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This page was originally based on the documentation at the University of Sheffield HPC service

Designed around the notion of mobility of compute and reproducible science, Singularity enables users to have full control of their operating system environment. This means that a non-privileged user can "swap out" the Linux operating system and environment on the host for a Linux OS and environment that they control. So if the host system is running CentOS Linux but your application runs in Ubuntu Linux with a particular software stack, you can create an Ubuntu image, install your software into that image, copy the image to another host (e.g. ARCHER2), and run your application on that host in its native Ubuntu environment.

Singularity also allows you to leverage the resources of whatever host you are on. This includes high-speed interconnects (e.g. Slingshot on ARCHER2), file systems (e.g. /home and /work on ARCHER2) and potentially other resources.


Singularity only supports Linux containers. You cannot create images that use Windows or macOS (this is a restriction of the containerisation model rather than Singularity).

About Singularity Containers (Images)

Similar to Docker, a Singularity container is a self-contained software stack. As Singularity does not require a root-level daemon to run its containers (as is required by Docker) it is suitable for use on multi-user HPC systems such as ARCHER2. Within the container, you have exactly the same permissions as you do in a standard login session on the system.

In practice, this means that a container image created on your local machine with all your research software installed for local development will also run on ARCHER2.

Pre-built container images (such as those on DockerHub or SingularityHub archive can simply be downloaded and used on ARCHER2 (or anywhere else Singularity is installed).

Creating and modifying container images requires root permission and so must be done on a system where you have such access (in practice, this is usually within a virtual machine on your laptop/workstation).


SingularityHub was a publicly available cloud service for Singularity container images active from 2016 to 2021. It built container recipes from Github repositories on Google Cloud, and container images were available via the command line Singularity or sregistry software. These container images are still available now in the SingularityHub Archive

Using Singularity Images on ARCHER2

Singularity containers can be used on ARCHER2 in a number of ways, including:

  • Interactively on the login nodes
  • Interactively on compute nodes
  • As serial processes within a non-interactive batch script
  • As parallel processes within a non-interactive batch script

We provide information on each of these scenarios below. First, we describe briefly how to get existing container images onto ARCHER2 so that you can launch containers based on them.

Getting existing container images onto ARCHER2

Singularity container images are files, so, if you already have a container image, you can use scp to copy the file to ARCHER2 as you would with any other file.

If you wish to get a file from one of the container image repositories, then Singularity allows you to do this from ARCHER2 itself.

For example, to retrieve a container image from SingularityHub on ARCHER2 we can simply issue a Singularity command to pull the image.

auser@ln03:~> singularity pull hello-world.sif shub://vsoch/hello-world

The container image located at the shub URI is written to a Singularity Image File (SIF) called hello-world.sif.

Interactive use on the login nodes

Once you have a container image file, launching a container based on the container image on the login nodes in an interactive way is extremely simple: you use the singularity shell command. Using the container image we built in the example above:

auser@ln03:~> singularity shell hello-world.sif

Within a Singularity container your home directory will be available.

Once you have finished using your container, you can return to the ARCHER2 login node prompt with the exit command:

Singularity> exit

Interactive use on the compute nodes

The process for using a container interactively on the compute nodes is very similar to that for the login nodes. The only difference is that you first have to submit an interactive serial job (from a location on /work) in order to get interactive access to the compute node.

For example, to reserve a full node for you to work on interactively you would use:

auser@ln03:/work/t01/t01/auser> srun --nodes=1 --exclusive --time=00:20:00 \
                                      --account=[budget code] \
                                      --partition=standard --qos=standard \
                                      --pty /bin/bash

...wait until job starts...


Note that the prompt has changed to show you are on a compute node. Now you can launch a container in the same way as on the login node.

auser@nid00001:/work/t01/t01/auser> singularity shell hello-world.sif
Singularity> exit
auser@nid00001:/work/t01/t01/auser> exit


We used exit to leave the interactive container shell and then exit again to leave the interactive job on the compute node.

Serial processes within a non-interactive batch script

You can also use Singularity containers within a non-interactive batch script as you would any other command. If your container image contains a runscript then you can use singularity run to execute the runscript in the job. You can also use singularity exec to execute arbitrary commands (or scripts) within the container.

An example job submission script to run a serial job that executes the runscript within a container based on the container image in the hello-world.sif file that we downloaded previously to an ARCHER2 login node would be as follows.

#!/bin/bash --login

# Slurm job options (name, compute nodes, job time)

#SBATCH --job-name=helloworld
#SBATCH --nodes=1
#SBATCH --ntasks-per-node=1
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=1
#SBATCH --time=00:10:00

#SBATCH --account=[budget code]
#SBATCH --partition=standard
#SBATCH --qos=standard

# Run the serial executable
singularity run $SLURM_SUBMIT_DIR/hello-world.sif

You submit this in the usual way and the standard output and error should be written to slurm-..., where the output filename ends with the job number.

Parallel processes within a non-interactive batch script

Running a Singularity container in parallel across a number of compute nodes requires some preparation. In general though, Singularity can be run within the parallel job launcher (srun).

srun <options> \
    singularity <options> /path/to/image/file \
        app <options>

The code snippet above shows the launch command as having three nested parts, srun, the singularity environment and the containerised application.

The Singularity container image must be compatible with the MPI environment on the host; either, the containerised app has been built against the appropriate MPI libraries or the container itself contains an MPI library that is compatible with the host MPI. The latter situation is known as the hybrid model; this is the approach taken in the sections that follow.

Creating Your Own Singularity Container Images

As we saw above, you can create Singularity container images by importing from DockerHub or Singularity Hub on ARCHER2 itself. If you wish to create your own custom container image to use with Singularity then you must use a system where you have root (or administrator) privileges - often your own laptop or workstation.

There are a number of different options to create container images on your local system to use with Singularity on ARCHER2. We are going to use Docker on our local system to create the container image, push the new container image to Docker Hub and then use Singularity on ARCHER2 to convert the Docker container image to a Singularity container image SIF file.

For macOS and Windows users we recommend installing Docker Desktop. For Linux users, we recommend installing Docker directly on your local system. See the Docker documentation for full details on how to install Docker Desktop/Docker.

Building container images using Docker


We assume that you are familiar with using Docker in these instructions. You can find an introduction to Docker at Reproducible Computational Environments Using Containers: Introduction to Docker

As usual, you can build container images with a command similar to:

docker build --platform linux/amd64 -t <username>/<image name>:<version> .


  • <username> is your Docker Hub username
  • <image name> is the name of the container image you wish to create
  • <version> - specifies the version of the image you are creating (e.g. "latest", "v1")
  • . is the build context - in this example it is the location of the Dockerfile

Note, you should use the --platform linux/amd64 option to ensure that the container image is compatible with the processor architecture on ARCHER2.

Using Singularity with MPI on ARCHER2

MPI on ARCHER2 is provided by the Cray MPICH libraries with the interface to the high-performance Slingshot interconnect provided via the OFI interface. Therefore, as per the Singularity MPI Hybrid model, we will build our container image such that it contains a version of the MPICH MPI library compiled with support for OFI. Below, we provide instructions on creating a container image with a version of MPICH compiled in this way. We then provide an example of how to run a Singularity container with MPI over multiple ARCHER2 compute nodes.

Building an image with MPI from scratch


Remember, all these steps should be executed on your local system where you have administrator privileges and Docker installed, not on ARCHER2.

We will illustrate the process of building a Singularity image with MPI from scratch by building an image that contains MPI provided by MPICH and the OSU MPI benchmarks. As part of the container image creation we need to download the source code for both MPICH and the OSU benchmarks. At the time of writing, the stable MPICH release is 3.4.2 and the stable OSU benchmark release is 5.8 - this may have changed by the time you are following these instructions.

First, create a Dockerfile that describes how to build the image:

FROM ubuntu:20.04

ENV DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive

# Install the necessary packages (from repo)
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y --no-install-recommends \
 apt-utils \
 build-essential \
 curl \
 libcurl4-openssl-dev \
 libzmq3-dev \
 pkg-config \
RUN apt-get clean
RUN apt-get install -y dkms
RUN apt-get install -y autoconf automake build-essential numactl libnuma-dev autoconf automake gcc g++ git libtool

# Download and build an ABI compatible MPICH
RUN curl -sSLO \
   && tar -xzf mpich-3.4.2.tar.gz -C /root \
   && cd /root/mpich-3.4.2 \
   && ./configure --prefix=/usr --with-device=ch4:ofi --disable-fortran \
   && make -j8 install \
   && rm -rf /root/mpich-3.4.2 \
   && rm /mpich-3.4.2.tar.gz

# OSU benchmarks
RUN curl -sSLO \
   && tar -xzf osu-micro-benchmarks-5.4.1.tar.gz -C /root \
   && cd /root/osu-micro-benchmarks-5.4.1 \
   && ./configure --prefix=/usr/local CC=/usr/bin/mpicc CXX=/usr/bin/mpicxx \
   && cd mpi \
   && make -j8 install \
   && rm -rf /root/osu-micro-benchmarks-5.4.1 \
   && rm /osu-micro-benchmarks-5.4.1.tar.gz

# Add the OSU benchmark executables to the PATH
ENV PATH=/usr/local/libexec/osu-micro-benchmarks/mpi/pt2pt:$PATH
ENV PATH=/usr/local/libexec/osu-micro-benchmarks/mpi/collective:$PATH

# path to mlx libraries in Ubuntu

A quick overview of what the above Dockerfile is doing:

  • The image is being bootstrapped from the ubuntu:20.04 Docker image.
  • The first set of RUN sections with apt-get commands: install the base packages required from the Ubunntu package repos
  • MPICH install: downloads and compiles the MPICH 3.4.2 in a way that is compatible with Cray MPICH on ARCHER2
  • OSU MPI benchmarks install: downloads and compiles the OSU micro benchmarks
  • ENV sections: add the OSU benchmark executables to the PATH so they can be executed in the container without specifying the full path; set the correct paths to the network libraries within the container.

Now we can go ahead and build the container image using Docker (this assumes that you issue the command in the same directory as the Dockerfile you created based on the specification above):

docker build --platform linux/amd64 -t auser/osu-benchmarks:5.4.1 .

(Remember to change auser to your Dockerhub username.)

Once you have successfully built your container image, you should push it to Dockerhub:

docker push auser/osu-benchmarks:5.4.1

Finally, you need to use Singularity on ARCHER2 to convert the Docker container image to a Singularity container image file. Log into ARCHER2, move to the work file system and then use a command like:

auser@ln01:/work/t01/t01/auser> singularity build osu-benchmarks_5.4.1.sif docker://auser/osu-benchmarks:5.4.1


You can find a copy of the osu-benchmarks_5.4.1.sif image on ARCHER2 in the directory $EPCC_SINGULARITY_DIR if you do not want to build it yourself but still want to test.

Running parallel MPI jobs using Singularity containers


These instructions assume you have built a Singularity container image file on ARCHER2 that includes MPI provided by MPICH with the OFI interface. See the sections above for how to build such container images.

Once you have built your Singularity container image file that includes MPICH built with OFI for ARCHER2, you can use it to run parallel jobs in a similar way to non-Singularity jobs. The example job submission script below uses the container image file we built above with MPICH and the OSU benchmarks to run the Allreduce benchmark on two nodes where all 128 cores on each node are used for MPI processes (so, 256 MPI processes in total).


# Slurm job options (name, compute nodes, job time)
#SBATCH --job-name=singularity_parallel
#SBATCH --time=0:10:0
#SBATCH --nodes=2
#SBATCH --ntasks-per-node=128
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=1

# Replace [budget code] below with your budget code (e.g. t01)
#SBATCH --partition=standard
#SBATCH --qos=standard
#SBATCH --account=[budget code]

# Load the module to make the Cray MPICH ABI available
module load cray-mpich-abi


# Set the LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable within the Singularity container
# to ensure that it used the correct MPI libraries.
export SINGULARITYENV_LD_LIBRARY_PATH="/opt/cray/pe/mpich/8.1.23/ofi/gnu/9.1/lib-abi-mpich:/opt/cray/pe/mpich/8.1.23/gtl/lib:/opt/cray/libfabric/"

# This makes sure HPE Cray Slingshot interconnect libraries are available
# from inside the container.
export SINGULARITY_BIND="/opt/cray,/var/spool,/opt/cray/pe/mpich/8.1.23/ofi/gnu/9.1/lib-abi-mpich:/opt/cray/pe/mpich/8.1.23/gtl/lib,/etc/host.conf,/etc/libibverbs.d/mlx5.driver,/etc/libnl/classid,/etc/resolv.conf,/opt/cray/libfabric/,/opt/cray/pe/gcc-libs/,/opt/cray/pe/gcc-libs/,/opt/cray/pe/gcc-libs/,/opt/cray/pe/gcc-libs/,/opt/cray/pe/lib64/,/opt/cray/pe/lib64/,/opt/cray/pe/lib64/,/opt/cray/xpmem/default/lib64/,/run/munge/munge.socket.2,/usr/lib64/libibverbs/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/,/usr/lib64/"

# Launch the parallel job.
srun --hint=nomultithread --distribution=block:block \
    singularity run osu-benchmarks_5.4.1.sif \

The only changes from a standard submission script are:

  • We set the environment variable SINGULARITY_LD_LIBRARY_PATH to ensure that the excutable can find the correct libraries are available within the container to be able to use HPE Cray Slingshot interconnect.
  • We set the environment variable SINGULARITY_BIND to ensure that the correct libraries are available within the container to be able to use HPE Cray Slingshot interconnect.
  • srun calls the singularity software with the container image file we created rather than the parallel program directly.


Remember that the image file must be located on /work to run jobs on the compute nodes.

If the job runs correctly, you should see output similar to the following in your slurm-*.out file:

Lmod is automatically replacing "cray-mpich/8.1.23" with

# OSU MPI Allreduce Latency Test v5.4.1
# Size       Avg Latency(us)
4                       7.93
8                       7.93
16                      8.13
32                      8.69
64                      9.54
128                    13.75
256                    17.04
512                    25.94
1024                   29.43
2048                   43.53
4096                   46.53
8192                   46.20
16384                  55.85
32768                  83.11
65536                 136.90
131072                257.13
262144                486.50
524288               1025.87
1048576              2173.25