This lesson is still being designed and assembled (Pre-Alpha version)

Workflow parameterization


Teaching: 20 min
Exercises: 5 min
  • How can I change the data a workflow uses?

  • How can I parameterise a workflow?

  • How can I add my parameters to a file?

  • Use pipeline parameters to change the input to a workflow.

  • Add a pipeline parameters to a Nextflow script.

  • Understand how to create and use a parameter file.

In the first episode we ran the Nextflow script,, from the command line and it counted the number of lines in the file data/yeast/reads/ref1_1.fq.gz. To change the input to script we can make use of pipeline parameters.

Pipeline parameters

The Nextflow script defines a pipeline parameter params.input. Pipeline parameters enable you to change the input to the workflow at runtime, via the command line or a configuration file, so they are not hard-coded into the script.

Pipeline parameters are declared in the workflow by prepending the prefix params, separated by the dot character, to a variable name e.g., params.input.

Their value can be specified on the command line by prefixing the parameter name with a double dash character, e.g., --input.

In the script the pipeline parameter params.input was specified with a value of "data/yeast/reads/ref1_1.fq.gz".

To process a different file, e.g. data/yeast/reads/ref2_2.fq.gz, in the script we would run:

nextflow run --input 'data/yeast/reads/ref2_2.fq.gz'
N E X T F L O W  ~  version 21.04.0
Launching `` [gigantic_woese] - revision: 8acb5cb9b0
executor >  local (1)
[26/3cf986] process > NUM_LINES (1) [100%] 1 of 1 ✔
ref2_2.fq.gz 81720

We can also use wild cards to specify multiple input files (This will be covered in the channels episode). In the example below we use the * to match any sequence of characters between ref2_ and .fq.gz. Note: If you use wild card characters on the command line you must enclose the value in quotes.

$ nextflow run --input 'data/yeast/reads/ref2_*.fq.gz'

This runs the process NUM_LINES twice, once for each file it matches.

N E X T F L O W  ~  version 21.04.0
Launching `` [tender_lumiere] - revision: 8acb5cb9b0
executor >  local (2)
[cc/b6f793] process > NUM_LINES (1) [100%] 2 of 2 ✔
ref2_2.fq.gz 81720

ref2_1.fq.gz 81720

Change a pipeline’s input using a parameter

Re-run the Nextflow script by changing the pipeline input to all files in the directory data/yeast/reads/ that begin with ref and end with .fq.gz:


$ nextflow run --input 'data/yeast/reads/ref*.fq.gz'

The string specified on the command line will override the default value of the parameter in the script. The output will look like this:

N E X T F L O W  ~  version 20.10.0
Launching `` [soggy_miescher] - revision: c54a707593
executor >  local (6)
[d3/9ca185] process > NUM_LINES (2) [100%] 6 of 6 ✔
ref3_2.fq.gz 52592

ref2_2.fq.gz 81720

ref1_1.fq.gz 58708

ref1_2.fq.gz 58708

ref3_1.fq.gz 52592

ref2_1.fq.gz 81720

The pipeline executes the NUM_LINES process 6 times; one process for each file matching the string data/yeast/reads/*.fq.gz. Since each process is executed in parallel, there is no guarantee of which output is reported first. When you run this script, you may see the process output in a different order.

Adding a parameter to a script

To add a pipeline parameter to a script prepend the prefix params, separated by a dot character ., to a variable name e.g., params.input.

Let’s make a copy of the script as and add a new input parameter.

$ cp

To add a parameter sleep with the default value 2 to we add the line:

params.sleep = 2

Note: You should always add a sensible default value to the pipeline parameter. We can use this parameter to add another step to our NUM_LINES process.

 sleep ${params.sleep}
 printf '${read} '
 gunzip -c ${read} | wc -l

This step, sleep ${params.sleep}, will add a delay for the amount of time specified in the params.sleep variable, by default 2 seconds. To access the value inside the script block we use {variable_name} syntax e.g. ${params.sleep}.

We can now change the sleep parameter from the command line, For Example:

nextflow run --sleep 10

Add a pipeline parameter

If you haven’t already make a copy of the as

$ cp

Add the param sleep with a default value of 2 below the params.input line. Add the line sleep ${params.sleep} in the process NUM_LINES above the line printf ‘${read}.

Run the new script changing the sleep input time.

What input file would it run and why?

How would you get it to process all .fq.gz files in the data/yeast/reads directory as well as changing the sleep input to 1 second?


sleep ${params.sleep}
printf '${read} '
gunzip -c ${read} | wc -l
$ nextflow run --sleep 1

This would use 1 as a value of sleep parameter instead of default value (which is 2) and run the pipeline. The input file would be data/yeast/reads/ref1_1.fq.gz as this is the default. To run all input files we could add the param --input 'data/yeast/reads/*.fq.gz'

$ nextflow run --sleep 1 --input 'data/yeast/reads/*.fq.gz'

Parameter File

If we have many parameters to pass to a script it is best to create a parameters file. Parameters are stored in JSON or YAML format. JSON and YAML are data serialization languages, that are a way of storing data objects and structures, such as the params object in a file.

The -params-file option is used to pass the parameters file to the script.

For example the file wc-params.json contains the parameters sleep and input in JSON format.

  "sleep": 5,
  "input": "data/yeast/reads/etoh60_1*.fq.gz"

To run the script using these parameters we add the option -params-file and pass the file wc-params.json:

$ nextflow run -params-file wc-params.json
N E X T F L O W  ~  version 21.04.0
Launching `` [nostalgic_northcutt] - revision: 2f86c9ac7e
executor >  local (2)
[b4/747eaa] process > NUM_LINES (1) [100%] 2 of 2 ✔
etoh60_1_2.fq.gz 87348

etoh60_1_1.fq.gz 87348

Create and use a Parameter file.

Create a parameter file params.json for the Nextflow file, and run the Nextflow script using the created parameter file, specifying:

  • sleep as 10
  • input as data/yeast/reads/ref3_1.fq.gz


 "sleep": 10,
 "input": "data/yeast/reads/ref3_1.fq.gz"
$ nextflow run -params-file params.json
N E X T F L O W  ~  version 21.04.0
Launching `` [small_wiles] - revision: f5ef7b7a01
executor >  local (1)
[f3/4fa480] process > NUM_LINES (1) [100%] 1 of 1 ✔
ref3_1.fq.gz 52592

Key Points

  • Pipeline parameters are specified by prepending the prefix params to a variable name, separated by dot character.

  • To specify a pipeline parameter on the command line for a Nextflow run use --variable_name syntax.

  • You can add parameters to a JSON or YAML formatted file and pass them to the script using option -params-file.