Struct serialization in C and transfer over MPI


I have defined a custom struct which I need to send over to another
MPI process using the MPI_Bsend (or MPI_Send).

Here is the struct:

struct car{
  int shifts;
  int topSpeed;

The issue is that apart from primitive types MPI doesn't seem to support direct "transmission" of complex data types like the struct shown above. I've heard that I might have to use "serialization".

How should I approach this and successfully send over myCar to process 5?

Best Solution

Jeremiah is right - MPI_Type_create_struct is the way to go here.

It's important to remember that MPI is a library, not built into the language; so it can't "see" what a structure looks like to serialize it by itself. So to send complex data types, you have to explicitly define its layout. In a language that does have native support for serialization, a set of MPI wrappers can concievably make use of that; mpi4py for instance makes use of python's pickle to transparently send complex data types; but in C, you have to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.

For your structure, it looks like this:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <mpi.h>
#include <stddef.h>

typedef struct car_s {
        int shifts;
        int topSpeed;
} car;

int main(int argc, char **argv) {

    const int tag = 13;
    int size, rank;

    MPI_Init(&argc, &argv);
    MPI_Comm_size(MPI_COMM_WORLD, &size);

    if (size < 2) {
        fprintf(stderr,"Requires at least two processes.\n");

    /* create a type for struct car */
    const int nitems=2;
    int          blocklengths[2] = {1,1};
    MPI_Datatype types[2] = {MPI_INT, MPI_INT};
    MPI_Datatype mpi_car_type;
    MPI_Aint     offsets[2];

    offsets[0] = offsetof(car, shifts);
    offsets[1] = offsetof(car, topSpeed);

    MPI_Type_create_struct(nitems, blocklengths, offsets, types, &mpi_car_type);

    MPI_Comm_rank(MPI_COMM_WORLD, &rank);
    if (rank == 0) {
        car send;
        send.shifts = 4;
        send.topSpeed = 100;

        const int dest = 1;
        MPI_Send(&send,   1, mpi_car_type, dest, tag, MPI_COMM_WORLD);

        printf("Rank %d: sent structure car\n", rank);
    if (rank == 1) {
        MPI_Status status;
        const int src=0;

        car recv;

        MPI_Recv(&recv,   1, mpi_car_type, src, tag, MPI_COMM_WORLD, &status);
        printf("Rank %d: Received: shifts = %d topSpeed = %d\n", rank,
                 recv.shifts, recv.topSpeed);


    return 0;