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JuliaGPU / CUDAnative.jl


Julia support for native CUDA programming



Build status (Linux x86-64):

Code coverage: Coverage Status

This package provides support for compiling and executing native Julia kernels on CUDA hardware. It is a work in progress, and only works on very recent versions of Julia .



  • Julia 0.6 with LLVM 3.9 built from source, executed in tree (for LLVM.jl)
  • NVIDIA driver, providing (for CUDAdrv.jl)
  • CUDA toolkit

Although that first requirement might sound complicated, it basically means you need to fetch and compile a copy of Julia 0.6 (refer to the main repository's README, checking out the latest tag for 0.6), and execute the resulting julia binary in-place without doing a make install. Afterwards, you can do:


For now, only Linux and macOS are supported.

Quick start

First you have to write the kernel function and make sure it only uses features from the CUDA-supported subset of Julia:

using CUDAnative

function kernel_vadd(a, b, c)
    i = (blockIdx().x-1) * blockDim().x + threadIdx().x
    c[i] = a[i] + b[i]

    return nothing

Using the @cuda macro, you can launch the kernel on a GPU of your choice:

using CUDAdrv, CUDAnative
using Base.Test

# CUDAdrv functionality: select device, create context
dev = CuDevice(0)
ctx = CuContext(dev)

# CUDAdrv functionality: generate and upload data
a = round.(rand(Float32, (3, 4)) * 100)
b = round.(rand(Float32, (3, 4)) * 100)
d_a = CuArray(a)
d_b = CuArray(b)
d_c = similar(d_a)  # output array

# run the kernel and fetch results
# syntax: @cuda (dims...) kernel(args...)
@cuda (1,12) kernel_vadd(d_a, d_b, d_c)

# CUDAdrv functionality: download data
# this synchronizes the device
c = Array(d_c)

@test a+b ≈ c


See the examples folder for more comprehensive examples.


This section documents some specific details on how to use the CUDAnative.jl package, and what to keep in mind.

Note that this library is not meant to export a high-level interface for using GPUs transparently, instead it serves to write high-performance GPU kernels in Julia and manage their execution. Consequently, you need to understand how GPUs work, and more specifically you need to know your way around CUDA. Even though many components are made easier to work with, it sits at an abstraction level similar to CUDA's.

Julia support

Only a limited subset of Julia is supported by this package. This subset is undocumented, as it is too much in flux.

In general, GPU support of Julia code is determined by the language features used by the code. Several parts of the language are downright disallowed, such as calls to the Julia runtime, or garbage allocations. Other features might get reduced in strength, eg. throwing exceptions will result in a trap.

If your code is incompatible with GPU execution, the compiler will mention the unsupported feature, and where the use came from:

julia> foo(i) = (print("can't do this"); return nothing)
foo (generic function with 1 method)

julia> @cuda (1,1) foo(1)
ERROR: error compiling foo: error compiling print: generic call to unsafe_write requires the runtime language feature

CUDA support

Not all of CUDA is supported, and because of time constraints the supported subset is again undocumented. The following (incomplete) list details the support and their CUDAnative.jl names. Most are implemented in intrinsics.jl, so have a look at that file for a more up to date list:

  • Indexing: threadIdx().{x,y,z}, blockDim(), blockIdx(), gridDim(), warpsize()
  • Shared memory: @cuStaticSharedMemory, @cuDynamicSharedMemory
  • Array type: CuDeviceArray (converted from input CuArrays, or shared memory)
  • I/O: @cuprintf
  • Synchronization: sync_threads
  • Communication: vote_{all,any,ballot}
  • Data movement: shfl_{up,down,bfly,idx}


In addition to the native intrinsics listed above, math functionality from libdevice is wrapped and part of CUDAnative. For now, you need to fully qualify function calls to these intrinsics, which provide similar functionality to some of the low-level math functionality of Base which would otherwise call out to libm.


You can enable verbose logging using two environment variables:

  • DEBUG: if set, enable additional (possibly costly) run-time checks, and some more verbose output
  • TRACE: if set, the DEBUG level will be activated, in addition with a trace of every call to the underlying library

In order to avoid run-time cost for checking the log level, these flags are implemented by means of global constants. As a result, you need to run Julia with precompilation disabled if you want to modify these flags:

$ TRACE=1 julia --compilecache=no examples/vadd.jl
TRACE: CUDAnative.jl is running in trace mode, this will generate a lot of additional output

Enabling colors with --color=yes is also recommended as it color-codes the output.

trap and kernel launch failures

Exceptions, like the ones being thrown from out-of-bounds accesses, currently just generate a trap instruction which halts the GPU. This might show up as a kernel launch failure, or an unrelated error in another API call.

If the error is thrown from an array access, and an out-of-bounds access is suspected, it is useful to turn of bounds checking (julia --check-bounds=no) and run the Julia process under cuda-memcheck while enabling debug mode 1 (the default value) or higher. This way, cuda-memcheck will be able to accurately pinpoint the out-of-bounds access, while specifying the exact location of the access within the active grid and block.

code_* alternatives

CUDAnative provides alternatives to Base's code_llvm and code_native to inspect generated GPU code:

julia> foo(a, i) = (a[1] = i; return nothing)
foo (generic function with 1 method)

julia> a = CuArray{Int}(1)

julia> CUDAnative.@code_llvm foo(a, 1)

; Function Attrs: nounwind
define i64 @julia_foo_62405(%CuDeviceArray.2* nocapture readonly, i64) {

julia> @code_ptx foo(a, 1)
.visible .entry julia_foo_62419(
        .param .u64 julia_foo_62419_param_0,
        .param .u64 julia_foo_62419_param_1

julia> @code_sass foo(a, 1)
        code for sm_20
                Function : julia_foo_62539

Non-macro versions of these reflection entry-points are available as well (ie. code_llvm, etc), but as there's type conversions happening behind the scenes you will need to take care and perform those conversions manually:

julia> CUDAnative.code_llvm(foo, (CuArray{Int,1},Int))
ERROR: error compiling foo: ...

julia> CUDAnative.code_llvm(foo, (CuDeviceArray{Int,1},Int))

; Function Attrs: nounwind
define i64 @julia_foo_62405(%CuDeviceArray.2* nocapture readonly, i64) {

Debug info and line-number information

LLVM's NVPTX back-end does not support the undocumented PTX debug format, so we cannot generate the necessary DWARF sections. This means that debugging generated code with e.g. cuda-gdb will be an unpleasant experience. Nonetheless, the PTX JIT is configured to emit debug info (which corresponds with nvcc -g) when the Julia debug info level is 2 or higher (julia -g2).

We do however support emitting line number information, which is useful for other CUDA tools like cuda-memcheck. The functionality (which corresponds with nvcc -lineinfo) is enabled when the Julia debug info level is 1 (the default value) or higher.

Bugs and quirks

Recursive functions

Recursive functions, either directly or indirectly, are currently not supported.

Object arguments

When passing a rich object like a CuArray to a GPU kernel, there's a memory allocation and copy happening behind the scenes. This means that every kernel call is synchronizing, which can easily kill performance in the case of fine-grained kernels.

Although this issue will probably get fixed in the future, a workaround for now is to ensure all arguments are bitstype (ie. declared as primitive bitstype types, not to be confused with the isbits property). Specific to arrays, you can access and pass the underlying device pointer by means of the ptr field of CuArray objects, in addition to the size of the array:

function inc_slow(a)
    a[threadIdx().x] += 1

    return nothing

@cuda (1,3) inc_slow(d_a)                       # implicit alloc & memcpy

function inc_fast(a_ptr, a_len)
    a = CuDeviceArray(a_len, a_ptr)
    a[threadIdx().x] += 1

    return nothing

@cuda (1,3) inc_fast(pointer(d_a), length(d_a)) # no implicit memory ops