Spack: software package manager

Starting August 2020, Palmetto utilizes Spack to manage the installation and configuration of its research software packages. As a package management tool developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), Spack helps managing the installation and configuration of many research software packages and their dependencies in a streamlined and transparent manner.

In the remainder of this documentation, we will show how Palmetto users can also use Spack to manage their own software libraries.

Setup Spack inside user directory

In order to install Spack, let's create a folder in our home directory called software, enter it, and install Spack from the GitHub repository:

$ cd
$ mkdir software
$ cd software
$ git clone
$ cd spack
$ git checkout v0.17.2

After installation, we will need to run the configuration script to set up the Spack environment:

$ source ~/software/spack/share/spack/

You will have to install Spack only once, but, every time you want to use Spack, you will need to run the configuration script after logging into Palmetto. To avoid doing this, you can run the script from .bashrc file which is executed when you log into Palmetto (or go on a compute node). In order to add the script to the .bashrc file, you can do this:

$ echo -e "\nsource ~/software/spack/share/spack/" >> ~/.bashrc
$ source ~/.bashrc

Copy the default configurations for Spack from Palmetto. You can customize these configurations as necessary.

$ cp -R /software/spack-src/spack-yaml.20210524/ ~/.spack

Modify the config.yaml file inside ~/.spack/linux/ with the following content:


  # This is the path to the root of the Spack install tree.
  install_tree: ~/software/spackages

  # Locations where templates should be found
    - ~/software/spack/share/spack/templates/

  # Default directory layout

  # Locations where different types of modules should be installed.
    tcl:    ~/software/ModuleFiles/modules
    lmod:   ~/software/ModuleFiles/lmod


What we are doing is replacing /software with ~/software. ~ refers to your home directory, so /software is the directory of all the software on Palmetto cluster (which you can't install into), and ~/software is the software installed into your home directory.

In the file above: - install_tree specifies where in your home directory you want to install your software. - template_dirs uses the same template to generate the modulefiles as Palmetto's. You can change to your own template if you'd like. - install_path_scheme provides the subdirectory structure within install_tree. - tcl and lmod are two different modulefiles specification. Palmetto currently uses tcl. The generated modulefiles will be placed into the corresponding location.

Installing a software package using Spack.

To view a list of all software supported by Spack, you can run the spack list command. At the moment (September 14, 2021), there are 4581 software packages supported by Spack (ls -l ~/software/spack/var/spack/repos/builtin/packages/ | wc -l).

To install software with Spack, you need to be on a compute node. So, let's get on one:

qsub -I -l select=1:ncpus=10:mem=20gb,walltime=10:00:00

If you haven't modified your .bashrc file, you will need to run the Spack configuration script:

$ source ~/software/spack/share/spack/

We should make sure that spack knows about the compilers available. Run the following and spack will automatically find available compilers.

$ spack compiler find

Now, we will start the installation of software. As an example, let's install R 3.3.0, which is not currently available on Palmetto (oldest version is 3.5.3). First, run the following command to view information about R on Spack

$ spack info r

  • Safe versions list all versions that the Spack team inspected and considered safe/stable to use. You can see that 3.3.0 is listed among them.
  • Variants list different configuration options that are possible. As we will use R on Palmetto, X11 might not be neccessary, but we will want external-lapack and memory_profiling.
  • The value inside the backet, [on] or [off], tell you the default setting of these variants. To turn on a variant that is defaulted to [off], use +VARIANT_NAME. To turn off a variant that is defaulted to [on], use ~VARIANT_NAME.

Before running the installation, we want to run a specification check. This is done by running

$ spack spec -I -l r@3.3.0 arch=x86_64 +external-lapack +memory_profiling
  • The -I flag provides information about dependencies. In the display, a gray - sign in the first column indicates that the dependency is not available and needs to be installed.
  • The -l flag provides the unique hash string that identifies each software package installed and managed by Spack.
  • If there is any problem with the installation specification (version conflicts, etc), the spec call will catch the majority of them here.

If there is no error reported during spack spec, we can start the installation process:

$ spack install r@3.3.0 arch=x86_64 +external-lapack +memory_profiling

It is important to specify the architecture as arch=x86_64 if you want your software to run on any Palmetto compute node. We strongly recommend specifying x86_64, unless you are an expert and want to install software which will run on some Palmetto nodes but not others.

Installing R might take a while (half an hour or so). If the installation went fine, you should see the module r appearing in the ~/software/ModuleFiles/modules/linux-centos8-x86_64/ folder. Try running module avail to see if r appears in the list of modules:

If it does not appear, try adding the path to user-installed modules to $MODULEPATH:

$ export MODULEPATH=$MODULEPATH:~/software/ModuleFiles/modules/linux-centos8-x86_64/

If you still don't see r appearing in the output of module avail, open the file ~/.spack/linux/modules.yaml and make sure the package name (in our case, r) appears in the whitelist.

Using module allows you to manage the primary installed software, R 3.3.0. However, Spack also installed a number of dependencies for you. To view all dependencies, run:

$ spack find

These dependencies will be reused by Spack when you install other software packages that require the same dependencies. For example, if you run spack spec -Il r@4.0.0 arch=x86_64, you will see that many of the dependency lines have the green [+] sign, indicating that that dependency is already installed.

Further information about installing packages using Spack can be found on Spack's documentation page

Uninstalling Spack

If you feel that your Spack installation, or Spack configuration, went wrong, you can uninstall Spack from your home directory:

rm -rf .spack
rm -rf software/spack

Then, you can re-install Spack from scratch.