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Non-blocking communication

So far, we have been looking at communication routines that are blocking, i.e. the program is stuck waiting as long as communication is taking place.

Blocking routines will exit only once it is safe to access the data involved in the communication. Even though some MPI implementations may e.g. cache the data to be sent and release the call before the receive happens, it is not guaranteed and certainly not something to rely on.

Besides blocking communication, MPI supports also non-blocking communication. In non-blocking communication, the communication will happen in the background while the process is free to do something else in the mean time. Usually this means doing some local calculations while waiting for some synchronisation with neighbouring processes to be finished.

The key differences are:

  • methods are called isend, irecv, Isend, etc.
  • call will return immediately (communication happens in the background)
  • return value is a Request object

Using non-blocking communication allows concurrent computation and communication and avoids many common deadlock situations. Non-blocking communication is usually the smart way to do point-to-point communication in MPI.

Finalise communication

All non-blocking communication needs to be finalised at some point. One can either wait for the communication to be finished or test the current status.

If you want to wait for the communication started with isend or irecv (or Isend etc.) to finish, you can simply use wait(). It is a blocking call that will wait until the communication referred to by the Request object is finished.

To test whether a non-blocking communication is finished or not, you can use test(). It is a non-blocking call that will return True if the communication is finished and False if not. The status (True/False) is contained in a tuple where the second element is the return value from the MPI call. For example, for a finished irecv() this would be the received data, whereas for Irecv()it would be None.

You can mix non-blocking and blocking point-to-point routines. So, for example it is perfectly fine to receive a message sent with isend() using recv().

Example: non-blocking send/receive

rank = comm.Get_rank()
size = comm.Get_size()

if rank == 0:
    data = arange(size, dtype=float) * (rank + 1)
    req = comm.Isend(data, dest=1)    # start a send
    calculate_something(rank)         # .. do something else ..
    req.wait()                        # wait for send to finish
    # safe to read/write data again

elif rank == 1:
    data = empty(size, float)
    req = comm.Irecv(data, source=0)  # post a receive
    calculate_something(rank)         # .. do something else ..
    req.wait()                        # wait for receive to finish
    # data is now ready for use

Multiple non-blocking operations

Functions waitall() and waitany() may come handy when dealing with multiple non-blocking operations (available in the MPI.Request class). As the names imply, waitall will wait for all initiated requests to complete and waitany will wait for one of the initiated requests to complete.

For example, assuming requests is a list of request objects, one can wait for all of them to be finished with:


Similar functions are also available for testing multiple requests.

Example: non-blocking message chain

from mpi4py import MPI
import numpy

rank = comm.Get_rank()
size = comm.Get_size()

data = numpy.arange(10, dtype=float) * (rank + 1)  # send buffer
buffer = numpy.zeros(10, dtype=float)              # receive buffer

tgt = rank + 1
src = rank - 1
if rank == 0:
    src = MPI.PROC_NULL
if rank == size - 1:
    tgt = MPI.PROC_NULL

req = []
req.append(comm.Isend(data, dest=tgt))
req.append(comm.Irecv(buffer, source=src))


Overlapping computation and communication

request_in = comm.Irecv(ghost_data)
request_out = comm.Isend(border_data)

Do you have a problem where communication and computation could in principle overlap? Please comment!

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This article is from the free online course:

Python in High Performance Computing

Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE)