Implementing easyblocks

This documentation covers aspects of implementing easyblocks and how to use them. For a concise definition of easyblocks, see Easyblocks.

The basics

An easyblock is a Python module that implements a software build and installation procedure.

This concept is essentially implemented as a Python script that plugs into the EasyBuild framework.

EasyBuild will leverage easyblocks as needed, depending on which software packages it needs to install. Which easyblock is required is determined by the easyblock easyconfig parameter, if it is present, or the software name (see Generic vs software-specific easyblocks).

Generic vs software-specific easyblocks

Easyblocks can either be generic or software-specific.

Generic easyblocks implement a ‘standard’ software build and installation procedure that is used by multiple different software packages. A commonly used example is the ConfigureMake generic easyblock, which implements the standard configure - make - make install installation procedure used by most GNU software packages.

Software-specific easyblocks implement the build and installation procedure for a particular software package (see also Module name/location). Typically this involves highly customised substeps, for example specifying dedicated configuration options, creating or adjusting specific files, executing non-standard shell commands, etc. Usually a custom implementation of the sanity check is also included.

Since EasyBuild v2.0, using a generic easyblock requires specifying the easyblock parameter in the easyconfig file. If it is not specified, EasyBuild will try and find the software-specific easyblock derived from the software name.

The distinction between generic and software-specific easyblocks can be made based on the naming scheme that is used for an easyblock (see also Naming scheme for easyblocks).

See also Overview of generic easyblocks.

Easyblocks vs easyconfigs

Before you start implementing an easyblock, you should determine whether or not you really need an easyblock.

Easyconfig files provide quite a bit of flexibility that alleviate the need for implementing many (software-specific) easyblocks. Examples include easyconfig parameters like (pre){config,build,installopts} (available for any easyblock), install_cmd (only for Binary generic easyblock or derivates), etc. See Writing easyconfig files: the basics for an overview of what is supported in easyconfig files, and Overview of generic easyblocks for custom easyconfig parameters for the existing generic easyblocks (see also ‘eb -e <easyblock> -a‘).

On the other hand, somewhat complex or heavily customised software build and installation procedures may be handled better via a custom easyblock.

Easyblocks are “do once and forget”, and can provide a central solution for peculiarities of installations. Since they are basically Python scripts, they are very flexible and can take care of the ‘heavy lifting’ that goes beyond the key-value defining scope of easyconfig files.

Hence, there is a fine line between using ‘fat’ easyconfigs with a generic easyblock and using a custom software-specific easyblock.

Reasons to consider implementing a custom easyblock include:

  • ‘critical’ values for easyconfig parameters, which are required to make the installation succeed
  • compiler- or toolchain-specific aspects of the build and installation procedure (e.g., configure/build/install options)
  • interactive commands that need to be run
  • custom (configure) options for dependencies
  • having to create or adjust specific (configuration) files
  • ‘hackish’ usage of existing (generic) easyblocks and available easyconfig parameters

One important aspect to consider of course is that implementing easyblocks requires some familiarity with Python, while easyconfig files can mostly be seen as a set of pure key-value definitions and hence are easier to create or update.

Naming scheme for easyblocks

Easyblocks need to follow a strict naming scheme, to ensure that EasyBuild can pick them up as needed. This involves two aspects: i) the name of the Python class, and ii) the name and location of the Python module file.

Class name for software-specific easyblocks

The name of the Python class is determined by the software name for software-specific easyblocks. It consists of a prefix ‘EB_‘, followed by the (original) software name.

Because of limitations in Python on characters allowed in names of Python classes, only alphanumeric characters and _ are allowed. Any other characters are replaced following an encoding scheme:

  • spaces are replaced by underscores (_)
  • dashes - are replaced by _minus_
  • underscores are replaced by _underscore_
  • etc.

The encode_class_name function provided in returns the expected class name for a given software name; for example:

>>> from import encode_class_name
>>> encode_class_name('netCDF-Fortran')

Class name for generic easyblocks

For generic easyblocks, the class name does not include an EB_ prefix (since there is no need for an escaping mechanism) and hence the name is fully free to choose, taking into account the restriction to alphanumeric characters and underscores.

For code style reasons, the class name should start with a capital letter.

Examples include Bundle, ConfigureMake, CMakePythonPackage.

Module name/location

The name of the Python module file is directly related to the name of Python class (i.e., the actual easyblock) that it provides.

It should:

  • not include the EB_ prefix of the class name for software-specific easyblocks
  • consists only of lower-case alphanumeric characters ([a-z0-9]) and underscores (_)
    • dashes (-) are replaced by underscores (_)
    • any other non-alphanumeric characters (incl. spaces) are simply dropped

Examples include:

  • (for GCC)
  • (for netCDF-Fortran)
  • (for GAMESS (US))

The get_module_path function provided in easybuild.framework.easyconfig.easyconfig returns the (full) module location for a particular software name or easyblock class name; for example:

>>> from easybuild.framework.easyconfig.easyconfig import get_module_path
>>> get_module_path('netCDF-Fortran')
>>> get_module_path('EB_netCDF_minus_Fortran')

The location of the Python module is determined by whether the easyblock is generic or software-specific. Generic easyblocks are located in the easybuid.easyblocks.generic namespace, while software-specific easyblocks live in the easybuild.easyblocks namespace directly. To keep things organised, the actual Python module file for software-specific easyblocks are kept in ‘letter’ subdirectories, rather than in one large ‘easyblocks‘ directory (see

Note that you shouldn’t concern yourself too much with getting the location of an easyblock right, as long as you use --include-easyblocks to make EasyBuild use additional or customised easyblocks (see Including additional easyblocks (–include-easyblocks) for more information).

Structure of an easyblock

The example below shows the overal structure of an easyblock:

from easybuild.framework.easyblock import EasyBlock
from import run_cmd

class EB_Example(EasyBlock):
    """Custom easyblock for Example"""

    def configure_step(self):
        """Custom implementation of configure step for Example"""

        # run to configure the build
        run_cmd("./ --install-prefix=%s" % self.installdir)

Each easyblock includes an implementation of a class that (directly or indirectly) derives from the abstract EasyBlock class.

Typically some useful functions provided by the EasyBuild framework are imported at the top of the Python module.

In the class definition, one or more ‘*_step‘ methods are redefined, to implement the corresponding step in the build and installation procedure.

Each easyblock must implement the configure, build and install steps, since these are not implemented in the abstract EasyBlock class. This could be done explicitely by redefining the corresponding *_step methods, or implicitely by deriving from existing (generic) easyblocks.

Deriving from existing (generic) easyblocks

When implementing an easyblock, it is common to derive from an existing (usually generic) easyblock, and to leverage the functionality provided by it. This approach is typically used when only a specific part of the build and installation procedure needs to be customised.

In the (fictious) example below, we derive from the generic ConfigureMake easyblock to redefine the configure step. In this case, we are extending the configure step as implemented by ConfigureMake rather than redefining it entirely, since we call out to the original configure_step method at the end.

from easybuild.easyblocks.generic.configuremake import ConfigureMake
from import copy_file

class EB_Example(ConfigureMake):
    """Custom easyblock for Example"""

    def configure_step(self):
        """Custom implementation of configure step for Example"""

        # use example make.cfg for x86-64
        copy_file('make.cfg.x86', 'make.cfg')

        # call out to original configure_step implementation of ConfigureMake easyblock
        super(EB_Example, self).configure_step()

Specific aspects of easyblocks

Custom easyconfig parameters

In an easyblock, additional custom easyconfig parameters can be defined to steer the behaviour of the easyblock. This is done via the extra_options static method. Custom parameters can be defined to be mandatory or optional.

The example below shows how this can be implemented:

from easybuild.easyblocks.generic.configuremake import ConfigureMake
from easybuild.framework.easyconfig import CUSTOM, MANDATORY

class EB_Example(ConfigureMake):
    """Custom easyblock for Example"""

    def extra_options():
        """Custom easyconfig parameters for Example"""
        extra_vars = {
            'required_example_param': [None, "Help text for required example custom parameter", MANDATORY],
            'optional_example_param': [None, "Help text for (optional) example custom parameter", CUSTOM],
        return ConfigureMake.extra_options(extra_vars)

The first element in the list of a defined custom parameter corresponds to the default value for that parameter (both None in the example above). The second element provides some informative help text, and the last element indicates whether the parameter is mandatory (MANDATORY) or just a custom parameter (CUSTOM).

Easyblock constructor

In the class constructor of the easyblock, i.e. the __init__ method, one or more class variables can be initialised. These can be used for sharing information between different *_step methods in the easyblock.

For example:

from easybuild.framework.easyblock import EasyBlock

class EB_Example(EasyBlock):
    """Custom easyblock for Example"""

    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        """Constructor for Example easyblock, initialises class variables."""

        # call out to original constructor first, so 'self' (i.e. the class instance) is initialised
        super(EB_Example, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)

        # initialise class variables
        self.var1 = None
        self.var2 = None

Reading/writing/copying/patching files

File manipulation is a common use case for implementing easyblocks, hence the EasyBuild framework provides a number of useful functions related to this, including:

  • read_file(<path>): read file at a specified location and returns its contents
  • write_file(<path>, <text>) at a specified location with provided contents; to append to an existing file, use append=True as an extra argument
  • copy_file(<src>, <dest>) to copy an existing file
  • apply_regex_substitutions(<path>, <list of regex substitions>) to patch an existing file

All of these functions are provided by the module.

Executing (interactive) shell commands

For executing shell commands two functions are provided by the module:

  • run_cmd(<cmd>) to run a non-interactive shell command
  • run_cmd_qa(<cmd>, <dict with questions & answers>) to run an interactive shell command

Both of these accept a number of optional arguments:

  • simple=True to just return True or False to indicate a successful execution, rather than the default return value, i.e., a tuple that provides the command output and the exit code (in that order)
  • path=<path> to run the command in a specific subdirectory

The run_cmd_qa function takes two additional specific arguments:

  • no_qa=<list> to specify a list of patterns to recognize non-questions
  • std_qa=<dict> to specify patterns for common questions and the matching answer

Manipulating the environment

To (re)define environment variables, the setvar function provided by the module should be used.

This makes sure that the changes being made to the specified environment variable are kept track of, and that they are handled correctly under --extended-dry-run.

Log statements

It is good practice to include meaningful log messages in the *_step methods being customised in the easyblock, to enrich the build log with useful information for later debugging or diagnostics.

For logging, the provided self.log logger class should be used, i.e. the or self.log.debug methods should be called.

Custom (default) sanity check

For software-specific easyblocks, a custom sanity check is usually included to verify that the installation was successful or not.

This is done by redefining the sanity_check_step method in the easyblock. For example:

from easybuild.framework.easyblock import EasyBlock

class EB_Example(EasyBlock):
    """Custom easyblock for Example"""

    def sanity_check_step(self):
        """Custom sanity check for Example."""

        custom_paths = {
            'files': ['bin/example'],
            'dirs': [],
        custom_commands = ['example --version']

        # call out to parent to do the actual sanity checking, pass through custom paths and commands
        super(EB_Example, self).sanity_check_step(custom_paths=custom_paths, custom_commands=custom_commands)

You can both specify file path and subdirectories to check for, which are specified relative to the installation directory, as well as simple commands that should execute successfully after completing the installation and loading the generated module file.

Note that it is up to you how extensive you make the sanity check, but it is recommended to make the check as complete as possible to catch any potential build or installation problems thay may occur.

Version-specific parts

In some case, version-specific actions or checks need to be included in an easyblock. For this, it is recommended to use LooseVersion rather than directly comparing version numbers using string values.

For example:

from distutils.version import LooseVersion

from easybuild.framework.easyblock import EasyBlock

class EB_Example(EasyBlock):
    """Custom easyblock for Example"""

    def sanity_check_step(self):
        """Custom sanity check for Example."""

        custom_paths = {
            'files': [],
            'dirs': [],

        # in older version, the binary used to be named 'EXAMPLE' rather than 'example'
        if LooseVersion(self.version) < LooseVersion('1.0'):

        super(EB_Example, self).sanity_check_step(custom_paths=custom_paths)

Compatibility with --extended-dry-run/-x and --module-only

Some special care must be taken to ensure that an easyblock is fully compatible with --extended-dry-run / -x (see Extended dry run) and --module-only (see Only (re)generating (additional) module files using –module-only).

For --extended-dry-run/-x, this is already well covered at Detecting dry run mode and enhancing the dry run output.

For --module-only, you should make sure that both the make_module_step, including the make_module_* submethods, and the sanity_check_step methods do not make any assumptions about the presence of certain environment variables or that class variables have been defined already.

This needs to be handled with care since under --module-only the large majority of the *_step functions is simply skipped entirely. So, if the configure_step method is responsible for defining class variables that are picked up in sanity_check_step, the latter may run into unexpected initial values like None. A possible workaround is to define a separate custom method to define the class variables, and to call out to this method from configure_step and sanity_check_step (for the latter, conditionally, i.e., only if the class variables still have the initial values).

Using new/custom easyblocks

The best way to make EasyBuild aware of new or customized easyblocks is via --include-easyblocks, see Including additional easyblocks (–include-easyblocks) for more information.

To verify that your easyblocks are indeed picked up correctly, you can use --list-easyblocks=detailed, see also List of available easyblocks, –list-easyblocks.

Testing easyblocks

Before testing your easyblock implementation by actually building and installing the software package(s) it was implemented for, it is recommended to:

  • study the output produced by --extended-dry-run/-x
  • evaluate the generated module file that is obtained by using --module-only --force

For the output of --extended-dry-run/-x, there should be no ignored errors (cfr. Errors are ignored (by default) during dry run), that is the end of the output produced should include this message:

(no ignored errors during dry run)

With --module-only --force, the easyblock complete successfully without crashing, and should generate a module file that includes everything that is expected (except for statements that require that the actual installation was performend).

Use case: an easyblock for Tensorflow

(work in progress)