Job arrays - Submitting multiple similar jobs

For workloads such as Monte Carlo simulations and parameter studies, it is often necessary to run the same program multiple times, often with slightly different input parameters. Rather than create a unique job script for each run and submit each of them separately, SLURM offers a job array feature. When combined with a tailored job script, this allows you to submit multiple similar jobs with a single command and a single job script.

Job arrays can be submitted by adding the -a directive to the job script, as in the following example:


#SBATCH -p serial
#SBATCH -J array_test
#SBATCH -a 4-10:2

source /etc/profile

echo This is job task ${SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID}

./my_program < input.${SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID}.dat

This splits the workload into a number of tasks, with each task being a separate job and having its own unique task id number. This task id number can then be used within the job script to perform slightly different actions each time, e.g. reading from a different input file (as in the above example), or passing a different set of parameters to your program for each task.

The number of tasks and the values of the task id number are controlled by the extra arguments following the -a directive. The format is x-y:z, where x is the first index number, y the last, and the optional :z gives the step increment. The above example submits the job script 4 times, with task id numbers of 4, 6, 8 and 10 (i.e. first = 4, last = 10, step = 2).


Task id numbers must always be positive integers.

The index number is available to the job script via the environment variable $SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID, and can be used by the job script to alter what exactly is run for each task. In the above example, it is used to change the name of input file sent to the user application my_program. Successive tasks will read input.4.dat, input.6.dat, input.8.dat and input.10.dat.

The standard output and standard error files for each task will be unique; by default SLURM will name the output file using the job name, the job ID, and an underscore followed by the task ID.


It may look a little limited that the task ID can only take on a positive integer value, as this may not immediately match your requirements - e.g. floating point values or strings. However, job scripts are written in bash, so it normally doesn’t take much bash scripting to convert that integer into a more suitable value.

Monitoring job arrays

Once you get the hang of writing flexible job scripts, job arrays make job submission much easier. They also make job management easier too. All tasks within the same job are given a different task id number, but all have the same job id. An example output from squeue an array job is given below. As with the job submission script format, each task’s index number appears in the Job ID field:

1188_[8-100]    serial array_te testuser PD       0:00      1 (Resources)
      1188_1    serial array_te testuser  R       1:10      1 comp17-08
      1188_2    serial array_te testuser  R       0:57      1 comp17-08
      1188_3    serial array_te testuser  R       0:50      1 comp17-08
      1188_4    serial array_te testuser  R       0:43      1 comp17-08
      1188_5    serial array_te testuser  R       0:21      1 comp17-08
      1188_6    serial array_te testuser  R       0:19      1 comp17-08
      1188_7    serial array_te testuser  R       0:07      1 comp17-08

The above example shows a job with 100 tasks. As the cluster is busy, only tasks 1 through 7 are currently running and the remaining tasks are listed as PD (pending).

If you want to delete cancel all the tasks of a job at once, you can use the normal scancel command, e.g.:

scancel 1188

If you want to stop individual tasks, you can suffix the job id with the individual task id. To stop just task ID 4 of job ID 1188 above, we do:

scancel 1188_4

To stop the tasks IDs 1-3 of job ID 1188:

scancel 1188_[1-3]

Managing short jobs

Care should be taken to avoid very short jobs - on the order of a few seconds to a few minutes - as these make very inefficient use of the cluster. It takes the system several seconds both to start and finish a job, and the scheduler itself works on 15 second cycles. Very short jobs therefore end up causing a lot of idle time on the system. To avoid this, consider bunching several short tasks together into a single job array element.

The example below gives a template for this type of solution. A job array originally of 10,000 individual tasks each of which ran for only a few seconds has been converted into one containing just 10 tasks, with each task containing a loop to execute the next 1,000 tasks in sequence, depending on the job task ID it receives:


#SBATCH -p serial
#SBATCH -J array_test
#SBATCH -a 1000-9001:1000

source /etc/profile

echo This is job task ${SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID}


echo Running $x to $y

for z in `seq $x $y`; do
  echo Running task $z
  myprogram < input.$ > output.$