16. Input and Output

16.1. Checkpointing and restoring a simulation

One of the most asked-for feature that seems to be missing is checkpointing, a simple way to store and restore the current state of the simulation, and to be able to write this state to or read it from a file. This would be most useful to be able to restart a simulation from a specific point in time.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to provide a simple command (checkpoint), out of two reasons. The main reason is that it has no way to determine what information constitutes the actual state of the simulation. Scripts sometimes use variables that contain essential information about a simulation: the stored values of an observable that was computed in previous time steps, counters, etc. These would have to be contained in a checkpoint. However, not all variables are of interest.

Another problem with a generic checkpoint would be the control flow of the script. In principle, the checkpoint would have to store where in the script the checkpointing function was called to be able to return there. All this is even further complicated by the fact that ESPResSo is running in parallel.

Having said that, ESPResSo does provide functionality which aims to store the state of the simulation engine. In addition, variables declared in the simulation script can be added to the checkpoint. The checkpoint data can then later be restored by calling one load function that will automatically process the checkpoint data by setting the user variables and restore the components of the simulation. Furthermore, the checkpointing can be triggered by system signals that are invoked for example when the simulation is aborted by the user or by a timeout.

The checkpointing functionality is difficult to test for all possible simulation setups. Therefore, it is to be used with care. It is strongly recommended to keep track of the times in the simulation run where a checkpoint was written and restored and manually verify that the observables of interest do not jump or drift after restoring the checkpoint. Moreover, please carefully read the limitations mentioned below.

Checkpointing is implemented by the espressomd.checkpointing.Checkpoint class. It is instanced as follows:

import espressomd
import espressomd.checkpointing
checkpoint = espressomd.checkpointing.Checkpoint(checkpoint_id="mycheckpoint", checkpoint_path=".")

Here, checkpoint_id denotes the identifier for a checkpoint. Legal characters for an id are “0-9”, “a-zA-Z”, “-”, “_”. The parameter checkpoint_path, specifies the relative or absolute path where the checkpoints are stored. The current working directory is assumed, when this parameter is skipped.

After the simulation system and user variables are set up, they can be registered for checkpointing. Name the string of the object or user variable that should be registered for checkpointing.

To give an example:

my_var = "some variable value"
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[100.0, 100.0, 100.0])
# ... set system properties like time_step here ...
# ...

will register the user variable my_var and the instance of the simulation system. The checkpoint can be saved via:


To trigger the checkpoint when Ctrl+C is pressed during a running simulation, the corresponding signal has to be registered:

import signal
# signal.SIGINT: signal 2, is sent when ctrl+c is pressed

In the above example checkpointing is triggered, when the user interrupts by pressing Ctrl+C. In this case a new checkpoint is written and the simulation quits.

An existing checkpoint can be loaded with:

import espressomd
import espressomd.checkpointing
import signal

checkpoint = espressomd.checkpointing.Checkpoint(checkpoint_id="mycheckpoint")

This will restore the state of the objects registered for checkpointing. The checkpointing instance itself will also be restored. I.e., the same variables will be registered for the next checkpoint and the same system signals will be caught as in the initial setup of the checkpointing.

Be aware of the following limitations:

  • Checkpointing makes use of the pickle python package. Objects will only be restored as far as they support pickling. This is the case for Python’s basic data types, numpy arrays and many other objects. Still, pickling support cannot be taken for granted.

  • Pickling of the espressomd.system.System instance and contained objects such as bonded and non-bonded interactions and electrostatics methods is covered by basic tests. However, not all combinations of algorithms can be tested. If you encounter an issue for a specific combination of features, please share your findings with the ESPResSo community.

  • The active actors, i.e., the content of system.actors, are checkpointed. For lattice-Boltzmann fluids, this only includes the parameters such as the lattice constant (agrid). The actual flow field has to be saved separately with the lattice-Boltzmann specific methods espressomd.lb.HydrodynamicInteraction.save_checkpoint() and loaded via espressomd.lb.HydrodynamicInteraction.load_checkpoint() after restoring the checkpoint. See LB checkpointing for more details.

  • References between Python objects are not maintained during checkpointing. For example, if an instance of a shape and an instance of a constraint containing the shape are checkpointed, these two objects are equal before checkpointing but independent copies which have the same parameters after restoring the checkpoint. Changing one will no longer affect the other.

  • The state of the cell system as well as the MPI node grid are checkpointed. Therefore, checkpoints can only be loaded, when the script runs on the same number of MPI ranks.

  • Checkpoints are not compatible between different ESPResSo versions.

  • Checkpoints may depend on the presence of other Python modules at specific versions. It may therefore not be possible to load a checkpoint in a different environment than where it was written.

  • To be fully deterministic when loading from a checkpoint with an active thermostat, the first step of the integration should be called with the flag reuse_forces=True, e.g. system.integrator.run(2, reuse_forces=True). This is because loading a checkpoint reinitializes the system and enforces a recalculation of the forces. However, this computes the forces from the velocities at the current time step and not at the previous half time step. Please note that long-range actors can make trajectories non-reproducible. For example, lattice-Boltzmann introduces errors of the order of 1e-15 with binary checkpoint files, or 1e-7 with ASCII checkpoint files. In addition, several electrostatic and magnetostatic actors automatically introduce a deviation of the order of 1e-7, either due to floating-point rounding errors (P3MGPU), or due to re-tuning using the most recent system state (MMM1D, MMM1DGPU). When in doubt, you can easily verify the absence of a “force jump” when loading from a checkpoint by replacing the electrostatics actor with your combination of features in files samples/save_checkpoint.py and samples/load_checkpoint.py and running them sequentially.

For additional methods of the checkpointing class, see espressomd.checkpointing.Checkpoint.

16.2. Writing H5MD-files


Requires H5MD external feature, enabled with -DWITH_HDF5=ON. Also requires a parallel version of HDF5. On Ubuntu, this can be installed via either libhdf5-openmpi-dev for OpenMPI or libhdf5-mpich-dev for MPICH, but not libhdf5-dev which is the serial version.

For long simulations, it’s a good idea to store data in the hdf5 file format (see https://www.hdfgroup.org for details, H5MD is based on hdf5). Currently ESPResSo supports some basic functions for writing simulation data to H5MD files. The implementation is MPI-parallelized and is capable of dealing with a varying number of particles.

To write data in a hdf5-file according to the H5MD proposal (https://nongnu.org/h5md), first an object of the class espressomd.io.writer.h5md.H5md has to be created and linked to the respective hdf5-file. This may, for example, look like:

import espressomd.io.writer.h5md
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[100.0, 100.0, 100.0])
# ... add particles here
h5 = espressomd.io.writer.h5md.H5md(file_path="trajectory.h5")

An optional argument to the constructor of espressomd.io.writer.h5md.H5md is an instance of espressomd.io.writer.h5md.UnitSystem which encapsulates physical units for time, mass, length and electrical charge.

If a file at the given filepath exists and has a valid H5MD structure, it will be backed up to a file with suffix “.bak” and loaded into a new file. Therefore H5MD can be used together with checkpointing. The backup file will be deleted when the new file is closed at the end of the simulation with close(). The backup file is not be erased if the simulation terminates unexpectedly.

To write data to the HDF5 file, simply call the method write() without any arguments. After the last write, call flush() and then close() to close the datasets and remove the backup file.

The current implementation writes the following properties by default: folded positions, periodic image count, velocities, forces, species (ESPResSo types), charges and masses of the particles. While folded positions are written to disk, the unfolded coordinates can be reconstructed from the image count. The time-dependent box size and Lees-Edwards parameters are also stored. Some of these properties can be opted out by specifying in argument fields the subset of fields to write to the trajectory file; call method valid_fields() to find out which string corresponds to which field.

In simulations with a varying number of particles (Monte-Carlo reactions), the size of the dataset will be adapted if the maximum number of particles increases but will not be decreased. Instead a negative fill value will be written to the trajectory for the id.

If you have a parallel simulation, please keep in mind that the sequence of particles in general changes from timestep to timestep. Therefore you have to always use the dataset for the ids to track which position/velocity/force/type/mass entry belongs to which particle.

For an example involving physical units, see /samples/h5md.py.

16.3. Reading H5MD-files

H5MD files can be read and sometimes modified by many tools. If the data was stored with physical units, they can be accessed by reading the group attributes. Since the data is written in parallel, the particles are unsorted; if particles were created with increasing particle id and no particle deletion occurred during the simulation, the coordinates can be sorted with a simply numpy operation.

To read with the python module h5py (documentation: HDF5 for Python):

import h5py
with h5py.File("sample.h5", mode='r') as h5file:
    positions = h5file['particles/atoms/position/value']
    forces = h5file['particles/atoms/force/value']
    forces_unit = forces.attrs['unit']
    sim_time = h5file['particles/atoms/id/time']
    print(f"last frame: {sim_time[-2]:.3f} {sim_time.attrs['unit'].decode('utf8')}")

To read with the python module pandas (documentation: HDFStore: PyTables):

import pandas
with pandas.HDFStore("sample.h5", mode='r') as h5file:
    positions = h5file.root.particles.atoms.position.value
    forces = h5file.root.particles.atoms.force.value
    forces_unit = forces.attrs['unit']
    sim_time = h5file.root.particles.atoms.id.time
    print(f"last frame: {sim_time[-2]:.3f} {sim_time.attrs['unit'].decode('utf8')}")

To read from the command line with h5dump (Ubuntu package hdf5-tools):

# show metadata only
h5dump --header sample.h5 | less
# show metadata + data
h5dump sample.h5 | less

H5MD files can also be inspected with the GUI tool HDFView (Ubuntu package hdfview) or visually with the H5MD VMD plugin (GitHub project h5md/VMD-h5mdplugin).

For an example involving h5py, coordinates resorting and reconstruction of the unfolded coordinates, see /samples/h5md_trajectory.py.

16.4. Writing MPI-IO binary files

This method outputs binary data in parallel and is, thus, also suitable for large-scale simulations. Generally, H5MD is the preferred method because the data is easily accessible. In contrast to H5MD, the MPI-IO functionality outputs data in a machine-dependent format, but has write and read capabilities. The usage is quite simple:

import espressomd
import espressomd.io
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[1, 1, 1])
# ... add particles here
mpiio = espressomd.io.mpiio.Mpiio()
mpiio.write("/tmp/mydata", positions=True, velocities=True, types=True, bonds=True)

Here, /tmp/mydata is the prefix used to generate several files. The call will output particle positions, velocities, types and their bonds to the following files in folder /tmp:

  • mydata.head

  • mydata.id

  • mydata.pos

  • mydata.pref

  • mydata.type

  • mydata.vel

  • mydata.boff

  • mydata.bond

Depending on the chosen output, not all of these files might be created. To read these in again, simply call espressomd.io.mpiio.Mpiio.read(). It has the same signature as espressomd.io.mpiio.Mpiio.write(). When writing files, make sure the prefix hasn’t been used before (e.g. by a different simulation script), otherwise the write operation will fail to avoid accidentally overwriting pre-existing data. Likewise, reading incomplete data (or complete data but with the wrong number of MPI ranks) will throw an error.

WARNING: Do not attempt to read these binary files on a machine with a different architecture! This will read malformed data without necessarily throwing an error.

In case of read failure or write failure, the simulation will halt. On 1 MPI rank, the simulation will halt with a python runtime error. This exception can be recovered from; in case of a write operation, any written file must be deleted before attempting to write again (since the prefix argument must be unique). On more than 1 MPI rank, the simulation will halt with a call to MPI_Abort and will send the SIGABRT signal.

16.5. Writing VTF files

The formats VTF (VTF Trajectory Format), VSF (VTF Structure Format) and VCF (VTF Coordinate Format) are formats for the visualization software VMD: [Humphrey et al., 1996]. They are intended to be human-readable and easy to produce automatically and modify.

The format distinguishes between structure blocks that contain the topological information of the system (the system size, particle names, types, radii and bonding information, amongst others), while coordinate blocks (a.k.a. as timestep blocks) contain the coordinates for the particles at a single timestep. For a visualization with VMD, one structure block and at least one coordinate block is required.

Files in the VSF format contain a single structure block, files in the VCF format contain at least one coordinate block, while files in the VTF format contain a single structure block (usually as a header) and an arbitrary number of coordinate blocks (time frames) afterwards, thus allowing to store all information for a whole simulation in a single file. For more details on the format, refer to the VTF homepage (https://github.com/olenz/vtfplugin/wiki).

Creating files in these formats from within is supported by the commands espressomd.io.writer.vtf.writevsf() and espressomd.io.writer.vtf.writevcf(), that write a structure and coordinate block (respectively) to the given file. To create a standalone VTF file, first use writevsf at the beginning of the simulation to write the particle definitions as a header, and then writevcf to generate a timeframe of the simulation state. For example:

A standalone VTF file can simply be

import espressomd
import espressomd.io.writer.vtf
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[100.0, 100.0, 100.0])
fp = open('trajectory.vtf', mode='w+t')

# ... add particles here

# write structure block as header
espressomd.io.writer.vtf.writevsf(system, fp)
# write initial positions as coordinate block
espressomd.io.writer.vtf.writevcf(system, fp)

# integrate and write the frame
for n in num_steps:
    espressomd.io.writer.vtf.writevcf(system, fp)

The structure definitions in the VTF/VSF formats are incremental, the user can easily add further structure lines to the VTF/VSF file after a structure block has been written to specify further particle properties for visualization.

Note that the ids of the particles in ESPResSo and VMD may differ. VMD requires the particle ids to be enumerated continuously without any holes, while this is not required in ESPResSo. When using writevsf and writevcf, the particle ids are automatically translated into VMD particle ids. The function allows the user to get the VMD particle id for a given ESPResSo particle id.

One can specify the coordinates of which particles should be written using types. If types='all' is used, all coordinates will be written (in the ordered timestep format). Otherwise, has to be a list specifying the pids of the particles.

Also note, that these formats can not be used to write trajectories where the number of particles or their types varies between the timesteps. This is a restriction of VMD itself, not of the format.

16.5.1. writevsf: Writing the topology


Writes a structure block describing the system’s structure to the given channel, for example:

import espressomd
import espressomd.io.writer.vtf
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[100.0, 100.0, 100.0])
# ... add particles here
fp = open('trajectory.vsf', mode='w+t')
espressomd.io.writer.vtf.writevsf(system, fp, types='all')

The output of this command can be used for a standalone VSF file, or at the beginning of a VTF file that contains a trajectory of a whole simulation.

16.5.2. writevcf: Writing the coordinates


Writes a coordinate (or timestep) block that contains all coordinates of the system’s particles.

import espressomd
import espressomd.io.writer.vtf
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[100.0, 100.0, 100.0])
# ... add particles here
fp = open('trajectory.vcf', mode='w+t')
espressomd.io.writer.vtf.writevcf(system, fp, types='all')

16.5.3. vtf_pid_map: Going back and forth between ESPResSo and VTF indexing


Generates a dictionary which maps ESPResSo particle id to VTF indices. This is motivated by the fact that the list of ESPResSo particle id is allowed to contain holes but VMD requires increasing and continuous indexing. The ESPResSo id can be used as key to obtain the VTF index as the value, for example:

import espressomd
import espressomd.io.writer.vtf
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[100.0, 100.0, 100.0])
system.part.add(id=5, pos=[0, 0, 0])
system.part.add(id=3, pos=[0, 0, 0])
vtf_index = espressomd.io.writer.vtf.vtf_pid_map(system)

Note that the ESPResSo particles are ordered in increasing order, thus id=3 corresponds to the zeroth VTF index.

16.6. Writing various formats using MDAnalysis

If the MDAnalysis package (https://mdanalysis.org) is installed, it is possible to use it to convert frames to any of the supported configuration/trajectory formats, including PDB, GROMACS, GROMOS, CHARMM/NAMD, AMBER, LAMMPS, …

To use MDAnalysis to write in any of these formats, one has first to prepare a stream from the ESPResSo particle data using the class espressomd.MDA_ESP, and then read from it using MDAnalysis. A simple example is the following:

import espressomd
import MDAnalysis as mda
import espressomd.MDA_ESP
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[100.0, 100.0, 100.0])
# ... add particles here
eos = espressomd.MDA_ESP.Stream(system)  # create the stream
u = mda.Universe(eos.topology, eos.trajectory)  # create the MDA universe

# example: write a single frame to PDB

# example: save the trajectory to GROMACS format
from MDAnalysis.coordinates.TRR import TRRWriter
W = TRRWriter("traj.trr", n_atoms=len(system.part))  # open the trajectory file
for i in range(100):
    u.load_new(eos.trajectory)  # load the frame to the MDA universe
    W.write_next_timestep(u.trajectory.ts)  # append it to the trajectory

For other examples, see /samples/MDAnalysisIntegration.py

16.7. Reading various formats using MDAnalysis

MDAnalysis can read various formats, including MD topologies and trajectories. To read a PDB file containing a single frame:

import MDAnalysis
import numpy as np
import espressomd
import espressomd.interactions

# parse protein structure
universe = MDAnalysis.Universe("protein.pdb")
# extract only the C-alpha atoms of chain A
chainA = universe.select_atoms("name CA and segid A")
# use the unit cell as box
box_l = np.ceil(universe.dimensions[0:3])
# setup system
system = espressomd.System(box_l=box_l)
system.time_step = 0.001
system.cell_system.skin = 0.4
# configure sphere size sigma and create a harmonic bond
system.non_bonded_inter[0, 0].lennard_jones.set_params(
    epsilon=1, sigma=1.5, cutoff=2, shift="auto")
system.bonded_inter[0] = espressomd.interactions.HarmonicBond(k=0.5, r_0=1.5)
# create particles and add bonds between them
system.part.add(pos=np.array(chainA.positions, dtype=float))
for i in range(0, len(chainA) - 1):
    system.part.by_id(i).add_bond((system.bonded_inter[0], i + 1))
# visualize protein in 3D
import espressomd.visualization
visualizer = espressomd.visualization.openGLLive(system, bond_type_radius=[0.2])