Parallel GRASS jobs

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Parallel GRASS jobs

NOTE: GRASS 6 libraries are NOT thread safe (except for GPDE, see below).

GRASS doesn't perform any locking on the files within a GRASS database, so the user may end up with one process reading a file while another process is in the middle of writing it. The most problematic case is the WIND file, which contains the current region, although there are others.

If a user wants to run multiple commands concurrently, steps need to be taken to ensure that this type of conflict doesn't happen. For the current region, the user can use the WIND_OVERRIDE environment variable to specify a named region which should be used instead of the WIND file.

Or the user can use the GRASS_REGION environment variable to specify the region parameters (the syntax is the same as the WIND file, but with newlines replaced with semicolons). With this approach, the region can only be read, not modified.

Problems can also arise if the user reads files from another mapset while another session is modifying those files. The WIND file isn't an issue here, nor are the files containing raster data (which are updated atomically), but the various support files may be.

See below for ways around these limitations.


This you should know about GRASS' behaviour concerning multiple jobs:

  • You can run multiple processes in multiple locations (what's that?). Peaceful coexistence.
  • You can run multiple processes in the same mapset, but only if the region is untouched. If you are unsure, it's recommended to launch each job in its own mapset within the location.
  • You can run multiple processes in the same location, but in different mapsets. Peaceful coexistence.


Essentially there are at least two approaches of "poor man" parallelization without modifying GRASS source code:

  • split map into spatial chunks (possibly with overlap to gain smooth results)
  • time series: run each map elaboration on a different node.

See the Parallelizing Scripts wiki page

Working with tiles

Huge map reprojection example:

Q: I'd like to try splitting a large raster into small chunks and then projecting each one separately, sending the project command to the background. The problem is that, if the GRASS command changes the region settings, things might not work.

A: r.proj doesn't change the region.

Processing the map in chunks requires setting a different region for each command. That can be done by creating named regions and using the WIND_OVERRIDE environment variable, e.g.:

       g.region ... save=region1
       g.region ... save=region2
       WIND_OVERRIDE=region1 r.proj ... &
       WIND_OVERRIDE=region2 r.proj ... &

(for python see the grass.use_temp_region() function)

The main factor which is likely to affect parallelism is the fact that the processes won't share their caches, so there'll be some degree of inefficiency if there's substantial overlap between the source areas for the processes.

If you have more than one such map to project, processing entire maps in parallel might be a better choice (so that you get N maps projected in 10 hours rather than 1 map in 10/N hours).

Parallelized code


Good for a single system with a multi-core CPU.

Configure GRASS 7 with:

./configure --with-openmp

GPDE using OpenMP

The only parallelized library in GRASS >=6.3 is GRASS Partial Differential Equations Library (GPDE) and the gmath library in GRASS 7. Read more in OpenMP.


PyGRASS ParallelModuleQueue


Note: only used in the r.mapcalc parser!

Good for a single system with a multi-core CPU.

Configure GRASS 7 with:

./configure --with-pthread

The parser of r.mapcalc in GRASS 7 has been parallelized using GNU pthreads. The computation itself is executed serially.

Bourne and Python Scripts

Good for a single system with a multi-core CPU.

Often very easy & can be done without modification to the main source code.


Good for a multi-system cluster connected by a fast network.

The GIPE addon module has been created as a MPI (Message Passing Interface) implementation of the GIPE addon module.

MPI Programming

There is a sample implementation at module level in

GPU Programming

Good for certain kinds of calculations (e.g. ray-tracing) on a single system with a fast graphics card.

There is a version of the r.sun module which has been modified to use OpenCL. (works; still experimental)

Configure GRASS 7 with:

 ./configure --with-opencl

Cluster and Grid computing

A cluster or grid computing system consists of a number of computers that are tightly coupled together. The manager or master controls the utilization of compute nodes.

Job scheduler

Common job schedulers are SLURM, TORQUE, PBS, Son of Grid Engine, and kubernetes

See also Rosetta Stone of Workload Managers

A job consists of tasks, e.g. processing of a single raster map in a time series of many raster maps. Jobs are assigned to a queue and started as soon as a slot in the queue is free. Jobs are removed from the queue once they finished.

GRASS on a cluster

If you want to launch several GRASS jobs in parallel, you might consider to launch each job in its own mapset.

  • set up chunks of data to be processed (temporal or spatial, temporal chunks are usually easier to handle)
  • write a script with the actual processing of one chunk
  • write a script that initializes GRASS, creates a unique mapset, executes the script with the actual processing, and copies the results to a common mapset
  • add that script as a task to a job, create one job for each data chunk

The general concept is to create a script that

  1. creates a unique temporary mapset
  2. creates a unique temporary GISRC file for this mapset
  3. does the processing in this mapset
  4. changes to the target mapset by updating the GISRC file, verify with g.gisenv
  5. copies results from the temporary mapset to the target mapset
  6. deletes the temporary mapset and GISRC file

Such a script should not call grassXY and must be executable outside GRASS, because it is establishing a GRASS session, performing some processing, and closing the GRASS session, all by itself. See also GRASS and Shell.

Such a script will take arguments to specify the particular data to be processed.

A job specification for an HPC job scheduler would then contain this script with specific arguments.

The common bottleneck when using GRASS on a cluster is often disk I/O. Try to start the jobs with nice/ionice to reduce strain on the storage devices.

Cloud computing

GRASS GIS 7 is running in the cloud as web processing service backend. Have a look at:

GRASS 7 in the cloud (by Sören Gebbert)

This Open Cloud GIS has been set up in a private Amazon compatible cloud environment using:

  • Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and 10.10 cloud server edition
  • Eucalyptus Cloud
  • GRASS GIS 7 latest svn
  • PyWPS latest svn
  • wps-grass-bridge latest svn
  • QGIS 1.7 with a modified QWPS plugin


Instructions to run GRASS GIS on a commercial VPS to do some memory-intensive operations:

Hints for NFS users

  • AVOID script forking on the cluster (but inclusion via "." works ok). This means that the GRASS_BATCH_JOB approach is prone to fail. It is highly recommended to simply set a series of environmental variables to define the GRASS session, see here how to do that.
  • be careful with concurrent file writing (use "lockfile" locking, the lockfile command is provided by procmail);
  • store as much temporary data as possible (even the final maps) on the local blade disks if you have.
  • finally collect all results from local blade disks *after* the parallel job execution in a sequential collector job (I am writing that now) to not kill NFS. For example, Grid Engine offers a "hold" function to only execute the collector job after having done the rest.
  • If all else fails, and the I/O load is not too great, consider using sshfs with ssh passkeys instead of NFS.
  • In some situations it is necessary to preserve the same directory structure on all nodes, and symlinks are a nice way to do that, but some (closed source 3rd party which will remain nameless) software insists on expanding symlinks. In this situation the bindfs FUSE extension can help. It is safer to use than "mount" binds, and you don't have to be root to set them up. As with sshfs there is a performance penalty so it may not be appropriate in high I/O situations.

Error: Too many open files

When working with long time series and r.series starts to complain that files are missing/not readable or the message

Too many open files

For a solution, see Large_raster_data_processing#Number_of_open_files_limitation

Misc Tips & Tricks

See the poor-man's multi-processing script on the Parallelizing Scripts wiki page. This approach has been used in the addon script.

See also

This Wiki: