XALT 2: Tracking user executables and library usage on your cluster

Monthly Zoom Meeting

NOTE XALT is holding Monthly Zoom meeting to discuss various topics. Typically it is the third Thursday of the Month at 10:00am U.S. Central (which is 15:00 UTC or 16:00 UTC in the winter months). Beginners are welcome. There is always a Q/A session at the beginning. Topic announcements are sent to the XALT mailing list.

See: https://github.com/xalt/xalt/wiki for details.


XALT 2 is a tool to allow a site to track user executables and library usage on a cluster. When installed it can tell a site what are the top executables by Node-Hours or by the number of users or the number of times it is run. XALT 2 also tracks library usage as well. XALT 2 can also track package use by R, MATLAB or Python. It tracks both MPI and non-MPI programs.


XALT does its tracking by ‘’hijacking’’ the linker and by use of the environment variable LD_PRELOAD to have code run before and after main(). And yes it works with Fortran programs as well. Since XALT 2 could track every single program on your cluster, XALT 2 allows for site controllable filtering. Otherwise an data collection scheme would get overwhelmed.

How XALT works

XALT works in two parts. It provides an ld wrapper shell script which adds a watermark to every executable built with XALT as well as create a *.json record of the link for further analysis.

The second part is to measure the run-time and other information about each execution that is tracked. It relies on a feature of the ELF binary format used by Linux binaries. ELF supports an init array of function pointers that if they have a value are run before main(). There is a second array, called the fini array that is run after main() completes if the program runs to completion, i.e. if it doesn’t segfault or otherwise terminate early. Also ELF supports reading the environment variable LD_PRELOAD. If this variable points to a shared library (*.so), then that share library is also linked in to every non-static executable. A simple example C program, try.c:

#include <stdio.h>
int main()
{ printf("Hello World!\n"); return 0;}

can have its execution modified by a shared library that is built from the following C code, xalt.c, that is compiled by a GCC compiler:

#include <stdio.h>
void myinit(int argc, char **argv)
{ printf("This is run before main()\n");}
void myfini()
{ printf("This is run after main()\n");}

__attribute__((section(".init_array"))) __typeof__(myinit) *__init = myinit;
__attribute__((section(".fini_array"))) __typeof__(myfini) *__fini = myfini;

If the try.c program is built and run, its output would be:

$ gcc -o try try.c; ./try
Hello World!

But if xalt.c program is built into a share library called libxalt.so and is in the same directory with the try executable, then:

$ gcc -c -fPIC xalt.c; gcc -o libxalt.so -fPIC -shared xalt.o
$ LD_PRELOAD=./libxalt.so ./try
This is run before main()
Hello World!
This is run after main()

This is all without making a single change to the ./try executable file. This can get more complicated. Example code is included in the source. See ./libelf_trick and type make test to see this in action.

The actual shared library that XALT builds generates a *.json file that contains the run-time, the number of task and other information like the shared libraries linked in with each executable that is tracked. Note that XALT is easily site configured to only track executables that only run on the compute nodes or have certain paths or other criteria to avoid tracking every single program that is run on a system.

Even though the above example was with a C program, this trick works with C++ and Fortran programs as well. It works with any ELF binary that is dynamically linked. It does not work with a static binary. XALT can track static binaries as long as they are linked with XALT’s ld.

Speed of XALT

XALT is designed to be as fast as possible. While the XALT library is attached to every program is run, it quickly decides if a run is going to be recorded. For those executions that are recorded. it takes less than 0.01 seconds on current hardware.

What is new in XALT

New features of XALT are described here.

Installing XALT2

Installing XALT 2 is both straightforward and complicated. It is straightforward in that it only requires a configure step and make install. But it is complicated because a site will be required to tailor the filtering to meet their site’s needs. The install steps are divided into the following steps.


Here we show answers to Frequently Asked Questions.