Quick Start


Simexpal requires Python 3 and can be installed via pip3:

$ pip3 install simexpal

Quick Example

The simexpal repository contains a small example that you can try out to quickly get to know the tool. In this example, we compare different (inefficient) sorting algorithms on multiple inputs.


While this constitutes a toy example, more complex examples can be handled using the same workflow. Indeed, simexpal has successfully been used to manage benchmarks that are published in algorithmic research papers.

  1. Install simexpal as detailed above.

  2. Clone the simexpal repository and navigate to the examples/sorting/ directory:

    $ git clone https://github.com/hu-macsy/simexpal.git
    $ cd simexpal/examples/sorting/

    This directory contains an experiments.yml file that stores the configuration of all instances and experiments and some scripts: generate.py is used to generate random instances, the sort.py executes all algorithms and eval.py is a script that uses simexpal’s Python interface to evaluate benchmarking results.

  3. Generate some instances for the benchmark:

    # List the instances declared in experiments.yml.
    # Note that missing instances will appear in red.
    $ simex instances
    $ simex instances install # Generate missing instance files.

    In the experiments.yml the instances are declared as part of the instances stanza. This stanza also declares how to invoke the generator script generate.py.

  4. Launch the algorithms on all instances:

    $ simex experiments # List experiment configurations from experiments.yml.
    Experiment                           Instance                            Status
    ----------                           --------                            ------
    bubble-sort                          uniform-n1000-s1                    [0]
    bubble-sort                          uniform-n1000-s2                    [0]
    bubble-sort                          uniform-n1000-s3                    [0]
    insertion-sort                       uniform-n1000-s1                    [0]
    insertion-sort                       uniform-n1000-s2                    [0]
    insertion-sort                       uniform-n1000-s3                    [0]
    $ simex experiments launch # Launch all configurations locally.
    $ simex experiments # Review the status of the experiments.
    Experiment                           Instance                            Status
    ----------                           --------                            ------
    bubble-sort                          uniform-n1000-s1                    [0] finished
    bubble-sort                          uniform-n1000-s2                    [0] finished
    bubble-sort                          uniform-n1000-s3                    [0] finished
    insertion-sort                       uniform-n1000-s1                    [0] finished
    insertion-sort                       uniform-n1000-s2                    [0] finished
    insertion-sort                       uniform-n1000-s3                    [0] finished

    In the experiments.yml file, all experiment configurations (including the invocation of sort.py) are declared as part of the experiments stanza.

  5. Evaluate the results:

    # Here, we use the popular pandas package to aggregate the results.
    # Make sure that pandas is installed on your machine (pip3 install pandas).
    $ ./eval.py
    experiment      comparisons          swaps      time
    bubble-sort        499500.0  253437.333333  0.091776
    insertion-sort     241891.0  257609.000000  0.039501

    eval.py is a simple 25 line script that uses the simexpal Python interface (i.e., the functions collect_successful_results() and open_output_file()) to gather all results. It uses pandas to aggregate statistics over all experiments.

Running Experiments

As a simple example, we compare Insertion Sort and Bubble Sort on a set of instances (such an example is available in the within examples). To this purpose, we created a new sorting directory, and wrote a short Python script sort.py where we implemented the two algorithms. sort.py accepts two arguments: the algorithm name (i.e. insertion-sort or bubble-sort) and the path to the instance. Then, you generated a bunch of instances and placed them in a directory called “instances” within “project” (in this example we just deal with a single instance random_500.list). Now we can run a sorting algorithm on a specific instance with:

python3 sort.py --algo=insertion-sort ./instances/random_500.list

To keep the example simple, we assume that instances are lists of integers.

We can now start to configure simexpal to automatize the experimental pipeline. First, we need to create a new experiments.yml file within the sorting directory. This is a configuration file that is read by simexpal to run the experiments on the desired instances and it is structured as below:

Example of experiments.yml file
  - generator:
      args: ['./generate.py', '--seed=1', '1000']
      - uniform-n1000-s1
  - generator:
      args: ['./generate.py', '--seed=2', '1000']
      - uniform-n1000-s2
  - generator:
      args: ['./generate.py', '--seed=3', '1000']
      - uniform-n1000-s3

  - name: insertion-sort
    args: ['./sort.py', '--algo=insertion-sort', '@INSTANCE@']
    stdout: out
  - name: bubble-sort
    args: ['./sort.py', '--algo=bubble-sort', '@INSTANCE@']
    stdout: out

The structure of this file will be better explained later in the guide. At this point, our sorting directory looks like this:

├── sort.py
├── experiments.yml
└── instances
    └── random_500.list

After having completed this steps, we can start using simexpal to run our experiments. A complete list of experiments and their status can be seen by:

$ simex experiments list

The color of each line represents the status of the experiment:

  • Green: finished
  • Yellow: running
  • Red: failed
  • Default: not executed

Experiments can be launched with:

$ simex experiments launch

This instruction will launch the non executed experiments on the local machine.

Evaluating Results

After experiments have been run, simexpal can assist with locating and collecting output data. To do this, simexpal can be imported as a Python package. As simexpal is output format and algorithm agnostic, you need to provide functionality to parse output files and evaluate results. Parsing output files can usually be greatly simplified by using standardized formats and appropriate libraries.

The example below (i.e., eval.py from examples/sorting/) demonstrates this concept. It uses the simexpal Python package to obtain all output files and meta data about them. In particular, it uses the functions collect_successful_results() and open_output_file() for this purpose. A user-supplied parsing function is employed to parse the output files.

def parse(run, f):
	output = yaml.load(f, Loader=yaml.Loader)
	return {
		'experiment': run.experiment.name,
		'instance': run.instance.shortname,
		'comparisons': output['comparisons'],
		'swaps': output['swaps'],
		'time': output['time']

cfg = simexpal.config_for_dir()
results = []
for successful_run in cfg.collect_successful_results():
	with successful_run.open_output_file() as f:
		results.append(parse(successful_run, f))

df = pandas.DataFrame(results)

Managing Instances

Before launching the experiments, make sure that all your instances are available. Instances can be checked with:

$ simex instances list

Unavailable instances will be shown in red, otherwise they will be shown in green. If instances are taken from a public repository, they can be downloaded automatically. We configured the YAML file below to use instances from SNAP.

experiments.yml with instances from public repositories.
  - repo: snap
      - 'facebook_combined'
      - 'cit-HepTh'

instdir: "./graphs"

All the listed instances can be downloaded within the ./graphs directory with:

$ simex instances install

Dealing with Parameters and Variants of an Algorithm

When benchmarking algorithms, it is often useful to compare different variants or parameter configurations of the same algorithm. simexpal can manage those variants without requiring you to duplicate the experiments stanza multiple times.

As an example, imagine that you want to benchmark the running time of merge sort using different minimum block sizes, as well as its running time depending on different algorithms for minimal blocks.

Those variants can be handled by simexpal using the following stanzas:

  - name: 'merge-sort'
    stdout: out
    args: ['python3', 'sort.py', '--algo=insertion-sort', '@EXTRA_ARGS@', '@INSTANCE@']

  - axis: 'block-size'
      - name: 'bbs1'
        extra_args: ['--base-block-size=1']
      - name: 'bbs10'
        extra_args: ['--base-block-size=10']
      - name: 'bbs50'
        extra_args: ['--base-block-size=50']
  - axis: 'block-algo'
      - name: 'bba-insertion'
        extra_args: ['--base-block-algorithm=insertion-sort']
      - name: 'bba-selection'
        extra_args: ['--base-block-algorithm=selection-sort']

simexpal will duplicate the experiment for each possible combination of variants. Such a combination will consist of exactly one variant for every axis property.

Automated Builds and Revision Support

To make sure that experiments are always run from exactly the same binaries, it is possible to let simexpal pull your programs from some VCS (as of version 0.1, only Git is supported) and build them automatically.

Automated builds are controlled by the builds and revisions stanzas in experiments.yml.

In the remainder of this section, we will reconsider the sorting example from the Quick Example section. Instead of using a Python implementation of the algorithms, we assume a C++ implementation and use simexpal’s automated build support to compile it. In this example, simexpal will invoke a CMake build system to build the program; however, simexpal is independent of the particular build system in use.

To enable automated builds, we need to add builds and revisions stanzas to experiments.yml. In our example, these look like:

  - name: simexpal
    git: 'https://github.com/hu-macsy/simexpal'
      - args:
        - 'cmake'
        - '@THIS_CLONE_DIR@/examples/sorting_cpp/'
      - args:
        - 'make'
        - '-j@PARALLELISM@'
      - args:
        - 'make'
        - 'install'

  - name: main
      'simexpal': 'd8d421e3c2eaa32311a6c678b15e9e22ea0d8eac'      # specify the SHA-1 hash of a tagged commit (recommended)
                                                                  # it is also possible to checkout the top commit
                                                                  # of a branch by specifying the SHA-1 hash or
                                                                  # branch name (not recommended for reproducibility reasons)

Next, we have to assign the builds to their respective experiments:

  - name: quick-sort
    use_builds: [simexpal]  # specify which builds get used for this experiment
    args: ['quicksort', '@INSTANCE@', '@EXTRA_ARGS@']
    stdout: out

Simexpal resolves the @INSTANCE@ variable to the instance paths and the @EXTRA_ARGS@ to the extra arguments of the variants (that we define below) during runtime.

After experiments.yml has been adopted, we can run the automated build using

$ simex builds make

Once the build process is finished, the experiments can be started as usual.

Run Matrix

In the Dealing with Parameters and Variants of an Algorithm section we saw how we can use simexpal to specify variants of experiments. For the following example we will consider this variants stanza:

  - axis: 'block-algo'
      - name: 'ba-insert'
        extra_args: ['insertion_sort']
      - name: 'ba-bubble'
        extra_args: ['bubble_sort']
  - axis: 'block-size'
      - name: 'bs32'
        extra_args: ['32']
      - name: 'bs64'
        extra_args: ['64']

simexpal will build every possible combination of experiment, instance, variant and revision. There are cases where this is not desired. For example, you might only want to run certain instance/variant combinations.

Assume you want to run Quicksort with Insertionsort as base block algorithm and 32 as minimal block size. Additionally you want to run Quicksort with Bubblesort as base block algorithm and use both 32 and 64 as minimal block sizes.

To achieve this, we need to add a matrix stanza to experiments.yml. In our example, this looks like:

    - experiments: [quick-sort]
      variants: [ba-insert, bs32]
      revisions: [main]
    - experiments: [quick-sort]
      variants: [ba-bubble]     # We could explicitly specify [ba-bubble, bs32, bs64]. In this case it is not
                                # necessary as bs32 and bs64 are all the possible values for the block-size axis
      revisions: [main]

(The full experiments.yml can be found here .)

Using simex experiments list we can confirm that we got our desired experiments:

Experiment                                    Instance                     Status
----------                                    --------                     ------
quick-sort ~ ba-bubble, bs32 @ main           uniform-n1000-s1             [0] not submitted
quick-sort ~ ba-bubble, bs32 @ main           uniform-n1000-s2             [0] not submitted
quick-sort ~ ba-bubble, bs64 @ main           uniform-n1000-s1             [0] not submitted
quick-sort ~ ba-bubble, bs64 @ main           uniform-n1000-s2             [0] not submitted
quick-sort ~ ba-insert, bs32 @ main           uniform-n1000-s1             [0] not submitted
quick-sort ~ ba-insert, bs32 @ main           uniform-n1000-s2             [0] not submitted

Launchers / Support for Batch Schedulers

To submit experiments to a batch scheduler, simexpal allows you to define “launchers”. A launcher specifies where and how simexpal should submit experiments. If no launcher (not even a default launcher or --launch-through) is specified, simexpal launches experiments on the local machine.

Launchers are defined in a file ~/.simexpal/launchers.yml. For example, to submit jobs to the Slurm partition fat-nodes, a launcher configuration could look like this:

  - name: local-cluster
    default: true
    scheduler: slurm
    queue: fat-nodes

When launching experiments using simex experiments launch, you can specify the --launcher option (e.g., simex experiments launch --launcher local-cluster) to select a certain launcher. Note that the default: true attribute of a launcher overrides the default behavior of launching on the local machine (hence, there can only be one launcher with default: true).