Workflows with Atomic Simulation Recipes

In this exercise we will write and run computational workflows using the atomic simulation recipes, ASR.

The basic unit of computation in ASR is a task. A task is a Python function along with a specification of the inputs to that function. The inputs can be either concrete values like lists, strings, or numbers, or references to the outputs of other tasks. Tasks that depend on one another and form a graph. An ASR workflow is a Python class which defines such a graph, along with metadata about how the tasks should run and be stored. Workflows can then be parametrized so they run on a collection of materials, for example.

When using ASR, we define workflows and tasks using Python. However, the tools used to run workflows and tasks are command-line tools. Therefore, for this exercise we will be using the terminal rather than the usual notebooks. Basic knowledge of shell commands is an advantage.

This exercise consists of three parts. Specifically, we will:

  • Write a workflow which defines a structure optimization task

  • Extend the workflow with ground state and band structure tasks

  • Parametrize the workflow to apply it to multiple materials

When actually using ASR, many tasks and workflows are already written. Thus, we would be able to import and use those features directly. But in this tutorial we write everything from scratch.

Part 1: Create a repository and define a workflow

First, go to a clean directory and create an ASR repository:

human@computer:~$ mkdir myworkflow
human@computer:~$ cd myworkflow
human@computer:~/myworkflow$ asr init
Created repository in /home/askhl/myworkflow

The repository will store calculations under the newly created, currently empty folder named tree/. The asr info command will tell us a few basic things about the repository:

human@computer:~/myworkflow$ asr info
Root:     /home/askhl/myworkflow
Tree:     /home/askhl/myworkflow/tree
db-file:  /home/askhl/myworkflow/registry.dat (0 entries)
Tasks:    /home/askhl/myworkflow/ (not created)

Let’s perform a structure optimization of bulk Si. We write a function which performs such an optimization:

from ase.constraints import ExpCellFilter
from ase.optimize import BFGS
from gpaw import GPAW

def relax(atoms, calculator):
    atoms.calc = GPAW(**calculator)
    opt = BFGS(ExpCellFilter(atoms), trajectory='opt.traj',
    # Remove the calculator before returning the atoms,
    # because the calculator object as such cannot be saved:
    atoms.calc = None
    return atoms

This function uses a cell filter to expose the cell degrees of freedom for the standard BFGS optimizer (see the ASE documentation on optimizers and cell filters if interested).

Since workflows run on the local computer whereas computational tasks (generally) run on compute nodes, we separate workflow code and computational code in different files. ASR can load user-defined functions from the special file mentioned by info command. Create that file and save the above function to it.

Next, we write a workflow with a task that will call the function:

import asr

class MyWorkflow:
    atoms = asr.var()
    calculator = asr.var()

    def relax(self):
        return asr.node('relax',


  • The @asr.workflow decorator tells ASR to regard the class as a workflow. In particular, it equips the class with a constructor with appropriate input arguments.

  • asr.var() is used to declare input variables. The names atoms and calculator imply that we want this workflow to take atoms and calculator parameters as input.

  • The method relax() defines our task. By naming the method relax(), we choose that the task will run in a directory called tree/relax.

  • The method returns asr.node(...), which is a specification of the actual calculation: The name of the task ('relax', which must exist in is given as a string. The inputs are then assigned, and will be forwarded to the relax() function in The attributes self.atoms and self.calculator will refer to the input variables.

    When defining a node, ASR calculates a hash (i.e. checksum) of the inputs; the hash will become different if any inputs are changed.

  • The decorator @asr.task can be used to attach information about how the task runs, such as computational resources.

The workflow class serves as a static declaration of information, not as statements or commands to be executed (yet). To actually run it, we must at least choose a material and then tell the computer to run the workflow on it. We do this by adding a standalone function called workflow for ASR to call:

def workflow(runner):
    from import bulk
    wf = MyWorkflow(
        calculator={'mode': 'pw',
                    'kpts': (4, 4, 4),
                    'txt': 'gpaw.txt'})

ASR will take care of creating a “runner” and passing it to the function. (Note: In a future version of the code, this syntax will be simplified.)

Save the code (both the class and the workflow() function) to a file, e.g. named Then execute the workflow by issuing the command:

asr workflow

The command executes the workflow and creates a folder under the tree/ directory for each task. We can run asr ls to see a list of the tasks we generated:

541d427c new      tree/relax                     relax(atoms=…, calculator=…)

The task is identified to the computer as a hash value (541d427c….), whereas to a human user, the location in the directory tree, tree/relax, will be more descriptive.

Feel free to look at the contents of the tree/relax directory. The task is listed as “new” because we did not run it yet — we only created it, so far. While developing workflows, we will often want to create and inspect the tasks before we submit anything expensive. If we made a mistake, we can remove the task with asr remove tree/relax, then fix the mistake and run the workflow again.

Once we’re happy with the task, let’s run the task on the local computer:

asr run tree/relax

If everything worked as intended, the task will now be “done”, which we can see by running asr ls again:

541d427c done     tree/relax                     relax(atoms=…, calculator=…)

We can use the very handy tree command to see the whole directory tree:

human@computer:~/myworkflow$ tree tree/
└── relax
    ├── gpaw.txt
    ├── input.json
    ├── input.resolved.json
    ├── opt.log
    ├── opt.traj
    ├── output.json
    └── state.dat

1 directory, 7 files

Be sure to open the trajectory file in (e.g. in ASE GUI) to check that the optimization ran as expected. Also the logfiles gpaw.txt and opt.log are there.

Part 2: Add ground state and band structure tasks

After the relaxation, we want to run a ground state calculation to save a .gpw file, which we subsequently want to pass to a non self-consistent calculation to get the band structure.

Add a groundstate() function to

def groundstate(atoms, calculator):
    from pathlib import Path
    atoms.calc = GPAW(**calculator)
    path = Path('groundstate.gpw')
    return path

In order to “return” the gpw file, we actually return a Path object pointing to it. When passing the path to another task, ASR resolves it with respect to the task’s own directory such that the human will not need to remember or care about the actual directories where the tasks run.

Let’s add a corresponding groundstate method to the workflow:

    def groundstate(self):
        return asr.node('groundstate', atoms=self.relax,

By calling asr.node(..., atoms=self.relax), we are specifying that the atoms should be taken as the output of the relax task, creating a dependency.

We can now run the workflow again. The old task still exists and will remain unchanged, whereas the new task should now appear in the tree/groundstate directory.

Run the ground state task and check that the .gpw file was created as expected.

Finally, we write a band structure task in

def bandstructure(gpw):
    gscalc = GPAW(gpw)
    atoms = gscalc.get_atoms()
    bandpath = atoms.cell.bandpath(npoints=100)
    calc = gscalc.fixed_density(
        kpts=bandpath.kpts, symmetry='off', txt='bs.txt')
    bs = calc.band_structure()
    return bs

A corresponding method should be added on the workflow:

    def bandstructure(self):
        return asr.node('bandstructure', gpw=self.groundstate)

Now run the workflow and the resulting tasks. The code saves the Brillouin zone path and band structure separately to ASE JSON files. Once it runs, we can go to the directory and check that it looks correct:

ase reciprocal tree/bandstructure/bandpath.json
ase band-structure tree/bandstructure/bs.json

Note that here we are using the ase tool, not the asr tool.

You can delete all the tasks with asr remove tree/ and run them from scratch by asr run tree/, asr run tree/*, or simply asr run tree/bandstructure. The run command always executes tasks in topological order, i.e., each task runs only when its dependencies are done.

The asr ls command can also be used to list tasks in topological order following the dependency graph:

human@computer:~/myworkflow$ asr ls --parents tree/bandstructure/
541d427c done     tree/relax                     relax(atoms=…, calculator=…)
5ca14caa done     tree/groundstate               groundstate(atoms=<541d427c>, calculator=…)
b5875ebd done     tree/bandstructure             bandstructure(gpw=<5ca14caa>)

This way, we can comfortably work with larger numbers of tasks. Note how the hash values are consistent: The band structure’s input includes the hash value of the ground state, and the ground state’s input includes the hash value of the relaxation.

If we edit the workflow such that tasks receive different inputs, then the hash values will change, and ASR will raise an error because the new hash is inconsistent with the old one in that directory. Such a conflict can be solved by removing the old calculations.

Part 3: Run workflow on multiple materials

The current workflow creates directories right under the repository root. For a proper materials workflow, it will be helpful to work with a structure that nests the tasks by material.

ASR contains a feature called totree which deploys a dataset to the tree, such as defining initial structures for materials. One then parametrizes a workflow (such as the one we just wrote) on the materials.

The following workflow defines a function which returns a set of materials, then specifies to ASR that those must be added to the tree.

import asr
from import bulk

def materials():
    elements = ['Al', 'Si', 'Ti', 'Fe', 'Ni', 'Cu', 'Ag', 'Sb', 'Au']
    return {symbol: bulk(symbol) for symbol in elements}

workflow = asr.totree(materials(), name='material')

Add this to a new file, named e.g., and execute the workflow:

human@computer:~/myworkflow$ asr workflow
      Add: 889575c5 new      tree/Al/material               define(obj=…)
      Add: 5e39fb8e new      tree/Si/material               define(obj=…)
      Add: 9612a07a new      tree/Ti/material               define(obj=…)
      Add: 7153df81 new      tree/Cu/material               define(obj=…)
      Add: 155d59ee new      tree/Ag/material               define(obj=…)
      Add: e9b41657 new      tree/Au/material               define(obj=…)

The totree command created some tasks for us. Actually they are not really tasks — they are just static pieces of data. But now that they exist, we can run other tasks that depend on them.

In the old workflow file (, replace the workflow() function with the following function which tells ASR to parametrize the workflow by “globbing” over the materials:

def workflow(material):
    calculator = {'mode': 'pw', 'kpts': {'density': 1.0}, 'txt': 'gpaw.txt'}
    return MyWorkflow(atoms=material, calculator=calculator)

The workflow will now be called once for each material. Run the workflow and it will create our three well-known tasks for each material, now nested by material.

As before, we can inspect the newly created tasks, e.g.:

human@computer:~/myworkflow$ asr ls tree/Au/bandstructure/ --parents
e9b41657 new      tree/Au/material               define(obj=…)
5306d226 new      tree/Au/relax                  relax(atoms=<e9b41657>, calculator=…)
a54f98a7 new      tree/Au/groundstate            groundstate(atoms=<5306d226>, calculator=…)
7fbfa099 new      tree/Au/bandstructure          bandstructure(gpw=<a54f98a7>)

Since it may take a while to run on the front-end node, we can tell ASR to submit one or more tasks using MyQueue:

asr submit tree/Au

The submit command works much like the run command, only it calls myqueue which will then talk to the scheduler (slurm, torque, …). After submitting, we can use standard myqueue commands to monitor the jobs, such as mq ls or mq rm. See the myqueue documentation.

If everything works well, we can submit the whole tree:

asr submit tree/

Note: In the current version, myqueue and ASR do not perfectly share the state of a task. This can lead to mild misbehaviours if using both asr run and asr submit, such as a job executing twice.