Distributed Context

To support running on systems from laptops and workstations to large distributed HPC clusters, Arbor uses distributed contexts to:

  • Describe the distributed computer system that a simulation is to be distributed over and run on.
  • Perform collective operations over the distributed system, such as gather and synchronization.
  • Query information about the distributed system, such as the number of distributed processes and the index/rank of the calling process.

The global context used to run a simulation is determined at run time, not at compile time. This means that if Arbor is compiled with support for MPI enabled, then at run time the user can choose between using a non-distributed (local) context, or an distributed MPI context.

An execution context is created by a user before building and running a simulation. This context is then used to perform domain decomposition and initialize the simulation (see Simulations for more about the simulation building workflow). In the example below, a context that uses MPI is used to run a distributed simulation:

The public API does not directly expose arb::distributed_context or any of its implementations. By default arb::context uses only local “on-node” resources. To use an MPI communicator for distributed communication, it can be initialised with the communicator:

arb::proc_allocation resources;
my_recipe recipe;

// Create a context that uses the local resources enumerated in resources,
// and that uses the standard MPI communicator MPI_COMM_WORLD for
// distributed communication.
arb::context context = arb::make_context(resources, MPI_COMM_WORLD);

// Partition model over the distributed system.
arb::domain_decomposition decomp = arb::partition_load_balance(recipe, context);

// Instantiate the simulation over the distributed system.
arb::simulation sim(recipe, decomp, context);

// Run the simulation for 100ms over the distributed system.
sim.run(100, 0.01);

In the back end arb::distributed_context defines the interface for distributed contexts, for which two implementations are provided: arb::local_context and arb::mpi_context. Distributed contexts are wrapped in shared pointers:

using distributed_context_handle = std::shared_ptr<distributed_context>

A distributed context can then be generated using helper functions arb::make_local_context() and arb::make_mpi_context():

// Create a context that uses only local resources (is non-distributed).
auto dist_ctx  arb::make_local_context();

// Create an MPI context that uses the standard MPI_COMM_WORLD communicator.
auto dist_ctx = arb::make_mpi_context(MPI_COMM_WORLD);

Class Documentation

class distributed_context

Defines the interface used by Arbor to query and perform collective operations on distributed systems.

Uses value-semantic type erasure. The main benefit of this approach is that classes that implement the interface can use duck typing instead of deriving from distributed_context.



Default constructor initializes the context as a local_context.

distributed_context(distributed_context &&other)

Move constructor.

distributed_context &operator=(distributed_context &&other)

Copy from rvalue.

template<typename Impl>
distributed_context(Impl &&impl)

Initialize with an implementation that satisfies the interface.


int id() const

Each distributed process has a unique integer identifier, where the identifiers are numbered contiguously in the half open range [0, size). (for example MPI_Rank).

int size() const

The number of distributed processes (for example MPI_Size).

void barrier() const

A synchronization barrier where all distributed processes wait until every process has reached the barrier (for example MPI_Barrier).

std::string name() const

The name of the context implementation. For example, if using MPI returns "MPI".

std::vector<std::string> gather(std::string value, int root) const

Overload for gathering a string from each domain into a vector of strings on domain root.

T min(T value) const

Reduction operation over all processes.

The type T is one of float, double, int, std::uint32_t, std::uint64_t.

T max(T value) const

Reduction operation over all processes.

The type T is one of float, double, int, std::uint32_t, std::uint64_t.

T sum(T value) const

Reduction operation over all processes.

The type T is one of float, double, int, std::uint32_t, std::uint64_t.

std::vector<T> gather(T value, int root) const

Gather operation. Returns a vector with one entry for each process.

The type T is one of float, double, int, std::uint32_t, std::uint64_t, std::string.

class local_context

Implements the arb::distributed_context interface for non-distributed computation.

This is the default arb::distributed_context, and should be used when running on laptop or workstation systems with one NUMA domain.


arb::local_context provides the simplest possible distributed context, with only one process, and where all reduction operations are the identity operator.



Default constructor.

distributed_context_handle make_local_context()

Convenience function that returns a handle to a local context.

class mpi_context

Implements the arb::distributed_context interface for distributed computation using the MPI message passing library.


mpi_context(MPI_Comm comm)

Create a context that will uses the MPI communicator comm.

distributed_context_handle make_mpi_context(MPI_Comm comm)

Convenience function that returns a handle to a arb::mpi_context that uses the MPI communicator comm.