Error Handling

Up: MPI Terms and Conventions Next: Implementation issues Previous: Processes

MPI provides the user with reliable message transmission. A message sent is always received correctly, and the user does not need to check for transmission errors, time-outs, or other error conditions. In other words, MPI does not provide mechanisms for dealing with failures in the communication system. If the MPI implementation is built on an unreliable underlying mechanism, then it is the job of the implementor of the MPI subsystem to insulate the user from this unreliability, or to reflect unrecoverable errors as failures. Whenever possible, such failures will be reflected as errors in the relevant communication call. Similarly, MPI itself provides no mechanisms for handling processor failures. The error handling facilities described in section Error handling can be used to restrict the scope of an unrecoverable error, or design error recovery at the application level.

Of course, MPI programs may still be erroneous. A program error can occur when an MPI call is called with an incorrect argument (non-existing destination in a send operation, buffer too small in a receive operation, etc.) This type of error would occur in any implementation. In addition, a resource error may occur when a program exceeds the amount of available system resources (number of pending messages, system buffers, etc.). The occurrence of this type of error depends on the amount of available resources in the system and the resource allocation mechanism used; this may differ from system to system. A high-quality implementation will provide generous limits on the important resources so as to alleviate the portability problem this represents.

Almost all MPI calls return a code that indicates successful completion of the operation. Whenever possible, MPI calls return an error code, if an error occurred during the call. By default, an error detected during the execution of the MPI library causes the parallel computation to abort. However, MPI provides mechanisms for users to change this default and to handle recoverable errors. The user may specify that no error is fatal, and handle error codes returned by MPI calls by himself or herself. Also, the user may provide his or her own error-handling routines, which will be invoked whenever an MPI call returns abnormally. The MPI error handling facilities are described in section Error handling .

Several factors limit the ability of MPI calls to return with meaningful error codes when an error occurs. MPI may not be able to detect some errors; other errors may be too expensive to detect in normal execution mode; finally some errors may be ``catastrophic'' and may prevent MPI from returning control to the caller in a consistent state.

Another subtle issue arises because of the nature of asynchronous communications: MPI calls may initiate operations that continue asynchronously after the call returned. Thus, the operation may return with a code indicating successful completion, yet later cause an error exception to be raised. If there is a subsequent call that relates to the same operation (e.g., a call that verifies that an asynchronous operation has completed) then the error argument associated with this call will be used to indicate the nature of the error. In a few cases, the error may occur after all calls that relate to the operation have completed, so that no error value can be used to indicate the nature of the error (e.g., an error in a send with the ready mode). Such an error must be treated as fatal, since information cannot be returned for the user to recover from it.

This document does not specify the state of a computation after an erroneous MPI call has occurred. The desired behavior is that a relevant error code be returned, and the effect of the error be localized to the greatest possible extent. E.g., it is highly desireable that an erroneous receive call will not cause any part of the receiver's memory to be overwritten, beyond the area specified for receiving the message.

Implementations may go beyond this document in supporting in a meaningful manner MPI calls that are defined here to be erroneous. For example, MPI specifies strict type matching rules between matching send and receive operations: it is erroneous to send a floating point variable and receive an integer. Implementations may go beyond these type matching rules, and provide automatic type conversion in such situations. It will be helpful to generate warnings for such nonconforming behavior.

Up: MPI Terms and Conventions Next: Implementation issues Previous: Processes

Return to MPI Standard Index
Return to MPI home page