7. Workflows


This is a quickstart on the platform. In this page you will learn:

  • creating a job dependency with Slurm

  • using Picas pilot framework from Spider

7.1. Slurm job dependencies

A job can be given the constraint that it only starts after another job has finished. Lets say that you have two Slurm jobs, A and B. You want job B to start after job A has successfully completed. Here are the steps:

  • Submit job A and keep the returned job ID:

    sbatch <jobA.sh>
  • Submit job B with a condition to start after job A, by providing its assigned job ID. This way job B only starts after Job A has successfully completed:

    sbatch --dependency=afterok:<jobID_A> jobB.sh
  • We can also tell Slurm to run job B, even if job A fails:

    sbatch --dependency=afterany:<jobID_A> jobB.sh
  • If you want job B to start after several other jobs have completed, use the delimiter ‘:’ as:

    sbatch --dependency=afterok:<jobID_A:jobID_C:jobID_D> jobB.sh

7.1.1. Job dependency example

Now we show an example of how to use the dependencies. In this example it is shown how to run a job that depends on another job to finish before it starts.

First make two files, hello.sh which contains


sleep 30
echo "hello world"

and bye.sh which contains


echo "bye!"

And make the scripts executable with chmod +x hello.sh and chmod +x bye.sh.

The sleep 30 command stops the code for 30 seconds and then the date command shows you the time, so you can see that the second job waits for the dependent to finish before starting.

Now you can submit the jobs with:

jobid=$(sbatch --parsable hello.sh)
sbatch --dependency=afterok:$jobid bye.sh

Submitted batch job 2560644

The first command submits a job and returns only the JobID value with --parsable, and saves this value to a variable called jobid. The second command only starts after the job with jobid has finished in a success state with afterok. For more information on the dependency flag, see the SLURM man-pages.

Now you can see your jobs in the queue with:

squeue -u homer
         2560644    normal   bye.sh    homer PD       0:00      1 (Dependency)
         2560643    normal hello.sh    homer  R       0:11      1 wn-hb-04

The bye.sh script is pending (PD), waiting until hello.sh is finished, which is running (R). A bit later the jobs are finished:

squeue -u homer

And now we can see the output of the log files:

cat slurm-2560643.out

Wed Aug 17 11:27:25 CEST 2022
Wed Aug 17 11:27:55 CEST 2022
hello world
cat slurm-2560644.out

Wed Aug 17 11:27:56 CEST 2022

And we see that the first job slept for 30 seconds and the second job waited until the first was finished!

See also

For more information on job dependencies, see also the -d, --dependency section in the man page of the sbatch command.

7.2. PiCaS

When you run many jobs on Spider it can be difficult to keep track of the state of these jobs, especially when you start running hundreds to thousands of jobs. Although Slurm offers some functionality for tracking the status of the jobs, via the Slurm job ID, in many cases a Pilot job framework, such as PiCaS, is necessary for this purpose.

Access on PiCaS is not provided by default to the Spider projects. To request for PiCaS access, please contact our our helpdesk.

If you already have access on PiCaS, then you can use it directly from Spider, i.e. you can establish a connection to your CouchDB database and use the python PiCaS client either from the login node or the worker nodes.

To connect with your PiCaS database you need to provide your credentials (username, password, database name). It is possible to specify the password on the command line, however for security reasons this should be avoided on shared systems (like the login node) because it can allow other local users to read the password (e.g. with the ps command). Also to avoid having to type these credentials every time your client connects to your database or using them within your jobs, we advice you to authenticate to PiCaS with the steps below.

  • Create a PiCaS configuration directory in your home directory. Here we will call this directory picas_cfg, but you are free to give it any other name.

mkdir /home/[USERNAME]/picas_cfg
chmod go-rwx /home/[USERNAME]/picas_cfg
  • Check the settings of your directory with ls -la. The output should be similar to:

ls -la /home/homer/picas_cfg
drwx------ 1 homer homer  3  May  7 08:33 picas_cfg
  • Create a new file called picasconfig.py inside the picas_cfg directory:

cd /home/[USERNAME]]/picas_cfg
touch picasconfig.py
  • Add the following lines to the picasconfig.py file:

  • Storing cleartext passwords in any medium is dangerous, so we need to make sure it is not readable by others. Save the picasconfig.py file and for additional security set it to read-write (rw) access for you only:

chmod go-rw /home/[USERNAME]/picas_cfg/picasconfig.py
  • Check the permissions of your picasconfig.py file with ls -la. The output should be similar to:

ls -la /home/homer/picas_cfg/picasconfig.py
-rw------- 1 homer homer  126 May  7 08:33 picasconfig.py
  • Finally, add the picas_cfg directory to your PYTHONPATH environment variable so that python can locate it. We recommend that you set this variable in your /home/[USERNAME]]/.bashrc file by adding the following lines to it:


You are now ready to start using your PiCaS credentials without having to type them each time you or your jobs need to connect to the PiCaS server. Good practices to build worflows with PiCaS can be found in PiCaS example.

See also

Still need help? Contact our helpdesk

7.3. Snakemake

Snakemake is a workflow management tool that uses makefiles to define analyses and provide reproducable and scalable results. The workflow can be developed locally and then moved to server, cluster, cloud or grid to scale up the data size and computational needs.

Snakemake has integrations with Slurm, PBS and SGE for deploying to compute clusters, see the documentation here.

For a showcase that demonstrates the power of snakemake, we advise you to go through the tutorial found here.

You can find the full documentation located at the read the docs page.

7.4. Dask

Dask is not a workflow management tool, but it does help in automating some parts of your analysis when you want to scale up. Dask helps you split up work and scale to an arbitrary amount of machines. It helps you manage data that is too large for a single machine and run your code in parallel on multiple machines.

The basic idea is that you define your analysis steps first. Dask takes the data shapes and operations, and prepares a schema of steps that are to be performed by your cluster. When all is ready, you submit your calculation and dask deploys it on a cluster. After the calculation is done, the data and output are aggregated into files that can be handled for post-processing.

Dask has excellent tutorials, which can be found here. The full documentation can be found here.

7.4.1. RS-DAT

RS-DAT or Remote Sensing Data Analysis Tools, created by the NLeSC, integrates Dask, Jupyter and the dCache storage system of SURF into one contained framework, which is then run from your local machine while deploying to a cluster.

The package can be found here and the installation instruction can be found here. Note that RS-DAT is designed around the Spider data processing platform and the Snellius supercomputer, but can be run on any Slurm cluster. The instructions for running on a generic cluster are available in the project documentation.

The examples are available here, but be aware that only the first of the three examples works without an access token to the data stored on dCache. The example, however, does give a good impression of the power or RS-DAT.

7.5. Cron jobs

If you need to automate (part of) your workflow it is possible to set up cronjobs on Spider. Please note that cronjobs on Spider can be used for testing purposes only and we do not offer this functionality as part of our service. If you wish to use cron jobs for production workflows please contact our helpdesk.

There are some restrictions when setting up a cronjob on Spider. The Spider login spider.surfsara.nl is automatically directed to two different login nodes ui-01.spider.surfsara.nl or ui-02.spider.surfsara.nl and cronjobs will be linked to the UI where they where created. If you would like to make changes in your cronjob you need to login directly to the login node (ui-01 or ui-02) where it was created (tip: to check which node you are on, you can type the command hostname). This may also affect your workflows in case of maintenance on the login node you run your cronjobs.

For a more sustainable option for automated jobs see the next subsection.

7.5.1. Recurring jobs

Cron is tied to a single machine, which in the case of Spider is a user-interface (ui) node or a worker node (wn). If a cron job is setup on one of these machines and this machine is not available, your job will not run.

For more robust recurring jobs, there is scrontab, a SLURM integration of cron. scrontab has identical syntax to cron. However, the job you submit is added to the SLURM database and run on the defined schedule when the resources are available. The job will only start once the resources are available, so your job may not always run at the exact same time (unlike cron). Your job will be scheduled to run on a worker node, regardless of where it was submitted.

Therefore we advice users to use scrontab instead of crontab when they want to set up recurring jobs. The scrontab documentation can be found here.


Jobs submitted with scrontab are treated as regular jobs in the SLURM queue and will keep running until they finished or killed. To avoid filling up the queue with test jobs that run long, please use short lived jobs like hello world when testing.