Overview and Goals

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Message passing is a paradigm used widely on certain classes of parallel machines, especially those with distributed memory. Although there are many variations, the basic concept of processes communicating through messages is well understood. Over the last ten years, substantial progress has been made in casting significant applications in this paradigm. Each vendor has implemented its own variant. More recently, several systems have demonstrated that a message passing system can be efficiently and portably implemented. It is thus an appropriate time to try to define both the syntax and semantics of a core of library routines that will be useful to a wide range of users and efficiently implementable on a wide range of computers.

In designing MPI we have sought to make use of the most attractive features of a number of existing message passing systems, rather than selecting one of them and adopting it as the standard. Thus, MPI has been strongly influenced by work at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center [(ref IBM-report1),(ref IBM-report2)], Intel's NX/2 [(ref NX-2)], Express [(ref express)], nCUBE's Vertex [(ref Vertex)], p4 [(ref p4paper),(ref p4manual)], and PARMACS [(ref parmacs1),(ref parmacs2)]. Other important contributions have come from Zipcode [(ref zipcode1),(ref zipcode2)], Chimp [(ref chimp1),(ref chimp2)], PVM [(ref PVM2),(ref PVM1)], Chameleon [(ref chameleon-user-ref)], and PICL [(ref picl)].

The MPI standardization effort involved about 60 people from 40 organizations mainly from the United States and Europe. Most of the major vendors of concurrent computers were involved in MPI, along with researchers from universities, government laboratories, and industry. The standardization process began with the Workshop on Standards for Message Passing in a Distributed Memory Environment, sponsored by the Center for Research on Parallel Computing, held April 29-30, 1992, in Williamsburg, Virginia [(ref walker92b)]. At this workshop the basic features essential to a standard message passing interface were discussed, and a working group established to continue the standardization process.

A preliminary draft proposal, known as MPI1, was put forward by Dongarra, Hempel, Hey, and Walker in November 1992, and a revised version was completed in February 1993 [(ref mpi1)]. MPI1 embodied the main features that were identified at the Williamsburg workshop as being necessary in a message passing standard. Since MPI1 was primarily intended to promote discussion and ``get the ball rolling,'' it focused mainly on point-to-point communications. MPI1 brought to the forefront a number of important standardization issues, but did not include any collective communication routines and was not thread-safe.

In November 1992, a meeting of the MPI working group was held in Minneapolis, at which it was decided to place the standardization process on a more formal footing, and to generally adopt the procedures and organization of the High Performance Fortran Forum. Subcommittees were formed for the major component areas of the standard, and an email discussion service established for each. In addition, the goal of producing a draft MPI standard by the Fall of 1993 was set. To achieve this goal the MPI working group met every 6 weeks for two days throughout the first 9 months of 1993, and presented the draft MPI standard at the Supercomputing 93 conference in November 1993. These meetings and the email discussion together constituted the MPI Forum, membership of which has been open to all members of the high performance computing community.

The main advantages of establishing a message-passing standard are portability and ease-of-use. In a distributed memory communication environment in which the higher level routines and/or abstractions are build upon lower level message passing routines the benefits of standardization are particularly apparent. Furthermore, the definition of a message passing standard, such as that proposed here, provides vendors with a clearly defined base set of routines that they can implement efficiently, or in some cases provide hardware support for, thereby enhancing scalability.

The goal of the Message Passing Interface simply stated is to develop a widely used standard for writing message-passing programs. As such the interface should establish a practical, portable, efficient, and flexible standard for message passing.

A complete list of goals follows.

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