Introduction to MPI

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Non-blocking communications - exercise

Now it is time to dig deeper in non-blocking communications and try to code our first version of the algorithm presented in last section. Let's see again this algorithm for both processes :

if rank == 0 then
  Work for 3 seconds
  Initialise the send to process 1
  Work for 6 seconds
    Every milli-second, test if process 1 is ready to communicate
  Send the second batch of data to process 1
  Wait for process 1 to receive the data
else if rank == 1 then
  Work for 5 seconds
  Initialise receive from process 0
  Wait for a communication from process 0
  Work for 3 seconds
  Initialise receive from process 0
  Wait for a communication from process 0

Note the words we have been using in this example. For the moment, you know how to send and receive. But you don't know how to initialise a send initialise a receive, test or wait. That's what we are going to see now :

Non-Blocking send and receive

The command when you want to send data in a non-blocking way is called MPI_Isend and define as :

int MPI_Isend(void *buffer, int count, MPI_Datatype datatype, int dest, int tag, MPI_Communicator comm, MPI_Request *request);

Something we haven't seen before : MPI_Request. Unlike MPI_Status though, MPI_Request is a complex object and we won't elaborate here. See it that way : MPI_Isend is preparing a request. This request is going to be executed when both processes are ready to synchronise. This command only sets up the send, but actually does not transfer anything to the destination process, only prepares it.

Once this request has been prepared, it is necessary to complete it. There are two ways of completing a request : wait and test. But before looking at these, let's talk a vit about the non-blocking equivalent to MPI_Recv.

As you can already imagine, the non-blocking call to receive is the function MPI_Irecv :

int MPI_Irecv(void *buffer, int count, MPI_Datatype datatype, int source, int tag, MPI_Communicator comm, MPI_Request *request);

As for its sending equivalent, MPI_Irecv returns a MPI_Request object. The request must then be completed by either waiting or testing.


Waiting forces the process to go in "blocking mode". The sending process will simply wait for the request to finish. If your process waits right after MPI_Isend, the send is the same as calling MPI_Send. There are two ways to wait MPI_Wait and MPI_Waitany.

int MPI_Wait(MPI_Request *request, MPI_Status *status);
int MPI_Waitany(int count, MPI_Request array_of_requests[], int *index, MPI_Status *status);

The former, MPI_Wait just waits for the completion of the given request. As soon as the request is complete an instance of MPI_Status is returned in status.

The latter, MPI_Waitany waits for the first completed request in an array of requests to continue. As soon as a request completes, the value of index is set to store the index of the completed request of array_of_requests. The call also stores the status of the completed request.

As for the blocking communications, it is possible to replace the pointer to a MPI_Status instance by MPI_STATUS_IGNORE if you don't want to keep track of this information.


Testing is a little bit different. As we've seen right before, waiting blocks the process until the request (or a request) is fulfilled. Testing checks if the request can be completed. If it can, the request is automatically completed and the data transferred. As for wait, there are two waits of testing : MPI_Test and MPI_Testany. They can be called as follow :

int MPI_Test(MPI_Request *request, int *flag, MPI_Status *status);
int MPI_Testany(int count, MPI_Request array_of_requests[], int *index, int *flag, MPI_Status *status);

Let's start with MPI_Test. As for MPI_Wait, the parameters request and status hold no mystery. Now remember that testing is non-blocking, so in any case the process continues execution after the call. The variable flag is there to tell you if the request was completed during the test or not. If flag != 0 that means the request has been completed.

MPI_Testany should now be completely obvious. It sets flag to a non-zero value if any request is fulfillable. If so, status and index are also given a value.


All of this is a lot of information, so here is a simple example using MPI_Isend, MPI_Irecv, MPI_Wait and MPI_Test, showing you how to use all of these calls. We consider two or three processes. The data is stored in a variable called buffer, defined as an array of int of size buffer_count.

Two processes, waiting and testing on only one request

MPI_Request request;
MPI_Status  status;
int 	    request_complete = 0;

// Rank 0 sends, rank 1 receives
if (rank == 0) {
  MPI_Isend(buffer, buffer_count, MPI_INT, 1, 0, MPI_COMM_WORLD, &request);

  // Here we do some work while waiting for process 1 to be ready
  while (has_work) {

    // We only test if the request is not already fulfilled
    if (!request_complete)
       MPI_Test(&request, &request_complete, &status);

  // No more work, we wait for the request to be complete if it's not the case
  if (!request_complete)
    MPI_Wait(&request, &status);
else {
  MPI_Irecv(buffer, buffer_count, MPI_INT, 0, 0, MPI_COMM_WORLD, &request);

  // Here we just wait for the message to come
  MPI_Wait(&request, &status);

Finally there is one last thing you need to know : It is possible to match non-blocking and blocking communications. For instance, you can have a MPI_Isend on one process being retrieved by a MPI_Recv on another process. Nothing prevents you from doing that !


You might have noticed the presence of the command MPI_Barrier in the code. This command forces all the processes in a certain communicator (MPI_COMM_WORLD in this case) to wait for each other. So the processes in the communicator are going to pause until every single one has reached a barrier (not necessarily the same one). Then, execution resumes. This is a way of hard synchronising the different processes.


You are finally ready to code this exercise. Remember the algorithm is at the top of the lesson so feel free to refer to that. Be careful when using MPI_Test to always add a MPI_Wait in case the request has not been completing even though your work is finished.

In the exercise you are provided with two files : blocking.cpp that describes the blocking version and non_blocking.cpp the one you have to modify. Don't modify blocking.cpp it is only there as a mean to present/remind you the way the blocking version of this scenario is done.

Important : This exercise is one of the most difficult of this course. Take your time, and think everything through. Don't hesitate to test every intermediate steps. Buffers are printed at each step to make sure that you are receiving the correct data. The blocking version will give you the values of the buffers you are supposed to expect.

At the end, if you have succeeded, the buffers should have the same values as for the blocking version, but the execution time should be smaller.

Non blocking communications
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