What is SYCL?

SYCL is a higher-level programming model to improve programming productivity on various hardware accelerators. It is a single-source domain-specific embedded language based on pure C++17. It is a standard developed by Khronos Group, announced in March 2014.

What is hipSYCL?

hipSYCL is one of a few currently available implementations of the SYCL standard (none of which is feature complete wrt SYCL-2020 at the time of writing). hipSYCL provides backends for offloading to OpenMP (any type of CPU), CUDA (Nvidia GPUs) and HIP/ROCm (AMD GPUs), as well as experimental support for Level Zero (Intel GPUs). This particular SYCL implementation is interesting for us at NRIS because it provides a unified tool for all our current hardware, which constitutes Intel and AMD CPUs, Nvidia GPUs on Saga and Betzy and AMD GPUs on LUMI. Other available SYCL implementations are Codeplay’s ComputeCpp and Intel oneAPI’s DPC++, which are currently more geared towards Intel hardware (CPUs, GPUs and FPGAs).

Getting started with hipSYCL


In this tutorial we will use the global installation of hipSYCL on Saga. If you want to use another SYCL implementation or you need to install it on a different machine, please refer to the installation instructions in the SYCL Academy documentation.

Hello world example

This example demonstrates:

  1. how to compile a minimal SYCL application using the global hipSYCL installation on Saga

  2. how to compile for different target architectures

  3. how to run the example on a GPU node on Saga

In this example we will write a very simple program that queries the system for information about which device it runs on. We will then compile the code for both CPU and (Nvidia) GPU targets, and verify that it is able to find both devices. This can be achieved with just a few lines of code:

#include <SYCL/sycl.hpp>

int main (int argc, char** argv) {
  auto Q = sycl::queue{sycl::default_selector{}};

  std::cout << "Chosen device: "
            << Q.get_device().get_info<sycl::info::device::name>()
            << std::endl;

  return EXIT_SUCCESS;

Here we first include the main SYCL header file, which in our case will be provided by the hipSYCL module on Saga. In the main function we simply initialize a sycl::queue using the so-called default_selector, and then we print out which device was picked up for this particular queue (more on queues later). The default_selector will choose an accelerator if one is found on the host, otherwise it will fall back to run as (traditional) OpenMP on the host CPU. By specifying different types of selectors it is possible to e.g. force the code to always run on the CPU, or to choose a particular device if more than one accelerator is available.

Compiling for CPUs

In order to compile the code we need to have a SYCL implementation available, which we will get by loading the hipSYCL module on Saga (check with module avail hipsycl to see which versions are currently available):

[me@login-1.SAGA ~]$ module load hipSYCL/0.9.1-gcccuda-2020b


If you want to compile for Nvidia GPUs you need a gcccuda version of hipSYCL. With EasyBuild there exists also a CPU-only version based on the GCC toolchain without the CUDA backend (and hopefully soon a ROCm version for targeting AMD GPUs).

After loading the hipSYCL module you should have the syclcc compiler wrapper available on your command line (try e.g. syclcc --help). We will first compile the code only for CPU by specifying the omp target:

[me@login-1.SAGA ~]$ syclcc --hipsycl-targets=omp -O3 -o hello_world hello_world.cpp

This step should hopefully pass without any errors or warnings. If we run the resulting executable on the login node we will however see a warning:

[me@login-1.SAGA ~]$ ./hello_world
[hipSYCL Warning] backend_loader: Could not load backend plugin: /cluster/software/hipSYCL/0.9.1-gcccuda-2020b/bin/../lib/hipSYCL/librt-backend-cuda.so
[hipSYCL Warning] libcuda.so.1: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory
Chosen device: hipSYCL OpenMP host device

The reason for the warning is that we use a hipSYCL version that is compiled with the CUDA backend, but we don’t have the CUDA drivers available when we run the program on the login nodes. But no worries, the last line that is printed is the actual output of our program, which tells us that the code was executed on the OpenMP (CPU) host device, which is exactly as expected since (1) we don’t have any accelerator available on the login node and (2) we only compiled a CPU target for the code. This means that if you run the same binary on one of the GPU nodes, you will no longer see the [hipSYCL Warning] (since CUDA drivers are now available), but you will still get the same program output Chosen device: hipSYCL OpenMP host device (since the code is still only compiled for CPU targets).

Compiling for Nvidia GPUs

The only thing we need to change when compiling for GPUs is to add new target options to the compiler string. The only complicating issue here might be to figure out which target architecture corresponds to the hardware at hand, but for the P100 GPUs on Saga the name of the target should be cuda:sm_60:

[me@login-1.SAGA ~]$ syclcc --hipsycl-targets='omp;cuda:sm_60' -O3 -o hello_world hello_world.cpp
clang-11: warning: Unknown CUDA version. cuda.h: CUDA_VERSION=11010. Assuming the latest supported version 10.1 [-Wunknown-cuda-version]

CUDA drivers is not a prerequisite for compiling the CUDA target, so this can be done on the login node. We see that we get a Clang warning due to the CUDA version, but this does not seem to be a problem. The resulting executable can still be run on a pure CPU host (e.g. the login node) with the same result as before:

[me@login-1.SAGA ~]$ ./hello_world
[hipSYCL Warning] backend_loader: Could not load backend plugin: /cluster/software/hipSYCL/0.9.1-gcccuda-2020b/bin/../lib/hipSYCL/librt-backend-cuda.so
[hipSYCL Warning] libcuda.so.1: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory
Chosen device: hipSYCL OpenMP host device

but if we instead run the code on a GPU node (here through an interactive job; remember to ask for GPU resources on the accel partition) we see that the program is actually able to pick up the GPU device:

[me@login-1.SAGA ~]$ srun --account=<my-account> --time=0:10:00 --ntasks=1 --gpus-per-task=1 --partition=accel --mem=1G --pty bash
srun: job 3511513 queued and waiting for resources
srun: job 3511513 has been allocated resources
[me@c7-8.SAGA]$ ./hello_world
Chosen device: Tesla P100-PCIE-16GB 

Note that no code is actually executed on the device in this example, since the sycl::queue remains empty, but at least we know that the hardware is visible to our application. Now the next step will be to add some work that can be offloaded to the device.