Common Lisp bindings for the Message Passing Interface (MPI)

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Marco Heisig <>



cl-mpi provides convenient CFFI bindings for the Message Passing Interface (MPI). MPI is typically used in High Performance Computing to utilize big parallel computers with thousands of cores. It features minimal communication overhead with a latency in the range of microseconds. In comparison to the C or FORTRAN interface of MPI, cl-mpi relieves the programmer from working with raw pointers to memory and a plethora of mandatory function arguments.

If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to contact me (

cl-mpi has been tested with MPICH, MPICH2, IntelMPI and Open MPI.


An MPI program must be launched with mpirun or mpiexec. These commandsspawn multiple processes depending on your system and commandlineparameters. Each process is identical, except that it has a unique rankthat can be queried with (MPI-COMM-RANK). The ranks are assigned from 0to (- (MPI-COMM-SIZE) 1). A wide range of communication functions isavailable to transmit messages between different ranks. To become familiarwith cl-mpi, see the examples directory.

The easiest way to deploy and run cl-mpi applications is by creating a statically linked binary. To do so, create a separate ASDF system like this:

(defsystem :my-mpi-app
  :depends-on (:cl-mpi)
  :defsystem-depends-on (:cl-mpi-asdf-integration)
  :class :mpi-program
  :build-operation :static-program-op
  :build-pathname "my-mpi-app"
  :entry-point "my-mpi-app:main"
  :serial t
  ((:file "foo") (:file "bar")))

and simply run

(asdf:make :my-mpi-app)
on the REPL. Note that not all Lisp implementation support the creation ofstatically linked binaries (actually, we only tested SBCL so far).Alternatively, you can try to use uiop:dump-image to create binaries.

Further remark: If the creation of statically linked binaries with SBCL fails with something like "undefined reference to main", your SBCL is probably not built with the :sb-linkable-runtime feature. You are affected by this when (find :sb-linkable-runtime *features*) returns NIL. In that case, you have to compile SBCL yourself, which is as simple as executing the following commands, where SOMEWHERE is the desired installation folder

git clone git://
cd sbcl
sh --prefix=SOMEWHERE --fancy --with-sb-linkable-runtime --with-sb-dynamic-core
cd tests && sh


To run the test suite:
   ./scripts/ all




cl-mpi makes no additional copies of transmitted data and has therefore thesame bandwidth as any other language (C, FORTRAN). However the convenienceof error handling, automatic inference of the message types and safecomputation of memory locations adds a little overhead to each message. Theexact overhead varies depending on the Lisp implementation and platform butis somewhere around 1000 machine cycles.


  • latency increase per message: 400 nanoseconds (SBCL on a 2.4GHz Intel i7-5500U)
  • bandwidth unchanged


  • Alex Fukunaga
  • Marco Heisig

0.5Special Thanks

This project was funded by KONWIHR (The Bavarian Competence Network forTechnical and Scientific High Performance Computing) and the Chair forApplied Mathematics 3 of Prof. Dr. Bänsch at the FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg.

Big thanks to Nicolas Neuss for all the useful suggestions.

Dependencies (6)

  • alexandria
  • cffi
  • cl-conspack
  • fiveam
  • static-vectors
  • uiop

Dependents (1)

  • GitHub
  • Quicklisp