Software development on clusters

Eclipse is an extensible IDE for program development. The basic IDE is written in Java for the development of Java programs, but can be extended through packages. The IDE was originally developed by IBM, but open-sourced and has become very popular. There are some interesting history tidbits on the WikiPedia entry for Eclipse.

Some attractive features

  • Multi-platform: Available for Windows, OS X and Linux, and works mostly the same on all these platforms.
  • Support for C/C++ (via de CDT plugin) and Fortran (via the Photran plugin) development. This goes far beyond syntax coloring and includes things like code refactoring, build process management, etc.
  • Support for the development of parallel applications on a cluster, including automatic synchronisation of the source files on your laptop with one or more cluster accounts. So you can easily do code development while off-line. Eclipse is heavily promoted (and actively developed) within the XSEDE collaboration of supercomputer centres in the USA.
    If you have suitable compilers and libraries on your local machine, you may even be able to do part of the testing and debugging on your local machine, avoiding delays caused by the job queueing system. Another advantage of running Eclipse locally rather than on the cluster is that the GUI has all of the responsiveness of a local program, not influenced by network delays.
  • It integrates with most popular version control system (offering a GUI to them also).


The documentation of the Parallel Tools Platform also tells you how to launch and debug programs on the cluster from the Eclipse IDE. However, this is for very specific cluster configurations and we cannot support this on our clusters at the moment. You can use features such as syncrhonised projects (where Eclipse puts a copy of the project files from your desktop on the cluster, and even synchronises back if you change them on the cluster) or opening a SSH shell from the IDE to directly enter commands on the cluster.

Release policy

The eclipse project works with a "synchronised release policy". Major new versions of the IDE and a wide range of packages (including the C/C++ development package (CDT), Parallel Tools Platform (PTP) and the Fortran development package (Photran) which is now integrated in the PTP) occur simultaneously in June of each year which guarantees that there are no compatibility problems between packages if you upgrade your whole installation at once. Bug fixes are of course released in between version updates. Each version has its own code name and the code name has become more popular than the actual version number (as version numbers for the packages differ). E.g., the whole June 2013 release (base IDE and packages) is known as the "Kepler" release (version number 4.3), the June 2014 release as the "Luna" release (version number 4.4), the June 2015 as the " Mars" release (version number 4.5) and the June 2016 release as "Neon".

Getting eclipse

The best place to get Eclipse is the the official Eclipse download page. That site contains various pre-packaged versions with a number of extension packages already installed. The most interesting one for C/C++ or Fortran development on clusters is "Eclipse for Parallel Application Developers". The installation instructions depend on the machine you're installing on, but typically it is not more than unpacking some archive in the right location. You'll need a sufficiently recent Java IDE on your machine though. Instructions are available on the Eclipse Wiki.

The CDT, Photran and PTP plugins integrate with compilers and libraries on your system. For Linux, it uses the gcc compiler on your system. On OS X it integrates with gcc and on Windows, you need to install Cygwin and its gcc toolchain (it may also work with the MinGW and Mingw-64 gcc versions but we haven't verified this).

The Eclipse documentation is also available on-line.

Basic concepts

  • A workspace is a place where eclipse stores a set of projects. It corresponds to a folder on file. The actual files of project can but do not need to be in that folder. However, all internal data that eclipse maintains will be. A user can have more than one workspace. Eclipse will ask at the start which workspace to use for the current session. Workspaces are not easily portable between computers. They are simply a way to organise your projects on your local computer.
  • Each workspace can contain one or more projects. Each project is a collection of resources, e.g., C files or Fortran files, and typically has a releasable component that can be build from those resources, e.g., an executable. It is a good idea to use workspaces to group a number of related projects. A project also corresponds to a folder in the file system. That folder does not have to be contained in the workspace folder. Projects can be transported easily from one workstation to another.
  • A perspective defines the (initial) layout of views and editors for a particular task. E.g., the C/C++ perspective shows an editor to edit C/C++-files and views to quickly navigate in the code, check definitions, etc. The Debug perspective is used to debug an application. The PTP also has a system monitoring perspective to monitor jobs.

Interesting bits in the documentation