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WDL Best Practices / Style Guide

"My First WDL" Template

task name {
  String in
  command {
    echo '${in}'
  }
  output {
    String out = read_string(stdout())
  }
}

workflow w {
  call name
}

Code Formatting

2-spaces, braces on same line, like this

task test {
  String prefix
  command {
    ./my_script > ${prefix}.first
    python other_script.py > ${prefix}.second
  }
  output {
    File first = "${prefix}.first"
    File second = "${prefix}.second"
  }
}

Write output to current working directory

Cromwell gives you a writeable directory as your CWD for every backend

task test {
  command {
    ./do_work > do_this
    ./do_work2 > subdir/do_this
    ./do_work3 > /etc/do_not_do_this
  }
}

Avoid Referencing Absolute Paths (Except when using Docker)

task bad {
  File f
  command {
    java -jar /usr/lib/library.jar -Dinput=${f}
  }
}

Instead:

task good {
  File f
  File jar
  command {
    java -jar ${jar} -Dinput=${f}
  }
}

If the task is only ever expected to run in the context of a Docker container, then it is okay to reference absolute paths:

task okay {
  File f
  command {
    java -jar /usr/lib/library.jar -Dinput=${f}
  }
  runtime {
    docker: "broadinstitute:some-image"
  }
}

Tasks can contain full scripts

If you find yourself wanting to do a small data transformation on one of the inputs, or wanting an if statement, or random number or any other piece of logic, encapsulate it in the task's command:

task example {
  String s
  File f
  Boolean b

  command <<<
    if [ "${b}" != 'true' ]; then
        var="first"
    else
        var="second"
    fi

    echo $var ${f} ${s}
    #java -jar picard.jar ...
  >>>

  output {
    String o = read_string(stdout())
  }
}

If you're more familiar with Python:

task example {
  File f
  String s

  command {
    # Probably not a good idea in practice...
    pip install my_module
    
    python <<CODE
    import my_module
    
    if 'xyz' in '${s}'.split(','):
      floating_point_result = my_module.my_method('${f}')
    else:
      floating_point_result = my_module.my_method2('${f}')
    print(floating_point_result)
    CODE
  }
}

Start Authoring without Docker, add Docker later

I find it easier to debug the inputs/outputs/commands of WDL file if they're not run within Docker containers.

Even if that means temporarily using absolute paths

task example {
  String s
  File f
  Boolean b

  command <<<
    if [ "${b}" != 'true' ]; then
        var="first"
    else
        var="second"
    fi

    echo $var ${f} ${s}
    #java -jar picard.jar ...
  >>>

  output {
    String o = read_string(stdout())
  }
}

workflow w {
  call example
}

Inputs (template generated with java -jar cromwell.jar inputs example.wdl):

{
  "w.example.s": "foobar",
  "w.example.f": "example.inputs",
  "w.example.b": true
}

Cromwell Running

if [ "true" != 'true' ]; then
    var="first"
else
    var="second"
fi
echo $var /Users/sfrazer/projects/cromwell/cromwell-executions/w/4ede86f2-52ea-4db5-a3dc-68467f264eb7/call-example/Users/sfrazer/projects/cromwell/example.inputs foobar
#java -jar picard.jar ...

From the output is the command you can copy/paste to run it manually:

"/bin/bash" "-c" "cat cromwell-executions/w/4ede86f2-52ea-4db5-a3dc-68467f264eb7/call-example/script |  /bin/bash <&0"

Use WDL functions for common transformations

WDL allows compound types like Array[String] or Map[String, Int] or Array[Array[String]]. There are two ways to get these data types into a form that the command can use:

  • Serialization by concatenation (only for Array)
  • Serialization by write-to-file
task example {
  Array[String] array
  Map[String, File] map
  Array[Array[Int]] matrix
  
  command {
    echo ${sep=',' array}
    cat ${write_lines(array)}
    python script.py --map=${write_map(map)}
    python process.py ${write_tsv(matrix)}
  }
}

workflow test {
  call example
}
{
  "test.example.array": ["a", "b", "c"],
  "test.example.map": {
    "key0": "/path/to/file0",
    "key1": "/path/to/file1",
    "key2": "/path/to/file2",
  },
  "test.example.matrix": [
    [0, 1, 2],
    [3, 4, 5],
    [6, 7, 8]
  ]
}

Produces this command:

echo a,b,c
cat /tmp/array.txt
python script.py --map=/tmp/map.txt
python process.py /tmp/matrix.txt

/tmp/array.txt would contain

a
b
c

/tmp/map.txt would contain

key0  /path/to/file0
key1  /path/to/file1
key2  /path/to/file2

/tmp/matrix.txt would contain

0 1 2
3 4 5
6 7 8

use read_* functions go to from files output by your command into WDL values

task example {
  command {
    echo 'first' > file
    echo 'second' >> file
    echo 'third' >> file
  }
  output {
    Array[String] out = read_lines("file")
  }
}
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