parallelly, future – Cleaning Up Around the House

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parallelly adverb
par·​al·​lel·​ly | \ ˈpa-rə-le(l)li \
Definition: in a parallel manner
future noun
fu·​ture | \ ˈfyü-chər \
Definition: existing or occurring at a later time

I’ve cleaned up around the house – with the recent release of future 1.20.1, the package gained a dependency on the new parallelly package. Now, if you’re like me and concerned about bloating package dependencies, I’m sure you immediately wondered why I chose to introduce a new dependency. I’ll try to explain this below, but let me be start by clarifying a few things:

  • The functions in the parallelly package used to be part of the future package

  • The functions have been removed from the future making that package smaller while its total installation “weight” remains about the same when adding the parallelly

  • The future package re-exports these functions, i.e. for the time being, everything works as before

Specifically, I’ve moved the following functions from the future package to the parallelly package:

  • as.cluster() – Coerce an object to a ‘cluster’ object
  • c(...) – Combine multiple ‘cluster’ objects into a single, large cluster
  • autoStopCluster() – Automatically stop a ‘cluster’ when garbage collected
  • availableCores() – Get number of available cores on the current machine; a better, safer alternative to parallel::detectCores()
  • availableWorkers() – Get set of available workers
  • makeClusterPSOCK() – Create a PSOCK cluster of R workers for parallel processing; a more powerful alternative to parallel::makePSOCKcluster()
  • makeClusterMPI() – Create a message passing interface (MPI) cluster of R workers for parallel processing; a tweaked version of parallel::makeMPIcluster()
  • supportsMulticore() – Check if forked processing (“multicore”) is supported

Because these are re-exported as-is, you can still use them as if they were part of the future package. For example, you may now use availableCores() as

ncores <- parallelly::availableCores()

or keep using it as

ncores <- future::availableCores()

One reason for moving these functions to a separate package is to make them readily available also outside of the future framework. For instance, using parallelly::availableCores() for decided on the number of parallel workers is a much better and safer alternative than using parallel::detectCores() - see help("availableCores", package = "parallelly") for why. Making these functions available in a lightweight package will attract additional users and developers that are not using futures. More users means more real-world validation, more vetting, and more feedback, which will improve these functions further and indirectly also the future framework.

Another reason is that several of the functions in parallelly are bug fixes and improvements to functions in the parallel package. By extracting these functions from the future package and putting them in a standalone package, it should be more clear what these improvements are. At the same time, it should lower the threshold of getting these improvements into the parallel package, where I hope they will end up one day. The parallelly package comes with an open invitation to the R Core to incorporate parallelly’s implementation or ideas into parallel.

For users of the future framework, maybe the most important reason for this migration is speedier implementation of improvements and feature requests for the future package and the future ecosystem. Over the years, many discussions around enhancing future came down to enhancing the functions that are now part of the parallelly package, especially for adding new features to makeClusterPSOCK(), which is the internal work horse for setting up ‘multisession’ parallel workers but also used explicitly by many when setting up other types of ‘cluster’ workers. The roles and responsibility of the parallelly and future packages are well separated, which should make it straightforward to further improve on these functions. For example, if we want to introduce a new argument to makeClusterPSOCK(), or change one of its defaults (e.g. use the faster useXDR = FALSE), we can now discuss and test them quicker and often without having to bring in futures into the discussion. Don’t worry - parallelly will undergo the same, strict validation process as the future package does to avoid introducing breaking changes to the future framework. For example, reverse-dependency checks will be run on first (e.g. future), and second (e.g. future.apply, furrr, doFuture, drake, mlr3, plumber, promises,and Seurat) generation dependencies.

Happy parallelly futuring!

* I’ll try to make another post in a couple of days covering the new features that comes with future 1.20.1. Stay tuned.

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