Installing and using software

We recommend that you install and use the Conda package manager to install software on GenomeDK. However, we used to have another mechanism for installing software that has now been deprecated. If you used this mechanism before, please read through the next section for instructions on how to transition safely to Conda. If you’re a new user you may skip the next section and jump directly to Installing Conda.

Why Conda? The clever thing about Conda is that it allows you to use separate environments for separate projects. If you have a project where you’ve installed a bunch packages for Python or R there is no reason for those to accidentally seep in to your next project. If you want to try different versions of some package you can just create separate environments for them instead of installing and uninstalling multiple times. With separate environments you force yourself to make the dependencies for each project explicit which in turn makes it easier for collaborators to run your code and improves reproducibility.

Conda also provides access to thousands of packages used in data science and bioinformatics. These packages can be installed with a single command, so you don’t have to worry about compilers, dependencies, and where to put binaries.

Installing the Conda package manager

Downloading and installing Conda is very simple, you just download and run the installer:

[fe-open-01]$ wget -O
[fe-open-01]$ chmod +x
[fe-open-01]$ bash -b
[fe-open-01]$ ./miniforge3/bin/conda init bash

That’s it! The last two step makes sure that Conda will be available when you log in, so now is a good time to open a new connection and check that Conda is available.

Now let’s configure Conda to make it super useful.

Configuring Conda

Conda can install packages from different channels. This is similar to repositories in other package managers. Here we’ll add a few channels that are commonly used in bioinformatics:

[fe-open-01]$ conda config --append channels bioconda
[fe-open-01]$ conda config --append channels genomedk
[fe-open-01]$ conda config --set channel_priority strict

Conda creates a base environment which contains Conda itself. It’s tempting to install packages in base, but that might ruin your Conda installation. You should never install anything in the base environment.

To prevent that you accidentially install something in the base environment, we’ll configure Conda so that it doesn’t activate it when you log in:

[fe-open-01]$ conda config --set auto_activate_base false

Once you have done these steps, you should have a config file in your home folder called .condarc that looks like this:

[fe-open-01]$ cat $HOME/.condarc
  - conda-forge
  - bioconda
  - genomedk
channel_priority: strict
auto_activate_base: false

Making Conda faster

Conda can be quite slow, especially when installing packages with many dependencies. To speed up Conda, you can install a faster dependency solver:

[fe-open-01]$ conda install -n base --yes conda-libmamba-solver
[fe-open-01]$ conda config --set solver libmamba

The libmamba solver is still experimental, but in our experience it’s a lot faster and better than the default solver.

Searching for packages

You can easily search for Conda packages through the website or using the conda search command:

[fe-open-01]$ conda search rstudio-desktop

Remember that the Conda package may not be called the exact official name of the software. For example, the Conda package for the software biobambam2 is just called biobambam, so searching for biobambam2 would not return any results.

Using environments

Here is how the usage might look if we want to create a new environment with the newest version of PySAM:

::: {.literalinclude language=“console”} examples/conda-create-env :::

This gives us a clean environment with just the minimal number of packages necessary to support PySAM. To use the software that was installed in the environment, the environment needs to be activated first:

[fe-open-01]$ conda activate amazing-project
(amazing-project) [fe-open-01]$ python -c 'import pysam; print(pysam.__version__)'

Notice that the prompt changed to show you that you’re now in the amazing-project environment.

Conda can install any kind of software. This means that your entire setup can be installed through Conda (if there’s packages for it all). For example, you can create an environment with Rstudio, R, and ggplot2 with a single command.

Command reference

To install software in the currenctly activated environment:

(amazing-project) [fe-open-01]$ conda install PACKAGE-NAME

To remove a software package from the currently activated environment:

(amazing-project) [fe-open-01]$ conda remove PACKAGE-NAME

To update a software package in the currently activated environment:

(amazing-project) [fe-open-01]$ conda update PACKAGE-NAME

Since Conda knows about the entire environment you created, it can tell you exactly which packages are used in the environment. This is very useful for collaborating with others, since your collaborators can create an exact copy of your environment with a single command.

To export your environment so that others can recreate it:

(amazing-project) [fe-open-01]$ conda env export > environment.yml

The environment.yml file contains an exact specification of your environment and the packages installed. You can put this in your shared project folder. Others will then be able to recreate your environment by running:

[fe-open-01]$ conda env create -f environment.yml

You can read more about using environments for projects.

There’s also also a cheatsheet with Conda commands available.

I don’t think I can use Conda because…

  • A Conda package is not available… In this case you can contact us and we will build a Conda package for you (when possible). Sometimes building a Conda package is not viable and in that case we will build a Singularity/Apptainer image instead.

  • I’m part of a project that dictates the software I should use… In this case the project should and probably will supply you for either a set of Conda packages or Singularity/Apptainer images. If not, most or all of the software will probably be available through Conda anyway, so you can still set up an environment with the software.

Using graphical interfaces

There’s two options for using programs with a graphical user interface on GenomeDK.


You can use X-forwarding to tunnel individual graphical programs to your local desktop. This works well for many programs, but programs that do fancy graphics or anything animated might not work well.

On Linux you simply need to tell SSH that you wish to enable X-forwarding. To do this, add -X to the ssh command when logging in to the cluster, for example:

[local]$ ssh -X

You should then be able to open e.g. Firefox on the frontend:

[fe-open-01]$ firefox

Since macOS does not include an X server, you will need to download and install XQuartz on your computer. When installed, reboot the computer. Now, you just need to tell SSH that you wish to enable X-forwarding. To do this, add -X to the ssh command when logging in to the cluster, for example:

[local]$ ssh -X

You should then be able to open e.g. Firefox on the frontend:

[fe-open-01]$ firefox

On Windows, we recommend that you use MobaXterm which has an integrated X server.


If you want to use a full virtual desktop you can use a VNC program. There are lots of options but we recommend TightVNC 2.x which works on both Linux, macOS, and Windows. When downloading TightVNC we recommend to get “TightVNC Java Viewer”. It downloads a ZIP archive which contains an executable JAR file.

To use VNC you first need to login to the frontend and start a VNC server. Starting the server is done with the vncserver command and looks like this:

[fe-open-01]$ vncserver

You will require a password to access your desktops.


New ' (user)' desktop is

Creating default startup script /home/user/.vnc/xstartup
Starting applications specified in /home/user/.vnc/xstartup
Log file is /home/user/.vnc/

The display id (:3 in this example) is needed when you want to connect the VNC client.

To connect to the running VNC server the SSH tunnel through the login node has to be established. In case of TightVNC, the tunneling option is included in the software itself and following settings should be sufficient:

TightVNC connection dialog

Note the “Port” field! The number specified must be 5900 plus the display ID, which in this example was :3. Thus, the port number becomes 5903.