This document provides a step-by-step guide on how to create a first GPI-Space application.


To create a GPI-Space application and benefit from its automated task management, users define the workflow pattern and the code that makes up each individual task in that workflow. In GPI-Space, a workflow is defined as an abstract Petri Net that can be executed by the GPI-Space framework.

Programming Model

To describe and design scalable and parallelizable applications, GPI-Space leverages the concept of “Petri Nets”. Petri Nets enable modeling concurrent and distributed systems. In essence, a Petri Net is a collection of directed arcs connecting “places” and “transitions”. It can be seen as a bipartite graph with arcs only going from “place” to “transition” or vice versa, as shown in the example below. A more formal definition of a Petri Net is a tuple N = (P, T, F, M), where:

  • P is a finite set of places
  • T is a finite set of transitions
  • M is the “Marking”, a function from P to the natural numbers N, where N is the number of tokens in a place
  • Arcs or flow relations F emerge from P --> T or T --> P only

Places and transitions define a logical workflow, which can execute if the transitions are ready to “fire”. A transition can fire once real values or tokens are put onto places. When the transition fires, it consumes one token from each input place and produces one token on each output place.

A Petri Net with multiple fire-able transitions inherently enables ‘task parallelism’ and ‘data parallelism’. For example, in the figure below:

  • Two t1 transitions can fire simultaneously (data-parallel), each consuming one token at input place p1.
  • Transition t1, t2 and t3 can figure simultaneously (task-parallel), in the figure below.

A Petri Net with four transitions Tx and six places Px: T1 has one
 input P1 and two outputs P2 and P3. T2 has input P2 and output P4. T3
 has input P3 and P5. T4 has two inputs P4 and P5 and one output
 P6. There are two tokens on P1, one token on P2, and one token on
 P3. Transitions T1, T2 and T3 are able to fire, T4 is


The GPI-Space framework builds on a “agent-worker” architecture, as shown in the figure below. The agent houses the workflow engine and the scheduler. The workers processes that execute the tasks are distributed across the compute nodes. The Remote Interface Daemon (RIFD) on each host coordinates startup and shutdown steps. A distributed shared memory layer (Virtual Memory) completes the GPI-Space ecosystem. The Virtual Memory, Workers and the RIFDs together constitute the Distributed Runtime System (DRTS), as depicted in the figure below.

Architecture Overview of GPI-Space Eco-System: GPI-Space consists of
 the Agent (on top) and the DRTS (on the bottom). Within the agent,
 there is the workflow engine (WE) and the Scheduler, which have a
 bidirectional connection. The DRTS is split into two parts:
 Components on individual compute nodes and the Virtual Memory
 spanning all nodes. Within each node, there are workers tied to CPU
 cores, as well as a RIFD. The scheduler has a has a connection to
 each worker. Outside of GPI-Space is the User Application Workflow,
 containing a Petri Net, which has a connection to the

Developing a GPI-Space Application

Writing a GPI-Space application requires three steps:

  1. Implementing the logic behind individual tasks (domain-specific code).
  2. Designing a Petri Net that defines the application workflow with the tasks defined in step (1).
  3. Setting up the distributed GPI-Space cluster to run the workflow defined in step (2).

The following sections detail the above steps with an example.

Application Example

The GPI-Space application design and execution is illustrated with a simple example we call compute_and_aggregate. It computes N values and finally aggregates them into a sum. This example can be considered as a simplification of any application that needs to perform a single aggregation (a reduce operation) of values computed by tasks distributed across workers, i.e., N values computed in a distributed fashion. The Petri Net for this application workflow is illustrated below.

Petri Net for the compute_and_aggregate example: There is a top
 level input task_generator and a top level output
 aggregated_value. There are two transitions, compute and
 aggregate. compute has one input in and one output out. aggregate has
 two inputs, i and sum, and one output sum. There are three places,
 generator, computed_values and global_sum. The place global_sum has a
 single token which is highlighted to emphasize it being the
 accumulator, the places generator and computed_values have three and
 two tokens each. compute's port in is consuming from place generator,
 the port out is producing to computed_values. aggregate's port i is
 consuming from computed_values, both the input and output port sum
 are connected to global_sum.

Note: The following listings assumes the set of variables as given in the ${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/share/gspc/ file and additionally

  • ${APP_INSTALL_DIR} is an empty directory on a shared filesystem where the example application will be installed in.

Note: You can find the complete application example source code at ${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/share/gspc/example-compute_and_aggregate/ in your GPI-Space installation.

User Code

For the compute_and_aggregate example, users design the code that defines the tasks that generates the values and the sum function.

For instance, a print_and_return_a_random_value() function that performs one desired computation (i.e., randomly generate a value and print it, in our example) could be as follows:

#include <iostream>
#include <random>

unsigned int print_and_return_a_random_value()
  unsigned int const some_computed_value = std::random_device{}();
  std::cout << "Random value: " << some_computed_value << '\n';

  return some_computed_value;

The N distributed values being computed can be aggregated as they are generated into a partial sum by invoking a aggregate_value_sum function:

#include <atomic>

std::atomic<unsigned int> global_sum {0};

void aggregate_value_sum (unsigned int value)
  global_sum += value;

XML-based Workflow (.xpnet)

To define a workflow as a Petri Net an XML file is used. This file is referred to as a “xpnet”. For validation in an XML editor the scheme ${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/share/gspc/xml/xsd/pnet.xsd can be used.

Each xpnet implements a function and therefore <defun> must be the top level tag of every xpnet. A function has a signature, described by typed and named <in> and <out> ports. A function’s implementation might be a module, an expression or a nested Petri <net>. The following snippet defines a function sum that takes two arguments lhs and rhs and produces one output sum, lhs + rhs.

<defun name="sum">
  <in name="lhs" type="int"/>
  <in name="rhs" type="int"/>
  <out name="sum" type="int"/>
    ${sum} := ${lhs} + ${rhs}

A nested Petri Net consists of <place>s and <transition>s as described above. A transition calls a function by connecting its input/output ports to input/output places. The following snippet shows a transition accumulate which takes the current value of accumulator and uses sum to add value to it.

<place name="value" type="int"/>
<place name="accumulator" type="int"/>
<transition name="accumulate">
  <use name="sum"/>
  <connect-in port="a" place="value"/>
  <connect-in port="b" place="accumulator"/>
  <connect-out port="sum" place="accumulator"/>

Modules involve user-defined code and are scheduled as tasks to the workers. They include user-defined C++ code that can invoke external shared libraries, if necessary. The <code><![CDATA[..]]></code> wraps the user-defined code to be executed by a worker.

For example, the print_and_return_a_random_value() functionality can be wrapped into a transition compute with a module (compute_random_value) as follows:

    <place name="trigger" type="control"/>
    <place name="computed_values" type="unsigned int"/>

    <transition name="compute">
        <in name="in" type="control"/>
        <out name="out" type="unsigned int"/>

        <module name="compute_random_value"
                function="out print_and_return_a_random_value()">
        <cinclude href="iostream"/>
        <cinclude href="random"/>
          unsigned int const some_computed_value = std::random_device{}();
          std::cout << "Random value: " << some_computed_value << '\n';

          return some_computed_value;

      <connect-in port="in" place="trigger"/>
      <connect-out port="out" place="computed_values"/>

Input tokens that trigger a transition 'compute' are consumed from place 'trigger' via input port in. The value computed by the worker (some_computed_value) is returned back to the workflow at place 'compute_values' via port out. Such input/output ports and the place connection relationships in the Petri Net are specified via <connect-in/out/inout> XML tags. Note that the “computation” does not depend on the input triggering it, the mere existence is enough, which is why it can use a control token rather than an integer or alike.

Unlike a module, an expression is executed in the agent (i.e., no task scheduling to workers). While it could also be written as a module, a simple aggregation such as aggregate_value_sum could benefit from being centralized at the agent that receives output values computed from the distributed workers. To compute an on-the-fly aggregation of values generated at the place 'compute_values' as done by the aggregate_value_sum function described above, a transition with an expression can be defined as follows:

    <place name="global_sum" type="unsigned int">

    <transition name="aggregate_value_sum">
        <in name="i" type="unsigned int"/>
        <inout name="S" type="unsigned int"/>
          ${S} := ${S} + ${i}
      <connect-in port="i" place="computed_values"/>
      <connect-inout port="S" place="global_sum"/>

The <connect-inout> tag enables the place 'global_sum' to be updated incrementally with partial sums, via port S that serves as both an input and an output port. It is equivalent to a unsigned int& argument in C++.

To put together the above two transitions into a Petri Net for the compute_and_aggregate example, the XML-based workflow compute_and_aggregate.xpnet can be written as:

<defun name="compute_and_aggregate">
  <in name="task_trigger" type="control" place="trigger"/>
  <out name="aggregated_value" type="unsigned int" place="global_sum"/>


    <place name="trigger" type="control"/>
    <place name="computed_values" type="unsigned int"/>
    <place name="global_sum" type="unsigned int">

    <transition name="compute">
        <in name="in" type="control"/>
        <out name="out" type="unsigned int"/>

        <module name="compute_random_value"
                function="out print_and_return_a_random_value()">
        <cinclude href="iostream"/>
        <cinclude href="random"/>
          unsigned int const some_computed_value = std::random_device{}();
          std::cout << "Random value: " << some_computed_value << '\n';

          return some_computed_value;

      <connect-in port="in" place="trigger"/>
      <connect-out port="out" place="computed_values"/>

    <transition name="aggregate_value_sum">
        <in name="i" type="unsigned int"/>
        <inout name="S" type="unsigned int"/>
          ${S} := ${S} + ${i}
      <connect-in port="i" place="computed_values"/>
      <connect-inout port="S" place="global_sum"/>


With the above Petri Net workflow, N values can be generated by placing N tokens onto the place 'trigger'. This can be done by another transition or from the application driver program through the input port task_trigger connected to place 'trigger' (the choice for this example is described below). The place 'global_sum' computes partial sums as the tasks for transition 'compute' execute. The total aggregated value is available to application user via the output variable aggregated_value, once the workflow completes running all of its tasks.

Note that the order of printing might differ from the order of summation: GPI-Space does not define any order on transitions being executed. In case of integral values the summation order doesn’t matter. However, in case of fractional values (or floating point addition), the order is important. Multiple runs will produce different print orders of printing. Multiple runs with the same order of printing will produce different aggregated sums.

Startup Binary

The startup binary – also called application driver – is responsible for initializing the DRTS and the Agent (i.e., RIFD and Workers), submitting the job to the Agent, and monitoring for the results that needs to be relayed back to the user. The following sections present a detailed breakdown of the driver program (driver.cpp).

Input parameters and Setting Program Options

Input parameters required to set up the distributed cluster, such as the RIFD startup strategy, the nodefile path (listing of all hosts to use), etc., can be supplied to the startup binary as command line arguments. The gspc::options::* functions provide groups of options for logging, scoped_rifd, the drts, virtual_memory and the GPI-Space installation. These command line inputs can be parsed using Boost’s Program Options library. User-defined values can also be defined via the same options options description to provide generic GPI-Space and application specific parameters in the same command line.

#include <drts/client.hpp>
#include <drts/drts.hpp>
#include <drts/scoped_rifd.hpp>

#include <boost/program_options.hpp>

#include <exception>
#include <iostream>
#include <map>
#include <stdexcept>
#include <string>

int main (int argc, char** argv)
  boost::program_options::options_description options ("compute_and_aggregate");
    .add (gspc::options::drts())
    .add (gspc::options::logging())
    .add (gspc::options::scoped_rifd())
       ("N", boost::program_options::value<int>()->required())
       ("workers-per-node", boost::program_options::value<int>()->required())
       ("help", boost::program_options::bool_switch()->default_value (false));

  boost::program_options::variables_map vm;
    ( boost::program_options::command_line_parser (argc, argv)
      .options (options).run()
    , vm

  if ( ("help").as<bool>()) {
    std::cout << "Usage:\n" << options << "\n";
    return 0;


  int const workers_per_node ( ("workers-per-node").as<int>());
  int const N ( ("N").as<int>());

  // See the following sections.

  return 0;
catch (std::exception const& ex)
  std::cerr << "Error: " << ex.what() << "\n";
  return 1;
Setting up GPI-Space

The first step in the startup binary is to setup the RIFD daemons with relevant information regarding the GPI-Space installation, the hostnames and port to use as well as the communication strategy to start up the distributed components.

  boost::filesystem::path const app_install_dir (APP_INSTALL_DIR);
  gspc::set_application_search_path (vm, app_install_dir / "lib");

  gspc::installation const gspc_installation (GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR);

  gspc::scoped_rifds const rifds
    ( gspc::rifd::strategy {vm}   // ssh or pbdsh
    , gspc::rifd::hostnames {vm}  // a vector of host names
    , gspc::rifd::port {vm}       // port for communication
    , gspc_installation

Next, the runtime system object is created, to start workers on all the machines. A user-defined topology string is used to setup the cluster, as shown below. At this point, the workers in the DRTS are ready to receive work.

  // define topology for GPI-Space: workers_per_node workers with
  // capability/name "worker" per host.
  std::string const topology_description
    ("worker:" + std::to_string (workers_per_node));

  gspc::scoped_runtime_system drts
    ( vm                    // variables_map containing GPI-Space options
    , gspc_installation
    , topology_description
    , rifds.entry_points()  // entry points to start agent and workers on
Creating workflow and client

Once the runtime system is setup, a GPI-Space client (job submitter or user) objects are created and attached to the DRTS. Additionally, the path to the Petri Net is furnished to submit the workflow to the runtime (this path is a pointer to the Petri Net definition obtained after compiling the XML-based definition, and is described below).

  gspc::workflow const workflow
    (app_install_dir / "compute_and_aggregate.pnet");

  gspc::client client (drts);
Submitting workflow

Once the GPI-Space client and workflow are created, the application can be launched with the following steps:

  • place any input tokens to trigger the workflow execution (in case of our example, place N tokens onto the input port task_trigger, and,
  • execute a Petri Net-based workflow by calling put_and_run() on the client.
  std::multimap<std::string, pnet::type::value::value_type> values_on_ports;

  // put N values onto place "trigger" via input port "task_trigger"
  // to trigger N "compute" tasks
  for (int i (0); i < N; ++i) {
    values_on_ports.emplace ("task_trigger", we::type::literal::control{});

  auto const results
    (gspc::client (drts).put_and_run (workflow, values_on_ports));
Retrieving Output Results

The output or output port values will be available in the std::multimap<> result. For the compute_and_aggregate example, the result at the output port aggregated_value can be extracted as follows:

  if (results.size() != 1 || results.count ("aggregated_value") != 1) {
    throw std::logic_error ("unexpected output");

  pnet::type::value::value_type const final_result_value
    (results.find ("aggregated_value")->second);

  std::cout << boost::get<unsigned int> (final_result_value) << std::endl;

pnet::type::value::value_type refers to generic Petri Net types that are handled by the GPI-Space workflow engine.

Running the GPI-Space Application

Having defined the workflow and the startup binary, this section discusses how to manually build and run the GPI-Space application.

Compiling a Petri Net XML Workflow

First, the GPI-Space-provided Petri Net compiler (pnetc) is used to generate an internal representation (a .pnet file) of the XML-based Petri Net defined in the xpnet file (see above). The path to the .pnet file generated by the pnetc compiler needs to be passed to the startup binary, while creating a gspc::workflow (see “Creating Workflow and client” above).

For the compute_and_aggregate example, the Petri Net can be compiled as follows:

"${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/bin/pnetc"                               \
  --input "compute_and_aggregate.xpnet"                           \
  --output "${APP_INSTALL_DIR}/compute_and_aggregate.pnet"

Next, pnetc is used to generate wrapper code for the modules defined in the .xpnet, which are then compiled using the generated Makefile into a shared library that can be employed by the workers at runtime. For the compute_and_aggregate example, the Petri Net modules can be built as follows:

"${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/bin/pnetc"                               \
  --input="compute_and_aggregate.xpnet"                           \
  --output="/dev/null"                                            \
  --gen-cxxflags=-O3                                              \

make install                                                      \
  -C "${APP_INSTALL_DIR}/src"                                     \

Building startup binary

Once the user-defined code library containing the workflow has been created, we need to compile and build the startup binary that is need to launch and execute the Petri Net-based workflow.

The startup binary for compute_and_aggregate can be built with the GPI-Space libraries as follows:

"${CXX}"                                                          \
  -Wall -Wextra -Werror                                           \
  -std=c++11                                                      \
  -DAPP_INSTALL_DIR="\"${APP_INSTALL_DIR}\""                      \
  -isystem "${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/include"                      \
  -isystem "${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/external/boost/include"       \
  -Wl,--exclude-libs,libboost_program_options.a                   \
  -L "${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/lib/"                               \
  -L "${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/external/boost/lib/"                \
  -Wl,-rpath-link,"${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/external/boost/lib/"   \
  -Wl,-rpath,"${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/lib:${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/external/boost/lib/" \
  driver.cpp                                                      \
  -lgspc                                                          \
  -lboost_program_options                                         \
  -lboost_system                                                  \
  -o "${APP_INSTALL_DIR}/bin/compute_and_aggregate"

As a result, the run_compute_and_aggregate application is ready to be used and can be executed.

Start the GPI-Space monitor

GPI-Space provides a graphical interface for the logging messages from the application workflow (i.e., std::cout within modules is redirected here). This can be launched (with a user-specified port number that shall also be given to the runtime system) as follows:

"${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/bin/gspc-monitor" --port "${LOG_PORT}" &

Alternatively, one can use ${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/bin/gspc-logging-to-stdout.exe if no graphical session is available or one is mostly interested in getting logging messages. Also see ${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR}/share/gspc/gspc-monitor.html for more details on the monitor GUI.


For the sake of brevity, this example hard-codes the paths to ${APP_INSTALL_DIR} and ${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR} via -D or -Wl,-rpath in the compilation step. Thus this example is not movable and the GPI-Space installation it uses is not movable or replaceable either, making it hard to ship an application to users.

The GPI-Space installation itself is self-contained and freely movable, so applications may copy it into their own installation directories, e.g. libexec/bundle/gpispace, and then at runtime use the executable’s path (determined for example using dladdr()) and the knowledge of the relative path to construct a gspc::installation. The same method can also be used to avoid compiling ${ALL_INSTALL_DIR} into the binaries, to get the .pnet and module call library location.

The libraries and executables built want to change the -rpath which in the example is set to point into ${GPISPACE_INSTALL_DIR} to be relative as well, using $ORIGIN/../libexec/bundle/gpispace/lib/ or alike. Make sure to correctly quote for shells and Makefile, especially when you’re using multiple layers of them.


The startup binary ${APP_INSTALL_DIR}/bin/run_compute_and_aggregate can be executed with necessary command-line parameters to launch the GPI-Space application.

For example, for compute_and_aggregate, the driver ${APP_INSTALL_DIR}/bin/run_compute_and_aggregate can be used to launch the workflow on a single node with 4 cores, as follows:

hostname > nodefile
# or to test in a cluster allocation, for `--nodefile` below, use
# Slurm: "$(generate_pbs_nodefile)"
# PBS/Torque: "${PBS_NODEFILE}"

"${APP_INSTALL_DIR}/bin/compute_and_aggregate"                    \
  --rif-strategy ssh                                              \
  --nodefile "${PWD}/nodefile"                                    \
  ${LOG_PORT:+--log-host ${HOSTNAME} --log-port ${LOG_PORT}}      \
  --N 20                                                          \
  --workers-per-node 4

First, a nodefile containing the hostname of the system is created. Then the application is invoked, providing it with the necessary command line parameters:

  • --rif-strategy: use ssh to start the components (requires password- and passphrase-less ssh, using ~/.ssh/id_rsa by default)
  • --nodefile: the file containing the hostnames where to run the application. In this case, the just created nodefile with a single host
  • --log-port and --log-host: the hostname and port used in order to connect to the gsp-monitor (see above), if started
  • --N: the application specific option with the number of values to generate
  • --workers-per-node: the application specific option with the number of workers to use

You can see more parameters that may be passed to the GPI-Space runtime system using --help.