Distributed arrays based on MPI onesided communication
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March 2018


This package provides distributed arrays based on MPI one-sided communication primitives. It is currently a proof-of-concept, only the functionality described in this readme is implemented so far.

The following simple example shows how to multiply a matrix and a vector:

using MPI, MPIArrays

rank = MPI.Comm_rank(MPI.COMM_WORLD)
N = 30 # size of the matrix

# Create an uninitialized matrix and vector
x = MPIArray{Float64}(N)
A = MPIArray{Float64}(N,N)

# Set random values

# Make sure every process finished initializing the coefficients
sync(A, x)

b = A*x

# This will print on the first process, using slow element-by-element communication, but that's OK to print to screen
rank == 0 && println("Matvec result: $b")

# Clean up


The constructors always create uninitialized arrays. In the most basic form, only the array size is needed as argument:

x = MPIArray{Int}(5,5)

This will distribute the first array dimension evenly over the number of processes in the MPI.COMM_WORLD communicator.

It is also possible to specify the number of partitions in each direction, e.g. to create a 20 × 20 matrix with 2 partitions in each direction:

x = MPIArray{Int}(MPI.COMM_WORLD, (2,2), 20,20)

The above constructors automatically distribute the total number of elements in each direction in a uniform way. It is also possible to manually specify the number of elements in each partition in each direction:

x = MPIArray{Int}(MPI.COMM_WORLD, [7,3], [10])

This will create a 10 × 10 distributed array, with 7 rows on the first processor and 3 on the second.

Finally, a distributed array can be constructed from predefined local parts:

x = MPIArray{Int}([1,2,3], 4)

This will produce a distributed array with 4 partitions, each containing [1,2,3]


The array interface is implemented, including normal indexing operations. Note that these lock and unlock the MPI window on each call, and are therefore expensive. The advantage of having these operations defined is mainly for convenient access to utility functions such as I/O.

Other supported operations from Base are LinearAlgebra.A_mul_B! for Matrix-vector product and Base.filter and Base.filter!

Utility operations

A tuple containing the locally-owned index range can be obtained using localindices, with the rank as an optional argument to get the range on a rank other than the current rank. Calling free on an array will destroy the underlying MPI Window. This must be done manually, since there is no guarantee that garbage-collection will happen at the same time on all processes, so it is dangerous to place the collective call to destroy the window in a finalizer. To make all processes wait, call sync with one or more MPIArrays as argument. Currently this just calls MPI.Barrier on the array communicator.

Accessing local data

Local data can be accessed using the forlocalpart function, which executes the function in the first argument on the local data of the array in the second argument, so it is compatible with the do-block syntax:

# Fill the local part with random numbers
forlocalpart!(rand!, A)

# Sum up the local part
localsum = forlocalpart(A) do lp
  result = zero(eltype(lp))
  for x in lp
    result += x
  return result

Redistributing data

Data can be redistributed among processes as follows:

# Initial tiled distribution over 4 processes:
A = MPIArray{Int}(comm, (2, 2), N, N)
# Non-uniform redistribution, with one column on the first processor and the rest on the last:
redistribute!(A, [N], [1,0,0,N-1])
# Restore equal distribution over the columns:

See also examples/redist.jl.


The Block type helps in accessing off-processor data, since individual element access is too expensive. Blocks are created using the indexing operators using range arguments, e.g.:

Ablock = A[1:3, 2:6]

The block will not yet contain data, it just refers to the global index range (1:3, 2:6) and keeps track of the processes involved. To actually read the data, also allocating an array for the storage:

Amat = getblock(Ablock)

It's also possible to just allocate the matrix and fill it in a separate step:

Amat = allocate(Ablock)
getblock!(Amat, Ablock)

After modifying entries in an array associated with a block, the data can be sent back to the other processes:

Amat = allocate(Ablock)
putblock!(Amat, Ablock)

Global indexing on a block

Since a Block just refers to a regular Julia array, the indexing is local to the block. To index an array linked to a Block using the global indices of the underlying MPIArray, create a GlobalBlock like this:

gb = GlobalBlock(Amat, Ablock)

Ghost nodes

A GhostedBlock allows periodic reading of off-processor data in arbitrary locations in the array. The push! method adds new indices, while sort! ensures that fetching the data (using sync) happens in the minimal number of MPI calls. The getglobal function gets an array value that is either part of the local data or a ghost, using its global array indices.

ghosted = GhostedBlock(A)
push!(ghosted, 1,1)
push!(ghosted, 3,2)
# Fetch off-processor data:
# Show all ghosts:
@show ghosted
# Get an entry using its global indices, if part of the local data or ghosts:
@show getglobal(ghosted, 1, 1)


As a simple test, the timings of a matrix-vector product were recorded for a range of processes and BLAS threads, and compared to the Base.Array and DistributedArrays.jl performance. We also compared the effect of distributing either the rows or the columns. The code for the tests is in tests/matmul_*.jl. The results below are for a square matrix of size N=15000, using up to 8 machines with 2 Intel E5-2698 v4 CPUs, i.e. 32 cores per machine and using TCP over 10 Gbit ethernet between machines. Using OPENBLAS_NUM_THREADS=1 and one MPI process per machine this yields the following timings:


The timings using one MPI process per machine and OPENBLAS_NUM_THREADS=32 are:


For the single-threaded case, we also compare with the C++ library Elemental, using their unmodified Gemv example with matrix size parameter 15000 and the same OpenBLAS as Julia.

Some observations:

  1. Using a single process, both DArray and MPIArray perform at the same level as Base.Array, indicating that the overhead of the parallel structures that ultimately wrap a per-process array is negligible. This is reassuring, since just using parallel structures won't slow down the serial case and the code can be the same in all cases.
  2. Without threading, the scaling breaks down even before multiple machines come into play. At 256 processes, there is even a severe breakdown of the performance. This may be because each process attempts to communicate with each off-machine process over TCP, rather than pooling the communications between machines. DArray seems to tolerate this better than MPI.
  3. Using hybrid parallelism, where threads are used to communicate within each machine and MPI or Julia's native parallelism between machines is much faster. For MPI, the scaling is almost ideal with the number of machines, but for DArray the results are more erratic.
  4. It is better to distribute the matrix columns, at least for this dense matrix matrix-vector product.
  5. The Base.Array product with OPENBLAS_NUM_THREADS=32 completes in about 40 ms, while the MPI version on 32 cores on the same machine completes in 18 ms. This suggests there is room for improvement in the threading implementation. On the other hand, the 32 MPI processes are no faster than 16 MPI processes on the same machine, indicating a possible memory bottleneck for this problem.
  6. Even though the Julia implementation is quite simple, it compares favorably with a mature C++ library, with an apparent better scaling starting at 32 and 64 processes, but Elemental taking over again at 128 and 256 processes. We did not investigate the cause of this and it may be possible to get better performance by tweaking Elemental settings.