Biswajit Banerjee

Parallel domain decomposition for particle methods: Part 1

The scatter operation


For parallel particle codes that have to be written quickly (while retaining flexibility), the task-based parallelism approach doesn’t always work well. The usual approach that is taken in those situations is some sort of domain decomposition and a lot of associated fine-grained code for communication between processes. One tries to strike the appropriate balance between communication and computation while making sure that the computation is load-balanced. As a rule of thumb, less communication is better.

One approach (among many) in particle-based codes that are being parallelized starting from a serial version is:

  • The creation of the particles on the root/master processor.
  • Scattering the particles to various processes.
  • Communicating ghost regions at processor boundaries.
  • Migrating particles that have crossed processor boundaries to the appropriate process.

In the interest of simplicity, we ignore the communication of interparticle forces.

Creating and scattering particles

Particles are created on the master process (P0) and then transferred to other parallel processes during the “scatter” operation. In the animation below, we assume that there are nine processes - P0 through P8. The domain is decomposed into nine squares and the contents of each square are sent to the appropriate process.

MPI implementation

A possible MPI implementation of the scattering process is described below. For convenience we use the boost::mpi wrappers around MPI calls is most cases. However, some MPI calls do not have associated Boost calls and we have to use the MPI calls directly.

MPI setup

The first step is to set up the MPI communicator and determine the rank (and MPI coordinates in a virtual Cartesian topology) of the current process:

#include <boost/mpi.hpp>

void mpiSetup()
  // The Boost MPI communicator
  boost::mpi::communicator boostWorld;
  // The standard MPI communicator
  MPI_Comm mpiWorld = MPI_Comm(boostWorld);
  // Create a 3D Cartesian virtual process topology (3 x 3 x 1)
  int dimensions = 3;
  IntVec mpiProcs = {3, 3, 1};
  IntVec periods = {0, 0, 0};
  int reordering = 0;
  MPI_Comm cartesianComm;
  MPI_Cart_create(mpiWorld, dimensions,,, reordering, &cartesianComm);
  // Find the process rank
  int mpiRank;
  MPI_Comm_rank(cartesianComm, &mpiRank);
  // Find the number of processes associated with the communicator
  int mpiSize;
  MPI_Comm_size(cartesianComm, &mpiSize);
  // Find the MPI coordinates of the process
  IntVec mpiCoords;
  MPI_Cart_coords(cartesianComm, mpiRank, dimensions,;
  // Save the communicator, rank, coordinates, size etc.

In the above, the IntVec class is an std::array<int, 3>.

The scatter operation

In the scatter operation, the particles are assigned to each patch and then sent to the appropriate patches using the asynchronous isend operation:

 * boostComm     : The boost MPI communicator
 * cartesianComm : The MPI Cartesian communicator
 * dimensions    : The number of dimensions in the virtual topology
 * mpiRank       : Rank of the current process
 * mpiSize       : Number of MPI processes
 * mpiProcs      : Vector containing the number of processes in each dimension
 * domainMin/Max : Minimum/maximum corners of box representing physical domain
 * particles     : Vector of shared pointers to particles
void scatterParticles(boost::mpi::communicator& boostComm,
                      MPI_Comm& cartesianComm,
                      int dimensions, int mpiRank, int mpiSize,
                      const IntVec& mpiProcs,
                      const Vec& domainMin, const Vec& domainMax,
                      ParticlePArray& particles)
  // Find the physical dimensions of each patch
  Vec patchWidth = (domainMax - domainMin)/mpiProcs;

  // For the root process
  if (mpiRank == 0) {
    // Create a set of send requests
    boost::mpi::request requests[mpiSize-1];
    // Loop through the number of processors in reverse order
    // so that the root processor rank is accessed last
    ParticlePArray insideParticles;
    for (int rank = mpiSize - 1; rank >= 0; --rank) {
      // Find the MPI coordinates of the processor
      IntVec mpiCoords;
      MPI_Cart_coords(cartesianComm, rank, dimensions,;
      // Convert these MPI coordinates into physical patch coordinates
      Vec patchLower = domainMin + patchWidth*mpiCoords; 
      Vec patchUpper = patchLower + patchWidth; 
      // Find which particles are contained in the current patch
      findParticles(patchLower, patchUpper, particles, insideParticles);
      if (rank > 0) {
        // Send the particles inside the patch to the appropriate process
        // (asynchronous)
        requests[rank-1] = boostComm.isend(rank, 0, insideParticles);
      } else {
        // All that remains in the root patch are particles that have
        // not been sent to other processors. We just copy the insideParticles
        // to particles
    // Now wait until all the asynchronous data transfer is complete
    boost::mpi::wait_all(requests, requests + mpiSize - 1);
  } else {
    // Receive data from the root patch
    boostComm.recv(0, 0, particles);

Here ParticlePArray is a std::vector<ParticleP> and ParticleP is a std::shared_ptr<Particle>. The Particle class contains particle data. For simplicity, we do not consider the performance implications of an array of structures (as used in this implementation) versus a structure of arrays (which is more efficient).


In the next part of this series, we will discuss two approaches for inter-patch communication for particle-based simulations.

If you have questions/comments/corrections, please contact banerjee at parresianz dot com dot zen (without the dot zen).