Concepts and terminology

EasyBuild consists of a collection of Python modules and packages that interact with each other, dynamically picking up additional Python modules as needed for building and installing a (stack of) software package(s) specified via simple specification files.

Or, in EasyBuild terminology: the EasyBuild framework leverages easyblocks to automatically build and install software using particular compiler toolchains, as specified by one or multiple easyconfig files.

EasyBuild framework

The EasyBuild framework embodies the core of the tool, providing functionality commonly needed when installing scientific software on HPC systems. For example, it deals with downloading, unpacking and patching of sources, loading module files for dependencies, setting up the build environment, autonomously running (interactive) shell commands, creating module files that match the specification files, etc.

Included in the framework is an abstract implementation of a software build and install procedure, which is split up into different steps:

  • unpacking sources
  • configuration
  • build
  • installation
  • module generation
  • etc.

Most of these steps, i.e., the ones which are generally more-or-less analogous across different software packages, have appropriate (default) implementations. The only exceptions are the configuration, build and installation steps that are purposely left unimplemented (since there is no common procedure for them).

Each of the steps can be tweaked and steered via different parameters known to the framework, for which values are either obtained from the provided specification files or set to reasonable default values. See Easyconfig files.

In EasyBuild version 3.4.0 the framework source code consists of about 19000 lines of code, organized across about 125 Python modules in roughly a dozen Python package directories, next to almost 7000 lines of code for tests. This provides some notion of the size of the EasyBuild framework and the amount of supporting functionality it has to offer.

Easyblocks

The implementation of a particular software build and install procedure is done in a Python module, which is aptly referred to as an easyblock.

Each easyblock ties in with the framework API by defining (or extending/replacing) one or more of the step functions that are part of the abstract procedure used by the EasyBuild framework. Easyblocks typically heavily rely on the supporting functionality provided by the framework, for example for (autonomously) executing (interactive) shell commands and obtaining the command’s output and exit code.

A distinction is made between software-specific and generic easyblocks. Software-specific easyblocks implement a build and install procedure which is entirely custom to one particular software package (e.g., WRF), while generic easyblocks implement a procedure using standard tools (e.g., CMake). Since easyblocks are implemented in an object-oriented scheme, the step methods implemented by a particular easyblock can be reused in others via inheritance, enabling code reuse across build procedure implementations.

For each software package being built, the EasyBuild framework will determine which easyblock should be used, based on the name of the software package or the value of the easyblock specification parameter (see Easyblock specification). Since EasyBuild v2.0, an easyblock must be specified in case no matching easyblock is found based on the software name (cfr. Automagic fallback to ConfigureMake).

EasyBuild version 2.4.0 includes 154 software-specific easyblocks and 28 generic easyblocks (see also List of easyblocks), providing support for automatically installing a wide range of software packages. Examples range from fairly easy-to-build programs like gzip, other basic tools like compilers, various MPI stacks and commonly used libraries, primarily for x86_64 architecture systems, to large scientific software packages that are notorious for their involved and tedious install procedures, such as: CP2K, NWChem, OpenFOAM, QuantumESPRESSO, WRF.

Toolchains

EasyBuild employs so-called compiler toolchains or, simply toolchains for short, which are a major concept in handling the build and installation processes.

A typical toolchain consists of one or more compilers, usually put together with some libraries for specific functionality, e.g., for using an MPI stack for distributed computing, or which provide optimized routines for commonly used math operations, e.g., the well-known BLAS/LAPACK APIs for linear algebra routines.

For each software package being built, the toolchain to be used must be specified in some way.

The EasyBuild framework prepares the build environment for the different toolchain components, by loading their respective modules and defining environment variables to specify compiler commands (e.g., via $F90), compiler and linker options (e.g., via $CFLAGS and $LDFLAGS), the list of library names to supply to the linker (via $LIBS), etc. This enables making easyblocks largely toolchain-agnostic since they can simply rely on these environment variables; that is, unless they need to be aware of, for example, the particular compiler being used to determine the build configuration options.

Recent releases of EasyBuild include out-of-the-box toolchain support for:

  • various compilers, including GCC, Intel, Clang, CUDA
  • common MPI libraries, such as Intel MPI, MPICH, MVAPICH2, OpenMPI
  • various numerical libraries, including ATLAS, Intel MKL, OpenBLAS, ScalaPACK, FFTW

dummy toolchain

The dummy toolchain is a special case. It is an empty toolchain, i.e. a toolchain without any components, and corresponds to using the readily available compilers and libraries (e.g., the ones provided by the OS, or by modules which were loaded before issuing the eb command).

When the dummy toolchain is used, a corresponding dummy module file is not required/loaded and no build environment is being defined.

When the toolchain version is also specified as dummy, no (build) dependencies will be loaded when the build is performed. If the toolchain version is specified as an empty string, the listed dependencies will be loaded (as is done with other toolchains).

Common toolchains

For more information on the concept of common toolchains, see Common toolchains.

Easyconfig files

The specification files that are supplied to EasyBuild are referred to as easyconfig files (or simply easyconfigs), which are basically plain text files containing (mostly) key-value assignments for build parameters supported by the framework, also referred to as easyconfig parameters (see Writing easyconfig files: the basics for more information).

Note that easyconfig files only provide the bits of information required to determine the corresponding module name; the module name itself is computed by EasyBuild framework by querying the module naming scheme being used. The complete list of supported easyconfig parameters can be easily obtained via the EasyBuild command line using eb -a (see also All available easyconfig parameters, –avail-easyconfig-params / -a).

As such, each easyconfig file provides a complete specification of which particular software package should be installed, and which settings should be used for building it. After completing an installation, EasyBuild copies the used easyconfig file to the install directory, as a template, and also supports maintaining an easyconfig archive which is updated on every successful installation. Therefore, reproducing installations becomes trivial.

EasyBuild version 3.4.0 includes support for over 511 different software packages, spread over 2800 easyconfig files describing distinct builds.

Extensions

Some software packages support installing additional add-ons alongside the ‘main’ software, either in the same installation prefix, or in a separate location.

In EasyBuild, we use the neutral term ‘extensions‘ to refer these add-ons.

Well-known examples include: