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Environment Modules on Biowulf & Helix

Helix and Biowulf now use environment modules to dynamically set up environments for different applications. Users can type commands like:

module load ThisApp
module unload ThisApp

to set up the environment for a particular application. The 'module load' command will set PATH, LD_LIBRARY_PATH and other environment variables as necessary. Any previous environment setups in your .bashrc or .cshrc files will continue to work, but modules are generally easier to use.

The Helix and Biowulf application pages have been updated to describe the modules command for each application. This page contains some general information about modules.

We use the Lmod Environment Modules system, developed at the TACC.

Video Tutorial

What modules are available?

The command module avail will show all available modules.

[biowulf ~]$ module avail
------------------------- /usr/local/lmod/modulefiles --------------------------
   GSL/1.16                    mpich2/1.5/gnu
   ImageMagick/6.8.9           oncotator/-
   cmake/3.0.0                 oncotator/
   dot                         oncotator/
   fcgene/1.0.6                oncotator/       (D)
   fcgene/1.0.7         (D)    openmpi/1.8.1/gnu-eth   (D)
   fftw/3.3.4/gnu       (D)    openmpi/1.8.1/intel-eth
   fftw/3.3.4/intel            openmpi/1.8.1/pgi-eth
   fftw/3.3.4/pgi              parallel/20140722
   graphviz/2.34               pgi/14.7
   hdf5/1.8.13                 plink/1.06
   inspect/2012.01.09          plink/1.07              (D)
   intel/2013_sp1.3.174        python/2.7.8
   java/1.7.0_25               testnest/1.0
   java/1.8.0_11        (D)    testnest/1.1            (D)
   mathematica/9.0             trinity/r20140413
   meme/4.9.1                  trinity/r20140717       (D)
   meme/4.10.0          (D)    use.own
   module-info                 vmd/1.9
   modules                     vmd/1.9.1               (D)

Since there are so many applications and versions installed on Helix/Biowulf, this list can be overwhelming. If you add the '-d' flag, only the default version of each application will be listed.

[biowulf ~]$ module -d avail
------------------------- /usr/local/lmod/modulefiles --------------------------
   GSL/1.16              intel/2013_sp1.3.174     parallel/20140722
   ImageMagick/6.8.9     java/1.8.0_11            pgi/14.7
   cmake/3.0.0           mathematica/9.0          plink/1.07
   dot                   meme/4.10.0              python/2.7.8
   fcgene/1.0.7          module-info              testnest/1.1
   fftw/3.3.4/gnu        modules                  trinity/r20140717
   graphviz/2.34         mpich2/1.5/gnu           use.own
   hdf5/1.8.13           oncotator/        vmd/1.9.1
   inspect/2012.01.09    openmpi/1.8.1/gnu-eth

If you prefer the output of 'module -d avail', you can set up an alias in your .bashrc file:

alias ml="module -d avail"

To see the versions available for a particular application, use module avail appname. e.g.

[biowulf ~]$ module avail gromacs

---------- /usr/local/lmod/modulefiles -----------
gromacs/4.0.4          gromacs/4.5.1          gromacs/4.5.5(default)
gromacs/4.0.7          gromacs/4.5.3          gromacs/4.6-dev

A very useful command is 'module spider', which will run a case-insensitive search for any module that includes that word. e.g.

[biowulf ~] module spider bed
  bedops: bedops/2.4.3
    This module can be loaded directly: module load bedops/2.4.3


  To find detailed information about bedtools please enter the full name.
  For example:

     $ module spider bedtools/2.22.0

Load a Module

To load a module, use the command module load appname. The default version will get loaded. If you want a particular version, use module load appname/version e.g

[biowulf ~]$ module list
No Modulefiles Currently Loaded.

[biowulf ~]$ module load gromacs

[biowulf ~]$ module list
Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) gromacs/4.5.5
[biowulf ~]$ module load gromacs/4.5.3

[biowulf ~]$ module list
Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) gromacs/4.5.3   

Multiple modules can be loaded in a single command. e.g.

[biowulf ~]$ module load plinkseq macs bowtie

[biowulf ~]$ module list
Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) plinkseq/0.08    2) macs/2.0.10      3) bowtie/2-2.0.2

Unload a Module

To unload a module, use the command module unload Appname. e.g.

[biowulf ~]$ module list
Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) gromacs/4.5.3
[biowulf ~]$ module unload gromacs/4.5.3

See what modules have been loaded

The command module list will show what modules have been loaded.

[biowulf ~]$ module list
Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) qiime        2) perl/5.8.9

Switch to a different version of an application

The command module switch appname appname/version will switch from one version of an application to another. .

[biowulf ~]$ module list
Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) perl/5.8.9
[biowulf ~]$ module switch perl perl/5.12.1
[biowulf ~]$ module list
Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) perl/5.12.1

If you load a module, then load another version of the same module, the first one will be unloaded. For example:

[biowulf ~]$ module load fcgene
[biowulf ~]$ module list

Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) fcgene/1.0.7

[biowulf ~]$ module load fcgene/1.0.6

The following have been reloaded with a version change:
  1) fcgene/1.0.7 => fcgene/1.0.6

[biowulf ~]$ module list

Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) fcgene/1.0.6

Examine a modulefile

If you want to see what changes a module will make to your environment without loading it, use the 'module display' command. e.g.

[user@biowulf] module display meme

whatis("Sets up MEME 4.10.0 - MPI version ")

The output is in the lua programming language, but is usually easily understandable. For a table of lua-tcl-bash equivalents, see this page.

If you prefer to set paths directly instead of using modules, you can use the information from "module display" to do so.

Set up personal modulefiles

Create a directory called, for example "privatemodules" in your home directory. Then type the command: "module use --append ~/privatemodules" and any personal module files in this directory will become available for you to list, load or unload. You can make copies of the system modulefiles in "/usr/local/lmod/modulefiles" to use as templates.

[biowulf ~]$ module use --append ~/privatemodules

[biowulf ~]$ module avail

---------- /usr/local/lmod/modulefiles -----------
afni/18Oct2012(default) cuda/3.1                modules                 namd/2.9-ipath
afni/18Oct2012-openmp   cuda/4.0.17             mpich2-x86_64           null
afni/21Dec2011          dot                     namd/2.7+plumed1.3      perl/5.12.1

---------- /home/user/privatemodules ----------

As you see above, after adding '~/privatemodules' to the module path, your private modules are now displayed. If a personal module has the same name as a system module, the system module will have priority. You can also use module use --prepend ~/privatemodules to give your personal modules priority over system modules.

Using modules in scripts

The 'module' command can be used in any batch script or other script. A typical script on Helix or the Biowulf login node would be


module load somemodule

A typical Biowulf batch script to be submitted to the Biowulf batch system would be:


module load afni
[...some afni command...]

Likewise, Biowulf swarm jobs could either include the module command in each line, or be submitted with --module somemodule. See the Biowulf swarm page for more information.

Working with Modules within Perl and Python, at the NERSC site.

For information about Nested Modules (a modulefile that loads and unloads other modules), see this page

Shared Modules

To set up modules that will be shared by a group, the easiest way is to create a 'modulefiles' directory in some area that is shared by the group, and put the group modules into that directory. Each user in the group who wants to access these modules can then create a link from the shared area to their own /home/user/privatemodules/ area. For example, suppose the group has a shared area called /data/DBCImaging.

biowulf% mkdir /data/DBCImaging/modulefiles
Create the desired modulefiles in this directory. If a personal/group module has the same name as a system module, the system module will get lower priority, and your personal module will be loaded first.

Now each user in the group who wants to use these shared modules should create a link from their /home/user/privatemodules area.

biowulf% ln -s /data/DCBImaging/modulefiles /home/user/privatemodules/shared
biowulf% module load use.own
biowulf% module avail

----------------------- /home/user/privatemodules -------------------------------
blast                       shared/bowtie/0.12.8        shared/bowtie/2-2.0.6
freesurfer/5.1              shared/bowtie/0.12.9        shared/bowtie/2-2.1.0
myngs                       shared/bowtie/2-2.0.0-beta7 shared/octave_test/3.2.4
nested                      shared/bowtie/2-2.0.2       shared/octave_test/3.6.1
shared/bowtie/0.12.5        shared/bowtie/2-2.0.5       susantest

---------------------------- /usr/local/lmod/modulefiles ---------------
BEAST/1.5.2                    eman2/2.06                     openmpi/1.6/gnu/eth
BEAST/1.5.4                    eman2/2.06_121120              openmpi/1.6/gnu/ib
BEAST/1.6.1                    eman2/2.06_ib                  openmpi/1.6/gnu/ipath
BEAST/1.6.2                    express/1.2.2                  openmpi/1.6/intel/eth
BEAST/1.7.1                    express/1.3.1(default)         openmpi/1.6/intel/ib

biowulf% module load shared/octave_test/3.2.4

biowulf% module list
Currently Loaded Modules:
  1) use.own                    2) shared/octave_test/3.6.1

Users who do not have access to the shared area (in this case /data/DBCImaging) will not be able to see the shared modules.

Output from Modules

Most modules will silently set up paths and environments. Some modules need to set up additional dependencies apart from the main program (e.g. a scientific program that requires a particular version of Python will load that Python version into your path as well), and in that case, we have set up the module to print the additional dependencies that are being loaded. For example:

[biowulf ~]$ module load sratoolkit
java/1.7.0 is loaded

These messages are useful for interactive use, but may be annoying or problematic when running large-scale batch jobs. In that case, to get rid of the messages, you should use 'module -q load' (-q = quiet)


module -q load somemodule

program [options] [arguments]....


Lmod User Guide
Lmod Advanced User Guide