job finishes.

Quotas ↩

The quotas are the amount of storage available for a user or a groups’ users. You can picture it as a small disk readily available to you. A default value is applied to all users and groups and cannot be outgrown.

You can inspect your quota anytime you want using the following command from inside each filesystem:

     % bsc_quota

The command provides a readable output for the quota. Check BSC Commands for more information.

If you need more disk space in this filesystem or in any other of the GPFS filesystems, the responsible for your project has to make a request for the extra space needed, specifying the requested space and the reasons why it is needed. For more information or requests you can Contact Us.

Running Jobs ↩

Slurm is the utility used for batch processing support, so all jobs must be run through it. This section provides information for getting started with job execution at the Cluster.

Queues ↩

There are several queues present in the machines and different users may access different queues. All queues have different limits in amount of cores for the jobs and duration. You can check anytime all queues you have access to and their limits using:

    % bsc_queues

For longer and/or larger executions special queues are available upon request and will require proof of scalability and application performance. To solicit access to these special queues please contact us.

Submitting jobs ↩

The method for submitting jobs is to use the SLURM sbatch directives directly.

A job is the execution unit for SLURM. A job is defined by a text file containing a set of directives describing the job’s requirements, and the commands to execute.

In order to ensure the proper scheduling of jobs, there are execution limitations in the number of nodes and cores that can be used at the same time by a group. You may check those limits using command ‘bsc_queues’. If you need to run an execution bigger than the limits already granted, you may [Contact Us]

SBATCH commands

These are the basic directives to submit jobs with sbatch:

    sbatch <job_script>

submits a “job script” to the queue system (see Job directives).


shows all the submitted jobs.

    scancel <job_id>

remove the job from the queue system, canceling the execution of the processes, if they were still running.

Interactive Sessions ↩

Allocation of an interactive session has to be done through SLURM:


Job directives ↩

A job must contain a series of directives to inform the batch system about the characteristics of the job. These directives appear as comments in the job script and have to conform to either the sbatch syntaxes.

sbatch syxtax is of the form:

     #SBATCH --directive=value

Additionally, the job script may contain a set of commands to execute. If not, an external script may be provided with the ‘executable’ directive. Here you may find the most common directives for both syntaxes:

     #SBATCH --qos=xlong

To request the queue for the job. If it is not specified, Slurm will use the user’s default queue. The debug queue is only intended for small test.

     #SBATCH --time=DD-HH:MM:SS

The limit of wall clock time. This is a mandatory field and you must set it to a value greater than real execution time for your application and smaller than the time limits granted to the user. Notice that your job will be killed after the time has passed.

     #SBATCH --workdir=pathname

The working directory of your job (i.e. where the job will run). If not specified, it is the current working directory at the time the job was submitted.

    #SBATCH --error=file

The name of the file to collect the standard error output (stderr) of the job.

    #SBATCH --output=file

The name of the file to collect the standard output (stdout) of the job.

    #SBATCH --nodes=number

The number of requested nodes.

    #SBATCH --ntasks=number

The number of processes to start.

Optionally, you can specify how many threads each process would open with the directive:

    #SBATCH --cpus-per-task=number

The number of cores assigned to the job will be the total_tasks number * cpus_per_task number.

    #SBATCH --tasks-per-node=number

The number of tasks assigned to a node.

    #SBATCH --ntasks-per-socket=number

The number of tasks assigned to a socket.

    #SBATCH --x11=[=<all|batch|first|last>]

If it is set the job will be handled as graphical and Slurm will assign the necessary resources to the job, so you will be able to execute a graphical command and if you do not close the current terminal you will get a graphical window. Sets up X11 forwarding on all, batch host, first or last node(s) of the allocation.

    #SBATCH --reservation=reservation_name

The reservation where your jobs will be allocated (assuming that your account has access to that reservation). In some ocasions, node reservations can be granted for executions where only a se t of accounts can run jobs. Useful for courses.

    #SBATCH --constraint=fat

Select which configuration to run your job on, for example “fat” to run the job on a high memory node with 8 GB per core. Without this directive the jobs will be sent to standard nodes that have 4GB of RAM per core. There are only a limited number of high memory nodes available, 7 nodes out of 48 nodes in total. Therefore when requesting these nodes you can expect significantly longer queueing times to fulfil the resource request before your job can start.

The accounting for one core hour in standard and highmem nodes is the same, e.g. 1 core hour per core per hour will be budgeted. For faster turnaround times in the queues you can also use standard nodes and run less processes per node. For this you will need to use more cores per task, as every cores requested comes with its 4 GB RAM. You can do this by specifying the flag #SBATCH –cpus-per-task=number and your budget will get charged for all cores requested.

    #SBATCH --switches=number@timeout

By default, Slurm tries to schedule a job in order to use the minimum amount of switches. However, a user can request a maximum of switches for their jobs. Slurm will try to schedule the job for timeout minutes. If it is not possible to request number switches (each rack has 3 switches, every switch is connected to 24 nodes) after timeout minutes, Slurm will schedule the job by default.

    #SBATCH --array=<indexes>

Submit a job array, multiple jobs to be executed with identical parameters. The indexes specification identifies what array index values should be used. Multiple values may be specified using a comma separated list and/or a range of values with a “-” separator. Job arrays will have two additional environment variable set. SLURM_ARRAY_JOB_ID will be set to the first job ID of the array. SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID will be set to the job array index value. For example:

    sbatch --array=1-3 job.cmd
    Submitted batch job 36

Will generate a job array containing three jobs and then the environment variables will be set as follows:

    # Job 1

    # Job 2

    # Job 3
    #SBATCH --exclusive

To request an exclusive use of a compute node without sharing the resources with other users. This only applies to jobs requesting less than one node (48 cores). All jobs with >= 48 cores will automatically use all requested nodes in exclusive mode.

Variable Meaning
SLURM_JOBID Specifies the job ID of the executing job
SLURM_NPROCS Specifies the total number of processes in the job
SLURM_NNODES Is the actual number of nodes assigned to run your job
SLURM_PROCID Specifies the MPI rank (or relative process ID) for the current process. The range is from 0-(SLURM_NPROCS–1)
SLURM_NODEID Specifies relative node ID of the current job. The range is from 0-(SLURM_NNODES–1)
SLURM_LOCALID Specifies the node-local task ID for the process within a job

For more information:

    man sbatch
    man srun
    man salloc

Examples ↩

sbatch examples

Example for a sequential job:

    #SBATCH --job-name="test_serial"
    #SBATCH --workdir=.
    #SBATCH --output=serial_%j.out
    #SBATCH --error=serial_%j.err
    #SBATCH --ntasks=1
    #SBATCH --time=00:02:00
    ./serial_binary> serial.out

The job would be submitted using:

    > sbatch ptest.cmd

Examples for a parallel job:

    #SBATCH --job-name=omp
    #SBATCH --workdir=.
    #SBATCH --output=omp_%j.out
    #SBATCH --error=omp_%j.err
    #SBATCH --cpus-per-task=40
    #SBATCH --ntasks=1
    #SBATCH --time=96:00:00
    #SBATCH --qos=xlong
    #SBATCH --job-name=mpi
    #SBATCH --output=mpi_%j.out
    #SBATCH --error=mpi_%j.err
    #SBATCH --ntasks=80
    srun ./mpi_binary
    #SBATCH --job-name=test_parallel
    #SBATCH --workdir=.
    #SBATCH --output=mpi_%j.out
    #SBATCH --error=mpi_%j.err
    #SBATCH --ntasks=20
    #SBATCH --cpus-per-task=4
    #SBATCH --tasks-per-node=10
    #SBATCH --time=00:02:00
    srun ./parallel_binary> parallel.output


It is currently not possible to be notified about the status of jobs via email. To check if your jobs are being executed or have finished you will need to connect to the system and verify their status manually. For the future it is being planned to enable automatic notifications.

Interpreting job status and reason codes ↩

When using squeue, Slurm will report back the status of your launched jobs. If they are still waiting to enter execution, they will be followed by the reason. Slurm uses codes to display this information, so in this section we will be covering the meaning of the most relevant ones.

Job state codes

This list contains the usual state codes for jobs that have been submitted:

Job reason codes

This list contains the most common reason codes of the jobs that have been submitted and are still not in the running state:

Software Environment ↩

All software and numerical libraries available at the cluster can be found at /apps/. If you need something that is not there please contact us to get it installed (see Getting Help).

C Compilers ↩

In the cluster you can find these C/C++ compilers :

icc / icpc -> Intel C/C++ Compilers

    % man icc
    % man icpc

gcc /g++ -> GNU Compilers for C/C++

    % man gcc
    % man g++

All invocations of the C or C++ compilers follow these suffix conventions for input files:

.C, .cc, .cpp, or .cxx -> C++ source file.
.c -> C source file
.i -> preprocessed C source file
.so -> shared object file
.o -> object file for ld command
.s -> assembler source file

By default, the preprocessor is run on both C and C++ source files.

These are the default sizes of the standard C/C++ datatypes on the machine

Default datatype sizes on the machine
Type Length (bytes)
bool (c++ only) 1
char 1
wchar_t 4
short 2
int 4
long 8
float 4
double 8
long double 16

Distributed Memory Parallelism

To compile MPI programs it is recommended to use the following handy wrappers: mpicc, mpicxx for C and C++ source code. You need to choose the Parallel environment first: module load openmpi / module load impi / module load poe. These wrappers will include all the necessary libraries to build MPI applications without having to specify all the details by hand.

    % mpicc a.c -o a.exe
    % mpicxx a.C -o a.exe 

Shared Memory Parallelism

OpenMP directives are fully supported by the Intel C and C++ compilers. To use it, the flag -qopenmp must be added to the compile line.

    % icc -qopenmp -o exename filename.c
    % icpc -qopenmp -o exename filename.C

You can also mix MPI + OPENMP code using -openmp with the mpi wrappers mentioned above.

Automatic Parallelization

The Intel C and C++ compilers are able to automatically parallelize simple loop constructs, using the option “-parallel” :

    % icc -parallel a.c

FORTRAN Compilers ↩

In the cluster you can find these compilers :

ifort -> Intel Fortran Compilers

    % man ifort

gfortran -> GNU Compilers for FORTRAN

    % man gfortran

By default, the compilers expect all FORTRAN source files to have the extension “.f”, and all FORTRAN source files that require preprocessing to have the extension “.F”. The same applies to FORTRAN 90 source files with extensions “.f90” and “.F90”.

Distributed Memory Parallelism

In order to use MPI, again you can use the wrappers mpif77 or mpif90 depending on the source code type. You can always man mpif77 to see a detailed list of options to configure the wrappers, ie: change the default compiler.

    % mpif77 a.f -o a.exe

Shared Memory Parallelism

OpenMP directives are fully supported by the Intel Fortran compiler when the option “-qopenmp” is set:

    % ifort -qopenmp 

Automatic Parallelization

The Intel Fortran compiler will attempt to automatically parallelize simple loop constructs using the option “-parallel”:

    % ifort -parallel

Modules Environment ↩

The Environment Modules package ( provides a dynamic modification of a user’s environment via modulefiles. Each modulefile contains the information needed to configure the shell for an application or a compilation. Modules can be loaded and unloaded dynamically, in a clean fashion. All popular shells are supported, including bash, ksh, zsh, sh, csh, tcsh, as well as some scripting languages such as perl.

Installed software packages are divided into five categories:

Modules tool usage

Modules can be invoked in two ways: by name alone or by name and version. Invoking them by name implies loading the default module version. This is usually the most recent version that has been tested to be stable (recommended) or the only version available.

    % module load intel

Invoking by version loads the version specified of the application. As of this writing, the previous command and the following one load the same module.

    % module load intel/2018.3

The most important commands for modules are these:

You can run “module help” any time to check the command’s usage and options or check the module(1) manpage for further information.

BSC Commands ↩

The Support team at BSC has provided some commands useful for user’s awareness and ease of use in our HPC machines. A short summary of these commands follows:

You can check more information about these commands through any of the following manpages:

% man bsc_commands

Getting help ↩

BSC provides users with excellent consulting assistance. User support consultants are available during normal business hours, Monday to Friday, 09 a.m. to 18 p.m. (CEST time).

User questions and support are handled at:

If you need assistance, please supply us with the nature of the problem, the date and time that the problem occurred, and the location of any other relevant information, such as output files. Please contact BSC if you have any questions or comments regarding policies or procedures.

Our address is:

Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación
C/ Jordi Girona, 31, Edificio Capilla 08034 Barcelona

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) ↩

You can check the answers to most common questions at BSC’s Support Knowledge Center. There you will find online and updated versions of our documentation, including this guide, and a listing with deeper answers to the most common questions we receive as well as advanced specific questions unfit for a general-purpose user guide.

Appendices ↩


SSH is a program that enables secure logins over an insecure network. It encrypts all the data passing both ways, so that if it is intercepted it cannot be read. It also replaces the old an insecure tools like telnet, rlogin, rcp, ftp,etc. SSH is a client-server software. Both machines must have ssh installed for it to work.

We have already installed a ssh server in our machines. You must have installed an ssh client in your local machine. SSH is available without charge for almost all versions of UNIX (including Linux and MacOS X). For UNIX and derivatives, we recommend using the OpenSSH client, downloadable from, and for Windows users we recommend using Putty, a free SSH client that can be downloaded from Otherwise, any client compatible with SSH version 2 can be used.

This section describes installing, configuring and using the client on Windows machines. No matter your client, you will need to specify the following information:

For example with putty client:

Putty client
Putty client

This is the first window that you will see at putty startup. Once finished, press the Open button. If it is your first connection to the machine, your will get a Warning telling you that the host key from the server is unknown, and will ask you if you are agree to cache the new host key, press Yes.

Putty certificate security alert
Putty certificate security alert

IMPORTANT: If you see this warning another time and you haven’t modified or reinstalled the ssh client, please do not log in, and contact us as soon as possible (see Getting Help).

Finally, a new window will appear asking for your login and password:

Cluster login
Cluster login

Transferring files ↩

To transfer files to or from the cluster you need a secure ftp (sftp) o secure copy (scp) client. There are several different clients, but as previously mentioned, we recommend using of Putty clients for transferring files: psftp and pscp. You can find it at the same web page as Putty (

Some other possible tools for users requiring graphical file transfers could be:


You will need a command window to execute psftp (press start button, click run and type cmd). The program first asks for the machine name (, and then for the username and password. Once you are connected, it’s like a Unix command line.

With command help you will obtain a list of all possible commands. But the most useful are:

You will be able to copy files from your local machine to the cluster, and from the cluster to your local machine. The syntax is the same that cp command except that for remote files you need to specify the remote machine:

Copy a file from the cluster:
> pscp.exe local_file
Copy a file to the cluster:
> pscp.exe local_file

Using X11 ↩

In order to start remote X applications you need and X-Server running in your local machine. Here is a list of most common X-servers for windows:

The only Open Source X-server listed here is Cygwin/X, you need to pay for the others.

Once the X-Server is running run putty with X11 forwarding enabled:

Putty X11 configuration
Putty X11 configuration