Have fun with MPI in C


Point-to-Point Communication

As described, in the introduction an MPI process communicates using MPI communication operations. This Chapter describes the point-to-point communication routines, their communications modes, and the blocking and non-blocking communications.

MPI procedures are specified using a language-independent notation. The arguments ofprocedure calls are marked as IN, OUT, or INOUT. The meanings of these are:

  • IN: the call may use the input value but does not update the argument from the perspective of the caller at any time during the call’s execution;
  • OUT: the call may update the argument but does not use its input value;
  • INOUT: the call may both use and update the argument.

There is one special case — if an argument is a handle to an opaque object, and the object is updated by the procedure call, then the argument is marked INOUT or OUT. It is marked this way even though the handle itself is not modified — is used INOUT or OUT attribute to denote that what the handle references is updated.

Blocking Send and Receive Operations

Blocking Send

MPI_SEND(buf, count, datatype, dest, tag, comm)
  • IN buf, initial address of send buffer (choice)
  • IN count, number of elements in send buffer (non-negative integer)
  • IN datatype, datatype of each send buffer element (handle)
  • IN dest rank of destination (integer)
  • IN tag, message tag (integer)
  • IN comm, communicator (handle)

C version

int MPI_Send(const void* buf, int count, MPI_Datatype datatype, int dest,int tag, MPI_Comm comm)

THE MPI_Send is blocking: it does not return until the message data and envelope have been safely stored away so that the sender is free to modify thesend buffer. The message might be copied directly into the matching receive buffer, or it might be copied into a temporary system buffer. Message buffering decouples the send and receive operations. A blocking send can complete as soon as the message was buffered, even if no matching receive has been executed bythe receiver. On the other hand, message buffering can be expensive, as it entails additional memory-to-memory copying, and it requires the allocation of memory for buffering.


How do distinguish messages?

In addition to the data part, messages carry information that can be used to distinguish messages and selectively receive them. This information consists of a fixed number of fields, which we collectively call the message envelope. These fields are:

  • source
  • destination
  • tag
  • communicator

The message source is implicitly determined by the identity of the message sender. The other fields are specified by arguments in the send operation. The message destination is specified by the dest argument. The integer-valued message tag is specified by the tag argument. This integer can beused by the program to distinguish different types of messages. The range of valid tagvalues is 0,...,UB, where the value of UB is implementation dependent. In OpenMPI this values is defined by MPI_TAG_UB.

The comm argument specifies the communicator that is used for the send operation.

Remarks about communicators

A communicator specifies the communication context for a communication operation. Each communication context provides a separate “communication universe”: messages are always received within the context they were sent, and messages sent in different contexts do not interfere. The communicator also specifies the set of processes that share this communication context. This process group is ordered and processes are identified by their rank within this group. A predefined communicator MPI_COMM_WORLD is provided by MPI. It allows communication with all processes that are accessible after MPI initialization and processes are identified by their rank in the group of MPI_COMM_WORLD.

Blocking Receive

MPI_RECV (buf, count, datatype, source, tag, comm, status)
  • OUT buf, initial address of receive buffer (choice)
  • IN count, number of elements in receive buffer (non-negative integer)
  • IN datatype, datatype of each receive buffer element (handle)
  • IN source rank of source or _MPI_ANY_SOURCE (integer)
  • IN tag, message tag or MPI_ANY_TAG (integer)
  • IN comm, communicator (handle)
  • OUT status, status object (Status)

C version

int MPI_Recv(void* buf, int count, MPI_Datatype datatype, int source,int tag, MPI_Comm comm, MPI_Status *status)

The receive buffer consists of the storage containing count consecutive elements of the type specified by datatype, starting at addressbuf. The length of the received message must be less than or equal to the length of the receive buffer. An overflow error occurs if all incoming data does not fit, without truncation, into the receive buffer. If a message that is shorter than the receive buffer arrives, then only those locations corresponding to the (shorter) message are modified.

The selection of a message by a receive operation is governed by the value of the message envelope. A message can be received by a receive operation if its envelope matches the source, tag and comm values specified by the receive operation. The receiver may specify a wildcard MPI_ANY_SOURCE value for source, and/or a wildcard MPI_ANY_TAG value for tag, indicating that any source and/or tag are acceptable. It cannot specify awildcard value for comm.


Note the asymmetry between send and receive operations: A receive operation may accept messages from an arbitrary sender, on the other hand, a send operation must specify a unique receiver. This matches a “push” communication mechanism, where data transfer is effected by the sender (rather than a “pull” mechanism, where data transfer is effectedby the receiver). Source = destination is allowed, that is, a process can send a message to itself, however, it is unsafe to do so with the blocking send and receive operations, since this may lead to deadlock.

Return Status

The source or tag of a received message may not be known if wildcard values were used in the receive operation. Also, if multiple requests are completed by a single MPI function, a distinct error code may need to be returned for each request. The information is returned by the status argument of MPI_RECV. The type of status is MPI-defined. Status variables need to be explicitly allocated by the user, that is, they are notsystem objects.

In C, status is a structure that contains three fields named MPI_SOURCE, MPI_TAG, and MPI_ERROR; the structure may contain additional fields. Thus, status.MPI_SOURCE, status.MPI_TAG, and status.MPI_ERROR contain the source, tag, and error code, respectively, of the received message.

The status argument also returns information on the length of the message received. However, this information is not directly available as a field of the status variable and a call to MPI_GET_COUNT is required to “decode” this information.

MPI_GET_COUNT(status, datatype, count)
  • IN status, return status of receive operation (Status)
  • IN datatype, datatype of each receive buffer entry (handle)
  • OUT count, number of received entries (integer)

C version

int MPI_Get_count(const MPI_Status *status, MPI_Datatype datatype,int *count)

Blocking send and receive with 4 processes using MPI_ANY_SOURCE and MPI_ANY_TAG

The following example uses 4 processes.

Blocking send and receive
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