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At some point, every HPC system fails, e.g., a compute node or the network might crash causing running jobs to crash, too. In order to prevent starting your crashed experiments and simulations from the very beginning, you should be familiar with the concept of checkpointing.


Checkpointing saves the state of a running process to a checkpointing image file. Using this file, the process can later be continued (restarted) from where it left off.

Another motivation is to use checkpoint/restart to split long running jobs into several shorter ones. This might improve the overall job throughput, since shorter jobs can "fill holes" in the job queue. Here is an extreme example from literature for the waste of large computing resources due to missing checkpoints:

Adams, D. The Hitchhikers Guide Through the Galaxy

Earth was a supercomputer constructed to find the question to the answer to the Life, the Universe, and Everything by a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings. Unfortunately 10 million years later, and five minutes before the program had run to completion, the Earth was destroyed by Vogons.

If you wish to do checkpointing, your first step should always be to check if your application already has such capabilities built-in, as that is the most stable and safe way of doing it. Applications that are known to have some sort of native checkpointing include:

Abaqus, Amber, Gaussian, GROMACS, LAMMPS, NAMD, NWChem, Quantum Espresso, STAR-CCM+, VASP

In case your program does not natively support checkpointing, there are attempts at creating generic checkpoint/restart solutions that should work application-agnostic. One such project which we recommend is Distributed Multi-Threaded Check-Pointing (DMTCP).

DMTCP is available on ZIH systems after having loaded the dmtcp module

marie@login$ module load DMTCP

While our batch system Slurm also provides a checkpointing interface to the user, unfortunately, it does not yet support DMTCP at this time. However, there are ongoing efforts of writing a Slurm plugin that hopefully will change this in the near future. We will update this documentation as soon as it becomes available.

In order to help with setting up checkpointing for your jobs, we have written a few scripts that make it easier to utilize DMTCP together with Slurm.

Using w.r.t. Chain Jobs

For long-running jobs that you wish to split into multiple shorter jobs (chain jobs), thereby enabling the job scheduler to fill the cluster much more efficiently and also providing some level of fault-tolerance, we have written a script that automatically creates a number of jobs for your desired runtime and adds the checkpoint/restart bits transparently to your batch script. You just have to specify the targeted total runtime of your calculation and the interval in which you wish to do checkpoints. The latter (plus the time it takes to write the checkpoint) will then be the runtime of the individual jobs. This should be targeted at below 24 hours in order to be able to run on all partitions haswell64. For increased fault-tolerance, it can be chosen even shorter.

To use it, first add a dmtcp_launch before your application call in your batch script. In the case of MPI applications, you have to add the parameters --ib --rm and put it between srun and your application call, e.g.:

Example my-dmtcp-script.sbatch

srun dmtcp_launch --ib --rm ./my-mpi-application


We have successfully tested checkpointing MPI applications with the latest Intel MPI (module: intelmpi/2018.0.128). While it might work with other MPI libraries, too, we have no experience in this regard, so you should always try it out before using it for your productive jobs.

Then just substitute your usual sbatch call with dmtcp_sbatch and be sure to specify the -t and -i parameters (don't forget you need to have loaded the dmtcp module).

marie@login$ dmtcp_sbatch --time 2-00:00:00 --interval 28000,800 my-dmtcp-script.sbatch

With -t, --time you set the total runtime of your calculations. This will be replaced in the batch script in order to shorten your individual jobs.

The parameter -i, --interval sets the time in seconds for your checkpoint intervals. It can optionally include a timeout for writing out the checkpoint files, separated from the interval time via comma (defaults to 10 minutes).

In the above example, there will be 6 jobs each running 8 hours, so about 2 days in total.


  • If you see your first job running into the time limit, that probably means the timeout for writing out checkpoint files does not suffice and should be increased. Our tests have shown that it takes approximately 5 minutes to write out the memory content of a fully utilized 64GB haswell node, so you should choose at least 10 minutes there (better err on the side of caution). Your mileage may vary, depending on how much memory your application uses. If your memory content is rather incompressible, it might be a good idea to disable the checkpoint file compression by setting: export DMTCP_GZIP=0
  • Note that all jobs the script deems necessary for your chosen time limit/interval values are submitted right when first calling the script. If your applications take considerably less time than what you specified, some of the individual jobs will be unnecessary. As soon as one job does not find a checkpoint to resume from, it will cancel all subsequent jobs for you.
  • See dmtcp_sbatch -h for a list of available parameters and more help

What happens in your work directory?

  • The script will create subdirectories named ckpt_<jobid> for each individual job it puts into the queue
  • It will also create modified versions of your batch script, one for the first job (ckpt_launch.job), one for the middle parts (ckpt_rstr.job) and one for the final job (cpkt_rstr_last.job)
  • Inside the ckpt_* directories you will also find a file (job_ids) containing all job ids that are related to this job chain

If you wish to restart manually from one of your checkpoints (e.g., if something went wrong in your later jobs or the jobs vanished from the queue for some reason), you have to call dmtcp_sbatch with the -r, --resume parameter, specifying a cpkt_ directory to resume from. Then it will use the same parameters as in the initial run of this job chain. If you wish to adjust the time limit, for instance, because you realized that your original limit was too short, just use the -t, --time parameter again on resume.

Using DMTCP Manually

If for some reason our automatic chain job script is not suitable for your use case, you could also just use DMTCP on its own. In the following we will give you step-by-step instructions on how to checkpoint your job manually:

  • Load the DMTCP module: module load dmtcp
  • DMTCP usually runs an additional process that manages the creation of checkpoints and such, the so-called coordinator. It must be started in your batch script before the actual start of your application. To help you with this process, we have created a bash function called start_coordinator that is available after sourcing $DMTCP_ROOT/bin/bash in your script. The coordinator can take a handful of parameters, see man dmtcp_coordinator. Via -i you can specify an interval (in seconds) in which checkpoint files are to be created automatically. With --exit-after-ckpt the application will be terminated after the first checkpoint has been created, which can be useful if you wish to implement some sort of job chaining on your own.
  • In front of your program call, you have to add the wrapper script dmtcp_launch. This will create a checkpoint automatically after 40 seconds and then terminate your application and with it the job. If the job runs into its time limit (here: 60 seconds), the time to write out the checkpoint was probably not long enough. If all went well, you should find cpkt files in your work directory together with a script called ./ that can be used to resume from the checkpoint.
#SBATCH --time=00:01:00
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=8
#SBATCH --mem-per-cpu=1500

source $DMTCP_ROOT/bin/bash start_coordinator -i 40 --exit-after-ckpt

dmtcp_launch ./my-application #for sequential/multithreaded applications
#or: srun dmtcp_launch --ib --rm ./my-mpi-application #for MPI
  • To restart your application, you need another batch file (similar to the one above) where once again you first have to start the DMTCP coordinator. The requested resources should match those of your original job. If you do not wish to create another checkpoint in your restarted run again, you can omit the -i and --exit-after-ckpt parameters this time. Afterwards, the application must be run using the restart script, specifying the host and port of the coordinator (they have been exported by the start_coordinator function).
#SBATCH --time=00:01:00
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=8
#SBATCH --mem-per-cpu=1500

source $DMTCP_ROOT/bin/bash start_coordinator -i 40 --exit-after-ckpt


Signal Handler

If for some reason your job is taking unexpectedly long and would be killed by Slurm due to reaching its time limit, you can use --signal=<sig_num>[@sig_time] to make Slurm sent your processes a Unix signal sig_time seconds before. Your application should take care of this signal and can write some checkpoints or output intermediate results and terminate gracefully. sig_num can be any numeric signal number or name, e.g. 10 and USR1. You will find a comprehensive list of Unix signals including documentation in the signal man page. sig_time has to be an integer value between 0 and 65535 representing seconds Slurm sends the signal before the time limit is reached. Due to resolution effects the signal may be sent up to 60 seconds earlier than specified.

The command line

marie@login$ srun --ntasks=1 --time=00:05:00 --signal=USR1@120 ./signal-handler

makes Slurm send ./signal-handler the signal USR1 120 seconds before the time limit is reached. The following example provides a skeleton implementation of a signal-aware application.

Example signal-handler.c
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <signal.h>

void sigfunc(int sig) {
    if(sig == SIGUSR1) {
        printf("Allocation's time limit reached. Saving checkpoint and exit\n");


int main(void) {
   signal(SIGUSR1, sigfunc);
   printf("do number crunching\n");
   while(1) {

   return EXIT_SUCCESS;