Brussels / 30 & 31 January 2016


Reproducible and User-Controlled Package Management in HPC with GNU Guix

Support teams of high-performance computing (HPC) systems often find themselves between a rock and a hard place: on one hand, they understandably administrate these large systems in a conservative way, but on the other hand, they try to satisfy their users by deploying up-to-date tool chains as well as libraries and scientific software. HPC system users often have no guarantee that they will be able to reproduce results at a later point in time, even on the same system—software may have been upgraded, removed, or recompiled under their feet, and they have little hope of being able to reproduce the same software environment elsewhere. We present GNU Guix and the functional package management paradigm and show how it can improve reproducibility and sharing among researchers with representative use cases.

Functional package management is a discipline that transcribes the functional programming paradigm to software deployment: build and installation processes are viewed as pure functions in the mathematical sense—whose result depends exclusively on the inputs—, and their result is a value—that is, an immutable directory. Since build and installation processes are pure functions, their results can effectively be “cached” on disk. Likewise, two independent runs of a given build process for a given set of inputs should return the same value—i.e., bit-identical files. This approach was first described and implemented in the Nix package manager. Guix reuses low-level mechanisms from Nix to implement the same paradigm, but offers a unified interface for package definitions and their implementations, all embedded in a single programming language.


Photo of Ricardo Wurmus Ricardo Wurmus