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Running jobs

Login nodes#

Login nodes are not for computing

Login nodes are shared among many users and therefore must not be used to run computationally intensive tasks. Those should be submitted to the scheduler which will dispatch them on compute nodes.

The key principle of a shared computing environment is that resources are shared among users and must be scheduled. It is mandatory to schedule work by submitting jobs to the scheduler on Sherlock. And since login nodes are a shared resource, they must not be used to execute computing tasks.

Acceptable use of login nodes include:

  • lightweight file transfers,
  • script and configuration file editing,
  • job submission and monitoring.

Resource limits are enforced

To minimize disruption and ensure a confortable working environment for users, resource limits are enforced on login nodes, and processes started there will automatically be terminated if their resource usage (including CPU time, memory and run time) exceed those limits.

Slurm commands#

Slurm allows requesting resources and submitting jobs in a variety of ways. The main Slurm commands to submit jobs are listed in the table below:

Command Description Behavior
salloc Request resources and allocates them to a job Starts a new shell, but does not execute anything
srun Request resources and runs a command on the allocated compute node(s) Blocking command: will not return until the job ends
sbatch Request resources and runs a script on the allocated compute node(s) Asynchronous command: will return as soon as the job is submitted

Interactive jobs#

Dedicated nodes#

Interactive jobs allow users to log in to a compute node to run commands interactively on the command line. They could be an integral part of an interactive programming and debugging workflow. The simplest way to establish an interactive session on Sherlock is to use the sdev command:

$ sdev

This will open a login shell using one core and 4 GB of memory on one node for one hour. The sdev sessions run on dedicated compute nodes. This ensures minimal wait times when you need to access a node for testing script, debug code or any kind of interactive work.

sdev also provides X11 forwarding via the submission host (typically the login node you're connected to) and can thus be used to run GUI applications.

Compute nodes#

If you need more resources1, you can pass options to sdev, to request more CPU cores, more nodes, or even run in a different partition. sdev -h will provide more information:

$ sdev -h
sdev: start an interactive shell on a compute node

Usage: sdev [OPTIONS]
    Optional arguments:
        -n      number of CPU cores to request (default: 1)
        -N      number of nodes to request (default: 1)
        -m      memory amount to request (default: 4GB)
        -p      partition to run the job in (default: dev)
        -t      time limit (default: 01:00:00, ie. 1 hour)
        -r      allocate resources from the named reservation (default: none)
        -J      job name (default: sdev)
        -q      quality of service to request for the job (default: normal)

Another way to get an interactive session on a compute node is to use srun to execute a shell through the scheduler. For instance, to start a bash session on a compute node, with the default resource requirements (one core for 2 hours), you can run:

$ srun --pty bash

The main advantage of this approach is that it will allow you to specify the whole range of submission options that sdev may not support.

Finally, if you prefer to submit an existing job script or other executable as an interactive job, you can use the salloc command:

$ salloc

If you don't provide a command to execute, salloc will start a Slurm job and allocate resources for it, but it will not automatically connect you to the allocated node(s). It will only start a new shell on the same node you launched salloc from, and set up the appropriate $SLURM_* environment variables. So you will typically need to look at them to see what nodes have been assigned to your job. For instance:

$ salloc
salloc: Granted job allocation 655914
$ ssh sh-101-55
sh-101-55 ~ $

Connecting to nodes#

Login to compute nodes

Users are not allowed to login to compute nodes unless they have a job running there.

If you SSH to a compute node without any active job allocation, you'll be greeted by the following message:

$ ssh sh-101-01
Access denied by pam_slurm_adopt: you have no active jobs on this node
Connection closed

Once you have a job running on a node, you can SSH directly to it and run additional processes2, or observe how you application behaves, debug issues, and so on.

The salloc command supports the same parameters as sbatch, and can override any default configuration. Note that any #SBATCH directive in your job script will not be interpreted by salloc when it is executed in this way. You must specify all arguments directly on the command line for them to be taken into account.

Batch jobs#

🚧 Work in progress 🚧

This page is a work in progress and is not complete yet. We are actively working on adding more content and information.

Recurring jobs#


Cron tasks are not supported on Sherlock.

Users are not allowed to create cron jobs on Sherlock, for a variety of reasons:

  • resources limits cannot be easily enforced in cron jobs, meaning that a single user can end up monopolizing all the resources of a login node,
  • no amount of resources can be guaranteed when executing a cron job, leading to unreliable runtime and performance,
  • user cron jobs have the potential of bringing down whole nodes by creating fork bombs, if they're not carefully crafted and tested,
  • compute and login nodes could be redeployed at any time, meaning that cron jobs scheduled there could go away without the user being notified, and cause all sorts of unexpected results,
  • cron jobs could be mistakenly scheduled on several nodes and run multiple times, which could result in corrupted files.

As an alternative, if you need to run recurring tasks at regular intervals, we recommend the following approach: by using the --begin job submission option, and creating a job that resubmits itself once it's done, you can virtually emulate the behavior and benefits of a cron job, without its disadvantages: your task will be scheduled on a compute node, and use all of the resources it requested, without being impacted by anything else.

Depending on your recurring job's specificities, where you submit it and the state of the cluster at the time of execution, the starting time of that task may not be guaranteed and result in a delay in execution, as it will be scheduled by Slurm like any other jobs. Typical recurring jobs, such as file synchronization, database updates or backup tasks don't require strict starting times, though, so most users find this an acceptable trade-off.

The table below summarizes the advantages and inconvenients of each approach:

Cron tasks Recurring jobs
Authorized on Sherlock
Dedicated resources for the task
Persistent across node redeployments
Unique, controlled execution
Potential execution delay


The script below presents an example of such a recurring, self-resubmitting job, that would emulate a cron task. It will append a timestamped line to a cron.log file in your $HOME directory and run every 7 days.

#SBATCH --job-name=cron
#SBATCH --begin=now+7days
#SBATCH --dependency=singleton
#SBATCH --time=00:02:00
#SBATCH --mail-type=FAIL

## Insert the command to run below. Here, we're just storing the date in a
## cron.log file
date -R >> $HOME/cron.log

## Resubmit the job for the next execution
sbatch $0

If the job payload (here the date command) fails for some reason and generates and error, the job will not be resubmitted, and the user will be notified by email.

We encourage users to get familiar with the submission options used in this script by giving a look at the sbatch man page, but some details are given below:

Submission option or command Explanation
--job-name=cron makes it easy to identify the job, is used by the --dependency=singleton option to identify identical jobs, and will allow cancelling the job by name (because its jobid will change each time it's submitted)
--begin=now+7days will instruct the scheduler to not even consider the job for scheduling before 7 days after it's been submitted
--dependency=singleton will make sure that only one cron job runs at any given time
--time=00:02:00 runtime limit for the job (here 2 minutes). You'll need to adjust the value depending on the task you need to run (shorter runtime requests usually result in the job running closer to the clock mark)
--mail-type=FAIL will send an email notification to the user if the job ever fails
sbatch $0 will resubmit the job script by calling its own name ($0) after successful execution

You can save the script as cron.sbatch or any other name, and submit it with:

$ sbatch cron.sbatch

It will start running for the first time 7 days after you submit it, and it will continue to run until you cancel it with the following command (using the job name, as defined by the --job-name option):

$ scancel -n cron

Persistent jobs#

Recurring jobs described above are a good way to emulate cron jobs on Sherlock, but don't fit all needs, especially when a persistent service is required.

For instance, workflows that require a persistent database connection would benefit from an ever-running database server instance. We don't provide persistent database services on Sherlock, but instructions and examples on how to submit database server jobs are provided for MariaDB or PostgreSQL.

In case those database instances need to run pretty much continuously (within the limits of available resources and runtime maximums), the previous approach described in the recurring jobs section could fall a bit short. Recurring jobs are mainly designed for jobs that have a fixed execution time and don't reach their time limit, but need to run at given intervals (like synchronization or backup jobs, for instance).

Because a database server process will never end within the job, and will continue until the job reaches its time limit, the last resubmission command (sbatch $0) will actually never be executed, and the job won't be resubmitted.

To work around this, a possible approach is to catch a specific signal sent by the scheduler at a predefined time, before the time limit is reached, and then re-queue the job. This is easily done with the Bash trap command, which can be instructed to re-submit a job when it receives the SIGUSR1 signal.

Automatically resubmitting a job doesn't make it immediately runnable

Jobs that are automatically re-submitted using this technique won't restart right away: the will get back in queue and stay pending until their execution conditions (priority, resources, usage limits...) are satisfied.


Here's the recurring job example from above, modified to:

  1. instruct the scheduler to send a SIGUSR1 signal to the job 90 seconds3 before reaching its time limit (with the #SBATCH --signal option),
  2. re-submit itself upon receiving that SIGUSR1 signal (with the trap command)
#SBATCH --job-name=persistent
#SBATCH --dependency=singleton
#SBATCH --time=00:05:00
#SBATCH --signal=B:SIGUSR1@90

# catch the SIGUSR1 signal
_resubmit() {
    ## Resubmit the job for the next execution
    echo "$(date): job $SLURM_JOBID received SIGUSR1 at $(date), re-submitting"
    sbatch $0
trap _resubmit SIGUSR1

## Insert the command to run below. Here, we're just outputing the date every
## 10 seconds, forever

echo "$(date): job $SLURM_JOBID starting on $SLURM_NODELIST"
while true; do
    echo "$(date): normal execution"
    sleep 60

Long running processes need to run in the background

If your job's actual paylod (the application or command you want to run) is running continuously for the whole duration of the job, it needs to be run in the background, so the trap can be processed.

To run your application in the background, just add a & at the end of the command and then add a wait statement at the end of the script, to make the shell wait until the end of the job.

For instance, if you were to run a PostgreSQL database server, the while true ... done loop in the previous example could be replaced by something like this:

postgres -i -D $DB_DIR &

Persistent $JOBID#

One potential issue with having a persistent job re-submit itself when it reaches its runtime limit is that it will get a different $JOBID each time it's (re-)submitted.

This could be particularly challenging when other jobs depend on it, like in the database server scenario, where client jobs would need to start only if the database server is running. This can be achieved with job dependencies, but those dependencies have to be expressed using jobids, so having the server job's id changing at each re-submission will be difficult to handle.

To avoid this, the re-submission command (sbatch $0) can be replaced by a re-queuing command:

scontrol requeue $SLURM_JOBID

The benefit of that change is that the job will keep the same $JOBID across all re-submissions. And now, dependencies can be added to other jobs using that specific $JOBID, without having to worry about it changing. And there will be only one $JOBID to track for that database server job.

The previous example can then be modified as follows:

#SBATCH --job-name=persistent
#SBATCH --dependency=singleton
#SBATCH --time=00:05:00
#SBATCH --signal=B:SIGUSR1@90

# catch the SIGUSR1 signal
_requeue() {
    echo "$(date): job $SLURM_JOBID received SIGUSR1, re-queueing"
    scontrol requeue $SLURM_JOBID
trap '_requeue' SIGUSR1

## Insert the command to run below. Here, we're just outputing the date every
## 60 seconds, forever

echo "$(date): job $SLURM_JOBID starting on $SLURM_NODELIST"
while true; do
    echo "$(date): normal execution"
    sleep 60

Submitting that job will produce an output similar to this:

Mon Nov  5 10:30:59 PST 2018: Job 31182239 starting on sh-06-34
Mon Nov  5 10:30:59 PST 2018: normal execution
Mon Nov  5 10:31:59 PST 2018: normal execution
Mon Nov  5 10:32:59 PST 2018: normal execution
Mon Nov  5 10:33:59 PST 2018: normal execution
Mon Nov  5 10:34:59 PST 2018: Job 31182239 received SIGUSR1, re-queueing
slurmstepd: error: *** JOB 31182239 ON sh-06-34 CANCELLED AT 2018-11-05T10:35:06 DUE TO JOB REQUEUE ***
Mon Nov  5 10:38:11 PST 2018: Job 31182239 starting on sh-06-34
Mon Nov  5 10:38:11 PST 2018: normal execution
Mon Nov  5 10:39:11 PST 2018: normal execution

The job runs for 5 minutes, then received the SIGUSR`` signal, is re-queued, restarts for 5 minutes, and so on, until it's properlyscancel`led.

  1. The dedicated partition that sdev uses by default only allows up to 2 cores and 8 GB or memory per user at any given time. So if you need more resources for your interactive session, you may have to specify a different partition. See the Partitions section for more details. 

  2. Please note that your SSH session will be attached to your running job, and that resources used by that interactive shell will count towards your job's resource limits. So if you start a process using large amounts of memory via SSH while your job is running, you may hit the job's memory limits, which will trigger its termination. 

  3. Due to the resolution of event handling by the scheduler, the signal may be sent up to 60 seconds earlier than specified.