8.1.7. Using LAMMPS with the MDI library for code coupling

Client/server coupling of two (or more) codes is where one code is the “client” and sends request messages (data) to one (or more) “server” code(s). A server responds to each request with a reply message (data). This enables two (or more) codes to work in tandem to perform a simulation. In this context, 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), which is supported by the MDI package.

Alternate methods for coupling codes with LAMMPS are described on the Coupling LAMMPS to other codes page.

Some advantages of client/server coupling are that the 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) to run as stand-alone executables, MDI also enables an engine 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 within that sub-communicator exchange messages with the corresponding 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. LAMMPS can operate as either a stand-alone or plugin MDI engine. When it operates as a driver, it can use either stand-alone or plugin MDI engines.

The way in which an MDI driver communicates with an MDI 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 operation uses a string to identify 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 is a run-time choice by the user.

The MDI package provides a mdi engine command, which enables LAMMPS to operate as an MDI engine. Its doc page explains the variety of standard and custom MDI commands which the LAMMPS engine recognizes and can respond to.

The package also provides a mdi plugin command, which enables LAMMPS to operate as an MDI driver and load an MDI engine as a plugin library.

The package furthermore includes a fix mdi/qm command, in which LAMMPS operates as an MDI driver in conjunction with a quantum mechanics code as an MDI engine. The post_force() method of the fix_mdi_qm.cpp file shows how a driver issues MDI commands to another code. This command can be used to couple to an MDI engine, which is either a stand-alone code or a plugin library.

As explained in the fix mdi/qm command documentation, it can be used to perform ab initio MD simulations or energy minimizations, or to evaluate the quantum energy and forces for a series of independent systems. The examples/mdi directory has example input scripts for all of these use cases.

The package also has a fix mdi/qmmm command in which LAMMPS operates as an MDI driver in conjunction with a quantum mechanics code as an MDI engine to perform QM/MM simulations. The LAMMPS input script partitions the system into QM and MM (molecular mechanics) atoms. As described below the examples/QUANTUM directory has examples for coupling to 3 different quantum codes in this manner.

The examples/mdi directory contains Python scripts and LAMMPS input script which use LAMMPS as either an MDI driver or engine, or both. Currently, 5 example use cases are provided:

  • Run ab initio MD (AIMD) using 2 instances of LAMMPS. As a driver, LAMMPS performs the timestepping in either NVE or NPT mode. As an engine, LAMMPS computes forces and is a surrogate for a quantum code.

  • LAMMPS runs an MD simulation as a driver. Every N steps it passes the current snapshot to an MDI engine to evaluate the energy, virial, and peratom forces. As the engine, LAMMPS is a surrogate for a quantum code.

  • LAMMPS loops over a series of data files and passes the configuration to an MDI engine to evaluate the energy, virial, and peratom forces and thus acts as a simulation driver. As the engine, LAMMPS is used as a surrogate for a quantum code.

  • A Python script driver invokes a sequence of unrelated LAMMPS calculations. Calculations can be single-point energy/force evaluations, MD runs, or energy minimizations.

  • Run AIMD with a Python driver code and 2 LAMMPS instances as engines. The first LAMMPS instance performs MD timestepping. The second LAMMPS instance acts as a surrogate QM code to compute forces.


In any of these examples where LAMMPS is used as an engine, an actual QM code (provided it has support for MDI) could be used in its place, without modifying the input scripts or launch commands, except to specify the name of the QM code.

The examples/mdi/Run.sh file illustrates how to launch both driver and engine codes so that they communicate using the MDI library via either MPI or sockets, or using the engine as a stand-alone code, or as a plugin library.

As of March 2023, these are quantum codes with MDI support provided via Python wrapper scripts included in the LAMMPS distribution. These can be used with the fix mdi/qm and fix mdi/qmmm commands to perform QM calculations of an entire system (e.g. AIMD) or QM/MM simulations. See the examples/QUANTUM sub-directories for more details:

  • LATTE - AIMD only

  • PySCF - QM/MM only

  • NWChem - AIMD or QM/MM

There are also at least two quantum codes which have direct MDI support, Quantum ESPRESSO (QE) and INQ. There are also several QM codes which have indirect support through QCEngine or i-PI. The former means they require a wrapper program (QCEngine) with MDI support which writes/read files to pass data to the quantum code itself. The list of QCEngine-supported and i-PI-supported quantum codes is on the MDI webpage.

These direct- and indirect-support codes should be usable for full system calculations (e.g. AIMD). Whether they support QM/MM models depends on the individual QM code.