allgather · allreduce · alltoall · barrier · broadcast · cell · checkpoint · context · done · dt · event_time · gid2cell · gid2obj · gid_clear · gid_connect · gid_exists · id · id_bbs · id_world · integ_time · look · look_take · max_histogram · mech_time · multisplit · nhost · nhost_bbs · nhost_world · nrnbbcore_write · nthread · outputcell · pack · partition · post · prcellstate · psolve · py_alltoall · pyret · retval · runworker · sec_in_thread · send_time · set_gid2node · set_maxstep · setup_transfer · source_var · spike_compress · spike_record · spike_statistics · splitcell · step_time · step_wait · submit · subworlds · t · take · target_var · thread_busywait · thread_ctime · thread_how_many_proc · thread_stat · Threads · threshold · time · timeout · unpack · upkpyobj · upkscalar · upkstr · upkvec · userid · vtransfer_time · wait_time · working


class ParallelContext

objref pc

pc = new ParallelContext()

pc = new ParallelContext(nhost)


"Embarrassingly" parallel computations using a Bulletin board style analogous to LINDA. (But see the Parallel Network, ParallelNetManager and Parallel Transfer discussions. Also see SubWorld for a way to simultaneously use the bulletin board and network simulations involving global identifiers.) Useful when doing weeks or months worth of simulation runs each taking more than a second and where not much communication is required. Eg. parameter sensitivity, and some forms of optimization. The underlying strategy is to keep all machines in a PVM or MPI virtual machine (eg. workstation cluster) as busy as possible by distinguishing between hosts (cpu's) and tasks. A task started by a host stays on that host til it finishes. The code that a host is executing may submit other tasks and while waiting for them to finish that host may start other tasks, perhaps one it is waiting for. Early tasks tend to get done first through the use of a tree shaped priority scheme. We try to set things up so that any cpu can execute any task. The performance is good when there are always tasks to perform. In this case, cpu's never are waiting for other cpu's to finish results but constantly take a task from the bulletin board and put the result back onto the bulletin board. Communication overhead is not bad if each task takes a second or more.

When using the Bulletin board with Python, the methods submit(), context(), pack(), and post() have been augmented and pyret() and upkpyobj() have been introduced to allow a more Pythonic style. I.e. The executable string for submit and context may be replaced by a Python callable that returns a Python Object (retrieved with pyret), the args to submit, context, pack, and post may be Python Objects, and a bulletin board message value which is a Python Object may be retrieved with upkpyobj. At the end of the following hoc parallelization and discussion the same example is repeated as a Python parallelization. The only restriction is that any python object arguments or return values must be pickleable (see As of this writing, hoc objects are not pickleable.)

The simplest form of parallelization of a loop from the users point of view is

func f() {              // a function with no context that *CHANGES*
   return $1*$1         //except its argument

objref pc
pc = new ParallelContext()
pc.runworker()          // master returns immediately, workers in
                        // infinite loop running and jobs from bulletin board
s = 0
if (pc.nhost == 1) {    // use the serial form
   for i=1, 20 {
      s += f(i)
}else{                  // use the bulletin board form
   for i=1, 20 {        // scatter processes
      pc.submit("f", i) // any context needed by f had better be
   }                    // the same on all hosts
   while (pc.working) { // gather results
      s += pc.retval    // the return value for the executed function
print s
pc.done                 // tell workers to quit

Several things need to be highlighted:

If a given task submits other tasks, only those child tasks will be gathered by the working loop for that given task. At this time the system groups tasks according to the parent task and the pc instance is not used. See ParallelContext.submit() for further discussion of this limitation. The safe strategy is always to use the idiom:

for i = 1,n {pc.submit(...)} // scatter a set of tasks
while(pc.working)) { ... }   // gather them all

Earlier submitted tasks tend to complete before later submitted tasks, even if they submit tasks themselves. Ie, A submitted task has the same general priority as the parent task and the specific priority of tasks with the same parent is in submission order. A free cpu always works on the next unexecuted task with highest priority.

Each task manages a separate group of submissions whose results are returned only to that task. Therefore you can submit tasks which themselves submit tasks.

The pc.working call checks to see if a result is ready. If so it returns the unique system generated task id (a positive integer) and the return value of the task function is accessed via the pc.retval function. The arguments to the function executed by the submit call are also available. If all submissions have been computed and all results have been returned, pc.working returns 0. If results are pending, working executes tasks from ANY ParallelContext until a result is ready. This last feature keeps cpus busy but places stringent requirements on how the user changes global context without introducing bugs. See the discussion in ParallelContext.working() .

ParallelContext.working may not return results in the order of submission.

Hoc code subsequent to pc.runworker() is executed only by the master since that call returns immediately if the process is the master and otherwise starts an infinite loop on each worker which requests and executes submit tasks from ANY ParallelContext instance. This is the standard way to seed the bulletin board with submissions. Note that workers may also execute tasks that themselves cause submissions. If subsidiary tasks call pc.runworker, the call returns immediately. Otherwise the task it is working on would never complete! The pc.runworker() function is also called for each worker after all hoc files are read in and executed.

The basic organization of a simulation is:

//setup which is exactly the same on every machine.
// ie declaration of all functions, procedures, setup of neurons

pc.runworker() to start the execute loop if this machine is a worker

// the master scatters tasks onto the bulletin board and gathers results


Issues having to do with context can become quite complex. Context transfer from one machine to another should be as small as possible. Don't fall into the trap of a context transfer which takes longer than the computation itself. Remember, you can do thousands of c statements in the time it takes to transfer a few doubles. Also, with a single cpu, it is often the case that statements can be moved out of an innermost loop, but can't be in a parallel computation. eg.

// pretend g is a Vector assigned earlier to conductances to test
for i = 1, 20
   forall gnabar_hh = g.x[i]
   for j = 1, 5
      stim.amp = s[j]

ie we only need to set gnabar_hh 20 times. But the first pass at parallelization would look like:

for i = 1, 20 {
   for j= 1, 5 {
      sprint(cmd, "{forall gnabar_hh = g[%d]} stim.amp = s[%d] run()\n", i, j)
while (pc.working) {

and not only do we take the hit of repeated evaluation of gnabar_hh but the statement must be interpreted each time. A run must be quite lengthy to amortize this overhead.

Python version

Here we re-implement the first example above as a Python program

from neuron import h

def f(arg):             # a function with no context that *CHANGES*
   return arg*arg       #except its argument

pc = h.ParallelContext()
pc.runworker()          # master returns immediately, workers in
                        # infinite loop
s = 0
if pc.nhost() == 1:     # use the serial form
   for i in range(1, 21):
      s += f(i)
else:                   # use the bulletin board form
   for i in range(1, 21): # scatter processes
      pc.submit(f, i)   # any context needed by f had better be the same on all$
   while pc.working():  # gather results
      s += pc.pyret()   # the return value for the executed function
print s
pc.done()               # wait for workers to finish printing

Note the replacement of the string "f" in the submit method by a Python Callable object and the retrieval of the result by the pyret() method instead of retval().

The PVM (parallel virtual machine) should be setup so that it allows execution on all hosts of the csh script $NEURONHOME/bin/ (Simulations may also be run under MPI but the launch mechanisms are quite different) The simulation hoc files should be available on each machine with the same relative path with respect to the user's $HOME directory. For example, I start my 3 machine pvm with the command

   pvm hineshf

where hineshf is a text file with the contents:

hines ep=$HOME/nrn/bin
spine ep=$HOME/nrn/bin
pinky ep=$HOME/nrn/bin

Again, the purpose of the ep=$HOME/nrn/bin tokens is to specify the path to find

A simulation is started by moving to the proper working directory (should be a descendant of your $HOME directory) and launching neuron as in

special init.hoc

The exact same hoc files should exist in the same relative locations on all host machines.


Not much checking for correctness or help in finding common bugs.

n = pc.nhost()

Returns number of host neuron processes (master + workers). If PVM (or MPI) is not being used then nhost == 1 and all ParallelContext methods still work properly.

if (pc.nhost == 1) {
   for i=1, 20 {
      print i, sin(i)
   for i=1,20 {
      pc.submit(i, "sin", i)

   while (pc.working) {
      print pc.userid, pc.retval
myid =
The ihost index which ranges from 0 to pc.nhost-1 . Otherwise it is 0. The master machine always has an == 0.


For MPI, the is the rank from MPI_Comm_rank. For PVM the is the order that the HELLO message was received by the master.



pc.submit("function_name", arg1, ...)

pc.submit(object, "function_name", arg1, ...)

pc.submit(userid, above..)

pc.submit(python_callable, arg1, ...)


Submits statement for execution by any host. Submit returns the userid not the system generated global id of the task. However when the task is executed, the hoc_ac_ variable is set to this unique id (positive integer) of the task. This unique id is returned by ParallelContext.working() .

If the first argument to submit is a non-negative integer then args are not saved and when the id for this task is returned by ParallelContext.working(), that non-negative integer can be retrieved with ParallelContext.userid()

If there is no explicit userid, then the args (after the function name) are saved locally and can be unpacked when the corresponding working call returns. A local userid (unique only for this ParallelContext) is generated and returned by the submit call and is also retrieved with ParallelContext.userid() when the corresponding working call returns. This is very useful in associating a particular parameter vector with its return value and avoids the necessity of explicitly saving them or posting them. If they are not needed and you do not wish to pay the overhead of storage, supply an explicit userid. Unpacking args must be done in the same order and have the same type as the args of the "function_name". They do not have to be unpacked. Saving args is time efficient since it does not imply extra communication with the server.

The argument form causes function_name(copyofarg1, ...) to execute on some indeterminate host in the PVM. Args must be scalars, strings, or Vectors. Note that they are COPIES so that even string and Vector arguments are call by value and not call by reference. (This is different from the normal semantics of a direct function call). In this case efficiency was chosen at the expense of pedantic consistency since it is expected that in most cases the user does not need the return copy. In the event more than a single scalar return value is required use within the function_name body with a key equal to the id of the task. For example:

func function_name() {local id
   id = hoc_ac_
   $o1.reverse(), $o1)
   return 0
while( (id = pc.working) != 0) {

The object form executes the function_name(copyofarg1, ...) in the context of the object. IT MUST BE THE CASE that the string result

   print object

identifies the "same" object on the host executing the function as on the host that submitted the task. This is guaranteed only if all hosts, when they start up, execute the same code that creates these objects. If you start creating these objects after the worker code diverges from the master (after pc.runworker) you really have to know what you are doing and the bugs will be VERY subtle.

The python_callable form allows args to be any Python objects as well as numbers, strings, or hoc Vectors. The return is a Python object and can only be retrieved with pyret() . The Python objects must be pickleable (hoc objects are not presently pickleable). Python object arguments may be retrieved with upkpyobj().


submit does not return the system generated unique id of the task but either the first arg (must be a positive integer to be a userid) or a locally (in this ParallelContext) generated userid which starts at 1.

A task should gather the results of all the tasks it submits before scattering other tasks even if scattering with different ParallelContext instances. This is because results are grouped by parent task id's instead of (parent task id, pc instance). Thus the following idiom needs extra user defined info to distinguish between pc1 and pc2 task results.

for i=1,10 pc1.submit(...)
for i=1,10 pc2.submit(...)
for i=1,10 { pc1.working() ...)
for i=1,10 { pc2.working() ...)

since pc1.working may get a result from a pc2 submission If this behavior is at all inconvenient, I will change the semantics so that pc1 results only are gathered by pc1.working calls and by no others.

Searching for the proper object context (pc.submit(object, ...) on the host executing the submitted task is linear in the number of objects of that type.

id = pc.working()

Returns 0 if there are no pending submissions which were submitted by the current task. (see bug below with regard to the distinction between the current task and a ParallelContext instance). Returns the id of a previous pc.submit which has completed and whose results from that computation are ready for retrieval.

While there are pending submissions and results are not ready, pending submissions from any ParallelContext from any host are calculated. Note that returns of completed submissions are not necessarily in the order that they were made by pc.submit.

while ((id = pc.working) > 0) {
   // gather results of previous pc.submit calls
   print id, pc.retval

Note that if the submitted task was specified as a Python callable, then pyret() would have to be used in place of retval() .

Note that if the submission did not have an explicit userid then all the arguments of the executed function may be unpacked.

It is essential to emphasize that when a task calls pc.working, while it is waiting for a result, it may execute any number of other tasks and unless care is taken to understand the meaning of "task context" and guarantee that context after the working call is the same as the context before the working call, SUBTLE ERRORS WILL HAPPEN more or less frequently and indeterminately. For example consider the following:

function f() {
   ... write some values to some global variables ...
   pc.submit("g", ...)
   // when g is executed on another host it will not in general
   // see the same global variable values you set above.
   pc.working() // get back result of execution of g(...)
   // now the global variables may be different than what you
   // set above. And not because g changes them but perhaps
   // because the host executing this task started executing
   // another task that called f which then wrote DIFFERENT values
   // to these global variables.

I only know one way around this problem. Perhaps there are other and better ways.

function f() { local id
   id = hoc_ac_;
   ... write some values to some global variables ..., the, global, variables)
   pc.submit("g", ...)
   // unpack the info back into the global variables


Submissions are grouped according to parent task id and not by parallel context instance. If suggested by actual experience, the grouping will be according to the pair (parent task id, parallel context instance). Confusion arises only in the case where a task submits jobs with one pc and fails to gather them before submitting another group of jobs with another pc. See the bugs section of ParallelContext.submit()

scalar = pc.retval()
The return value of the function executed by the task gathered by the last ParallelContext.working() call. If the statement form of the submit is used then the return value is the value of hoc_ac_ when the statement completes on the executing host.

python_object = pc.pyret()
If a task is submitted defined as a Python callable then the return value can be any Python object and can only be retrieved with pyret(). This function can only be called once for the task result gathered by the last ParallelContext.working() call.

scalar = pc.userid()

The return value of the corresponding submit call. The value of the userid is either the first argument (if it was a non-negative integer) of the submit call or else it is a positive integer unique only to this ParallelContext.

See ParallelContext.submit() with regard to retrieving the original arguments of the submit call corresponding to the working return.

Can be useful in organizing results according to an index defined during submission.


The master host returns immediately. Worker hosts start an infinite loop of requesting tasks for execution.

The basic style is that the master and each host execute the same code up til the pc.runworker call and that code sets up all the context that is required to be identical on all hosts so that any host can run any task whenever the host requests something todo. The latter takes place in the runworker loop and when a task is waiting for a result in a ParallelContext.working() call. Many parallel processing bugs are due to inconsistent context among hosts and those bugs can be VERY subtle. Tasks should not change the context required by other tasks without extreme caution. The only way I know how to do this safely is to store and retrieve a copy of the authoritative context on the bulletin board. See ParallelContext.working() for further discussion in this regard.

The runworker method is called automatically for each worker after all files have been read in and executed --- i.e. if the user never calls it explicitly from hoc. Otherwise the workers would exit since the standard input is at the end of file for workers. This is useful in those cases where the only distinction between master and workers is that code executed from the gui or console.

Sends the QUIT message to all worker hosts. Those NEURON processes then exit. The master waits til all worker output has been transferred to the master host.



pc.context("function_name", arg1, ...])

pc.context(object, "function_name", arg1, ...)

pc.context(userid, above..)

pc.context(python_callable, arg1, ...)


The arguments have the same semantics as those of the ParallelContext.submit() method. The function or statement is executed on every worker host but is not executed on the master. pc.context can only be called by the master. The workers will execute the context statement when they are idle or have completed their current task. It probably only makes sense for the python_callable to return None.

There is no return in the sense that ParallelContext.working() does not return when one of these tasks completes.

This method was introduced with the following protocol in mind

proc save_context() { // executed on master
   sprint(tstr, "%s", this)
   pc.look_take(tstr) // remove previous context if it exists
   // master packs a possibly complicated context from within
   // an object whose counterpart exists on all workers
   pc.context(this, "restore_context", tstr) // all workers do this

proc restore_context() {
   pc.look($s1) // don't remove! Others need it as well.
   // worker unpacks possibly complicated context


It is not clear if it would be useful to generalize the semantics to the case of executing on every host except the host that executed the pc.context call. (strictly, the host would execute the task when it requests something to do. i.e. in a working loop or in a worker's infinite work loop.) The simplest and safest use of this method is if it is called by the master when all workers are idle.

This method was introduced in an attempt to get a parallel multiple run fitter which worked in an interactive gui setting. As such it increases safety but is not bulletproof since there is no guarantee that the user doesn't change a global variable that is not part of the fitter. It is also difficult to write safe code that invariably makes all the relevant worker context identical to the master. An example of a common bug is to remove a parameter from the parameter list and then call save_context(). Sure enough, the multiple run fitters on all the workers will no longer use that parameter, but the global variables that depend on the parameter may be different on different hosts and they will now stay different! One fix is to call save_context() before the removal of the parameter from the list and save_context() after its removal. But the inefficiency is upsetting. We need a better automatic mirroring method.
Syntax:, ...)


Post the message with the address key, (key may be a string or scalar), and a body consisting of any number of ParallelContext.pack() calls since the last post, and any number of arguments of type scalar, Vector, strdef or Python object.

Later unpacking of the message body must be done in the same order as this posting sequence.



pc.take(key, ...)

Takes the message with key from the bulletin board. If the key does not exist then the call blocks. Two processes can never take the same message (unless someone posts it twice). The key may be a string or scalar. Unpacking the message must take place in the same order as the packing and must be complete before the next bulletin board operation. (at which time remaining message info will be discarded) It is not required to unpack the entire message, but later items cannot be retrieved without unpacking earlier items first. Optional arguments get the first unpacked values. Scalar, Vectors, and strdef may be unpacked. Scalar arguments must be pointers to a variable. eg &x. Unpacked Vectors will be resized to the correct size of the vector item of the message. To unpack Python objects, upkpyobj() must be used.


boolean = pc.look(key)

boolean = pc.look(key, ...)

Like ParallelContext.take() but does not block or remove message from bulletin board. Returns 1 if the key exists, 0 if the key does not exist on the bulletin board. The message associated with the key (if the key exists) is available for unpacking each time pc.look returns 1.

boolean = pc.look_take(key, ...)

Like ParallelContext.take() but does not block. The message is removed from the bulletin board and two processes will never receive this message. Returns 1 if the key exists, 0 if the key does not exist on the bulletin board. If the key exists, the message can be unpacked.

Note that a look followed by a take is NOT equivalent to look_take. It can easily occur that another task might take the message between the look and take and the latter will then block until some other process posts a message with the same key.

Append arguments consisting of scalars, Vectors, strdefs, and pickleable Python objects into a message body for a subsequent post.

Extract items from the last message retrieved with take, look, or look_take. The type and sequence of items retrieved must agree with the order in which the message was constructed with post and pack. Note that scalar items must be retrieved with pointer syntax as in &soma.gnabar_hh(.3) To unpack Python objects, upkpyobj() must be used.

x = pc.upkscalar()
Return the scalar item which must be the next item in the unpacking sequence of the message retrieved by the previous take, look, or look_take.

str = pc.upkstr(str)
Copy the next item in the unpacking sequence into str and return that strdef.


vec = pc.upkvec()

vec = pc.upkvec(vecsrc)

Copy the next item in the unpacking sequence into vecsrc (if that arg exists, it will be resized if necessary). If the arg does not exist return a new Vector.

python_object = pc.upkpyobj()
Return a reference to the (copied via pickling/unpickling) Python object which must be the next item in the unpacking sequence of the message retrieved by the previous take, look, or look_take.

st = pc.time()

Returns a high resolution elapsed wall clock time on the processor (units of seconds) since an arbitrary time in the past. Normal usage is

st = pc.time
print pc.time - st


A wrapper for MPI_Wtime when MPI is used. When PVM is used, the return value is clock_t times(struct tms *buf)/100.

total = pc.wait_time()

The amount of time (seconds) on a worker spent waiting for a message from the master. For the master, it is the amount of time in the pc.take calls that was spent waiting.

To determine the time spent exchanging spikes during a simulation, use the idiom:

wait = pc.wait_time()
wait = pc.wait_time() - wait - pc.step_wait()

total = pc.step_time()
The amount of time (seconds) on a cpu spent integrating equations, checking thresholds, and delivering events. It is essentially pc.integ_time + pc.event_time. It does not include gap junction voltage transfer time or multisplit communication time.


total = pc.step_wait()

0 = pc.step_wait(-1)


The barrier time (seconds) between the end of a step and the beginning of spike exchange. Note that pc.wait_time() includes this barrier time. step_wait is useful in calculating a more accurate load balance (properly reduced by dynamic load imbalance) and a better statistic for spike exchange communication time.

The barrier overhead during a simulation can be turned off with pc.step_wait(-1) in which case the time spent in allgather spike exchange will include that barrier time. In this case pc.step_wait() will return 0.0 .

Prior to the existence of this function, load balance was generally computed as (average step_time / maximum step_time). That is accurate to the extent that each individual step on a given process takes constant time but fails to the extent that there is significant dynamic variation in a dt step on a given process during a run (e.g a lot of variation in the number of spikes delivered per time step).

A better evaluation of load balance (accounting for dynamic load imbalance as well as static load imbalance) is (average step_time / maximum (step_time + step_wait))

Note that if static load imbalance dominates the load imbalance, then one expects the minimum step_wait to be close to 0.

total = pc.send_time()
The amount of time (seconds) on a cpu spent directing source gid spikes arriving on the target gid to the proper PreSyn.

total = pc.event_time()
The amount of time (seconds) on a cpu spent checking thresholds and delivering spikes. Note that pc.event_time() + pc.send_time() will include all spike related time but NOT the time spent exchanging spikes between cpus. (Currently only for fixed step)

total = pc.integ_time()
The amount of time (seconds) on a cpu spent integrating equations. (currently only for fixed step)


transfer_exchange_time = pc.vtransfer_time()

splitcell_exchange_time = pc.vtransfer_time(1)

reducedtree_computation_time = pc.vtransfer_time(2)


The amount of time (seconds) spent transferring and waiting for voltages or matrix elements. The integ_time() is reduced by transfer and splitcell exchange times.

splitcell_exchange_time includes the reducedtree_computation_time.

reducedtree_computation_time refers to the extra time used by the ParallelContext.multisplit() backbone_style 1 and 2 methods between send and receive of matrix information. This amount is also included in the splitcell_exchange_time.



mechanism_time = pc.mech_time(i)

With no args initializes the mechanism time to 0. The next run will record the computation time for BREAKPOINT and SOLVE statements of each mechanism used in thread 0. When the index arg is present, the computation time taken by the mechanism with that index is returned. The index value is the internal mechanism type index, not the index of the MechanismType.

Implementation Notes


Some of these notes are PVM specific.

With the following information you may be encouraged to provide a more efficient implementation. You may also see enough information here to decide that this implementation is about as good as can be expected in the context of your problem.

The master NEURON process contains the server for the bulletin board system. Communication between normal hoc code executing on the master NEURON process and the server is direct with no overhead except packing and unpacking messages and manipulating the send and receive buffers with pvm commands. The reason I put the server into the master process is twofold. 1) While the master is number crunching, client messages are still promptly dealt with. I noticed that when neuron was cpu bound, a separate server process did not respond to requests for about a tenth of a second. 2) No context switching between master process and server. If pvm is not running, a local implementation of the server is used which has even less overhead than pvm packing and unpacking.

Clients (worker processes) communicate with the bulletin board server (in the master machine) with pvm commands pvm_send and pvm_recv. The master process is notified of asynchronous events via the SIGPOLL signal. Unfortunately this is often early since a pvm message often consists of several of these asynchronous events and my experience so far is that (pvm_probe(-1,-1) > 0) is not always true even after the last of this burst of signals. Also SIGPOLL is not available except under UNIX. However SIGPOLL is only useful on the master process and should not affect performance with regard to whether a client is working under Win95, NT, or Linux. So even with SIGPOLL there must be software polling on the server and this takes place on the next execute() call in the interpreter. (an execute call takes place when the body of every for loop, if statement, or function/procedure call is executed.) In the absence of a SIGPOLL signal this software polling takes place every POLLDELAY=20 executions. Of course this is too seldom in the case of fadvance calls with a very large model, and too often in the case of for i=1,100000 x+=i. Things are generally ok if the message at the end of a run says that the amount of time spent waiting for something to do is small compared to the amount of time spent doing things. Perhaps a timer would help.

The bulletin board server consists of several lists implemented with the STL (Standard Template Library) which makes for reasonably fast lookup of keys. ie searching is not proportional to the size of the list but proportional to the log of the list size.

Posts go into the message list ordered by key (string order). They stay there until taken with look_take or take. Submissions go into a work list ordered by id and a todo list of id's by priority. When a host requests something to do, the highest priority (first in the list) id is taken off the todo list. When done, the id goes onto a results list ordered by parent id. When working is called and a results list has an id with the right parent id, the id is removed from the results list and the (id, message) pair is removed from the work list.

If args are saved (no explicit userid in the submit call), they are stored locally and become the active buffer on the corresponding working return. The saving is in an STL map associated with userid. The data itself is not copied but neither is it released until the next usage of the receive buffer after the working call returns.



If MPI is already installed, lucky you. You should ask the installer for help.

Here is how I got it going on a 24 cpu beowulf cluster and a dual processor Mac OSX G5. The cluster consisted of 12 dual processor nodes named node0 to node11 and a master. From the outside world you could only login to the master using ssh and from there to any of the nodes you also had to use ssh. For a second opinion see Bill Lytton's notes on installing MPI.

  1. Figure out how to login to a worker without typing a password.

ie. do not go on unless you can ssh node1 or rsh node1. If the former works then you must export RSHCOMMAND=ssh before building the MPICH version of MPI since that information is compiled into one of the files. It's too late to set it after MPICH has been built.

On the Beowulf cluster master I did: ssh-keygen -t rsa and just hit return three times (once to use the default file location and twice to specify and confirm an empty password). Then I did a cd $HOME/.ssh and copied the file to authorized_keys. Now I could login to any node without using a password.

On the OSX machine I did the same thing but had to also check the SystemPreferences/Internet&Network Sharing/Services/RemoteLogin box.

  1. install MPI

I use which on extraction ended up in $HOME/mpich-1.2.7. I built on osx with

export RSHCOMMAND=ssh
./configure --prefix=`pwd`/powerpc --with-device=ch_p4
make install

and the same way on the beowulf cluster but with i686 instead of powerpc. I then added $HOME/mpich-1.2.7/powerpc/bin to my PATH because the NEURON configuration process will need to find mpicc and mpicxx and we will eventually be using mpirun.

Note: some systems may have a different implementation of MPI already installed and in that implementation the c++ compiler may be called mpic++. If that is in your path, then you will need to go to $HOME/mpich-1.2.7/powerpc/bin and ln -s mpicxx mpic++. This will prevent NEURON's configure from becoming confused and deciding to use mpicc from one MPI version and mpic++ from another! ie. configure looks first for mpic++ and only if it does not find it does it try mpicxx.

You can gain some confidence if you go to mpich-1.2.7/examples/basic and test with

make hello++
mpirun -np 2 hello++

If this fails on the mac, you may need a machine file with the proper name that is indicated at the end of the $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys file. In my case, since ssh-keygen called my machine Michael-Hines-Computer-2.local I have to use

{mpirun -machinefile $HOME/mpifile -np 2 hello++

where $HOME/mpifile has the single line

  1. build NEURON using the --with-paranrn argument.

On the beowulf my neuron sources were in $HOME/neuron/nrn and interviews was installed in $HOME/neuron/iv and I decided to build in a separate object directory called $HOME/neuron/mpi-gcc2.96 so I created the latter directory, cd'd to it and used

../nrn/configure --prefix=`pwd` --srcdir=../nrn --with-paranrn

On the mac, I created a $HOME/neuron/withmpi directory and configured with

../nrn/configure --prefix=`pwd` --srcdir=../nrn --with-paranrn \
--enable-carbon --with-iv=/Applications/NEURON-5.8/iv
  1. test by going to $HOME/neuron/nrn/src/parallel and trying
mpirun -np 2  ~/neuron/withmpi/i686/bin/nrniv -mpi test0.hoc

You should get an output similar to

nrnmpi_init(): numprocs=2 myid=0
NEURON -- Version 5.8 2005-8-22 19:58:19 Main (52)
by John W. Moore, Michael Hines, and Ted Carnevale
Duke and Yale University -- Copyright 1984-2005

loading membrane mechanisms from i686/.libs/
Additional mechanisms from files

hello from id 0 on NeuronDev

bbs_msg_cnt_=0 bbs_poll_cnt_=6667 bbs_poll_=93
hello from id 1 on NeuronDev

[hines@NeuronDev parallel]$

5) If your machine is a cluster, list the machine names in a file (on the beowulf cluster $HOME/mpi32 has the contents


) and I use the mpirun command

mpirun -machinefile $HOME/mpi32 -np 24 \
    /home/hines/neuron/mpi*6/i686/bin/nrniv -mpi test0.hoc

On my mac, for some bizarre reason known only to the tiger creators, the mpirun requires a machinefile with the line


waittime = pc.barrier()
Does an MPI_Barrier and returns the wait time at the barrier. Execution resumes only after all process reach this statement.


result = pc.allreduce(value, type)

pc.allreduce(src_dest_vector, type)


Type is 1, 2, or 3 and the every host gets a result as sum over all value, maximum value, or minimum value respectively

If the first arg is a Vector the reduce is done element-wise. ie min of each rank's v.x[0] returned in each rank's v.x[0], etc. Note that each vector must have the same size.

pc.allgather(value, result_vector)
Every host gets the value from every other host. The value from a host id is in the id'th element of the vector. The vector is resized to size pc.nhost.

pc.alltoall(vsrc, vcnts, vdest)

Analogous to MPI_Alltoallv(...). vcnts must be of size pc.nhost and vcnts.sum must equal the size of vsrc. For host i, vcnts.x[j] elements of vsrc are sent to host j beginning at the index vcnts.sum(0,j-1). On host j, those elements are put into vdest beginning at the location after the elements received from hosts 0 to i-1. The vdest is resized to the number of elements received. Note that vcnts are generally different for different hosts. If you need to know how many came from what host, use the idiom pc.alltoall(vcnts, one, vdest) where one is a vector filled with 1.

// assume vsrc is a sorted Vector with elements ranging from 0 to tstop
// then the following is a parallel sort such that vdest is sorted on
// host i and for i < j, all the elements of vdest on host i are <
// than all the elements on host j.
cnts = new Vector(pc.nhost)
j = 0
for i=0, pc.nhost-1 {
  x = (i+1)*tvl
  k = 0
  while (j < s.size) {
    if (s.x[j] < x) {
      j += 1
      k += 1
  cnts.x[i] = k
pc.alltoall(vsrc, cnts, vdest)

destlist = pc.py_alltoall(srclist)

Analogous to MPI_Alltoallv(...). The srclist must be a Python list of nhost pickleable Python objects. (Items with value None are allowed). The ith object is communicated to the ith host. the return value is a Python list of nhost items where the ith item was communicated by the ith host. This is a collective operation, so all hosts must participate.

An optional second integer argument > 0 specifies the initial source pickle buffer size in bytes. The default size is 100k bytes. The size will grow by approximately doubling when needed.

If the optional second argument is -1, then no transfers will be made and return value will be (src_buffer_size, dest_buffer_size) of the pickle buffers which would be needed for sending and receiving.


from neuron import h
pc = h.ParallelContext()
nhost = int(pc.nhost())
rank = int(

#Keep host output from being intermingled.
#Not always completely successful.
import sys
def serialize():
  for r in range(nhost):
    if r == rank:
      yield r

data = [(rank, i) for i in range(nhost)]

if rank == 0: print 'source data'
for r in serialize(): print rank, data

data = pc.py_alltoall(data)

if rank == 0: print 'destination data'
for r in serialize(): print rank, data

$ mpiexec -n 4 nrniv -mpi -python
NEURON -- VERSION 7.3 (806:ba5e547c21f6) 2013-03-13
Duke, Yale, and the BlueBrain Project -- Copyright 1984-2012

source data
0 [(0, 0), (0, 1), (0, 2), (0, 3)]
1 [(1, 0), (1, 1), (1, 2), (1, 3)]
2 [(2, 0), (2, 1), (2, 2), (2, 3)]
3 [(3, 0), (3, 1), (3, 2), (3, 3)]
destination data
0 [(0, 0), (1, 0), (2, 0), (3, 0)]
1 [(0, 1), (1, 1), (2, 1), (3, 1)]
2 [(0, 2), (1, 2), (2, 2), (3, 2)]
3 [(0, 3), (1, 3), (2, 3), (3, 3)]


pc.broadcast(strdef, root)

pc.broadcast(vector, root)

Every host gets the value from the host with == root. The vector is resized to the size of the root host vector. The return value is the length of the string or the size of the vector. At the time that each other-than-root host reaches this statement they receive the values sent from the root host.



Without the methods discussed in this section, the bulletin board and parallel network styles cannot be used together. The parallel network style relies heavily on synchronization through the use of blocking collective communication methods and load balance is the primary consideration. The bulletin board style is assynchronous and a process works on a submitted task generally without communicating with other tasks except possibly and indirectly through posting and taking messages on the bulletin board. Without the subworld method, at most the network style can be used and then switched to bulletin board style. The only way to simulate a parallel network after executing ParallelContext.runworker() would be to utilize the ParallelContext.context() method. In particular, without subworlds, it is impossible to correctly submit bulletin board tasks, each of which simulates a network specfied with the Parallel Network methods --- even if the network is complete on a single process.

The ParallelContext.subworlds() method divides the world of processors into subworlds, each of which can execute a task that independently and assynchronously creates and simulates (and destroys if the task networks are different) a separate network described using the Parallel Network and Parallel Transfer methods. The task, executing in the subworld can also make use of the MPI collectives. Different subworlds can use the same global identifiers without interference and the spike communication, transfers, and MPI collectives are localized to within a subworld. I.e. in MPI terms, each subworld utilizes a distinct MPI communicator. In a subworld, the and ParallelContext.nhost() refer to the rank and number of processors in the subworld. (Note that every subworld has a == 0 rank processor.)

Only the rank == 0 subworld processors communicate with the bulletin board. Of these processors, one (id_world() == 0) is the master processor and the others are the workers. The master submits tasks to the bulletin board (and executes a task if no results are available) and the workers execute tasks and post the results to the bulletin board. Remember, all the workers also have == 0 but different id_world() and id_bbs() ranks. The subworld ranks greater than 0 are not called workers --- their global rank is id_world() but their bulletin board rank, id_bbs() is -1. When a worker (or the master) receives a task to execute, the exact same function with arguments that define the task will be executed on all the processes of the subworld. A subworld is exactly analogous to the old world of a network simulation in which processes distinguish themselves by means of which is unique among the ParallelContext.nhost() processes in the subworld.

A runtime error will result if an id_bbs() == -1 rank processor tries to communicate with the bulletin board, thus the general idiom for a task posting or taking information from the bulletin board should be either if ( == 0) { ... } or if (pc.id_bbs != -1) { ... }. The latter is more general since the former would not be correct if subworlds() has NOT been called since in that case == pc.id_world == pc.id_bbs and pc.nhost == pc.nhost_world == pc.nhost_bbs


Divides the world of all processors into nhost_world() / subworld_size subworlds. Note that the total number of processes, nhost_world, should be an integer multiple of subworld_size. The most useful subworld sizes are 1 and nhost_world() . After return, for the processes in each subworld, ParallelContext.nhost() is equal to subworld_size and the is the rank of the process with respect to the subworld of which it is a part.

Each subworld has its own unique MPI communicator for the MPI functions such as ParallelContext.barrier() and so those collectives do not affect other subworlds. All the Parallel Network notions are local to a subworld. I.e. independent networks using the same gids can be simulated simultaneously in different subworlds. Only rank 0 of a subworld ( == 0) can use the bulletin board and has a non-negative nhost_bbs() and id_bbs() .

Thus the bulletin board interacts with nhost_bbs() processes each with == 0. And each of those rank 0 processes interacts with ParallelContext.nhost() processes using MPI commands isolated within each subworld.

Probably the most useful values of subworld_size are 1 and nhost_world(). The former uses the bulletin board to communicate between all processes but allows the use of gid specified networks within each process. ie. one master and nhost_world - 1 workers. The latter uses all processes to simulate a parallel network and there is only one process, the master, (id_world() == 0) interacting with the bulletin board.


The following example is intended to be run with 6 processes. The subworlds function with an argument of 3 will divide the 6 process world into two subworlds each with 3 processes. To aid in seeing how the computation progresses the function "f" prints its rank and number of processors for the world, bulletin board, and net (subworld) as well as argument, return value, and bulletin board defined userid. Prior to the runworker call all processes call f. After the runworker call, only the master process returns and calls f. The master submits 4 tasks and then enters a while loop waiting for results and, when a result is ready, prints the userid, argument, and return value of the task.

objref pc
pc = new ParallelContext()
func f() {local ret
  ret = pc.id_world*100 + pc.id_bbs*10 +
  printf( \
   "userid=%d arg=%d ret=%03d  world %d of %d  bbs %d of %d  net %d of %d\n", \
   hoc_ac_, $1, ret, \
   pc.id_world, pc.nhost_world, pc.id_bbs, pc.nhost_bbs,, pc.nhost)
  system("sleep 1")
  return ret
hoc_ac_ = -1
if (pc.id_world == 0) { printf("before runworker\n") }
{printf("\nafter runworker\n") f(2) }

{printf("\nbefore submit\n")}
for i=3, 6 { pc.submit("f", i) }
{printf("after submit\n")}

while((userid = pc.working()) != 0) {
  arg = pc.upkscalar()
  printf("result userid=%d arg=%d return=%03d\n", \
    userid, arg, pc.retval)

{printf("\nafter working\n") f(7) }

If the above code is saved in temp.hoc and executed with 6 processes using mpiexec -n 6 nrniv -mpi temp.hoc then the output will look like (some lines may be out of order)

$ mpiexec -n 6 nrniv -mpi temp.hoc
NEURON -- VERSION 7.2 (454:bb5c4f755f59) 2010-07-30
Duke, Yale, and the BlueBrain Project -- Copyright 1984-2008

before runworker
userid=-1 arg=1 ret=000  world 0 of 6  bbs 0 of 2  net 0 of 3
userid=-1 arg=1 ret=192  world 2 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 2 of 3
userid=-1 arg=1 ret=492  world 5 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 2 of 3
userid=-1 arg=1 ret=391  world 4 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 1 of 3
userid=-1 arg=1 ret=091  world 1 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 1 of 3
userid=-1 arg=1 ret=310  world 3 of 6  bbs 1 of 2  net 0 of 3

after runworker
userid=-1 arg=2 ret=000  world 0 of 6  bbs 0 of 2  net 0 of 3

before submit
after submit
userid=21 arg=4 ret=000  world 0 of 6  bbs 0 of 2  net 0 of 3
userid=20 arg=3 ret=310  world 3 of 6  bbs 1 of 2  net 0 of 3
userid=20 arg=3 ret=391  world 4 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 1 of 3
userid=21 arg=4 ret=091  world 1 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 1 of 3
userid=21 arg=4 ret=192  world 2 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 2 of 3
userid=20 arg=3 ret=492  world 5 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 2 of 3
result userid=21 arg=4 return=000
userid=22 arg=5 ret=091  world 1 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 1 of 3
userid=22 arg=5 ret=000  world 0 of 6  bbs 0 of 2  net 0 of 3
userid=22 arg=5 ret=192  world 2 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 2 of 3
result userid=22 arg=5 return=000
userid=23 arg=6 ret=000  world 0 of 6  bbs 0 of 2  net 0 of 3
userid=23 arg=6 ret=192  world 2 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 2 of 3
userid=23 arg=6 ret=091  world 1 of 6  bbs -1 of -1  net 1 of 3
result userid=23 arg=6 return=000
result userid=20 arg=3 return=310

after working
userid=0 arg=7 ret=000  world 0 of 6  bbs 0 of 2  net 0 of 3

One can see from the output that before the runworker call, all the processes called f. After runworker, only the master returned so there is only one call to f. All tasks were submitted to the bulletin board before any task generated print output. In this case, during the while loop, the master started on the task with arg=4 and the two associates within that subworld also executed f(4). Only the master returned the result of f(4) to the bulletin board (the return values of the two subworld associates were discarded). The master and its network associates also executed f(5) and f(6). f(3) was executed by the world rank 3 process (bbs rank 1, net rank 0) and that subworlds two net associates.

numprocs = pc.nhost_world()
Total number of processes in all subworlds. Equivalent to ParallelContext.nhost() when subworlds() has not been executed.

rank = pc.id_world()
Global world rank of the process. This is unique among all processes of all subworlds and ranges from 0 to nhost_world() - 1

numprocs = pc.nhost_bbs()
If subworlds() has been called, nhost_bbs() returns the number of subworlds if == 0 and -1 for all other ranks in the subworld. If subworlds has NOT been called then nhost_bbs, nhost_world, and nhost are the same.

rank = pc.id_bbs()
If subworlds() has been called id_bbs() returns the subworld rank if == 0 and -1 for all other ranks in the subworld. If subworlds has not been called then id_bbs, id_world, and id are the same.

Parallel Network


Extra methods for the ParallelContext that pertain to parallel network simulations where cell communication involves discrete logical spike events.

The methods described in this section work for intra-machine connections regardless of how NEURON is configured (Thus all parallel network models can be executed on any serial machine). However machine spanning connections can only be made if NEURON has been configured with the --with-mpi option (or other options that automatically set it such as --with-paranrn). (See MPI for installation hints).

The fundamental requirement is that each cell be associated with a unique integer global id (gid). The ParallelNetManager() in nrn/share/lib/hoc/netparmpi.hoc is a sample implementation that makes use of these facilities. That implementation assumes that all conductance based cells contain a public connect2target(targetsynapse, netcon) which connects the target synapse object to a specific range variable (e.g. soma.v(.5)) and returns the new NetCon in the second object argument. Artificial cells may either be bare or wrapped in class and made public as a Point Process object field. That is, cells built as NetworkReadyCells are compatible with the ParallelNetManager and that manager follows as closely as possible the style of network construction used by the NetGUI builder.


Gid, sid, and pieces.

The typical network simulation sets up a one to one correspondence between gid and cell. This most common usage is suggested by the method name, ParallelContext.cell(), that makes the correspondence as well as the accessor method, ParallelContext.gid2cell(). That's because, almost always, a cell has one spike detection site and the entire cell is on a single cpu. But either or both of those assertions can break down and then one must be aware that, rigorously, a gid is associated with a spike detection site (defined by a NetCon source). For example, many spike detection sites per cell are useful for reciprocal synapses. Each side of each reciprocal synapse will require its own distinct gid. When load balance is a problem, or when you have more cpus than cells, it is useful to split cells into pieces and put the pieces on different cpus (ParallelContext.splitcell() and ParallelContext.multisplit()). But now, some pieces will not have a spike detection site and therefore don't have to have a gid. In either case, it can be administratively useful to invent an administrative policy for gid values that encodes whole cell identification. For a cell piece that has no spike output, one can still give it a gid associated with an arbitrary spike detection site that is effectively turned off because it is not the source for any existing NetCon and it was never specified as an ParallelContext.outputcell(). In the same way, it is also useful to encode a ParallelContext.multisplit() sid (split id) with whole cell identification.


If mpi is not available but NEURON has been built with PVM installed, an alternative ParallelNetManager implementation with the identical interface is available that makes use only of standard ParallelContext methods.

pc.set_gid2node(gid, id)

If the id is equal to then this machine "owns" the gid and the associated cell should be eventually created only on this machine. Note that id must be in the range 0 to pc.nhost-1. The global id (gid) can be any unique integer >= 0 but generally ranges from 0 to ncell-1 where ncell is the total number of real and artificial cells.

Commonly, a cell has only one spike detector location and hence we normally identify a gid with a cell. However, cell can have several distinct spike detection locations or spike detector point processes and each must be associated with a distinct gid. (e.g. dendro-dendritic synapses).

integer = pc.gid_exists(gid)

Return 3 if the gid is owned by this machine and the gid is already associated with an output cell in the sense that its spikes will be sent to all other machines. (i.e. ParallelContext.outputcell() has also been called with that gid or ParallelContext.cell() has been called with a third arg of 1.)

Return 2 if the gid is owned by this machine and has been associated with a NetCon source location via the cell() method.

Return 1 if the gid is owned by this machine but has not been associated with a NetCon source location.

Return 0 if the gid is NOT owned by this machine.


th = pc.threshold(gid)

th = pc.threshold(gid, th)

Return the threshold of the source variable determined by the first arg of the NetCon() constructor which is used to associate the gid with a source variable via cell() . If the second arg is present the threshold detector is given that threshold. This method can only be called if the gid is owned by this machine and cell() has been previously called.


pc.cell(gid, netcon)

pc.cell(gid, netcon, 0)


The cell which is the source of the NetCon() is associated with the global id. By default,(no third arg or third arg = 1) the spikes generated by that cell will be sent to every other machine (see ParallelContext.outputcell()). A cell commonly has only one spike generation location, but, for example in the case of reciprocal dendro-dendritic synapses, there is no reason why it cannot have several. The NetCon source defines the spike generation location. Note that it is an error if the gid does not exist on this machine. The normal idiom is to use a NetCon returned by a call to the cell's connect2target(nil, netcon) method or else, if the cell is an unwrapped artificial cell, use a netcon = new NetCon(cell, nil) statement to get a temporary netcon which can be destroyed after its use in the pc.cell call. The weight and delay of this temporary netcon are not relevant; they come into the picture with ParallelContext.gid_connect() .

Note that cells which do not send spikes to other machines are not required to call this and in fact do not need a gid. However the administrative detail would be significantly more complicated due to the multiplication of cases in regard to whether the source and target exist AND the source is an outputcell.

Spikes this cell generates are to be distributed to all the other machines. Note that ParallelContext.cell() needs to be called prior to this and this does not need to be called if the third arg of that was non-zero. In principle there is no reason for a cell to even have a gid if it is not an outputcell. However the separation between pc.cell and pc.outputcell allows uniform administrative setup of the network to defer marking a cell as an output cell until an actual machine spanning connection is made for which the source is on this machine and the target is on another machine.

pc.spike_record(gid, spiketimevector, gidvector)

This is a synonym for NetCon.record() but obviates the requirement of creating a NetCon using information about the source cell that is relatively more tedious to obtain. This can only be called on the source cell's machine. Note that a prerequisite is a call to ParallelContext.cell() . A call to ParallelContext.outputcell() is NOT a prerequisite.

If the gid arg is -1, then spikes from ALL output gids on this machine will be recorded.


netcon = pc.gid_connect(srcgid, target)

netcon = pc.gid_connect(srcgid, target, netcon)


A virtual connection is made between the source cell global id (which may or may not be owned by this machine) and the target (a synapse or artificial cell object) which EXISTS on this machine. A NetCon object is returned and the full delay for the connection should be given to it (as well as the weight).

Note that if the srcgid is owned by this machine then cell() must be called earlier to make sure that the srcgid is associated with a NetCon source location.

Note that if the srcgid is not owned by this machine, then this machines target will only get spikes from the srcgid if the source gid's machine had called ParallelContext.outputcell() or the third arg of ParallelContext.cell() was 1.

If the third arg exists, it must be a NetCon object with target the same as the second arg. The src of that NetCon will be replaced by srcgid and that NetCon returned. The purpose is to re-establish a connection to the original srcgid after a ParallelContext.gid_clear() .

This should be called on every machine to start something analogous to cvode.solve(tstop). In fact, if the variable step method is invoked this is exactly what will end up happening except the solve will be broken into steps determined by the result of ParallelContext.set_maxstep().

oldtimeout = pc.timeout(seconds)
During execution of ParallelContext.psolve() , sets the timeout for when to abort when seconds pass and t does not increase. Returns the old timeout. The standard timeout is 20 seconds. If the arg is 0, then there is no timeout. The purpose of a timeout is to avoid wasting time on massively parallel supercomputers when an error occurs such that one would wait forever in a collective. This function allows one to change the timeout in those rare cases during a simulation where processes have to wait on some process to finish a large amount work or some time step has an extreme load imbalance.

local_minimum_delay = pc.set_maxstep(default_max_step)
This should be called on every machine after all the NetCon delays have been specified. It looks at all the delays on all the machines associated with the netcons created by the ParallelContext.gid_connect() calls, ie the netcons that conceptually span machines, and sets every machine's maximum step size to the minimum delay of those netcons (but not greater than default_max_step). The method returns this machines minimum spanning netcon delay. Assuming computational balance, generally it is better to maximize the step size since it means fewer MPI_Allgather collective operations per unit time.


Note: No spikes can be delivered between machines unless this method is called. finitialize relies on this method having been called. If any trans-machine NetCon delay is reduced below the step size, this method MUST be called again. Otherwise an INCORRECT simulation will result.

nspike = pc.spike_compress(nspike, gid_compress)

If nspike > 0, selects an alternative implementation of spike exchange that significantly compresses the buffers and can reduce interprocessor spike exchange time by a factor of 10. This works only with the fixed step methods. The optional second argument is 1 by default and works only if the number of cells on each cpu is less than 256. Nspike refers to the number of (spiketime, gid) pairs that fit into the fixed buffer that is exchanged every set_maxstep() integration interval. (overflow in the case where more spikes are generated in the interval than can fit into the first buffer are exchanged when necessary by a subsequent MPI_Allgatherv collective.) If necessary, the integration interval is reduced so that there are less than 256 dt steps in the interval. This allows the default (double spiketime, int gid) which is at least 12 and possible 16 bytes in size to be reduced to a two byte sequence.

This method should only be called after the entire network has been set up since the gid compression mapping requires a knowledge of which cells are sending interprocessor spikes.

If nspike = 0 , compression is turned off.

If nspike < 0, the current value of nspike is returned.

If gid_compress = 0, or if some cpu has more than 256 cells that send interprocessor spikes, the real 4 byte integer gids are used in the (spiketime, gid) pairs and only the spiketime is compressed to 1 byte. i.e. instead of 2 bytes the pair consists of 5 bytes.

object = pc.gid2obj(gid)
The cell or artificial cell object is returned that is associated with the global id. Note that the gid must be owned by this machine. If the gid is associated with a POINT_PROCESS that is located in a section which in turn is inside an object, this method returns the POINT_PROCESS object.


Note that if a cell has several spike detection sources with different gids, this is the method to use to return the POINT_PROCESS object itself.

object = pc.gid2cell(gid)
The cell or artificial cell object is returned that is associated with the global id. Note that the gid must be owned by this machine. If the gid is associated with a POINT_PROCESS that is located in a section which in turn is inside an object, this method returns the cell object, not the POINT_PROCESS object.


Note that if a cell has several spike detection sources with different gids, there is no way to distinguish them with this method. With those gid arguments, gid2cell would return the same cell where they are located.

nsendmax = pc.spike_statistics(&nsend, &nrecv, &nrecv_useful)

Returns the spanning spike statistics since the last finitialize() . All arguments are optional.

nsendmax is the maximum number of spikes sent from this machine to all other machines due to a single maximum step interval.

nsend is the total number of spikes sent from this machine to all other machines.

nrecv is the total number of spikes received by this machine. This number is the same for all machines.

nrecv_useful is the total number of spikes received from other machines that are sent to cells on this machine. (note: this does not include any nsend spikes from this machine)


The vector, vec, of size maxspikes, is used to accumulate histogram information about the maximum number of spikes sent by any cpu during the spike exchange process. Every spike exchange, vec.x[max_spikes_sent_by_any_host] is incremented by 1. It only makes sense to do this on one cpu, normally == 0. If some host sends more than maxspikes at the end of an integration interval, no element of vec is incremented.

Note that the current implementation of the spike exchange mechanism uses MPI_Allgather with a fixed buffer size that allows up to nrn_spikebuf_size spikes per cpu to be sent to all other machines. The default value of this is 0. If some cpu needs to send more than this number of spikes, then a second MPI_Allgatherv is used to send the overflow.

i = pc.checkpoint()
Available only for the BlueGene.

Parallel Transfer


Extends the MPI Parallel Network methods to allow parallel simulation of models involving gap junctions and/or synapses where the postsynaptic conductance continuously depends on presynaptic voltage. Communication overhead for such models is far greater than when the only communication between cells is with discrete events. The greater overhead is due to the requirement for exchanging information every time step.

Gap junctions are assumed to couple cells relatively weakly so that the modified euler method is acceptable for accuracy and stability. For purposes of load balance, and regardless of coupling strength, a cell may be split into two subtrees with each on a different processor. See ParallelContext.splitcell(). Splitting a cell into more than two pieces can be done with ParallelContext.multisplit() .

Except for "splitcell" and "multisplit, the methods described in this section work for intra-machine connections regardless of how NEURON is configured. However machine spanning connections can only be made if NEURON has been configured with the --with-paranrn option. (This automatically sets the --with-mpi option).


Works for the fixed step method and the global variable step ode method restricted to at_time events and NO discrete events. Presently does NOT work with IDA (dae equations) or local variable step method. Does not work with Cvode + discrete events.

section pc.source_var(&v(x), source_global_index)
Associates the source voltage variable with an integer. This integer has nothing to do with and does not conflict with the discrete event gid used by the Parallel Network methods. Must and can only be executed on the machine where the source voltage exists. If extracellular is inserted at this location the voltage transferred is section.v(x) + section.vext[0](x) . I.e. the internal potential (appropriate for gap junctions).


An error will be generated if the the first arg pointer is not a voltage in the currently accessed section. This was not an error prior to version 1096:294dac40175f trunk 19 May 2014


pc.target_var(&target_variable, source_global_index)

pc.target_var(targetPointProcess, &target_variable, source_global_index)


Values for the source_variable associated with the source_global_index will be copied to the target_variable every time step (more often for the variable step methods).

Transfer occurs during finitialize() just prior to BEFORE BREAKPOINT blocks of mod files and calls to type 0 FInitializeHandler() statements. For the fixed step method, transfer occurs just before calling the SOLVE blocks. For the variable step methods transfer occurs just after states are scattered. Though any source variable can be transferred to any number of any target variable, it generally only makes sense to transfer voltage values.


If multiple threads are used, then the first arg must be the target point process of which target_variable is a range variable. This is required so that the system can determine which thread owns the target_variable. Also, for the variable step methods, target_variable should not be located at section position 0 or 1.

This method must be called after all the calls to source_var() and target_var() and before initializing the simulation. It sets up the internal maps needed for both intra- and inter-processor transfer of source variable values to target variables.

rootsection pc.splitcell_connect(host_with_other_subtree)

The root of the subtree specified by the currently accessed section is connected to the root of the corresponding subtree located on the host indicated by the argument. The method is very restrictive but is adequate to solve the load balance problem. The host_with_other_subtree must be either + 1 or - 1 and there can be only one split cell between hosts i and i+1. A rootsection is defined as a section in which SectionRef.has_parent() returns 0.

This method is not normally called by the user but is wrapped by the ParallelNetManager() method, ParallelNetManager.splitcell() which provides a simple interface to support load balanced network simulations.

See ParallelContext.multisplit() for less restrictive parallel simulation of individual cells.


Implemented only for fixed step methods. Cannot presently be used with variable step methods, or models with LinearMechanism(), or extracellular() .


section pc.multisplit(x, sid)

section pc.multisplit(x, sid, backbone_style)



For parallel simulation of single cells. Generalizes ParallelContext.splitcell() in a number of ways. section(x) identifies a split node and can be any node, including soma(0.5). The number of split nodes allowed on a (sub)tree is two or fewer. Nodes with the same sid are connected by wires (0 resistance).

The default backbone_style (no third arg) is 2. With this style, we allow multiple pieces of the same cell to be on the same cpu. This means that one can split a cell into more pieces than available cpus in order to more effectively load balance.

For backbone_style 2, the entire cell is solved exactly via gaussian elimination regardless of the number of backbones or their size. So the stability-accuracy properties are the same as if the cell were entirely on one cpu. In this case all calls to multisplit for that entire single cell must have no third arg or a third arg of 2. Best performance militates that you should split a cell so that it has as few backbones as possible consistent with load balance since the reduced tree matrix must be solved between the MPI matrix send phase and the MPI matrix receive phase and that is a computation interval in which, in many situations, nothing else can be accomplished.

The no arg call signals that no further multisplit calls will be forthcoming and the system can determine the communication pattern needed to carry out the multisplit computations. All hosts, even those that have no multisplit cells, must participate in this determination. (If anyone calls multisplit(...), everyone must call multisplit().)

For backbone_style 0 or 1, if nodes have the same split id, sid, they must be on different hosts but that is not a serious restriction since in that case the subtrees would normally be connected together using the standard connect() statement.

If all the trees connected into a single cell have only one sid, the simulation is numerically identical to ParallelContext.splitcell() which is numerically identical to all the trees connected together on a single cpu to form one cell. If one or more of the trees has two sids, then numerical accuracy, stability, and performance are a bit more ambiguous and depend on the electrical distance between the two sids. The rule of thumb is that voltage at one sid point should not significantly affect voltage at the other sid point within a single time step. Note that this electical distance has nothing to do with nseg. The stability criterion is not proportional to dt/dx^2 but the much more favorable dt/L^2 where dx is the size of the shortest segment and L is the distance between the sid nodes. In principle the subtrees of the whole cell can be the individual sections. However the matrix solution of the nodes on the path between the two sids takes twice as many divisions and 4 times as many multiplications and subtractions as normally occurs on that path. Hence there is an accuracy/performance optimum with respect to the distance between sids on the same tree. This also complicates load balance considerations.

If the third arg exists and is 1, for one or both of the sids forming a backbone, the backbone is declared to be short which means that it is solved exactly by gaussian elimination without discarding any off diagonal elements. Two short backbones cannot be connected together but they may alternate with long backbones. If the entire cell consists of single sid subtrees connected to a short backbone then the numerical accuracy is the same as if the entire tree was gausian eliminated on a single cpu. It does not matter if a one sid subtree is declared short or not; it is solved exactly in any case.

Note: using multisplit automatically sets CVode.cache_efficient(1)


Implemented only for fixed step methods. Cannot presently be used with variable step methods, or models with LinearMechanism(), or extracellular() .





With type = 1 erases the internal lists pertaining to gid information and cleans up all the internal references to those gids. This allows one to start over with new set_gid2node() calls. Note that NetCon and cell objects would have to be dereferenced separately under user control.

With type = 2 clears any information setup by ParallelContext.splitcell() or ParallelContext.multisplit().

With type = 3 clears any information setup by ParallelContext.setup_transfer().

With a type arg of 0 or no arg, clears all the above information.


Extends ParallelContext to allow parallel multicore simulations using threads. The methods in this section are only available in the multicore version of NEURON.

Multiple threads cannot be used with extracellular(), LinearMechanism(), and only with the fixed step and global variable time step integration methods.

Mechanisms that are not thread safe can only be used by thread 0.

Mod files that use VERBATIM blocks are not considered thread safe. The mod file author can use the THREADSAFE keyword in the NEURON block to force the thread enabled translation.

Mod files that assign values to GLOBAL variables are not considered thread safe. If the mod file is using the GLOBAL as a counter, prefix the offending assignment statements with the PROTECT keyword so that multiple threads do not attempt to update the value at the same time (race condition). If the mod file is using the GLOBAL essentially as a file scope LOCAL along with the possibility of passing values back to hoc in response to calling a PROCEDURE, use the THREADSAFE keyword in the NEURON block to automatically treat those GLOBAL variables as thread specific variables. Hoc assigns and evaluates only the thread 0 version and if FUNCTIONs and PROCEDUREs are called from Hoc, the thread 0 version of these globals are used.


n = pc.nthread(n)

n = pc.nthread(n, 0)

n = pc.nthread()

Specifies number of parallel threads. If the second arg is 0, the threads are computed sequentially (but with thread 0 last). Sequential threads can help with debugging since there can be no confounding race conditions due to programming errors. With no args, the number of threads is not changed. In all cases the number of threads is returned. On launch, there is one thread.


pc.partition(i, seclist)


The seclist is a SectionList() which contains the root sections of cells (or cell pieces, see multisplit()) which should be simulated by the thread indicated by the first arg index. Either all or no thread can have an associated seclist. The no arg form of pc.partition() unrefs the seclist for all the threads.

For developer use. Does not do anything in distributed versions.

previous = pc.thread_busywait(next)
When next is 1, during a psolve() run, overhead for pthread condition waiting is avoided by having threads watch continuously for a procedure to execute. This works only if the number of threads is less than the number of cores and uses 100% cpu time even when waiting.

n = pc.thread_how_many_proc()
Returns the number of cores/processors available for parallel simulation. The number is determined experimentally by repeatedly doubling the number of test threads each doing a count to 1e8 until the test time significantly increases.

sec  i = pc.sec_in_thread()
The currently accessed section resides in the thread indicated by the return value.


ct = pc.thread_ctime(i)


The high resolution walltime time in seconds the indicated thread used during time step integration. Note that this does not include reduced tree computation time used by thread 0 when multisplit() is active.

t = pc.t(tid)
Return the current time of the tid'th thread

dt = pc.dt(tid)
Return the current timestep value for the tid'th thread

pc.precellstate(gid, "suffix")

Creates the file <gid>_suffix.nrndat with all the range variable values and synapse/NetCon information associated with the gid. More complete than the HOC version of prcellstate.hoc in the standard library but more terse in regard to names of variables. The purpose is for diagnosing the reason why a spike raster for a simulation is not the same for different nhost or gid distribution. One examines the diff between corresponding files from different runs.

The format of the file is:

# nodes, spike generator node
List of node indices, parent node index, area, connection coefficients
  between node and parent
List of node voltages
For each mechanism in the cell
Mechanism type, mechanism name, # variables for the mechanism instance
For each instance of that mechanism in the cell
  If the mechanism is a POINT_PROCESS with a NET_RECEIVE block,
    node index, "nri", netreceive index for that POINT_PROCESS instance
  For each variable
    node index, variable index, variable value
Number of netcons attached to the the cell.
For each netcon
  netreceive index, srcgid or type name of source object, active, delay, weight vector

pc.nrnbbcore_write([path[, gidgroup_vec]])

Writes files describing the existing model in such a way that those files can be read by CoreNEURON to simulate the model and produce exactly the same results as if the model were simulated in NEURON.

The files are written in the directory specified by the path argument (default '.').

Rank 0 writes a file called bbcore_mech.dat (into path) which lists all the membrane mechanisms in ascii format of:

name type pointtype artificial is_ion param_size dparam_size charge_if_ion

At the end of the bbcore_mech.dat file is a binary value that is used by the CoreNEURON reader to determine if byteswapping is needed in case of machine endianness difference between writing and reading.

Each rank also writes pc.nthread() pairs of model data files containing mixed ascii and binary data that completely defines the model specification within a thread, The pair of files in each thread are named <gidgroup>_1.dat and <gidgroup>_2.dat where gidgroup is one of the gids in the thread (the files contain data for all the gids in a thread). <gidgroup>_1.dat contains network topology data and <gidgroup>_2.dat contains all the data needed to actually construct the cells and synapses and specify connection weights and delays.

If the second argument does not exist, rank 0 writes a "files.dat" file with a first value that specifies the total number of gidgroups and one gidgroup value per line for all threads of all ranks.

If the model is too large to exist in NEURON (models typcially use an order of magnitude less memory in CoreNEURON) the model can be constructed in NEURON as a series of submodels. When one piece is constructed on each rank, this function can be called with a second argument which must be a Vector. In this case, rank 0 will NOT write a files.dat and instead the pc.nthread() gidgroup values for the rank will be returned in the Vector.

This function requires cvode.cache_efficient(1) . Multisplit is not supported. The model cannot be more complicated than a spike or gap junction coupled parallel network model of real and artificial cells. Real cells must have gids, Artificial cells without gids connect only to cells in the same thread. No POINTER to data outside of the thread that holds the pointer.