The FlashGraph User Guide

FlashGraph provides a flexible vertex-centric programming interface. In this programming model, each vertex performs user-defined tasks independently and interacts with other vertices. A vertex affects the state of others by sending messages to them as well as activating them. Notably, FlashGraph allows a vertex to send messages to any vertex in the graph. A vertex can also read the vertex information of any vertex from SAFS as well as the state of any vertex in memory.

A graph algorithm usually progresses in iterations. In each iteration, the graph engine executes a user-defined task on each activated vertex. An iteration ends when there are no more active vertices in the iteration and no vertices have pending requests in the graph engine. An algorithm ends when there aren’t active vertices in the next iteration.

Vertex program

The most common way of implementing a graph algorithm in FlashGraph is to define computation vertices by inheriting the compute_vertex class . Users define vertex state and implement three run methods in the computation vertices, as shown below. FlashGraph executes the run method exactly once for each active vertex in an iteration; the order of execution of this method on vertices is subject to scheduling by FlashGraph. The execution of the run_on_vertex and run_on_message methods is event-driven. FlashGraph executes run_on_vertex when the edge list of a vertex requested by the current vertex is ready in the page cache. FlashGraph executes run_on_message if the vertex receives messages from other vertices. The run_on_message method may be executed even if a vertex is inactive in an iteration. All examples assume using namespace fg; is declared.

class compute_vertex
  // run only on the vertex state.
  void run(vertex_program &prog);

  // run on the edge list of a vertex
  void run_on_vertex(vertex_program &prog, page_vertex &vertex);

  // process a message.
  void run_on_message(vertex_program &prog, vertex_message &msg);

  // If the vertex requests a notification of the end of an iteration,
  // this callback function will be invoked at the end of an iteration.
  void notify_iteration_end(vertex_program &prog);

Given the programming interface, breadth-first search can be simply expressed as the code below. If a vertex has not been visited, it issues a request to read its neighbor list in run and activates its neighbors in run_on_vertex. In this example, vertices do not need to send messages to one another so we do not need to implement run_on_message.

class bfs_vertex: public vertex
  bool has_visited;
  bfs_vertex() {
    has_visited = false;

  void run(vertex_program &prog) {
    if (!has_visited) {
      vertex_id_t id = prog.get_vertex_id(*this);

      // Request vertex neighbor list from SAFS
      request_vertices(&id, 1);
      set_visited = true;

  void run_on_vertex(vertex_program &prog, page_vertex &vertex) {
    vertex_id_t dest_buf[];
    prog.activate_vertices(dest_buf, num_dests);

  void run_on_message(vertex_program &prog, vertex_message &msg) {

Initialize vertex state

There are two ways of initializing vertex state. Programmers can initialize vertex state in the constructor of the user-defined computation vertex. In the example of BFS, programmers only need to initialize has_visited in the constructor of bfs_vertex. For simple graph algorithms, this is usually enough.

In a more complex case, a graph algorithm may require to execute the vertex program multiple times or execute multiple vertex programs. Therefore, it needs to set some vertices to a certain state or reset all vertices. FlashGraph provides another mechanism to initialize vertex state. Programmers need to implement the vertex_initiator interface, shown as below. Users can pass a customized vertex initializer to the graph engine by invoking its init_all_vertices() or its start function. An example of using a customized vertex initializer can be found in single source shortest path.

class vertex_initiator
    typedef std::shared_ptr<vertex_initiator> ptr;
    virtual void init(compute_vertex &) = 0;

Interaction with other vertices

There are four ways for a vertex to interact with other vertices: a vertex can send messages to other vertices; a vertex can read in-memory vertex state of other vertices directly; a vertex can read the adjacency list of other vertices from SSDs.

message passing

FlashGraph provides two methods for message passing: vertex_program::send_msg() and vertex_program::multicast_msg(). The former method is point-to-point communication between two vertices and the second method allows a vertex to send a message to multiple vertices. In most of the cases, multicast is used because multicast has much smaller overhead and most graph algorithms require a vertex to send the same message to all of its neighbors. A vertex gets notified of the messages sent from other vertices through run_on_message().

All messages need to be inherited from the vertex_message class. Its constructor takes two arguments: the size of the user-defined message and the activate flag. When the activate flag is set, the recipient vertices will be activated.

To reduce memory consumption, FlashGraph delivers messages to vertices whenever it receives messages. Therefore, there is no guarantee of the execution order of the three run methods. It is programmers’ responsibility of maintaining the correctness of vertex state. By delivering messages to vertices immediately, we enable asynchronous execution of graph algorithms. That is, an update to vertex state can be immediately exposed to other vertices. It has advantage for some graph algorithms because asynchronous execution can accelerate some graph algorithms. This is different from Pregel, which only delivers messages to vertices at the end of an iteration.

Vertex activation

A vertex can activate with other vertices to run in the next iteration. There are two ways of activating other vertices: with the dedicated methods vertex_program::activate_vertex and vertex_program::activate_vertices; with the activate flag in messages sent to other vertices.

Directed memory read

We can get a reference to a vertex of a specified ID with graph_engine::get_vertex(). This interface only works in a shared-memory machine and may cause significant random memory access. Therefore, this interface is not favored and should be used with caution.

Access adjacency list from SSDs

It takes two steps to read adjacency lists from SSDs: a vertex issues read requests; the user-defined computation vertex gets notified through its run_on_vertex(). A vertex can read entire adjacency lists with compute_vertex::request_vertices(). A directed vertex can read partial adjacency lists with compute_directed_vertex::request_partial_vertices(). In a partial request, a directed vertex can request an in-edge list or an out-edge list or both.

Data iterators

FlashGraph defines iterators for neighbor lists and edge attributes (for graphs that contain them). FlashGraph implements both sequential (Java-style) iterators and traditional STL-style iterators. Java-style iterators will improve performance in sequential access tasks and can be parameterized with a start and end positions for partial edge list numeration. For both examples assume the vertex has requested it’s edge list in the run(vertex_program &prog) method.

Java-style iterators

The code below shows how the Java-style iterators can be used to iterate an edge list and access a data item in an attributed graph.

typedef safs::page_byte_array::const_iterator<edge_data_type> data_iterator;
typedef safs::page_byte_array::seq_const_iterator<edge_count> data_seq_iterator;

void nmf_vertex::run(vertex_program &prog, const page_vertex &vertex) {
    // Iterator for neighbor IDs
    edge_seq_iterator neigh_it = vertex.get_neigh_seq_it(IN_EDGE);
    // Iterator for egde count (weight) attribute
    data_seq_iterator count_it =
        ((const page_directed_vertex&)vertex).get_data_seq_it<edge_count>(IN_EDGE);

    while (neigh_it.has_next()) {
        vertex_id_t nid =;
        edge_count e =;

        // Make use of `nid` and `e`
        std::cout << "Neighbor = " << nid << " Edge count = "
                      << e.get_count() << std::endl;

STL-style iterators

The code below shows how the STL-style iterators can be used to iterate an edge list and access a data item in an attributed graph.

void nmf_vertex::run(vertex_program &prog, const page_vertex &vertex) {
    // Iterator for neighbor IDs
    edge_iterator neigh_it = vertex.get_neigh_begin(edge_type::OUT_EDGE);
    edge_iterator neigh_end = vertex.get_neigh_end(edge_type::OUT_EDGE);

    // Iterator for edge count (weight) attribute
    data_iterator count_it = 
          ((const page_directed_vertex&)vertex).get_data_begin(OUT_EDGE);
    data_iterator count_end = 
             ((const page_directed_vertex&)vertex).get_data_end(OUT_EDGE);

    for (; neigh_it != neigh_end; ++neigh_it) {
        vertex_id_t nid = *it;
        edge_count e = *count_it;

        // Make use of `nid` and `e`
        std::cout << "Neighbor = " << nid << " Edge count = "
                              << e.get_count() << std::endl;

Execute vertex program

The code below executes the BFS program shown above. We create a graph_index object that contains the user-defined vertex state for all vertices and create a graph_engine object that executes the user code for the graph algorithm. In the case of BFS, the algorithm starts on a single vertex. When a graph engine starts, the user code runs in the worker threads inside the graph engine. We can invoke wait4complete to wait the graph algorithm to complete.

graph_index::ptr index = NUMA_graph_index<bfs_vertex>::create(index_file);
graph_engine::ptr graph = graph_engine::create(graph_file, index, configs);

graph->start(&start_vertex, 1);