Interactive jobs


Videos of this topic may be available from one of our kickstart course playlists: 2023, 2022 Summer, 2022 February, 2021 Summer, 2021 February.


  • Interactive jobs allow you to quickly test code (before scaling up) or getting more resources for manual analysis.

  • To run a single command interactively

    • srun [SLURM OPTIONS] COMMAND ... to run before any COMMAND to run it in Slurm

  • To get an interactive shell

    • srun [SLURM OPTIONS] --pty bash (general Slurm)

    • sinteractive (Triton specific)

  • The exact commands often varies among clusters, check your docs.

Schematic of cluster with current discussion points highlighted; see caption or rest of lesson.

Interactive jobs let you control a small amount of resources for development work.

Why interactive jobs?

There are two ways you can submit your jobs to Slurm queue system: either interactively using srun or by submitting a script using sbatch. This tutorial walks you through running your jobs interactively, and the next tutorial on serial jobs will go through serial jobs.

Some people say “the cluster is for batch computing”, but really it is to help you get your work done. Interactive jobs let you:

  • Run a single job in the Slurm job allocation to test parameters and make sure it works (which is easier than constantly modifying batch scripts).

  • Get a large amount of resources for some manual data analysis.

Interactive jobs

Let’s say you want to run the following command:

$ python3 slurm/ 10000

You can submit this program to Triton using srun. All input/output still goes to your terminal (but note that graphical applications don’t work this way - see below):

$ srun --mem=100M --time=0:10:00 python3 slurm/ 10000
srun: job 52204499 queued and waiting for resources

Here, we are asking for 100 Megabytes of memory (--mem=100M) for a duration of ten minutes (--time=0:10:00) (See the quick reference or below for more options). While your job - with jobid 52204499 - is waiting to be allocated resources, your shell blocks.

You can open a new shell (ssh again) on the cluster and run the command squeue -u $USER or slurm q to see all the jobs you currently have waiting in queue:

$ slurm q
52204499           short-ivb python3               0:00              N/A  PENDING (None)

You can see information such as the state, which partition the requested node reside in, etc.

Once resources are allocated to your job, you see the name of the machine in the cluster your program ran on, output to your terminal:

srun: job 52204499 has been allocated resources
{"pi_estimate": 3.126, "iterations": 10000, "successes": 7815}

To show it’s running on a diferent computer, you can srun hostname (in this case, it runs on csl42):

$ hostname
$ srun hostname
srun: job 19039411 queued and waiting for resources
srun: job 19039411 has been allocated resources


Interactive jobs are useful for debugging purposes, to test your setup and configurations before you put your tasks in a batch script for later execution.

The major disadvantages include:

  • It blocks your shell until it finishes

  • If your connection to the cluster gets interrupted, you lose the job and its output.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t open 20 shells to run 20 srun jobs at once. Please have a look at the next tutorial about serial jobs.

Interactive shell

What if you want an actual shell to do things interactively? Put more precisely, you want access to a node in the cluster through an interactive bash shell, with many resources available, that will let you run commands such as Python and let do some basic work. For this, you just need srun’s --pty option coupled with the shell you want:

$ srun -p interactive --time=2:00:00 --mem=600M --pty bash

The command prompt will appear when the job starts. And you will have a bash shell runnnig on one of the computation nodes with at least 600 Megabytes of memory, for a duration of 2 hours, where you can run your programs in. The option -p interactive requests a node in the interactive partition (group of nodes) which is dedicated to interactive usage (more on this later).


Remember to exit the shell when you are done! The shell will be running if you don’t and it will count towards your usage. This wastes resources and effectively means your priority will degrade in the future.

Interactive shell with graphics

sinteractive is very similar to srun, but more clever and thus allows you to do X forwarding. It starts a screen session on the node, then sshes to there and connects to the shell:

$ sinteractive --time=1:00:00 --mem=1000M


Just like with srun --pty bash, remember to exit the shell. 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 job.

Use remote desktop if off campus

If you are off-campus, you might want to use as a virtual desktop to connect to Triton to run graphical programs: ssh from there to Triton with ssh -XY. Graphical programs run very slowly when sent across the general Internet.

Checking your jobs

When your jobs enter the queue, you need to be able to get information on how much time, memory, etc. your jobs are using in order to know what requirements to ask for. We’ll see this later in Monitoring job progress and job efficiency.

The command slurm history (or sacct --long | less) gives you information such as the actual memory used by your recent jobs, total CPU time, etc. You will learn more about these commands later on.

As shown in a previous example, the command slurm queue (or squeue -u $USER) will tell you the currently running processes, which is a good way to make sure you have stopped everything.

Setting resource parameters

Remember to set the resources you need well, otherwise your are wasting resources and lowering your priority. We went over this in Slurm: the queuing system.


The scripts you need for the following exercises can be found in our hpc-examples, which we discussed in Using the cluster from a shell. You can clone the repository by running git clone Doing this creates you a local copy of the repository in your current working directory. This repository will be used for most of the tutorial exercises.

Interactive-1: Basic Slurm options

The program hpc-examples/slurm/ uses up a lot of memory to do nothing. Let’s play with it. It’s run as follows: python hpc-examples/slurm/ 50M, where the last argument is however much memory you want to eat. You can use --help to see the options of the program.

  1. Try running the program with 50M.

  2. Run the program with 50M and srun --mem=500M.

  3. Increase the amount of memory the Python process tries to use (not the amount of memory Slurm allocates). How much memory can you use before the job fails?

  4. Look at the job history using slurm history - can you see how much memory it actually used? - Note that Slurm only measures memory every 60 seconds or so. To make the program last longer, so that the memory used can be measured, give the --sleep option to the Python process, like this: python hpc-examples/slurm/ 50M --sleep=60 - keep it available.

Interactive-2: Time scaling

The program hpc-examples/slurm/ calculates pi using a simple stochastic algorithm. The program takes one positional argument: the number of trials.

The time program allows you to time any program, e.g. you can time python to print the amount of time it takes.

  1. Run the program, timing it with time, a few times, increasing the number of trials, until it takes about 10 seconds: time python hpc-examples/slurm/ 500, then 5000, then 50000, and so on.

  2. Add srun in front (srun python ...). Use the seff JOBID command to see how much time the program took to run. (If you’d like to use the time command, you can run srun --mem=MEM --time=TIME time python hpc-examples/slurm/ ITERS)

  3. Look at the job history using slurm history - can you see how much time each process used? What’s the relation between TotalCPUTime and WallTime?

Interactive-3: Info commands

Run squeue -a to see what is running, and then run slurm job JOBID (or scontrol show job JOBID) on some running job - does anything look interesting?

Interactive-4: Showing node information

Run scontrol show node csl1 What is this? (csl1 is the name of a node on Triton - if you are not on Triton, look at the sinfo -N command and try one of those names).

Interactive-5: Why not script srun

Some people are clever and use shell scripting to run srun many times in a loop (using & to background it so that they all run at the same time). Can you list some advantages and disadvantages to this?

What’s next?

In the next tutorial on serial batch jobs, you will learn how to put the above-mentioned commands in a script, namely a batch script (a.k.a submission script) that allows for a multitude of jobs to run unattended.