Basic Usage

The spack command has many subcommands. You’ll only need a small subset of them for typical usage.

Note that Spack colorizes output. less -R should be used with Spack to maintain this colorization. E.g.:

$ spack find | less -R

It is recommended that the following be put in your .bashrc file:

alias less='less -R'

Listing available packages

To install software with Spack, you need to know what software is available. You can see a list of available package names at the Package List webpage, or using the spack list command.

spack list

The spack list command prints out a list of all of the packages Spack can install:

$ spack list
abinit                          oniguruma                              r-annotationhub
abseil-cpp                      ont-albacore                           r-aod
abyss                           opa-psm2                               r-ape
accfft                          opam                                   r-argparse
ace                             opari2                                 r-aroma-light
ack                             openbabel                              r-askpass
acpid                           openblas                               r-assertthat
activeharmony                   opencascade                            r-backports
activemq                        opencoarrays                           r-bamsignals
acts-core                       opencv                                 r-base64

There are thosands of them, so we’ve truncated the output above, but you can find a full list here. Packages are listed by name in alphabetical order. A pattern to match with no wildcards, * or ?, will be treated as though it started and ended with *, so util is equivalent to *util*. All patterns will be treated as case-insensitive. You can also add the -d to search the description of the package in addition to the name. Some examples:

All packages whose names contain “sql”:

$ spack list sql
mysql            postgresql                 py-mysqlclient  py-pymysql     r-rmysql       r-sqldf
perl-dbd-mysql   py-agate-sql               py-mysqldb1     py-pysqlite    r-rpostgresql  sqlite
perl-dbd-sqlite  py-mysql-connector-python  py-pygresql     py-sqlalchemy  r-rsqlite      sqlitebrowser

All packages whose names or descriptions contain documentation:

$ spack list --search-description documentation
compositeproto     libxfixes     perl-io-prompt  py-sphinx                    r-rcpp         r-uwot
damageproto        libxpresent   py-alabaster    py-sphinxautomodapi          r-rdpack       sowing
double-conversion  man-db        py-docutils     py-sphinxcontrib-websupport  r-rinside      texinfo
doxygen            perl-bioperl  py-epydoc       r-ggplot2                    r-roxygen2     xorg-docs
gflags             perl-db-file  py-markdown     r-quadprog                   r-stanheaders  xorg-sgml-doctools

spack info

To get more information on a particular package from spack list, use spack info. Just supply the name of a package:

$ spack info mpich
AutotoolsPackage:   mpich

    MPICH is a high performance and widely portable implementation of the
    Message Passing Interface (MPI) standard.



Preferred version:  

Safe versions:  
    develop    [git]

    Name [Default]       Allowed values          Description
    =================    ====================    ==============================

    device [ch3]         ch3, ch4                Abstract Device Interface
                                                 (ADI) implementation. The ch4
                                                 device is currently in
                                                 experimental state
    hydra [on]           True, False             Build the hydra process
    netmod [tcp]         tcp, mxm, ofi, ucx      Network module. Only single
                                                 netmod builds are supported.
                                                 For ch3 device configurations,
                                                 this presumes the ch3:nemesis
                                                 communication channel.
                                                 ch3:sock is not supported by
                                                 this spack package at this
    pci [on]             True, False             Support analyzing devices on
                                                 PCI bus
    pmi [pmi]            off, pmi, pmi2, pmix    PMI interface.
    romio [on]           True, False             Enable ROMIO MPI I/O
    slurm [off]          True, False             Enable SLURM support
    verbs [off]          True, False             Build support for OpenFabrics
    wrapperrpath [on]    True, False             Enable wrapper rpath

Installation Phases:
    autoreconf    configure    build    install

Build Dependencies:
    autoconf  automake  findutils  libfabric  libpciaccess  libtool  libxml2  m4  pkgconfig  pmix  slurm  ucx

Link Dependencies:
    libfabric  libpciaccess  libxml2  pmix  slurm  ucx

Run Dependencies:

Virtual Packages: 
    mpich@3: provides mpi@:3.0
    mpich@1: provides mpi@:1.3
    mpich provides mpi

Most of the information is self-explanatory. The safe versions are versions that Spack knows the checksum for, and it will use the checksum to verify that these versions download without errors or viruses.

Dependencies and virtual dependencies are described in more detail later.

spack versions

To see more available versions of a package, run spack versions. For example:

$ spack versions libelf

There are two sections in the output. Safe versions are versions for which Spack has a checksum on file. It can verify that these versions are downloaded correctly.

In many cases, Spack can also show you what versions are available out on the web—these are remote versions. Spack gets this information by scraping it directly from package web pages. Depending on the package and how its releases are organized, Spack may or may not be able to find remote versions.

Installing and uninstalling

spack install

spack install will install any package shown by spack list. For example, To install the latest version of the mpileaks package, you might type this:

$ spack install mpileaks

If mpileaks depends on other packages, Spack will install the dependencies first. It then fetches the mpileaks tarball, expands it, verifies that it was downloaded without errors, builds it, and installs it in its own directory under $SPACK_ROOT/opt. You’ll see a number of messages from spack, a lot of build output, and a message that the packages is installed:

$ spack install mpileaks
==> Installing mpileaks
==> mpich is already installed in ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/mpich@3.0.4.
==> callpath is already installed in ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/callpath@1.0.2-5dce4318.
==> adept-utils is already installed in ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/adept-utils@1.0-5adef8da.
==> Trying to fetch from
######################################################################## 100.0%
==> Staging archive: ~/spack/var/spack/stage/mpileaks@1.0%gcc@4.4.7 arch=linux-debian7-x86_64-59f6ad23/mpileaks-1.0.tar.gz
==> Created stage in ~/spack/var/spack/stage/mpileaks@1.0%gcc@4.4.7 arch=linux-debian7-x86_64-59f6ad23.
==> No patches needed for mpileaks.
==> Building mpileaks.

... build output ...

==> Successfully installed mpileaks.
  Fetch: 2.16s.  Build: 9.82s.  Total: 11.98s.
[+] ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/mpileaks@1.0-59f6ad23

The last line, with the [+], indicates where the package is installed.

Building a specific version

Spack can also build specific versions of a package. To do this, just add @ after the package name, followed by a version:

$ spack install mpich@3.0.4

Any number of versions of the same package can be installed at once without interfering with each other. This is good for multi-user sites, as installing a version that one user needs will not disrupt existing installations for other users.

In addition to different versions, Spack can customize the compiler, compile-time options (variants), compiler flags, and platform (for cross compiles) of an installation. Spack is unique in that it can also configure the dependencies a package is built with. For example, two configurations of the same version of a package, one built with boost 1.39.0, and the other version built with version 1.43.0, can coexist.

This can all be done on the command line using the spec syntax. Spack calls the descriptor used to refer to a particular package configuration a spec. In the commands above, mpileaks and mpileaks@3.0.4 are both valid specs. We’ll talk more about how you can use them to customize an installation in Specs & dependencies.

spack uninstall

To uninstall a package, type spack uninstall <package>. This will ask the user for confirmation before completely removing the directory in which the package was installed.

$ spack uninstall mpich

If there are still installed packages that depend on the package to be uninstalled, spack will refuse to uninstall it.

To uninstall a package and every package that depends on it, you may give the --dependents option.

$ spack uninstall --dependents mpich

will display a list of all the packages that depend on mpich and, upon confirmation, will uninstall them in the right order.

A command like

$ spack uninstall mpich

may be ambiguous if multiple mpich configurations are installed. For example, if both mpich@3.0.2 and mpich@3.1 are installed, mpich could refer to either one. Because it cannot determine which one to uninstall, Spack will ask you either to provide a version number to remove the ambiguity or use the --all option to uninstall all of the matching packages.

You may force uninstall a package with the --force option

$ spack uninstall --force mpich

but you risk breaking other installed packages. In general, it is safer to remove dependent packages before removing their dependencies or use the --dependents option.

Garbage collection

When Spack builds software from sources, if often installs tools that are needed just to build or test other software. These are not necessary at runtime. To support cases where removing these tools can be a benefit Spack provides the spack gc (“garbage collector”) command, which will uninstall all unneeded packages:

$ spack find
==> 24 installed packages
-- linux-ubuntu18.04-broadwell / gcc@9.0.1 ----------------------
autoconf@2.69    findutils@4.6.0  libiconv@1.16        libszip@2.1.1  m4@1.4.18    openjpeg@2.3.1  pkgconf@1.6.3  util-macros@1.19.1
automake@1.16.1  gdbm@1.18.1      libpciaccess@0.13.5  libtool@2.4.6  mpich@3.3.2  openssl@1.1.1d  readline@8.0   xz@5.2.4
cmake@3.16.1     hdf5@1.10.5      libsigsegv@2.12      libxml2@2.9.9  ncurses@6.1  perl@5.30.0     texinfo@6.5    zlib@1.2.11

$ spack gc
==> The following packages will be uninstalled:

    -- linux-ubuntu18.04-broadwell / gcc@9.0.1 ----------------------
    vn47edz autoconf@2.69    6m3f2qn findutils@4.6.0  ubl6bgk libtool@2.4.6  pksawhz openssl@1.1.1d  urdw22a readline@8.0
    ki6nfw5 automake@1.16.1  fklde6b gdbm@1.18.1      b6pswuo m4@1.4.18      k3s2csy perl@5.30.0     lp5ya3t texinfo@6.5
    ylvgsov cmake@3.16.1     5omotir libsigsegv@2.12  leuzbbh ncurses@6.1    5vmfbrq pkgconf@1.6.3   5bmv4tg util-macros@1.19.1

==> Do you want to proceed? [y/N] y

[ ... ]

$ spack find
==> 9 installed packages
-- linux-ubuntu18.04-broadwell / gcc@9.0.1 ----------------------
hdf5@1.10.5  libiconv@1.16  libpciaccess@0.13.5  libszip@2.1.1  libxml2@2.9.9  mpich@3.3.2  openjpeg@2.3.1  xz@5.2.4  zlib@1.2.11

In the example above Spack went through all the packages in the DB and removed everything that is not either:

  1. A package installed upon explicit request of the user
  2. A link or run dependency, even transitive, of one of the packages at point 1.

You can check Viewing more metadata to see how to query for explicitly installed packages or Dependency types for a more thorough treatment of dependency types.

Non-Downloadable Tarballs

The tarballs for some packages cannot be automatically downloaded by Spack. This could be for a number of reasons:

  1. The author requires users to manually accept a license agreement before downloading (jdk and galahad).
  2. The software is proprietary and cannot be downloaded on the open Internet.

To install these packages, one must create a mirror and manually add the tarballs in question to it (see Mirrors):

  1. Create a directory for the mirror. You can create this directory anywhere you like, it does not have to be inside ~/.spack:

    $ mkdir ~/.spack/manual_mirror
  2. Register the mirror with Spack by creating ~/.spack/mirrors.yaml:

      manual: file://~/.spack/manual_mirror
  3. Put your tarballs in it. Tarballs should be named <package>/<package>-<version>.tar.gz. For example:

    $ ls -l manual_mirror/galahad
    -rw-------. 1 me me 11657206 Jun 21 19:25 galahad-2.60003.tar.gz
  4. Install as usual:

    $ spack install galahad

Deprecating insecure packages

spack deprecate allows for the removal of insecure packages with minimal impact to their dependents.


The spack deprecate command is designed for use only in extraordinary circumstances. This is a VERY big hammer to be used with care.

The spack deprecate command will remove one package and replace it with another by replacing the deprecated package’s prefix with a link to the deprecator package’s prefix.


The spack deprecate command makes no promises about binary compatibility. It is up to the user to ensure the deprecator is suitable for the deprecated package.

Spack tracks concrete deprecated specs and ensures that no future packages concretize to a deprecated spec.

The first spec given to the spack deprecate command is the package to deprecate. It is an abstract spec that must describe a single installed package. The second spec argument is the deprecator spec. By default it must be an abstract spec that describes a single installed package, but with the -i/--install-deprecator it can be any abstract spec that Spack will install and then use as the deprecator. The -I/--no-install-deprecator option will ensure the default behavior.

By default, spack deprecate will deprecate all dependencies of the deprecated spec, replacing each by the dependency of the same name in the deprecator spec. The -d/--dependencies option will ensure the default, while the -D/--no-dependencies option will deprecate only the root of the deprecate spec in favor of the root of the deprecator spec.

spack deprecate can use symbolic links or hard links. The default behavior is symbolic links, but the -l/--link-type flag can take options hard or soft.

Verifying installations

The spack verify command can be used to verify the validity of Spack-installed packages any time after installation.

At installation time, Spack creates a manifest of every file in the installation prefix. For links, Spack tracks the mode, ownership, and destination. For directories, Spack tracks the mode, and ownership. For files, Spack tracks the mode, ownership, modification time, hash, and size. The Spack verify command will check, for every file in each package, whether any of those attributes have changed. It will also check for newly added files or deleted files from the installation prefix. Spack can either check all installed packages using the -a,–all or accept specs listed on the command line to verify.

The spack verify command can also verify for individual files that they haven’t been altered since installation time. If the given file is not in a Spack installation prefix, Spack will report that it is not owned by any package. To check individual files instead of specs, use the -f,--files option.

Spack installation manifests are part of the tarball signed by Spack for binary package distribution. When installed from a binary package, Spack uses the packaged installation manifest instead of creating one at install time.

The spack verify command also accepts the -l,--local option to check only local packages (as opposed to those used transparently from upstream spack instances) and the -j,--json option to output machine-readable json data for any errors.

Seeing installed packages

We know that spack list shows you the names of available packages, but how do you figure out which are already installed?

spack find

spack find shows the specs of installed packages. A spec is like a name, but it has a version, compiler, architecture, and build options associated with it. In spack, you can have many installations of the same package with different specs.

Running spack find with no arguments lists installed packages:

$ spack find
==> 74 installed packages.
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
ImageMagick@6.8.9-10  libdwarf@20130729  py-dateutil@2.4.0
adept-utils@1.0       libdwarf@20130729  py-ipython@2.3.1
atk@2.14.0            libelf@0.8.12      py-matplotlib@1.4.2
boost@1.55.0          libelf@0.8.13      py-nose@1.3.4
bzip2@1.0.6           libffi@3.1         py-numpy@1.9.1
cairo@1.14.0          libmng@2.0.2       py-pygments@2.0.1
callpath@1.0.2        libpng@1.6.16      py-pyparsing@2.0.3
cmake@3.0.2           libtiff@4.0.3      py-pyside@1.2.2
dbus@1.8.6            libtool@2.4.2      py-pytz@2014.10
dbus@1.9.0            libxcb@1.11        py-setuptools@11.3.1
dyninst@8.1.2         libxml2@2.9.2      py-six@1.9.0
fontconfig@2.11.1     libxml2@2.9.2      python@2.7.8
freetype@2.5.3        llvm@3.0           qhull@1.0
gdk-pixbuf@2.31.2     memaxes@0.5        qt@4.8.6
glib@2.42.1           mesa@8.0.5         qt@5.4.0
graphlib@2.0.0        mpich@3.0.4        readline@6.3
gtkplus@2.24.25       mpileaks@1.0       sqlite@3.8.5
harfbuzz@0.9.37       mrnet@4.1.0        stat@2.1.0
hdf5@1.8.13           ncurses@5.9        tcl@8.6.3
icu@54.1              netcdf@4.3.3       tk@src
jpeg@9a               openssl@1.0.1h     vtk@6.1.0
launchmon@1.0.1       pango@1.36.8       xcb-proto@1.11
lcms@2.6              pixman@0.32.6      xz@5.2.0
libdrm@2.4.33         py-dateutil@2.4.0  zlib@1.2.8

-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.9.2 --------------------------------
libelf@0.8.10  mpich@3.0.4

Packages are divided into groups according to their architecture and compiler. Within each group, Spack tries to keep the view simple, and only shows the version of installed packages.

Viewing more metadata

spack find can filter the package list based on the package name, spec, or a number of properties of their installation status. For example, missing dependencies of a spec can be shown with --missing, deprecated packages can be included with --deprecated, packages which were explicitly installed with spack install <package> can be singled out with --explicit and those which have been pulled in only as dependencies with --implicit.

In some cases, there may be different configurations of the same version of a package installed. For example, there are two installations of libdwarf@20130729 above. We can look at them in more detail using spack find --deps, and by asking only to show libdwarf packages:

$ spack find --deps libdwarf
==> 2 installed packages.
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------

Now we see that the two instances of libdwarf depend on different versions of libelf: 0.8.12 and 0.8.13. This view can become complicated for packages with many dependencies. If you just want to know whether two packages’ dependencies differ, you can use spack find --long:

$ spack find --long libdwarf
==> 2 installed packages.
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
libdwarf@20130729-d9b90962  libdwarf@20130729-b52fac98

Now the libdwarf installs have hashes after their names. These are hashes over all of the dependencies of each package. If the hashes are the same, then the packages have the same dependency configuration.

If you want to know the path where each package is installed, you can use spack find --paths:

$ spack find --paths
==> 74 installed packages.
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
    ImageMagick@6.8.9-10  ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/ImageMagick@6.8.9-10-4df950dd
    adept-utils@1.0       ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/adept-utils@1.0-5adef8da
    atk@2.14.0            ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/atk@2.14.0-3d09ac09
    boost@1.55.0          ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/boost@1.55.0
    bzip2@1.0.6           ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/bzip2@1.0.6
    cairo@1.14.0          ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/cairo@1.14.0-fcc2ab44
    callpath@1.0.2        ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/callpath@1.0.2-5dce4318

You can restrict your search to a particular package by supplying its name:

$ spack find --paths libelf
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
    libelf@0.8.11  ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/libelf@0.8.11
    libelf@0.8.12  ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/libelf@0.8.12
    libelf@0.8.13  ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/libelf@0.8.13

Spec queries

spack find actually does a lot more than this. You can use specs to query for specific configurations and builds of each package. If you want to find only libelf versions greater than version 0.8.12, you could say:

$ spack find libelf@0.8.12:
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
    libelf@0.8.12  libelf@0.8.13

Finding just the versions of libdwarf built with a particular version of libelf would look like this:

$ spack find --long libdwarf ^libelf@0.8.12
==> 1 installed packages.
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------

We can also search for packages that have a certain attribute. For example, spack find libdwarf +debug will show only installations of libdwarf with the ‘debug’ compile-time option enabled.

The full spec syntax is discussed in detail in Specs & dependencies.

Machine-readable output

If you only want to see very specific things about installed packages, Spack has some options for you. spack find --format can be used to output only specific fields:

$ spack find --format "{name}-{version}-{hash}"


$ spack find --format "{hash:7}"

This uses the same syntax as described in documentation for format() – you can use any of the options there. This is useful for passing metadata about packages to other command-line tools.

Alternately, if you want something even more machine readable, you can output each spec as JSON records using spack find --json. This will output metadata on specs and all dependencies as json:

$ spack find --json sqlite@3.28.0
  "name": "sqlite",
  "hash": "3ws7bsihwbn44ghf6ep4s6h4y2o6eznv",
  "version": "3.28.0",
  "arch": {
   "platform": "darwin",
   "platform_os": "mojave",
   "target": "x86_64"
  "compiler": {
   "name": "clang",
   "version": "10.0.0-apple"
  "namespace": "builtin",
  "parameters": {
   "fts": true,
   "functions": false,
   "cflags": [],
   "cppflags": [],
   "cxxflags": [],
   "fflags": [],
   "ldflags": [],
   "ldlibs": []
  "dependencies": {
   "readline": {
    "hash": "722dzmgymxyxd6ovjvh4742kcetkqtfs",
    "type": [

You can use this with tools like jq to quickly create JSON records structured the way you want:

$ spack find --json sqlite@3.28.0 | jq -C '.[] | { name, version, hash }'
  "name": "sqlite",
  "version": "3.28.0",
  "hash": "3ws7bsihwbn44ghf6ep4s6h4y2o6eznv"
  "name": "readline",
  "version": "7.0",
  "hash": "722dzmgymxyxd6ovjvh4742kcetkqtfs"
  "name": "ncurses",
  "version": "6.1",
  "hash": "zvaa4lhlhilypw5quj3akyd3apbq5gap"

Specs & dependencies

We know that spack install, spack uninstall, and other commands take a package name with an optional version specifier. In Spack, that descriptor is called a spec. Spack uses specs to refer to a particular build configuration (or configurations) of a package. Specs are more than a package name and a version; you can use them to specify the compiler, compiler version, architecture, compile options, and dependency options for a build. In this section, we’ll go over the full syntax of specs.

Here is an example of a much longer spec than we’ve seen thus far:

mpileaks @1.2:1.4 %gcc@4.7.5 +debug -qt arch=bgq_os ^callpath @1.1 %gcc@4.7.2

If provided to spack install, this will install the mpileaks library at some version between 1.2 and 1.4 (inclusive), built using gcc at version 4.7.5 for the Blue Gene/Q architecture, with debug options enabled, and without Qt support. Additionally, it says to link it with the callpath library (which it depends on), and to build callpath with gcc 4.7.2. Most specs will not be as complicated as this one, but this is a good example of what is possible with specs.

More formally, a spec consists of the following pieces:

  • Package name identifier (mpileaks above)
  • @ Optional version specifier (@1.2:1.4)
  • % Optional compiler specifier, with an optional compiler version (gcc or gcc@4.7.3)
  • + or - or ~ Optional variant specifiers (+debug, -qt, or ~qt) for boolean variants
  • name=<value> Optional variant specifiers that are not restricted to boolean variants
  • name=<value> Optional compiler flag specifiers. Valid flag names are cflags, cxxflags, fflags, cppflags, ldflags, and ldlibs.
  • target=<value> os=<value> Optional architecture specifier (target=haswell os=CNL10)
  • ^ Dependency specs (^callpath@1.1)

There are two things to notice here. The first is that specs are recursively defined. That is, each dependency after ^ is a spec itself. The second is that everything is optional except for the initial package name identifier. Users can be as vague or as specific as they want about the details of building packages, and this makes spack good for beginners and experts alike.

To really understand what’s going on above, we need to think about how software is structured. An executable or a library (these are generally the artifacts produced by building software) depends on other libraries in order to run. We can represent the relationship between a package and its dependencies as a graph. Here is the full dependency graph for mpileaks:

digraph { mpileaks -> mpich mpileaks -> callpath -> mpich callpath -> dyninst dyninst -> libdwarf -> libelf dyninst -> libelf }

Each box above is a package and each arrow represents a dependency on some other package. For example, we say that the package mpileaks depends on callpath and mpich. mpileaks also depends indirectly on dyninst, libdwarf, and libelf, in that these libraries are dependencies of callpath. To install mpileaks, Spack has to build all of these packages. Dependency graphs in Spack have to be acyclic, and the depends on relationship is directional, so this is a directed, acyclic graph or DAG.

The package name identifier in the spec is the root of some dependency DAG, and the DAG itself is implicit. Spack knows the precise dependencies among packages, but users do not need to know the full DAG structure. Each ^ in the full spec refers to some dependency of the root package. Spack will raise an error if you supply a name after ^ that the root does not actually depend on (e.g. mpileaks ^emacs@23.3).

Spack further simplifies things by only allowing one configuration of each package within any single build. Above, both mpileaks and callpath depend on mpich, but mpich appears only once in the DAG. You cannot build an mpileaks version that depends on one version of mpich and on a callpath version that depends on some other version of mpich. In general, such a configuration would likely behave unexpectedly at runtime, and Spack enforces this to ensure a consistent runtime environment.

The point of specs is to abstract this full DAG from Spack users. If a user does not care about the DAG at all, she can refer to mpileaks by simply writing mpileaks. If she knows that mpileaks indirectly uses dyninst and she wants a particular version of dyninst, then she can refer to mpileaks ^dyninst@8.1. Spack will fill in the rest when it parses the spec; the user only needs to know package names and minimal details about their relationship.

When spack prints out specs, it sorts package names alphabetically to normalize the way they are displayed, but users do not need to worry about this when they write specs. The only restriction on the order of dependencies within a spec is that they appear after the root package. For example, these two specs represent exactly the same configuration:

mpileaks ^callpath@1.0 ^libelf@0.8.3
mpileaks ^libelf@0.8.3 ^callpath@1.0

You can put all the same modifiers on dependency specs that you would put on the root spec. That is, you can specify their versions, compilers, variants, and architectures just like any other spec. Specifiers are associated with the nearest package name to their left. For example, above, @1.1 and %gcc@4.7.2 associates with the callpath package, while @1.2:1.4, %gcc@4.7.5, +debug, -qt, and target=haswell os=CNL10 all associate with the mpileaks package.

In the diagram above, mpileaks depends on mpich with an unspecified version, but packages can depend on other packages with constraints by adding more specifiers. For example, mpileaks could depend on mpich@1.2: if it can only build with version 1.2 or higher of mpich.

Below are more details about the specifiers that you can add to specs.

Version specifier

A version specifier comes somewhere after a package name and starts with @. It can be a single version, e.g. @1.0, @3, or @1.2a7. Or, it can be a range of versions, such as @1.0:1.5 (all versions between 1.0 and 1.5, inclusive). Version ranges can be open, e.g. :3 means any version up to and including 3. This would include 3.4 and 3.4.2. 4.2: means any version above and including 4.2. Finally, a version specifier can be a set of arbitrary versions, such as @1.0,1.5,1.7 (1.0, 1.5, or 1.7). When you supply such a specifier to spack install, it constrains the set of versions that Spack will install.

If the version spec is not provided, then Spack will choose one according to policies set for the particular spack installation. If the spec is ambiguous, i.e. it could match multiple versions, Spack will choose a version within the spec’s constraints according to policies set for the particular Spack installation.

Details about how versions are compared and how Spack determines if one version is less than another are discussed in the developer guide.

Compiler specifier

A compiler specifier comes somewhere after a package name and starts with %. It tells Spack what compiler(s) a particular package should be built with. After the % should come the name of some registered Spack compiler. This might include gcc, or intel, but the specific compilers available depend on the site. You can run spack compilers to get a list; more on this below.

The compiler spec can be followed by an optional compiler version. A compiler version specifier looks exactly like a package version specifier. Version specifiers will associate with the nearest package name or compiler specifier to their left in the spec.

If the compiler spec is omitted, Spack will choose a default compiler based on site policies.


Variants are named options associated with a particular package. They are optional, as each package must provide default values for each variant it makes available. Variants can be specified using a flexible parameter syntax name=<value>. For example, spack install libelf debug=True will install libelf build with debug flags. The names of particular variants available for a package depend on what was provided by the package author. spack info <package> will provide information on what build variants are available.

For compatibility with earlier versions, variants which happen to be boolean in nature can be specified by a syntax that represents turning options on and off. For example, in the previous spec we could have supplied libelf +debug with the same effect of enabling the debug compile time option for the libelf package.

Depending on the package a variant may have any default value. For libelf here, debug is False by default, and we turned it on with debug=True or +debug. If a variant is True by default you can turn it off by either adding -name or ~name to the spec.

There are two syntaxes here because, depending on context, ~ and - may mean different things. In most shells, the following will result in the shell performing home directory substitution:

mpileaks ~debug   # shell may try to substitute this!
mpileaks~debug    # use this instead

If there is a user called debug, the ~ will be incorrectly expanded. In this situation, you would want to write libelf -debug. However, - can be ambiguous when included after a package name without spaces:

mpileaks-debug     # wrong!
mpileaks -debug    # right

Spack allows the - character to be part of package names, so the above will be interpreted as a request for the mpileaks-debug package, not a request for mpileaks built without debug options. In this scenario, you should write mpileaks~debug to avoid ambiguity.

When spack normalizes specs, it prints them out with no spaces boolean variants using the backwards compatibility syntax and uses only ~ for disabled boolean variants. The - and spaces on the command line are provided for convenience and legibility.

Compiler Flags

Compiler flags are specified using the same syntax as non-boolean variants, but fulfill a different purpose. While the function of a variant is set by the package, compiler flags are used by the compiler wrappers to inject flags into the compile line of the build. Additionally, compiler flags are inherited by dependencies. spack install libdwarf cppflags="-g" will install both libdwarf and libelf with the -g flag injected into their compile line.

Notice that the value of the compiler flags must be quoted if it contains any spaces. Any of cppflags=-O3, cppflags="-O3", cppflags='-O3', and cppflags="-O3 -fPIC" are acceptable, but cppflags=-O3 -fPIC is not. Additionally, if the value of the compiler flags is not the last thing on the line, it must be followed by a space. The commmand spack install libelf cppflags="-O3"%intel will be interpreted as an attempt to set cppflags="-O3%intel".

The six compiler flags are injected in the order of implicit make commands in GNU Autotools. If all flags are set, the order is $cppflags $cflags|$cxxflags $ldflags <command> $ldlibs for C and C++ and $fflags $cppflags $ldflags <command> $ldlibs for Fortran.

Compiler environment variables and additional RPATHs

Sometimes compilers require setting special environment variables to operate correctly. Spack handles these cases by allowing custom environment modifications in the environment attribute of the compiler configuration section. See also the Environment Modifications section of the configuration files docs for more information.

It is also possible to specify additional RPATHs that the compiler will add to all executables generated by that compiler. This is useful for forcing certain compilers to RPATH their own runtime libraries, so that executables will run without the need to set LD_LIBRARY_PATH.

  - compiler:
      spec: gcc@4.9.3
        cc: /opt/gcc/bin/gcc
        c++: /opt/gcc/bin/g++
        f77: /opt/gcc/bin/gfortran
        fc: /opt/gcc/bin/gfortran
          - BAD_VARIABLE
          GOOD_VARIABLE_NUM: 1
          GOOD_VARIABLE_STR: good
          PATH: /path/to/binutils
          LD_LIBRARY_PATH: /opt/gcc/lib
      - /path/to/some/compiler/runtime/directory
      - /path/to/some/other/compiler/runtime/directory

Architecture specifiers

Each node in the dependency graph of a spec has an architecture attribute. This attribute is a triplet of platform, operating system and processor. You can specify the elements either separately, by using the reserved keywords platform, os and target:

$ spack install libelf platform=linux
$ spack install libelf os=ubuntu18.04
$ spack install libelf target=broadwell

or together by using the reserved keyword arch:

$ spack install libelf arch=cray-CNL10-haswell

Normally users don’t have to bother specifying the architecture if they are installing software for their current host, as in that case the values will be detected automatically. If you need fine-grained control over which packages use which targets (or over all packages’ default target), see Concretization Preferences.

Cray machines

The situation is a little bit different for Cray machines and a detailed explanation on how the architecture can be set on them can be found at Spack on Cray

Support for specific microarchitectures

Spack knows how to detect and optimize for many specific microarchitectures (including recent Intel, AMD and IBM chips) and encodes this information in the target portion of the architecture specification. A complete list of the microarchitectures known to Spack can be obtained in the following way:

$ spack arch --known-targets
Generic architectures (families)
    aarch64  arm  ppc  ppc64  ppc64le  ppcle  sparc  sparc64  x86  x86_64

GenuineIntel - x86
    i686  pentium2  pentium3  pentium4  prescott

GenuineIntel - x86_64
    nocona  nehalem   sandybridge  haswell    skylake  skylake_avx512  cascadelake
    core2   westmere  ivybridge    broadwell  mic_knl  cannonlake      icelake

AuthenticAMD - x86_64
    k10  bulldozer  zen  piledriver  zen2  steamroller  excavator

IBM - ppc64
    power7  power8  power9

IBM - ppc64le
    power8le  power9le

Cavium - aarch64

Fujitsu - aarch64

When a spec is installed Spack matches the compiler being used with the microarchitecture being targeted to inject appropriate optimization flags at compile time. Giving a command such as the following:

$ spack install zlib%gcc@9.0.1 target=icelake

will produce compilation lines similar to:

$ /usr/bin/gcc-9 -march=icelake-client -mtune=icelake-client -c ztest10532.c
$ /usr/bin/gcc-9 -march=icelake-client -mtune=icelake-client -c -fPIC -O2 ztest10532.

where the flags -march=icelake-client -mtune=icelake-client are injected by Spack based on the requested target and compiler.

If Spack knows that the requested compiler can’t optimize for the current target or can’t build binaries for that target at all, it will exit with a meaningful error message:

$ spack install zlib%gcc@5.5.0 target=icelake
==> Error: cannot produce optimized binary for micro-architecture "icelake" with gcc@5.5.0 [supported compiler versions are 8:]

When instead an old compiler is selected on a recent enough microarchitecture but there is no explicit target specification, Spack will optimize for the best match it can find instead of failing:

$ spack arch

$ spack spec zlib%gcc@4.8
Input spec

zlib@1.2.11%gcc@4.8+optimize+pic+shared arch=linux-ubuntu18.04-haswell

$ spack spec zlib%gcc@9.0.1
Input spec

zlib@1.2.11%gcc@9.0.1+optimize+pic+shared arch=linux-ubuntu18.04-broadwell

In the snippet above, for instance, the microarchitecture was demoted to haswell when compiling with gcc@4.8 since support to optimize for broadwell starts from gcc@4.9:.

Finally if Spack has no information to match compiler and target, it will proceed with the installation but avoid injecting any microarchitecture specific flags.


Currently Spack doesn’t print any warning to the user if it has no information on which optimization flags should be used for a given compiler. This behavior might change in the future.

Virtual dependencies

The dependence graph for mpileaks we saw above wasn’t quite accurate. mpileaks uses MPI, which is an interface that has many different implementations. Above, we showed mpileaks and callpath depending on mpich, which is one particular implementation of MPI. However, we could build either with another implementation, such as openmpi or mvapich.

Spack represents interfaces like this using virtual dependencies. The real dependency DAG for mpileaks looks like this:

digraph { mpi [color=red] mpileaks -> mpi mpileaks -> callpath -> mpi callpath -> dyninst dyninst -> libdwarf -> libelf dyninst -> libelf }

Notice that mpich has now been replaced with mpi. There is no real MPI package, but some packages provide the MPI interface, and these packages can be substituted in for mpi when mpileaks is built.

You can see what virtual packages a particular package provides by getting info on it:

$ spack info mpich
AutotoolsPackage:   mpich

    MPICH is a high performance and widely portable implementation of the
    Message Passing Interface (MPI) standard.



Preferred version:  

Safe versions:  
    develop    [git]

    Name [Default]       Allowed values          Description
    =================    ====================    ==============================

    device [ch3]         ch3, ch4                Abstract Device Interface
                                                 (ADI) implementation. The ch4
                                                 device is currently in
                                                 experimental state
    hydra [on]           True, False             Build the hydra process
    netmod [tcp]         tcp, mxm, ofi, ucx      Network module. Only single
                                                 netmod builds are supported.
                                                 For ch3 device configurations,
                                                 this presumes the ch3:nemesis
                                                 communication channel.
                                                 ch3:sock is not supported by
                                                 this spack package at this
    pci [on]             True, False             Support analyzing devices on
                                                 PCI bus
    pmi [pmi]            off, pmi, pmi2, pmix    PMI interface.
    romio [on]           True, False             Enable ROMIO MPI I/O
    slurm [off]          True, False             Enable SLURM support
    verbs [off]          True, False             Build support for OpenFabrics
    wrapperrpath [on]    True, False             Enable wrapper rpath

Installation Phases:
    autoreconf    configure    build    install

Build Dependencies:
    autoconf  automake  findutils  libfabric  libpciaccess  libtool  libxml2  m4  pkgconfig  pmix  slurm  ucx

Link Dependencies:
    libfabric  libpciaccess  libxml2  pmix  slurm  ucx

Run Dependencies:

Virtual Packages: 
    mpich@3: provides mpi@:3.0
    mpich@1: provides mpi@:1.3
    mpich provides mpi

Spack is unique in that its virtual packages can be versioned, just like regular packages. A particular version of a package may provide a particular version of a virtual package, and we can see above that mpich versions 1 and above provide all mpi interface versions up to 1, and mpich versions 3 and above provide mpi versions up to 3. A package can depend on a particular version of a virtual package, e.g. if an application needs MPI-2 functions, it can depend on mpi@2: to indicate that it needs some implementation that provides MPI-2 functions.

Constraining virtual packages

When installing a package that depends on a virtual package, you can opt to specify the particular provider you want to use, or you can let Spack pick. For example, if you just type this:

$ spack install mpileaks

Then spack will pick a provider for you according to site policies. If you really want a particular version, say mpich, then you could run this instead:

$ spack install mpileaks ^mpich

This forces spack to use some version of mpich for its implementation. As always, you can be even more specific and require a particular mpich version:

$ spack install mpileaks ^mpich@3

The mpileaks package in particular only needs MPI-1 commands, so any MPI implementation will do. If another package depends on mpi@2 and you try to give it an insufficient MPI implementation (e.g., one that provides only mpi@:1), then Spack will raise an error. Likewise, if you try to plug in some package that doesn’t provide MPI, Spack will raise an error.

Specifying Specs by Hash

Complicated specs can become cumbersome to enter on the command line, especially when many of the qualifications are necessary to distinguish between similar installs. To avoid this, when referencing an existing spec, Spack allows you to reference specs by their hash. We previously discussed the spec hash that Spack computes. In place of a spec in any command, substitute /<hash> where <hash> is any amount from the beginning of a spec hash.

For example, lets say that you accidentally installed two different mvapich2 installations. If you want to uninstall one of them but don’t know what the difference is, you can run:

$ spack find --long mvapich2
==> 2 installed packages.
-- linux-centos7-x86_64 / gcc@6.3.0 ----------
qmt35td mvapich2@2.2%gcc
er3die3 mvapich2@2.2%gcc

You can then uninstall the latter installation using:

$ spack uninstall /er3die3

Or, if you want to build with a specific installation as a dependency, you can use:

$ spack install trilinos ^/er3die3

If the given spec hash is sufficiently long as to be unique, Spack will replace the reference with the spec to which it refers. Otherwise, it will prompt for a more qualified hash.

Note that this will not work to reinstall a dependency uninstalled by spack uninstall --force.

spack providers

You can see what packages provide a particular virtual package using spack providers. If you wanted to see what packages provide mpi, you would just run:

$ spack providers mpi
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  intel-mpi              mpilander  mvapich2@2.1:   openmpi@2.0.0:
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  intel-parallel-studio  mpt        mvapich2@2.3:   spectrum-mpi
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  mpich                  mpt@1:     openmpi
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  mpich@1:               mpt@3:     openmpi@1.6.5
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  fujitsu-mpi     mpich@3:               mvapich2   openmpi@1.7.5:

And if you only wanted to see packages that provide MPI-2, you would add a version specifier to the spec:

$ spack providers mpi@2
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  intel-parallel-studio  mpt@3:         openmpi@1.6.5
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  mpich                  mvapich2       openmpi@1.7.5:
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  mpich@3:               mvapich2@2.1:  openmpi@2.0.0:
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  mpilander              mvapich2@2.3:  spectrum-mpi
charmpp@6.7.1:  charmpp@6.7.1:  intel-mpi       mpt                    openmpi

Notice that the package versions that provide insufficient MPI versions are now filtered out.

Extensions & Python support

Spack’s installation model assumes that each package will live in its own install prefix. However, certain packages are typically installed within the directory hierarchy of other packages. For example, modules in interpreted languages like Python are typically installed in the $prefix/lib/python-2.7/site-packages directory.

Spack has support for this type of installation as well. In Spack, a package that can live inside the prefix of another package is called an extension. Suppose you have Python installed like so:

$ spack find python
==> 1 installed packages.
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------

spack extensions

You can find extensions for your Python installation like this:

$ spack extensions python
==> python@2.7.8%gcc@4.4.7 arch=linux-debian7-x86_64-703c7a96
==> 36 extensions:
geos          py-ipython     py-pexpect    py-pyside            py-sip
py-basemap    py-libxml2     py-pil        py-pytz              py-six
py-biopython  py-mako        py-pmw        py-rpy2              py-sympy
py-cython     py-matplotlib  py-pychecker  py-scientificpython  py-virtualenv
py-dateutil   py-mpi4py      py-pygments   py-scikit-learn
py-epydoc     py-mx          py-pylint     py-scipy
py-gnuplot    py-nose        py-pyparsing  py-setuptools
py-h5py       py-numpy       py-pyqt       py-shiboken

==> 12 installed:
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
py-dateutil@2.4.0    py-nose@1.3.4       py-pyside@1.2.2
py-dateutil@2.4.0    py-numpy@1.9.1      py-pytz@2014.10
py-ipython@2.3.1     py-pygments@2.0.1   py-setuptools@11.3.1
py-matplotlib@1.4.2  py-pyparsing@2.0.3  py-six@1.9.0

==> None activated.

The extensions are a subset of what’s returned by spack list, and they are packages like any other. They are installed into their own prefixes, and you can see this with spack find --paths:

$ spack find --paths py-numpy
==> 1 installed packages.
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
    py-numpy@1.9.1  ~/spack/opt/linux-debian7-x86_64/gcc@4.4.7/py-numpy@1.9.1-66733244

However, even though this package is installed, you cannot use it directly when you run python:

$ spack load python
$ python
Python 2.7.8 (default, Feb 17 2015, 01:35:25)
[GCC 4.4.7 20120313 (Red Hat 4.4.7-11)] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import numpy
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
ImportError: No module named numpy

Using Extensions

There are four ways to get numpy working in Python. The first is to use Using module files via Spack. You can simply load the extension, and it will be added to the PYTHONPATH in your current shell:

$ spack load python
$ spack load py-numpy

Now import numpy will succeed for as long as you keep your current session open.

Loading Extensions via Modules

Instead of using Spack’s environment modification capabilities through the spack load command, you can load numpy through your environment modules (using environment-modules or lmod). This will also add the extension to the PYTHONPATH in your current shell.

$ module load <name of numpy module>

If you do not know the name of the specific numpy module you wish to load, you can use the spack module tcl|lmod loads command to get the name of the module from the Spack spec.

Activating Extensions in a View

Another way to use extensions is to create a view, which merges the python installation along with the extensions into a single prefix. See Filesystem Views for a more in-depth description of views and spack view for usage of the spack view command.

Activating Extensions Globally

As an alternative to creating a merged prefix with Python and its extensions, and prior to support for views, Spack has provided a means to install the extension into the Spack installation prefix for the extendee. This has typically been useful since extendable packages typically search their own installation path for addons by default.

Global activations are performed with the spack activate command:

spack activate

$ spack activate py-numpy
==> Activated extension py-setuptools@11.3.1%gcc@4.4.7 arch=linux-debian7-x86_64-3c74eb69 for python@2.7.8%gcc@4.4.7.
==> Activated extension py-nose@1.3.4%gcc@4.4.7 arch=linux-debian7-x86_64-5f70f816 for python@2.7.8%gcc@4.4.7.
==> Activated extension py-numpy@1.9.1%gcc@4.4.7 arch=linux-debian7-x86_64-66733244 for python@2.7.8%gcc@4.4.7.

Several things have happened here. The user requested that py-numpy be activated in the python installation it was built with. Spack knows that py-numpy depends on py-nose and py-setuptools, so it activated those packages first. Finally, once all dependencies were activated in the python installation, py-numpy was activated as well.

If we run spack extensions again, we now see the three new packages listed as activated:

$ spack extensions python
==> python@2.7.8%gcc@4.4.7  arch=linux-debian7-x86_64-703c7a96
==> 36 extensions:
geos          py-ipython     py-pexpect    py-pyside            py-sip
py-basemap    py-libxml2     py-pil        py-pytz              py-six
py-biopython  py-mako        py-pmw        py-rpy2              py-sympy
py-cython     py-matplotlib  py-pychecker  py-scientificpython  py-virtualenv
py-dateutil   py-mpi4py      py-pygments   py-scikit-learn
py-epydoc     py-mx          py-pylint     py-scipy
py-gnuplot    py-nose        py-pyparsing  py-setuptools
py-h5py       py-numpy       py-pyqt       py-shiboken

==> 12 installed:
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
py-dateutil@2.4.0    py-nose@1.3.4       py-pyside@1.2.2
py-dateutil@2.4.0    py-numpy@1.9.1      py-pytz@2014.10
py-ipython@2.3.1     py-pygments@2.0.1   py-setuptools@11.3.1
py-matplotlib@1.4.2  py-pyparsing@2.0.3  py-six@1.9.0

==> 3 currently activated:
-- linux-debian7-x86_64 / gcc@4.4.7 --------------------------------
py-nose@1.3.4  py-numpy@1.9.1  py-setuptools@11.3.1

Now, when a user runs python, numpy will be available for import without the user having to explicitly loaded. python@2.7.8 now acts like a system Python installation with numpy installed inside of it.

Spack accomplishes this by symbolically linking the entire prefix of the py-numpy into the prefix of the python package. To the python interpreter, it looks like numpy is installed in the site-packages directory.

The only limitation of global activation is that you can only have a single version of an extension activated at a time. This is because multiple versions of the same extension would conflict if symbolically linked into the same prefix. Users who want a different version of a package can still get it by using environment modules or views, but they will have to explicitly load their preferred version.

spack activate --force

If, for some reason, you want to activate a package without its dependencies, you can use spack activate --force:

$ spack activate --force py-numpy
==> Activated extension py-numpy@1.9.1%gcc@4.4.7 arch=linux-debian7-x86_64-66733244 for python@2.7.8%gcc@4.4.7.

spack deactivate

We’ve seen how activating an extension can be used to set up a default version of a Python module. Obviously, you may want to change that at some point. spack deactivate is the command for this. There are several variants:

  • spack deactivate <extension> will deactivate a single extension. If another activated extension depends on this one, Spack will warn you and exit with an error.

  • spack deactivate --force <extension> deactivates an extension regardless of packages that depend on it.

  • spack deactivate --all <extension> deactivates an extension and all of its dependencies. Use --force to disregard dependents.

  • spack deactivate --all <extendee> deactivates all activated extensions of a package. For example, to deactivate all python extensions, use:

    $ spack deactivate --all python

Filesystem requirements

By default, Spack needs to be run from a filesystem that supports flock locking semantics. Nearly all local filesystems and recent versions of NFS support this, but parallel filesystems or NFS volumes may be configured without flock support enabled. You can determine how your filesystems are mounted with mount. The output for a Lustre filesystem might look like this:

$ mount | grep lscratch
mds1-lnet0@o2ib100:/lsd on /p/lscratchd type lustre (rw,nosuid,lazystatfs,flock)
mds2-lnet0@o2ib100:/lse on /p/lscratche type lustre (rw,nosuid,lazystatfs,flock)

Note the flock option on both Lustre mounts.

If you do not see this or a similar option for your filesystem, you have a few options. First, you can move your Spack installation to a filesystem that supports locking. Second, you could ask your system administrator to enable flock for your filesystem.

If none of those work, you can disable locking in one of two ways:

  1. Run Spack with the -L or --disable-locks option to disable locks on a call-by-call basis.
  2. Edit config.yaml and set the locks option to false to always disable locking.


If you disable locking, concurrent instances of Spack will have no way to avoid stepping on each other. You must ensure that there is only one instance of Spack running at a time. Otherwise, Spack may end up with a corrupted database file, or you may not be able to see all installed packages in commands like spack find.

If you are unfortunate enough to run into this situation, you may be able to fix it by running spack reindex.

This issue typically manifests with the error below:

$ ./spack find
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "./spack", line 176, in <module>
File "./spack", line 154,' in main
  return_val = command(parser, args)
File "./spack/lib/spack/spack/cmd/", line 170, in find
  specs = set(spack.installed_db.query(\**q_args))
File "./spack/lib/spack/spack/", line 551, in query
  with self.read_transaction():
File "./spack/lib/spack/spack/", line 598, in __enter__
  if self._enter() and self._acquire_fn:
File "./spack/lib/spack/spack/", line 608, in _enter
  return self._db.lock.acquire_read(self._timeout)
File "./spack/lib/spack/llnl/util/", line 103, in acquire_read
  self._lock(fcntl.LOCK_SH, timeout)   # can raise LockError.
File "./spack/lib/spack/llnl/util/", line 64, in _lock
  fcntl.lockf(self._fd, op | fcntl.LOCK_NB)
IOError: [Errno 38] Function not implemented

A nicer error message is TBD in future versions of Spack.

Getting Help

spack help

If you don’t find what you need here, the help subcommand will print out out a list of all of spack’s options and subcommands:

$ spack help
usage: spack [-hkV] [--color {always,never,auto}] COMMAND ...

A flexible package manager that supports multiple versions,
configurations, platforms, and compilers.

These are common spack commands:

query packages:
  list                  list and search available packages
  info                  get detailed information on a particular package
  find                  list and search installed packages

build packages:
  install               build and install packages
  uninstall             remove installed packages
  gc                    remove specs that are now no longer needed
  spec                  show what would be installed, given a spec

  env                   manage virtual environments
  view                  project packages to a compact naming scheme on the filesystem.

create packages:
  create                create a new package file
  edit                  open package files in $EDITOR

  arch                  print architecture information about this machine
  compilers             list available compilers

user environment:
  load                  add package to the user environment
  module                manipulate module files
  unload                remove package from the user environment

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -k, --insecure        do not check ssl certificates when downloading
  -V, --version         show version number and exit
  --color {always,never,auto}
                        when to colorize output (default: auto)

more help:
  spack help --all       list all commands and options
  spack help <command>   help on a specific command
  spack help --spec      help on the package specification syntax
  spack docs             open in a browser

Adding an argument, e.g. spack help <subcommand>, will print out usage information for a particular subcommand:

$ spack help install
usage: spack install [-hnvy] [--only {package,dependencies}] [-u UNTIL] [-j JOBS] [--overwrite] [--keep-prefix]
                     [--keep-stage] [--dont-restage] [--use-cache | --no-cache | --cache-only] [--no-check-signature]
                     [--show-log-on-error] [--source] [--fake] [--only-concrete] [-f SPEC_YAML_FILE]
                     [--clean | --dirty] [--test {root,all} | --run-tests] [--log-format {None,junit,cdash}]
                     [--log-file LOG_FILE] [--help-cdash]

build and install packages

positional arguments:
  spec                  package spec

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  --only {package,dependencies}
                        select the mode of installation.
                        the default is to install the package along with all its dependencies.
                        alternatively one can decide to install only the package or only
                        the dependencies
  -u UNTIL, --until UNTIL
                        phase to stop after when installing (default None)
  -j JOBS, --jobs JOBS  explicitly set number of parallel jobs
  --overwrite           reinstall an existing spec, even if it has dependents
  --keep-prefix         don't remove the install prefix if installation fails
  --keep-stage          don't remove the build stage if installation succeeds
  --dont-restage        if a partial install is detected, don't delete prior state
  --use-cache           check for pre-built Spack packages in mirrors (default)
  --no-cache            do not check for pre-built Spack packages in mirrors
  --cache-only          only install package from binary mirrors
  --no-check-signature  do not check signatures of binary packages
  --show-log-on-error   print full build log to stderr if build fails
  --source              install source files in prefix
  -n, --no-checksum     do not use checksums to verify downloaded files (unsafe)
  -v, --verbose         display verbose build output while installing
  --fake                fake install for debug purposes.
  --only-concrete       (with environment) only install already concretized specs
                        install from file. Read specs to install from .yaml files
  --clean               unset harmful variables in the build environment (default)
  --dirty               preserve user environment in spack's build environment (danger!)
  --test {root,all}     If 'root' is chosen, run package tests during
                        installation for top-level packages (but skip tests for dependencies).
                        if 'all' is chosen, run package tests during installation for all
                        packages. If neither are chosen, don't run tests for any packages.
  --run-tests           run package tests during installation (same as --test=all)
  --log-format {None,junit,cdash}
                        format to be used for log files
  --log-file LOG_FILE   filename for the log file. if not passed a default will be used
  --help-cdash          Show usage instructions for CDash reporting
  -y, --yes-to-all      assume "yes" is the answer to every confirmation request

Alternately, you can use spack --help in place of spack help, or spack <subcommand> --help to get help on a particular subcommand.