for Researchers & Teams

How do I run an interactive job on the cluster?

SESYNC’s Slurm compute cluster allows users to run big memory- and processor-intensive jobs. Many users don’t know that you can access the memory and processing power of the cluster interactively, typing commands directly into the command line or into an R or Python session. This FAQ briefly describes how to start an interactive job on the Slurm cluster.

Starting an interactive job

First, you need to open a terminal window and connect to the SSH server. On Windows machines, if you want to use applications with a graphical interface (such as displaying R plots in real time), you will need to use a third-party client such as PuTTY or MobaXTerm. See this FAQ on accessing Linux resources for help on getting the client set up.

Log into the server by typing

ssh (your username goes here)

into the terminal prompt, and then entering your password when prompted.

Next, start an interactive job. This is done with the shell command salloc, which requests an allocation of one or more cluster nodes. A typical interactive job request could be as simple as:

salloc -n 1

where -n 1 means you are requesting one node. You can add other options such as --partition=sesyncshared or request specific amounts of memory or time. See the Slurm documentation page for salloc or the SESYNC cluster Quickstart page for more information — the available options for salloc are mostly the same as for sbatch.

If the node(s) you requested are available you will get a message like

salloc: Granted job allocation 363010

and you will get another terminal prompt. Your interactive job is now running!

Running R from an interactive job

Now that your interactive job has started, you can do things like start an R session from the command line. This is as easy as typing R but it is often preferable to type

R --no-save --no-restore

That will ensure that your R workspace will not automatically save to your working directory and clutter things up in case your job terminates abruptly.

You can now run R code from the command line, including code that runs in parallel if you want. If you run code to draw and view a plot, the display will be forwarded from the remote machine to a window on your local machine. (This can be sluggish sometimes so it is often better to write the plot to a file and view it later.)

Quitting an interactive job

Once you are done with your job, quit R using q() (or quit whatever other application you are running). Then type


into the command prompt. You will see a message like

salloc: Relinquishing job allocation 363010

to indicate that the nodes you ran your job on are now freed up for other users.