Easy and Efficient Agent-based Simulations with the OpenABL Language and Compiler

Biagio Cosenza, Nikita Popov, Ben Juurlink, Paul Richmond, Mozhgan Kabiri Chimeh, Carmine Spagnuolo, Gennaro Cordasco, Vittorio Scarano
Dipartimento di Informatica, Universita degli Studi di Salerno, Fisciano, Italy
Future Generation Computer Systems, 116, 61-75, 2021


   title={Easy and efficient agent-based simulations with the OpenABL language and compiler},

   author={Cosenza, Biagio and Popov, Nikita and Juurlink, Ben and Richmond, Paul and Chimeh, Mozhgan Kabiri and Spagnuolo, Carmine and Cordasco, Gennaro and Scarano, Vittorio},

   journal={Future Generation Computer Systems},






Agent-based simulations represent an effective scientific tool, with numerous applications from social sciences to biology, which aims to emulate or predict complex phenomena through a set of simple rules performed by multiple agents. To simulate a large number of agents with complex models, practitioners have developed high-performance parallel implementations, often specialized for particular scenarios and target hardware. It is, however, difficult to obtain portable simulations, which achieve high performance and at the same time are easy to write and to reproduce on different hardware. This article gives a complete presentation of OpenABL, a domain-specific language and a compiler for agent-based simulations that enable users to achieve high-performance parallel and distributed agent simulations with a simple and portable programming environment. OpenABL is comprised of (1) an easy-to-program language, which relies on domain abstractions and explicitly exposes agent parallelism, synchronization and locality, (2) a source-to-source compiler, and (3) a set of pluggable compiler backends, which generate target code for multi-core CPUs, GPUs, and cloud-based systems. We evaluate OpenABL on simulations from different fields. In particular, our analysis includes predator-prey and keratinocyte, two complex simulations with multiple step functions, heterogeneous agent types, and dynamic creation and removal of agents. The results show that OpenABL-generated codes are portable to different platforms, perform similarly to manual target-specific implementations, and require significantly fewer lines of codes.
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