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MPI communication

Since MPI processes are independent, in order to coordinate work, they need to communicate by explicitly sending and receiving messages. There are two types of communication in MPI: point-to-point communication and collective communication.

In point-to-point communication messages are sent between two processes, whereas a collective communication involves a number of processes at the same time. Collective communication will be discussed in more detail later, but let us focus now on sending and receiving data between two processes.

Point-to-point communication

In a nutshell, in point-to-point communication one process sends a message (some data) to another process that receives it. The important thing to remember is that the sends and receives in a program have to match: one receive per one send.

In addition to matching each send call with a corresponding receive call, one needs to pay particular attention to match also the destination and source ranks for the communication. A message is always sent to given process (destination rank) and, similarly, received from a given process (source rank). One can think of the destination and source ranks as the addresses for the messages, i.e. “please send the message to this address” and “is there a message coming from this address?”.

Example: Sending and receiving a dictionary

from mpi4py import MPI

rank = comm.Get_rank()

if rank == 0:
    data = {'a': 7, 'b': 3.14}
    comm.send(data, dest=1)
elif rank == 1:
    data = comm.recv(source=0)

Sending and receiving data

Python objects can be communicated with the send() and recv() methods of a communicator. It works for any Python object that can be serialised into a byte stream, i.e. any object that can be pickled. This includes all standard Python objects and most derived ones as well. The basic interfaces (check mpi4py documentation for optional arguments) of the methods are:

.send(data, dest)

  • data: Python object to send
  • dest: destination rank


  • source: source rank
    • note: data is provided as return value

The normal send and receive routines are blocking, i.e. the functions exit only once it is safe to use the data (memory) involved in the communication. This means that the completion depends on the other process and that there is a risk of a deadlock. For example, if both processes call recv() first there is no-one left to call a corresponding send() and the program is stuck forever.

Typical point-to-point communication patterns are shown below. Incorrect ordering of sends and receives may result in a deadlock.

Communication patterns

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This article is from the free online course:

Python in High Performance Computing

Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE)