2. Installation

This chapter will describe how to get, compile and run the software.

ESPResSo releases are available as source code packages from the homepage [1]. This is where new users should get the code. The code within release packages is tested and known to run on a number of platforms. Alternatively, people that want to use the newest features of ESPResSo or that want to start contributing to the software can instead obtain the current development code via the version control system software [2] from ESPResSo ‘s project page at Github [3]. This code might be not as well tested and documented as the release code; it is recommended to use this code only if you have already gained some experience in using ESPResSo.

Unlike most other software, no binary distributions of ESPResSo are available, and the software is usually not installed globally for all users. Instead, users of ESPResSo should compile the software themselves. The reason for this is that it is possible to activate and deactivate various features before compiling the code. Some of these features are not compatible with each other, and some of the features have a profound impact on the performance of the code. Therefore it is not possible to build a single binary that can satisfy all needs. For performance reasons a user should always activate only those features that are actually needed. This means, however, that learning how to compile is a necessary evil. The build system of ESPResSo uses cmake [4] to compile software easily on a wide range of platforms.

2.1. Requirements

The following tools libraries, including header files, are required to be able to compile and use ESPResSo:

The build system is based on CMake
C++ Compiler
C++11 capable C++ compiler (e.g., Gcc 4.8.1 or later)
A number of advanced C++ features used by ESPResSo is provided by Boost.
For some algorithms (P\(^3\)M), ESPResSo needs the FFTW library version 3 or later [5] for Fourier transforms, including header files.
Because ESPResSo is parallelized with MPI, you need a working MPI environment that implements the MPI standard version 1.2.
ESPResSo’s main user interface is via the Python scripting interface. Both, Python 2 and 3 are supported.
Cython is used for connecting the C++ core to Python

2.1.1. Installing Requirements on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

To make ESPResSo run on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS or 18.04 LTS, its dependencies can be installed with:

sudo apt install build-essential cmake cython python-numpy \
libboost-all-dev openmpi-common fftw3-dev libhdf5-dev libhdf5-openmpi-dev \
doxygen python-opengl python-sphinx python-pip libgsl-dev

Optionally the ccmake utility can be installed for easier configuration:

sudo apt install cmake-curses-gui

If your computer has an Nvidia graphics card, you should also download and install the CUDA SDK to make use of GPU computation:

sudo apt install nvidia-cuda-toolkit

2.1.2. Installing Requirements on Mac OS X

To make ESPResSo run on Mac OS X 10.9 or higher, its dependencies can be installed using MacPorts. First, download the installer package appropriate for your Mac OS X version from https://www.macports.org/install.php and install it. Then, run the following commands:

sudo xcode-select --install
sudo xcodebuild -license accept
sudo port selfupdate
sudo port install cmake python27 py27-cython py27-numpy \
  openmpi-default fftw-3 +openmpi boost +openmpi +python27 \
  doxygen py27-opengl py27-sphinx py27-pip gsl hdf5 +openmpi
sudo port select --set cython cython27
sudo port select --set python python27
sudo port select --set pip pip27
sudo port select --set mpi openmpi-mp-fortran

Alternatively, you can use Homebrew.

sudo xcode-select --install
sudo xcodebuild -license accept
/usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)"
brew install cmake python@3 cython boost boost-mpi fftw \
  doxygen gsl
brew install hdf5 --with-mpi
brew install numpy --without-python@2
ln -s /usr/local/bin/python2 /usr/local/bin/python
pip install --user PyOpenGL

Note: If both MacPorts and Homebrew are installed, you will not be able to run ESPResSo. Therefore, if you have both installed, please uninstall one or the other by running one of the following two commands:

sudo port -f uninstall installed && rm -r /opt/local
ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/uninstall)"

If your Mac has an Nvidia graphics card, you should also download and install the CUDA SDK [6] to make use of GPU computation.

2.1.3. Installing python dependencies

There are a few python packages needed to e.g. build the documentation. To install the required packages as a non-root user execute the following command in ESPResSo ‘s source directory:

pip install -r requirements.txt --user --upgrade

Please note that on some systems, pip has to be replaced by pip2 to install Python 2 versions of the packages.

2.2. Quick installation

If you have installed the requirements (see section Requirements ) in standard locations, to compile, it is usually enough to create a build directory and call cmake and make (optional steps which modify the build process are commented out):

mkdir build
cd build
#cp myconfig-default.hpp myconfig.hpp # use the default configuration as template
#nano myconfig.hpp                    # edit to add/remove features as desired
cmake ..
#ccmake . // in order to add/remove features like SCAFACOS or CUDA

This will build ESPResSo with a default feature set, namely src/core/myconfig-default.hpp. This file is a c++ header file, which defines the features that should be compiled in. You may want to adjust the feature set to your needs. This can be easily done by copying the myconfig-sample.hpp which has been created in the build directory to myconfig.hpp and only uncomment the features you want to use in your simulation.

The cmake command looks for libraries and tools needed by ESPResSo. So ESPResSo can only be built if cmake reports no errors.

The command make will compile the source code. Depending on the options passed to the program, make can also be used for a number of other things:

  • It can install and uninstall the program to some other directories. However, normally it is not necessary to actually install to run it: make install
  • It can invoke code checks: make check
  • It can build this documentation: make sphinx

When these steps have successfully completed, ESPResSo can be started with the command:

./pypresso <SCRIPT>

where is <SCRIPT> is a python script which has to be written by the user. You can find some examples in the samples folder of the source code directory. If you want to run in parallel, you should have compiled with Open MPI, and need to tell MPI to run in parallel. The actual invocation is implementation dependent, but in many cases, such as Open MPI, you can use

mpirun -n <N> ./pypresso <SCRIPT>

where <N> is the number of processors to be used.

2.3. Configuring

2.3.1. myconfig.hpp: Activating and deactivating features

ESPResSo has a large number of features that can be compiled into the binary. However, it is not recommended to actually compile in all possible features, as this will slow down significantly. Instead, compile in only the features that are actually required. A strong gain in speed can be achieved, by disabling all non-bonded interactions except for a single one, e.g. . For the developers, it is also possible to turn on or off a number of debugging messages. The features and debug messages can be controlled via a configuration header file that contains C-preprocessor declarations. Appendix lists and describes all available features. The file myconfig-sample.hpp that configure will generate in the build directory contains a list of all possible features that can be copied into your own configuration file. When no configuration header is provided by the user, a default header, found in src/core/myconfig-default.hpp, will be used that turns on the default features.

When you distinguish between the build and the source directory, the configuration header can be put in either of these. Note, however, that when a configuration header is found in both directories, the one in the build directory will be used.

By default, the configuration header is called myconfig.hpp. The configuration header can be used to compile different binary versions of with a different set of features from the same source directory. Suppose that you have a source directory $srcdir and two build directories $builddir1 and $builddir2 that contain different configuration headers:

  • $builddir1/myconfig.hpp:
  • $builddir2/myconfig.hpp:
#define LJCOS

Then you can simply compile two different versions of via:

cd builddir1
cmake ..

cd builddir2
cmake ..

To see, what features were activated in myconfig.hpp, run:


and then in the Python interpreter:

import espressomd

2.3.2. Features

This chapter describes the features that can be activated in ESPResSo. Even if possible, it is not recommended to activate all features, because this will negatively effect ESPResSo ‘s performance.

Features can be activated in the configuration header myconfig.hpp (see section myconfig.hpp: Activating and deactivating features). To activate FEATURE, add the following line to the header file:

#define FEATURE General features

  • PARTIAL_PERIODIC By default, all coordinates in ESPResSo are periodic. With PARTIAL_PERIODIC turned on, the ESPResSo global variable periodic controls the periodicity of the individual coordinates.


    This slows the integrator down by around \(10-30\%\).

  • ELECTROSTATICS This enables the use of the various electrostatics algorithms, such as P3M.

    See also





  • DIPOLES This activates the dipole-moment property of particles; In addition, the various magnetostatics algorithms, such as P3M are switched on.


  • ROTATION Switch on rotational degrees of freedom for the particles, as well as the corresponding quaternion integrator.


    Note, that when the feature is activated, every particle has three additional degrees of freedom, which for example means that the kinetic energy changes at constant temperature is twice as large.

  • LANGEVIN_PER_PARTICLE Allows to choose the Langevin temperature and friction coefficient per particle.


  • EXTERNAL_FORCES Allows to define an arbitrary constant force for each particle individually. Also allows to fix individual coordinates of particles, keep them at a fixed position or within a plane.

  • CONSTRAINTS Turns on various spatial constraints such as spherical compartments or walls. This constraints interact with the particles through regular short ranged potentials such as the Lennard-Jones potential. See section for possible constraint forms.

  • MASS Allows particles to have individual masses. Note that some analysis procedures have not yet been adapted to take the masses into account correctly.

  • EXCLUSIONS Allows to exclude specific short ranged interactions within molecules.

    See also


  • COMFIXED Allows to fix the center of mass of all particles of a certain type.


  • BOND_CONSTRAINT Turns on the RATTLE integrator which allows for fixed lengths bonds between particles.

  • VIRTUAL_SITES_COM Virtual sites are particles, the position and velocity of which is not obtained by integrating equations of motion. Rather, they are placed using the position (and orientation) of other particles. The feature allows to place a virtual particle into the center of mass of a set of other particles.

    See also

    Virtual sites

  • VIRTUAL_SITES_RELATIVE Virtual sites are particles, the position and velocity of which is not obtained by integrating equations of motion. Rather, they are placed using the position (and orientation) of other particles. The feature allows for rigid arrangements of particles.

    See also

    Virtual sites


  • SWIMMER_REACTIONS Allows the user to define three particle types to be reactant, catalyzer, and product. Reactants get converted into products in the vicinity of a catalyst according to a used-defined reaction rate constant. It is also possible to set up a chemical equilibrium reaction between the reactants and products, with another rate constant. Be careful the model makes usage of the word catalyst. This usage of the word cannot be brought into agreement with the correct usage of the word catalyst.


  • COLLISION_DETECTION Allows particles to be bound on collision.

  • H5MD Allows to write data to H5MD formatted hdf5 files.

In addition, there are switches that enable additional features in the integrator or thermostat:

  • NPT Enables an on-the-fly NPT integration scheme.



  • GHMC

  • MULTI_TIMESTEP (experimental)


  • PARTICLE_ANISOTROPY Fluid dynamics and fluid structure interaction

  • DPD Enables the dissipative particle dynamics thermostat and interaction.

    See also

    DPD interaction

  • LB Enables the lattice Boltzmann fluid code.

  • LB_GPU Enables the lattice Boltzmann fluid code support for GPU.



  • SHANCHEN (experimental) Enables the Shan Chen bicomponent fluid code on the GPU.


  • LB_ELECTROHYDRODYNAMICS Enables the implicit calculation of electro-hydrodynamics for charged particles and salt ions in an electric field.






  • IMMERSED_BOUNDARY Immersed-Boundary Bayreuth version.


  • OIF_GLOBAL_FORCES Interaction features

The following switches turn on various short ranged interactions (see section Isotropic non-bonded interactions):

  • TABULATED Enable support for user-defined interactions.
  • LENNARD_JONES Enable the Lennard-Jones potential.
  • LENNARD_JONES_GENERIC Enable the generic Lennard-Jones potential with configurable exponents and individual prefactors for the two terms.
  • LJCOS Enable the Lennard-Jones potential with a cosine-tail.
  • LJCOS2 Same as LJCOS, but using a slightly different way of smoothing the connection to 0.
  • GAY_BERNE (experimental)
  • MORSE Enable the Morse potential.
  • BUCKINGHAM Enable the Buckingham potential.
  • SOFT_SPHERE Enable the soft sphere potential.
  • SMOOTH_STEP Enable the smooth step potential, a step potential with two length scales.
  • BMHTF_NACL Enable the Born-Meyer-Huggins-Tosi-Fumi potential, which can be used to model salt melts.

Some of the short range interactions have additional features:

  • LJ_WARN_WHEN_CLOSE This adds an additional check to the Lennard-Jones potentials that prints a warning if particles come too close so that the simulation becomes unphysical.
  • OLD_DIHEDRAL Switch the interface of the dihedral potential to its old, less flexible form. Use this for older scripts that are not yet adapted to the new interface of the dihedral potential.

If you want to use bond-angle potentials (see section Bond-angle interactions), you need the following features.

  • COS2
  • HAT
  • UMBRELLA (experimental) Miscellaneous

  • FLATNOISE Shape of the noise in the (LB) thermostat.
  • GAUSSRANDOM Shape of the noise in the (LB) thermostat.
  • GAUSSRANDOMCUT Shape of the noise in the (LB) thermostat. Debug messages

Finally, there are a number of flags for debugging. The most important one are

  • ADDITIONAL_CHECKS Enables numerous additional checks which can detect inconsistencies especially in the cell systems. These checks are however too slow to be enabled in production runs.

The following flags control the debug output of various sections of ESPResSo. You will however understand the output very often only by looking directly at the code.

  • COMM_DEBUG Output from the asynchronous communication code.
  • EVENT_DEBUG Notifications for event calls, i.e. the on_... functions in initialize.c. Useful if some module does not correctly respond to changes of e.g. global variables.
  • INTEG_DEBUG Integrator output.
  • CELL_DEBUG Cellsystem output.
  • GHOST_DEBUG Cellsystem output specific to the handling of ghost cells and the ghost cell communication.
  • VERLET_DEBUG Debugging of the Verlet list code of the domain decomposition cell system.
  • LATTICE_DEBUG Universal lattice structure debugging.
  • PARTICLE_DEBUG Output from the particle handling code.
  • ESR_DEBUG debugging of P\(^3\)Ms real space part.
  • ESK_DEBUG debugging of P\(^3\)Ms \(k\) -space part.
  • FFT_DEBUG Output from the unified FFT code.
  • FORCE_DEBUG Output from the force calculation loops.
  • PTENSOR_DEBUG Output from the pressure tensor calculation loops.
  • THERMO_DEBUG Output from the thermostats.
  • LJ_DEBUG Output from the Lennard-Jones code.
  • MORSE_DEBUG Output from the Morse code.
  • ONEPART_DEBUG Define to a number of a particle to obtain output on the forces calculated for this particle.
  • LB_DEBUG Output from the lattice Boltzmann code.
  • ASYNC_BARRIER Introduce a barrier after each asynchronous command completion. Helps in the detection of mismatching communication.
  • FORCE_CORE Causes ESPResSo to try to provoke a core dump when exiting unexpectedly.
  • MPI_CORE Causes ESPResSo to try this even with MPI errors.
  • ONEPART_DEBUG_ID Use this define to supply a particle ID for which to output debug messages. For example: #define ONEPART_DEBUG_ID 13

2.3.3. Features marked as experimental

Some of the above features are marked as EXPERIMENTAL. Activating these features can have unexpected side effects and some of them have known issues. If you activate any of these features, you should understand the corresponding source code and do extensive testing. Furthermore, it is necessary to define EXPERIMENTAL_FEATURES in myconfig.hpp.

2.3.4. cmake

In order to build the first step is to create a build directory in which cmake can be executed. In cmake, the source directory (that contains all the source files) is completely separated from the build directory (where the files created by the build process are put). cmake is designed to not be executed in the source directory. cmake will determine how to use and where to find the compiler, as well as the different libraries and tools required by the compilation process. By having multiple build directories you can build several variants of ESPResSo, each variant having different activated features, and for as many platforms as you want.


When the source directory is srcdir (the files where unpacked to this directory), then the user can create a build directory build below that path by calling mkdir srcdir/build. In the build directory cmake is to be executed, followed by a call to make. None of the files in the source directory are ever modified by the build process.

cd build
cmake ..

Afterwards Espresso can be run via calling ./pypresso from the command line.

2.3.5. ccmake

Optionally and for easier use, the curses interface to cmake can be used to configure ESPResSo interactively.


Alternatively to the previous example, instead of cmake, the ccmake executable is called in the build directory to configure ESPResSo, followed by a call to make:

cd build
ccmake ..

Fig. ccmake interface shows the interactive ccmake UI.

ccmake interface

ccmake interface Options and Variables

The behavior of ESPResSo can be controlled by means of options and variables in the CMakeLists.txt file. Also options are defined there. The following options are available:

  • WITH_CUDA: Build with GPU support
  • WITH_HDF5: Build with HDF5
  • WITH_TESTS: Enable tests
  • WITH_SCAFACOS: Build with Scafacos support
  • WITH_VALGRIND_INSTRUMENTATION: Build with valgrind instrumentation markers

When the value in the CMakeLists.txt file is set to ON the corresponding option is created if the value of the option is set to OFF the corresponding option is not created. These options can also be modified by calling cmake with the command line argument -D:

cmake -D WITH_HDF5=OFF srcdir

In the rare event when working with cmake and you want to have a totally clean build (for example because you switched the compiler), remove the build directory and create a new one.

2.4. make: Compiling, testing and installing

The command make is mainly used to compile the source code, but it can do a number of other things. The generic syntax of the make command is:

make [options] [target] [variable=value]

When no target is given, the target all is used. The following targets are available:

Compiles the complete source code. The variable can be used to specify the name of the configuration header to be used.
Runs the testsuite. By default, all available tests will be run on 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, or 8 processors.
Deletes all files that were created during the compilation.
Install ESPResSo. Use make DESTDIR=/home/john install to install to a specific directory.
Creates the Doxygen code documentation in the doc/doxygen subdirectory.
Creates the sphinx code documentation in the doc/sphinx subdirectory.
Creates the tutorials in the doc/tutorials subdirectory.
Creates all documentation in the doc subdirectory (only when using the development sources).

A number of options are available when calling make. The most interesting option is probably -j num_jobs, which can be used for parallel compilation on computers that have more than one CPU or core. num_jobs specifies the maximal number of jobs that will be run. Setting num_jobs to the number of available processors speeds up the compilation process significantly.

2.5. Running ESPResSo

ESPResSo is implemented as a Python module. This means that you need to write a python script for any task you want to perform with . In this chapter, the basic structure of the interface will be explained. For a practical introduction, see the tutorials, which are also part of the distribution. To use , you need to import the espressomd module in your Python script. To this end, the folder containing the python module needs to be in the Python search path. The module is located in the src/python folder under the build directory. A convenient way to run python with the correct path is to use the pypresso script located in the build directory.

./pypresso simulation.py

The pypresso script is just a wrapper in order to expose our self built python modules to the systems python interpreter by modifying the $PYTHONPATH. Please see the following chapters describing how to actually write a simulation script for ESPResSo.

2.6. Debugging ESPResSo

Exceptional situations occur in every program. If ESPResSo crashes with a segmentation fault that means that there was a memory fault in the simulation core which requires running the program in a debugger. The pypresso executable file is actually not a program but a script which sets the Python path appropriately and starts the Python interpreter with your arguments. Thus it is not possible to directly run pypresso in a debugger. However, we provide some useful command line options for the most common tools.

./pypresso --tool <args>

where --tool can be any from the following table. You can only use one tool at a time.

Tool Effect
--gdb gdb --args python <args>
--lldb lldb -- python <args>
--valgrind valgrind --leak-check=full python <args>
--cuda-gdb cuda-gdb --args python <args>
--cuda-memcheck cuda-memcheck python <args>