8.1.8. Using LAMMPS with the MDI library for code coupling


This Howto page will eventually replace the Howto client/server doc page.

Client/server coupling of two codes is where one code is the “client” and sends request messages (data) to a “server” code. The server responds to each request with a reply message. This enables the two codes to work in tandem to perform a simulation. LAMMPS can act as either a client or server code; it does this by using the MolSSI Driver Interface (MDI) library, developed by the Molecular Sciences Software Institute (MolSSI).

Alternate methods for code coupling with LAMMPS are described on the Howto couple doc page.

Some advantages of client/server coupling are that the two codes can run as stand-alone executables; they need not be linked together. Thus neither code needs to have a library interface. This also makes it easy to run the two codes on different numbers of processors. If a message protocol (format and content) is defined for a particular kind of simulation, then in principle any code which implements the client-side protocol can be used in tandem with any code which implements the server-side protocol. Neither code needs to know what specific other code it is working with.

In MDI nomenclature, a client code is the “driver”, and a server code is an “engine”. One driver code can communicate with one or more instances of one or more engine codes. Driver and engine codes can be written in any language: C, C++, Fortran, Python, etc.

In addition to allowing driver and engine(s) running to run as stand-alone executables, MDI also enables a server code to be a “plugin” to the client code. In this scenario, server code(s) are compiled as shared libraries, and one (or more) instances of the server are instantiated by the driver code. If the driver code runs in parallel, it can split its MPI communicator into multiple sub-communicators, and launch each plugin engine instance on a sub-communicator. Driver processors in that sub-communicator exchange messages with that engine instance, and can also send MPI messages to other processors in the driver. The driver code can also destroy engine instances and re-instantiate them.

The way that a driver communicates with an engine is by making MDI_Send() and MDI_Recv() calls, which are conceptually similar to MPI_Send() and MPI_Recv() calls. Each send or receive has a string which identifies the command name, and optionally some data, which can be a single value or vector of values of any data type. Inside the MDI library, data is exchanged between the driver and engine via MPI calls or sockets. This a run-time choice by the user.

As an example, LAMMPS and the pw.x command from Quantum Espresso (a suite of quantum DFT codes), can work together via the MDI library to perform an ab initio MD (AIMD) simulation, where LAMMPS runs an MD simulation and sends a message each timestep to pw.x asking it to compute quantum forces on the current configuration of atoms. Here is how the 2 codes are launched to communicate by MPI:

% mpirun -np 2 lmp_mpi -mdi "-role DRIVER -name d -method MPI" \
  -in in.aimd : -np 16 pw.x -in qe.in -mdi "-role ENGINE -name e -method MPI"

In this case LAMMPS runs on 2 processors (MPI tasks), pw.x runs on 16 processors.

Here is how the 2 codes are launched to communicate by sockets:

% mpirun -np 2 lmp_mpi -mdi "-role DRIVER -name d -method TCP -port 8021" -in in.aimd
% mpirun -np 16 pw.x -in qe.in -mdi "-role ENGINE -name e -method TCP -port 8021 -hostname localhost"

These commands could be issued in different windows on a desktop machine. Or in the same window, if the first command is ended with “&” so as to run in the background. If “localhost” is replaced by an IP address, pw.x could be run on another machine on the same network, or even on another machine across the country.

After both codes initialize themselves to model the same system, this is what occurs each timestep:

  • LAMMPS send a “>COORDS” message to pw.x with a 3*N vector of current atom coords

  • pw.x receives the message/coords and computes quantum forces on all the atoms

  • LAMMPS send a “<FORCES” message to pw.x and waits for the result

  • pw.x receives the message (after its computation finishes) and sends a 3*N vector of forces

  • LAMMPS receives the forces and time integrates to complete a single timestep

Examples scripts for using LAMMPS as an MDI engine are in the examples/mdi directory. See the README file in that directory for instructions on how to run the examples.


Work is underway to add commands that allow LAMMPS to be used as an MDI driver, e.g. for the AIMD example discussed above. Example scripts for this usage mode will be added the same directory when available.

If LAMMPS is used as a stand-alone engine it should set up the system it will be modeling in its input script, then invoke the mdi/engine command. This will put LAMMPS into “engine mode” where it waits for messages and data from the driver. When the driver sends an “EXIT” command, LAMMPS will exit engine mode and the input script will continue.

If LAMMPS is used as a plugin engine it operates the same way, except that the driver will pass LAMMPS an input script to initialize itself. Upon receiving the “EXIT” command, LAMMPS will exit engine mode and the input script will continue. After finishing execution of the input script, the instance of LAMMPS will be destroyed.

LAMMPS supports the full set of MD-appropriate engine commands defined by the MDI library. See the mdi/engine page for a list of these.

If those commands are not sufficient for a user-developed driver to use LAMMPS as an engine, then new commands can be easily added. See these two files which implement the definition of MDI commands and the logic for responding to them:

  • src/MDI/mdi_engine.cpp

  • src/MDI/fix_mdi_engine.cpp