Interactive jobs


Triton is a large system that combines many different individual computers. At the same time, hundreds of people are using it. Thus, we don’t just have machines sitting around to run directly on. You need to share resources among everyone by applying for them using the queuing system, slurm. As you will see, this is very fast and lets you get basically whatever you need.

This page discusses what is necessary to use Triton interactively. This means no scripts, no overhead. You “just add srun!”. For the small jobs that you would use this for, you will almost always get your time right away. Still, you have to request the resources you need (time/cores/memory). It also means that if you don’t do things properly, it is inefficient because you request more than you need. You should start here, but once you need more go to more advanced usage.


Advantages of interactive running: It’s good for getting started quickly and scaling up: “just add srun!”. It’s good when task is so small that scripting isn’t worth it.

Downsides include: You have to be there and wait for things to run. If your shell connection gets interrupted, you lose the process. If you don’t stop interactive shells, they will continue it will count against your fairshare quota, making your jobs run slower in the future.

srun (single process)

The simplest way is to use srun. Let’s say you run some program like this:

./my_code 5000 1.1 1-5

You switch to use srun. All input/output still goes to your terminal (but note X forwarding for graphical applications doesn’t work - see below for that).

srun --mem=50G --time=5:00:00 ./my_code 5000 1.1 1-5

This has some possible problems: it is connected to your shell. If your shell quits, the process gets lost. Also, this runs only one single process. If you need to do multiple things in a row, then you have to wait before each one starts. Note: srun is used directly with a command to run, not batch scripts like sbatch is (though of course you could run a shell script). srun does not look at the #SBATCH options inside of scripts.

How do you find the right time/CPU/memory requirements? Slurm (the queuing system) has extensive reporting. For example, slurm history will show you the actual run time and actual memory used of your job. There is a little bit about this below and more in the next tutorial.

srun --pty (shell)

So, let’s say you need to go one step up. You want an actual shell to do several things. You can do that this way:

srun -p interactive --time=HH:MM:SS --mem=nnG --pty bash

Now you have a shell… do whatever you need to do. Close the shell when you are done! If you don’t, the process will keep running until your time limit. All of this time will be counted against your usage. It doesn’t cost money, but does mean that your priority will go down in the future. (Note that we specify the interactive partition with “-p interactive”. More on this below.)

sinteractive (shell)

sinteractive is very similar to srun, however it is more clever and thus allows you to do X forwarding. In the background, it starts the job, starts a screen session on the node, then sshes to there and connects to the screen. You can also ssh to this node again and connect to the process again.

sinteractive --time=HH:MM:SS --mem=nnG

Just like with ``srun –pty``, remember to close the process when done. However, it’s even harder than before. Since there is a separate screen session running, just closing the terminal isn’t enough. Exit all shells in the screen session on the node (C-d or ``exit``), or cancel the process (see below).

More options

Partitions: You have many different options for running the jobs. First off, there are different partitions to run in. Each partition specifies a different type of nodes, and different limits.

  • For example, the above examples used the “interactive” partition which means that you have lower limits for time/CPU/memory, but can get resources faster which is good for your own development (it is also oversubscribed, which means that we assume not everyone is using CPU 100% of the time).
  • Otherwise, debug/short/batch give you progressively more resources but possibly longer waiting.
  • The are dedicated partitions for GPUs.

In regular usage, this is usually decided automatically (based on time and memory requirements), but if you are doing stuff with an interactive shell, it’s important to specify interactive. You don’t need to do this if you are You specify a partition with -p partition like above. We recommend interactive for things that start a shell for interactive running, otherwise leave it off and it will pick all available options based on your time/CPU/memory. If you need to go faster, try reducing the resources to the next lowest partition. The partitions are:

Partition Max job size Mem/core (GB) Tot mem (GB) Cores/node Limits Use
<default>           If you leave off all possible partitions will be used (based on time/mem)
debug 2 nodes 2.66 - 12 32-256 12,20,24 15 min testing and debugging short interactive. work. 1 node of each arch.
batch 16 nodes 2.66 - 12 32-256 12, 20,24 5d primary partition, all serial & parallel jobs
short 8 nodes 4 - 12 48-256 12, 20,24 4h short serial & parallel jobs, +96 dedicated CPU cores
hugemem 1 node 43 1024 24 3d huge memory jobs, 1 node only
gpu 1 node, 2-8GPUs 2 - 10 24-128 12 5d GPU computing
gpushort 4 nodes, 2-8 GPUs 2 - 10 24-128 12 4h GPU computing
interactive 2 nodes 5 128 24 1d for sinteractive command, longer interactive work

Use slurm partitions to see more details.

time/CPU/memory requirements: The commands srun/sinteractive have many more options that let you specific resources. The most important for interactive running are probably --mem, --cpus-per-task (-c), and --time` (-t``).

Command Description
sbatch submit a job to queue (see standard options below)
srun Within a running job script/environment: Run code using the allocated resources (see options below)
srun On frontend: submit to queue, wait until done, show output. (see options below)
sinteractive Submit job, wait, provide shell on node for interactive playing (X forwarding works, default partition interactive).  Exit shell when done. (see options below)
srun --pty bash (advanced) Another way to run interactive jobs, no X forwarding but simpler. Exit shell when done.
scancel <jobid> Cancel a job in queue
salloc (advanced) Allocate resources from frontend node. Use srun to run using those resources, exit to close shell when done. Read the description! (see options below)
scontrol View/modify job and slurm configuration
Command Option Description
sbatch/srun/etc -t, --time=hh:mm:ss time limit
  -t, --time=dd-hh time limit, days-hours
  -p, --partition=partition job partition. Usually leave off and things are auto-detected.
  --mem-per-cpu=n request n MB of memory per core
  --mem=n request n MB memory per node
  -c, --cpus-per-task=n Allocate n CPU’s for each task. For multithreaded jobs. (compare –ntasks: -c means the number of cores for each process started.)
  -N, --nodes=n-m allocate minimum of n, maximum of m nodes.
  -n, --ntasks=n allocate resources for and start n tasks (one task=one process started, it is up to you to make them communicate. However the main script runs only on first node, the sub-processes run with “srun” are run this many times.)
  -J, --job-name=name short job name
  -o output print output into file output
  -e error print errors into file error
  --exclusive allocate exclusive access to nodes. For large parallel jobs.
  --constraint=feature request feature (see slurm features for the current list of configured features)
  --array=0-5,7,10-15 Run job multiple times, use variable $SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID to adjust parameters.
  --gres=gpu:n request n gpu cards
  --gres=spindle:n request n local disk drives (works in all partitions)
  --mail-type=type notify of events: BEGIN, END, FAIL, ALL, REQUEUE (not on triton) or ALL. MUST BE used with --mail-user= only
  --mail-user=your@email whome to send the email
srun -N <N_nodes> hostname Print allocated nodes (from within script)

How much time/memory/CPU resources should you request? The less you request, the faster you are likely to run. As for all you need, but not ridiculously large amounts. If you request something slightly less than a node size (note that we have different size nodes) or partition limit (see below), you are more likely to fit into a spare spot. We have many nodes with 12 cores, and some with 20 or 24. If you request 24, you have very limited options. If you request 10, or 18, you will have a lot more options. Same with memory: most common cutoffs are 48, 64, 128, 256GB. Use smaller values when interactive testing, then more for batch running overnight.

Configure your program well: Also, note that requesting more CPUs doesn’t magically mean that your program becomes parallel. Make sure you turn that on in your code to enable that. Also specify how many CPUs to use (matching how many you request with slurm). If you don’t get an entire node, your program might try to use all CPUs, and the OS will limit the number you can use (with cgroups, if you are interested). This leads to inefficiency.

Your own group node: It’s possible to purchase get a dedicated node for your group or for several groups. This gives you a place where you can run interactive jobs for as long as you want (shells open forever, etc), including computation directly on the node. When you need more power, you can “just add srun!” or create batch scripts from that node. Contact us to discuss.

Monitoring your usage

When you start running in the queue, you need to be able to get information on how much time, memory, etc is being used. Without this, you won’t know how much time and memory to request. You always want to request the least possible, so that your stuff can run faster. The next tutorial (about batch jobs) goes into this in more detail. You probably want to be checking things like slurm history even if you aren’t running batch, to see how many resources you are actually using.

The command slurm q will tell you the currently running processes (a good way to make sure you have stopped everything). slurm history will tell you about recent jobs, including how much total memory they used and their total CPU time.

The command slurm cancel will cancel a job by job-id (useful is something keeps running after you don’t need it anymore).


  1. Check out some of these commands: sinfo, squeue. Run scontrol show job $jobid on some running job - does anything look interesting?
  2. Run srun -p debug hostname - what do you see and why? Run slurm history and find that jobid. Run sacct -j $jobid and
  3. Run scontrol show node wsm1 What is this?

What’s next

Read the next tutorial on serial batch jobs. You can put these same commands into a script to run many things in the background, without you having to wait.