Singularity is arguably the leading provider of software containers for HPC applications. It was originally developed at Lawrence Berkeley Labs but then branched off into its own enterprise that is now called SyLabs. It is designed to be used for scientific applications on HPC systems, and to support general scientific use cases. Singularity encapsulates your software environment in a single disk image file that can be copied to and invoked on any system on which Singularity itself is installed. The JEDI environment is contained in one such image file (see below).

For these reasons, Singularity is the recommended container platform for JEDI users and developers on HPC.

However, Singularity requires root privileges to install. This may not be a problem on your laptop or PC, but it can be an issue on HPC systems where such installations can only be done by the system administrator. So, if you are on an HPC or other system where you do not have root access, we recommend that you first check to see if Singularity is already installed. It may be. If not, the next step would be to ask your system administrators to install it.

Installing Singularity

If you are using a Vagrant virtual machine that you created with the JEDI Vagrantfile as described on our Vagrant page, then you can skip this step: Singularity 3.0 is already installed. Or, if you’re running JEDI somewhere other than your personal computer, Singularity may already be installed.

You can check to see if Singularity is already installed (and if it is, which version is installed) by typing

singularity --version

To use the JEDI container, you’ll need Singularity version 3.0 or later. If an up-to-date version of Singularity is already installed on your system, you can skip ahead to Using the JEDI Singularity Container.

If an up-to-date version is not available, then you can ask your system administrator to install or update it. Alternatively, if you have root privileges, then you can install it yourself as described in the remainder of this section.

As noted above, Singularity is not a virtual machine so it does not build its own operating system. Instead, it must work with the host operating system. Singularity relies on Linux mount namespaces in order to set up application environments that are isolated from the host. Neither macOS nor Windows currently supports mount namespaces.

So, if you are running macOS or Windows, then you must first set up a Linux environment. This requires a proper virtual machine (VM). The recommended VM provider is Vagrant by HashiCorp, which can build and configure an appropriate Linux operating system using Oracle’s VirtualBox software package.

In short, Vagrant and VirtualBox provide the linux operating system while Singularity provides the necessary software infrastructure for running JEDI (compilers, cmake, ecbuild, etc) by means of the JEDI singularity image.

Singularity offers comprehensive installation instructions and we refer the reader there for the most up-to-date information and troubleshooting. To access these instructions, first navigate to the Singularity documentation site. From there, choose the version of Singularity you wish to install and select the corresponding HTML link. We recommend version 3.0 or later. Then navigate to Quick Start - Quick Installation Steps.

Briefly, the installation process consists of first installing required system dependencies such as libssl-dev, uuid-dev, and squashfs-tools. Then the next step is to install and configure the Go programming language, which Singularity 3.0 requires. After following the steps as described on the Singularity documenation, you can enter go help to see if your installation worked. After you’ve set up the proper dependencies, you can then download a tar file containing the Singularity source code, configure it, compile it, and install it. As described above, this requires root privileges.

Using the JEDI Singularity Container

Once singularity is installed on your system, the rest is easy. The next step is to download one of the JEDI Singularity images from the Sylabs Cloud. You can do this with the following command:

singularity pull library://jcsda/public/jedi-<name>
962.73 MiB / 962.73 MiB [========================================================================================================] 100.00% 11.26 MiB/s 1m25s


If you’re using version 3.3 or earlier of Singularity, you may get a warning during the pull that the Container might not be trusted.... You can either ignore this warning or suppress it (in future pulls) with the -U option to singularity pull. In either case, you can always verify the signature by running singularity verify as described below.


You can optionally add :latest to the name of the container in the above singularity pull command. This is the tag. If omitted, the default tag is latest.

Here <name> is the name of the container you wish to download. Available names include gnu-openmpi-dev and clang-mpich-dev. Both of these are development containers, as signified by the -dev extension. This means that they have the compilers and JEDI dependencies included, but they do not have the JEDI code itself, which developers are expected to download and build. By contrast, application containers (not yet available) are designated by -app. For further information see the JEDI portability document. The first component of the name reflects the compiler used to build the dependencies, in this case gnu or clang (note: the clang containers currently use gnu gfortran as the Fortran compiler). The second component of the name reflects the MPI library used, in this case openmpi or mpich. For a list of available containers, see

The pull command above will download a singularity image file onto your computer. The name of this file will generally be jedi-<name>_latest.sif, though it may be somewhat different for earlier versions of Singularity. The .sif extension indicates that it is a Singularity image file (in earlier versions of Singularity the extension was .simg). In what follows, we will represent this name as <image-file> - you should replace this with the name of the file retrieved by the pull command.

Strictly speaking, you only have to execute the pull command once but in practice you will likely want to update your JEDI image occasionally as the software environment continues to evolve. The pull statement above should grab the most recent development version of the JEDI image file (it may take a few minutes to execute). Singularity also offers a signature service so you can verify that the container came from JCSDA:

singularity verify <image-file>   # (optional)

You may see a name you recognize - this will generally be signed by a member of the JEDI core team.

Though you can execute individual commands or scripts within the singularity container defined by your image file (see the exec and run commands in the Singularity documentation), for many JEDI applications you may wish to invoke a singularity shell, as follows:

singularity shell -e <image-file>

Now you are inside the Singularity Container and you have access to all the software infrastructure needed to build, compile, and run JEDI. The -e option helps prevent conflicts between the host environment and the container environment (e.g. conflicting library paths) by cleaning the environment before running the container. Note that this does not mean that the container is isolated from the host environment; you should still be able to access files and directories on your host computer (or on your virtual machine if you are using Vagrant) from within the Singularity container.

Before starting the build of JEDI in the container you need to load the Spack modules:

export jedi_cmake_ROOT=/opt/view
source /opt/spack-environment/

Working with Singularity

If you installed singularity from within a Vagrant virtual machine (Mac or Windows),then you probably set up a a /home/vagrant/vagrant_data directory (you may have given it a different name and/or path) that is shared between the host machine and the virtual machine. Since this is mounted in your home directory, you should be able to access it from within the container. However, sometimes you may wish to mount another directory in the container that is not accessible from Singularity by default. For example, let’s say that you are working on an HPC system and you have a designated workspace in a directory called $SCRATCH. We have included a mount point in the JEDI singularity container called /worktmp that will allow you to access such a directory. For this example, you would mount your work directory as follows:

singularity shell --bind $SCRATCH:/worktmp -e <image-file>

After you enter the container you can cd to /worktmp to access your workspace.

There is another “feature” of Singularity that is worth mentioning. Though Singularity starts a bash shell when entering the container, You may notice that it does not call the typical bash startup scripts like .bashrc, .bash_profile or .bash_aliases. Furthermore, this behavior persists even if you do not use the -e option to singulary shell. This is intentional. The creators of Singularity deliberately arranged it so that the singularity container does not call these startup scripts in order to avoid conflicts between the host environment and the container environment. It is possible to circumvent this behavior using the --shell option as follows:

singularity shell --shell /bin/bash -e <image-file>

However, if you do this, you may begin to appreciate why it is not recommended. In particular, you’ll notice that your command line prompt has not changed. So, it is not easy to tell whether you are working in the container or not. Needless to say, this can get very confusing if you have multiple windows open!

It is safer (and only minimally inconvenient) to put your aliases and environment variables in a shell script and then just get in the habit of sourcing that script after you enter the container, for example:


where contains, for example:

alias Rm='rm -rf '
export DISPLAY=localhost:0.0

The last line of this example script is particularly noteworthy. Setting the DISPLAY environment variable as shown should enable X forwarding from the Singularity container to your computer if you are using Linux/Unix. This in turn will allow you to use graphical tools such as emacs.

If you are invoking the singularity shell from a vagrant virtual machine, then X Forwarding is a bit more complicated; See here for how to setup X Forwarding on a Mac.

For a full list of options, type singularity shell --help from outside the container.

On a related note, you may have to run this in order for the JEDI code to build properly:

git lfs install --skip-repo

This only needs to be done once, and it can be done from either inside or outside the container. This is because Singularity does not change your user name, your user privileges, or your home directory - you’re the same user inside and outside the container. The git lfs install --skip-repo command sets up global filters needed by git-lfs, by adding to your user-level git configuration in ~/.gitconfig.

To exit the Singularity container at any time, simply type


If you are using a Mac, you may wish to type exit a second time to exit Vagrant and then shut down the virtual machine with vagrant halt (See Working with Vagrant and Singularity).