message passing interface (MPI)

Contributor(s): Stephen Bigelow

The message passing interface (MPI) is a standardized means of exchanging messages between multiple computers running a parallel program across distributed memory.

In parallel computing, multiple computers -- or even multiple processor cores within the same computer -- are called nodes.  Each node in the parallel arrangement typically works on a portion of the overall computing problem. The challenge then is to synchronize the actions of each parallel node, exchange data between nodes and provide command and control over the entire parallel cluster. The message passing interface defines a standard suite of functions for these tasks.

MPI is not endorsed as an official standard by any standards organization such as IEEE or ISO, but it is generally considered to be the industry standard and it forms the basis for most communication interfaces adopted by parallel computing programmers. The older MPI 1.3 standard (dubbed MPI-1) provides over 115 functions. The later MPI 2.2 standard (or MPI-2) offers over 500 functions and is largely backward compatible with MPI-1. However, not all MPI libraries provide a full implementation of MPI-2. 

Today, the MPI Forum is working to draft the MPI-3 standard to improve scalability, enhance performance, include multicore and cluster support, and interoperate with more applications.

See also: parallel processing, parallel processing software, massively parallel processing, Parallel Virtual Machine

This was last updated in July 2013

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