Running Jobs on Remote Resources with Pulsar


question Questions
  • How does pulsar work?

  • How can I deploy it?

objectives Objectives
  • Have an understanding of what Pulsar is and how it works

  • Install and configure a Pulsar server on a remote linux machine

  • Be able to get Galaxy to send jobs to a remote Pulsar server

requirements Requirements

time Time estimation: 60 minutes

Supporting Materials

last_modification Last modification: Dec 1, 2020


Pulsar is the Galaxy Project’s remote job running system. It was written by John Chilton (@jmchilton) of the Galaxy Project. It is a python server application that can accept jobs from a Galaxy server, submit them to a local resource and then send the results back to the originating Galaxy server.

More details on Pulsar can be found at:

Transport of data, tool information and other metadata can be configured as a web application via a RESTful interface or using a message passing system such as RabbitMQ.

At the Galaxy end, it is configured within the job_conf.xml file and uses one of two special Galaxy job runners.

  • for the RESTful interface
  • for the message passing interface.

In this tutorial, we will:

  • Install and configure a Pulsar server on a remote linux machine using ansible
    • We will configure the Pulsar server to run via the RESTful interface
  • Configure our Galaxy servers to run a job there
  • Run a job remotely


  1. Installing the Pulsar Role
  2. Configuring Pulsar
  3. Configuring Galaxy
  4. Testing Pulsar
  5. Pulsar in Production

This tutorial assumes that you have:

  • A VM or machine where you will install Pulsar, and a directory in which the installation will be done. This tutorial assumes it is /mnt
  • That you have completed the “Galaxy Installation with Ansible” and CVMFS tutorials (Job configuration tutorial is optional.)

Installing the Pulsar Role

We need to create a new ansible playbook to install Pulsar. We will be using a role developed by the Galaxy community - galaxyproject.pulsar

hands_on Hands-on: Install the galaxyproject.pulsar ansible role

  1. From your ansible working directory, edit the requirements.yml file and add the following line:

    - src: galaxyproject.pulsar
      version: 1.0.2
  2. Now install it with:

    ansible-galaxy install -p roles -r requirements.yml

Configuring Pulsar

From the galaxyproject.pulsar ansible role documentation, we need to specify some variables.

There is one required variable:

pulsar_server_dir - The location in which to install pulsar

Then there are a lot of optional variables. They are listed here for information. We will set some for this tutorial but not all.

Variable Name Description Default
pulsar_yaml_config a YAML dictionary whose contents will be used to create Pulsar’s app.yml  
pulsar_venv_dir The role will create a virtualenv from which Pulsar will run <pulsar_server_dir>/venv if installing via pip, <pulsar_server_dir>/.venv if not.
pulsar_config_dir Directory that will be used for Pulsar configuration files. <pulsar_server_dir>/config if installing via pip, <pulsar_server_dir> if not
pulsar_optional_dependencies List of optional dependency modules to install, depending on which features you are enabling. None
pulsar_install_environments Installing dependencies may require setting certain environment variables to compile successfully.  
pulsar_create_user Should a user be created for running pulsar?  
pulsar_user Define the user details  

Additional options from Pulsar’s server.ini are configurable via the following variables (these options are explained in the Pulsar documentation and server.ini.sample):

Variable Description Default
pulsar_host This is the interface pulsar will listen to, we will set it to localhost
pulsar_port   8913
pulsar_uwsgi_socket If unset, uWSGI will be configured to listen for HTTP requests on pulsar_host port pulsar_port; If set, uWSGI will listen for uWSGI protocol connections on this socket. unset
pulsar_uwsgi_options Hash (dictionary) of additional uWSGI options to place in the [uwsgi] section of server.ini {}

Some of the other options we will be using are:

  • We are going to run in RESTful mode so we will need to specify a private_token variable so we can “secure” the connection. (For a given value of “secure”.)
  • We will be using the uwsgi web server to host the RESTful interface.
  • We will set the tool dependencies to rely on conda for tool installs.

hands_on Hands-on: Configure pulsar group variables

  1. Create or edit the file group_vars/all.yml and set your private token:

    private_token: your_private_token_here

    This is going in a special file because all (two) of our services need it. Both Galaxy in the job configuration, and Pulsar in its configuration. The group_vars/all.yml is included for every playbook run, no matter which group a machine belong to.

    Replace your_private_token_here with a long randomish (or not) string.

  2. Create a new file in group_vars called pulsarservers.yml and set some of the above variables as well as some others.

    pulsar_server_dir: /mnt/pulsar/server
    pulsar_venv_dir: /mnt/pulsar/venv
    pulsar_config_dir: /mnt/pulsar/config
    pulsar_staging_dir: /mnt/pulsar/staging
    pulsar_systemd: true
    pulsar_port: 8913
    pulsar_create_user: true
    pulsar_user: {name: pulsar, shell: /bin/bash}
      - pyOpenSSL
      # For remote transfers initiated on the Pulsar end rather than the Galaxy end
      - pycurl
      # uwsgi used for more robust deployment than paste
      - uwsgi
      # drmaa required if connecting to an external DRM using it.
      - drmaa
      # kombu needed if using a message queue
      - kombu
      # requests and poster using Pulsar remote staging and pycurl is unavailable
      - requests
      # psutil and pylockfile are optional dependencies but can make Pulsar
      # more robust in small ways.
      - psutil
      dependency_resolvers_config_file: dependency_resolvers_conf.xml
      conda_auto_init: True
      conda_auto_install: True
      staging_directory: "{{ pulsar_staging_dir }}"
      private_token: "{{ private_token }}"
    # NGINX
    nginx_selinux_allow_local_connections: true
      - pulsar-proxy
    nginx_enable_default_server: false
      client_max_body_size: 5g
  3. Add the following lines to your hosts file:

    <ip_address of your pulsar server>
  4. Create the file templates/nginx/pulsar-proxy.j2 with the following contents:

    server {
        # Listen on 80, you should secure your server better :)
        listen 80 default_server;
        listen [::]:80 default_server;
        location / {
            proxy_redirect off;
            proxy_set_header Host $host;
            proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
            proxy_pass http://localhost:8913;

We will now write a new playbook for the pulsar installation similar to the one we did for the CVMFS installation earlier in the week.

We need to include a couple of pre-tasks to install virtualenv, git, etc.

hands_on Hands-on: Creating the playbook

  1. Create a pulsar-playbook.yml file with the following contents:

    - hosts: pulsarservers
        - name: Install some packages
              - build-essential
              - git
              - python3-dev
              - libcurl4-openssl-dev
              - libssl-dev
              - virtualenv
            state: present
            update_cache: yes
          become: yes
        - name: chown the /mnt dir to ubuntu
            path: /mnt
            owner: ubuntu
            group: ubuntu
            mode: 0755
          become: yes
        - role: galaxyproject.cvmfs
          become: yes
        - role: galaxyproject.nginx
          become: yes
        - galaxyproject.pulsar

    There are a couple of pre-tasks here. This is because we need to install some base packages on these very vanilla ubuntu instances as well as give ourselves ownership of the directory we are installing into.

    comment Why NGINX?

    Additionally we install NGINX, you might not have expected this! We used to use Pulsar’s webserving directly via uWSGI, but in Python 3 Galaxy, the requests that are sent to Pulsar are chunked, a transfer encoding that is not part of the wsgi spec and unsupported. Our recommendation: avoid all of this weirdness and use RabbitMQ as the transport instead. Unfortunately that is currently outside of the scope of this tutorial. The documentation covers it in detail.

We also need to create the dependency resolver file so pulsar knows how to find and install dependencies for the tools we ask it to run. The simplest method which covers 99% of the use cases is to use conda auto installs similar to how Galaxy works. We need to create the file and put it where the galaxyproject.pulsar role can find it.

hands_on Hands-on: Creating dependency resolver configuration

  1. Create a templates directory in your working directory.

    mkdir templates
  2. Create a dependency_resolvers_conf.xml.j2 file inside the templates directory with the following contents:

        <conda auto_install="True" auto_init="True"/>

    This tells pulsar to only look for dependencies in conda.

details Running non-conda tools

If the tool you want to run on Pulsar doesn’t have a conda package, you will need to make alternative arrangements! This is complex and beyond our scope here. See the Pulsar documentation for details.

hands_on Hands-on: Run the Playbook

  1. Run the playbook. If your remote pulsar machine uses a different key, you may need to supply the ansible-playbook command with the private key for the connection using the --private-key key.pem option.

    ansible-playbook pulsar-playbook.yml

    After the script has run, pulsar will be installed on the remote machines!

  2. Log in to the machines and have a look in the /mnt/pulsar directory. You will see the venv and config directories. All the config files created by Ansible can be perused.

  3. Run journalctl -f -u pulsar

    A log will now start scrolling, showing the startup of pulsar. You’ll notice that it will be initializing and installing conda. Once this is completed, Pulsar will be listening on the assigned port.

Configuring Galaxy

Now we have a Pulsar server up and running, we need to tell our Galaxy about it.

Galaxy talks to the Pulsar server via it’s job_conf.xml file. We need to let Galaxy know about Pulsar there and make sure Galaxy has loaded the requisite job runner, and has a destination set up.

There are three things we need to do here:

  • We will need to create a job runner which uses the code.
  • Create job destination which references the above job runner.
  • Tell Galaxy which tools to send to the job destination: We will use bwa-mem

tip Missing Job Conf? One-day admin training?

For some of our training events we do just a subset of the trainings, often Ansible, Ansible-Galaxy, and then one of these topics. For Pulsar, we need some basic job configuration file though, in order to proceed to the next steps. Follow these steps to get caught up:

hands_on Hands-on: Get caught up

  1. If the folder does not exist, create templates/galaxy/config next to your galaxy.yml playbook (mkdir -p templates/galaxy/config/).

  2. Create templates/galaxy/config/job_conf.xml.j2 with the following contents:

        <plugins workers="4">
            <plugin id="local" type="runner" load=""/>
        <destinations default="local">
            <destination id="local" runner="local"/>
  3. Install bwa from the admin installation interface if it is missing.

  4. Inform galaxyproject.galaxy of where you would like the job_conf.xml to reside in your group variables:

        # ... existing configuration options in the `galaxy` section ...
        job_config_file: "{{ galaxy_config_dir }}/job_conf.xml"

    And then deploy the new config file using the galaxy_config_templates var in your group vars:

      # ... possible existing config file definitions
      - src: templates/galaxy/config/job_conf.xml.j2
        dest: "{{ galaxy_config.galaxy.job_config_file }}"

If you want to get caught up properly and understand what the above configuration means, we recommend following the job configuration tutorial.

We hope that got you caught up!

hands_on Hands-on: Configure Galaxy

  1. In your templates/galaxy/config/job_conf.xml.j2 file add the following job runner to the <plugins> section:

    <plugin id="pulsar_runner" type="runner" load="" />

    Then add the Pulsar destination. We will need the ip address of your pulsar server and the private_token string you used when you created it.

    Add the following to the <destinations> section of your job_conf.xml file:

    <destination id="pulsar" runner="pulsar_runner" >
        <param id="url">http://your_ip_address_here:80/</param>
        <param id="private_token">{{ private_token }}</param>
  2. Finally we need to tell Galaxy which tools to send to Pulsar. We will tell it to send bwa-mem jobs to it. We use the <tools> section of the job_conf.xml file. We need to know the full id of the tool in question, we can get this out of the integrated_tool_panel.xml file in the mutable-config directory. Then we tell Galaxy which destination to send it to (pulsar).

    Add the following to the end of the job_conf.xml file (inside the <tools> section if it exists or create it if it doesn’t.)

        <tool id="bwa" destination="pulsar"/>
        <tool id="bwa_mem" destination="pulsar"/>

    You can use the full tool ID here (, or the short version. By using the full version, we restrict to only running that specific version in pulsar.

  3. Run the Galaxy playbook in order to deploy the updated job configuration, and to restart Galaxy.

Testing Pulsar

Now we will upload a small set of data to run bwa-mem with.

hands_on Hands-on: Testing the Pulsar destination

  1. Upload the following files from zenodo.
  2. Map with BWA-MEM tool with the following parameters

    • “Will you select a reference genome from your history or use a built-in index”: Use a built-in genome index
    • “Using reference genome”: Escherichia coli (str. K-12 substr MG1655): eschColi_K12
    • “Single or Paired-end reads: Paired end
    • param-file “Select first set of reads: mutant_R1.fastq
    • param-file “Select second set of reads: mutant_R2.fastq

    As soon as you press execute Galaxy will send the job to the pulsar server. You can watch the log in Galaxy using:

    journalctl -fu galaxy

    You can watch the log in Pulsar by ssh’ing to it and tailing the log file with:

    journalctl -fu pulsar

You’ll notice that the Pulsar server has received the job (all the way in Australia!) and now should be installing bwa-mem via conda. Once this is complete (which may take a while - first time only) the job will run. When it starts running it will realise it needs the E. coli genome from CVMFS and fetch that, and then results will be returned to Galaxy!

tip PulsarClientTransportError with BWA-MEM

Q: I got the following error the first time I ran BWA-MEM with Pulsar: pulsar.client.exceptions.PulsarClientTransportError: Unknown transport error (transport message: Gateway Time-out). When I re-executed the job later, it worked without problems. Can the time-out be avoided?

A: Yes, with AMQP Pulsar. This is the recommended setup for production. And apparently the transport_timeout option that I forgot about: <param id="transport_timeout"> in the <plugin> entry (you will need to make it a container tag) for the PulsarRESTJobRunner plugin.

How awesome is that? Pulsar in another continent with reference data automatically from CVMFS :)

Pulsar in Production

If you want to make use of Pulsar on a Supercomputer, you only need access to a submit node, and you will need to run Pulsar there. We recommend that if you need to run a setup with Pulsar, that you deploy an AMQP server (e.g. RabbitMQ) alongside your Galaxy. That way, you can run Pulsar on any submit nodes, and it can connect directly to the AMQP and Galaxy. Other Pulsar deployment options require exposing ports wherever Pulsar is running, and this requires significant more coordination effort.

keypoints Key points

  • Pulsar allows you to easily add geographically distributed compute resources into your Galaxy instance

  • It also works well in situations where the compute resources cannot share storage pools.


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Citing this Tutorial

  1. Nate Coraor, Simon Gladman, Marius van den Beek, Helena Rasche, 2020 Running Jobs on Remote Resources with Pulsar (Galaxy Training Materials). /archive/2020-12-01/topics/admin/tutorials/pulsar/tutorial.html Online; accessed TODAY
  2. Batut et al., 2018 Community-Driven Data Analysis Training for Biology Cell Systems 10.1016/j.cels.2018.05.012

details BibTeX

    author = "Nate Coraor and Simon Gladman and Marius van den Beek and Helena Rasche",
    title = "Running Jobs on Remote Resources with Pulsar (Galaxy Training Materials)",
    year = "2020",
    month = "12",
    day = "01"
    url = "\url{/archive/2020-12-01/topics/admin/tutorials/pulsar/tutorial.html}",
    note = "[Online; accessed TODAY]"
        doi = {10.1016/j.cels.2018.05.012},
        url = {},
        year = 2018,
        month = {jun},
        publisher = {Elsevier {BV}},
        volume = {6},
        number = {6},
        pages = {752--758.e1},
        author = {B{\'{e}}r{\'{e}}nice Batut and Saskia Hiltemann and Andrea Bagnacani and Dannon Baker and Vivek Bhardwaj and Clemens Blank and Anthony Bretaudeau and Loraine Brillet-Gu{\'{e}}guen and Martin {\v{C}}ech and John Chilton and Dave Clements and Olivia Doppelt-Azeroual and Anika Erxleben and Mallory Ann Freeberg and Simon Gladman and Youri Hoogstrate and Hans-Rudolf Hotz and Torsten Houwaart and Pratik Jagtap and Delphine Larivi{\`{e}}re and Gildas Le Corguill{\'{e}} and Thomas Manke and Fabien Mareuil and Fidel Ram{\'{\i}}rez and Devon Ryan and Florian Christoph Sigloch and Nicola Soranzo and Joachim Wolff and Pavankumar Videm and Markus Wolfien and Aisanjiang Wubuli and Dilmurat Yusuf and James Taylor and Rolf Backofen and Anton Nekrutenko and Björn Grüning},
        title = {Community-Driven Data Analysis Training for Biology},
        journal = {Cell Systems}

congratulations Congratulations on successfully completing this tutorial!