Skip to content

How to write a parser

NOMAD uses parsers to convert raw code input and output files into NOMAD's common archive format. This is the documentation on how to develop such a parser.

Getting started

Let's assume we need to write a new parser from scratch.

First we need to install the nomad-lab Python package to get the necessary libraries:

pip install nomad-lab

We have prepared an example parser project that you can work with:

git clone --branch hello-world

Alternatively, you can fork the example project on GitHub to create your own parser. Clone your fork accordingly.

The project structure should be:


Next, you should install your new parser with pip. The -e parameter installs the parser in development. This means you can change the sources without having to reinstall:

cd example
pip install -e .

The main code file exampleparser/ should look like this:

class ExampleParser(MatchingParser):
    def __init__(self):
        super().__init__(name='parsers/example', code_name='EXAMPLE')

    def run(self, mainfile: str, archive: EntryArchive, logger):
        # Log a hello world, just to get us started. TODO remove from an actual parser.'Hello World')

        run = archive.m_create(Run)
        run.program_name = 'EXAMPLE'

A parser is a simple program with a single class. The base class MatchingParser provides the necessary interface to NOMAD. We provide some basic information about our parser in the constructor. The main function run simply takes a filepath and an empty archive as input. Now it's up to you, to open the given file and populate the given archive accordingly. In the plain hello world, we simple create a log entry, populate the archive with a root section Run, and set the program name to EXAMPLE.

You can run the parser with the included It takes a file as argument and you can run it like this:

python -m exampleparser tests/data/example.out

The output should show the log entry and the minimal archive with one section_run and the respective program_name:

  "section_run": [
      "program_name": "EXAMPLE"

Parsing test files

Let's do some actual parsing. Here we demonstrate how to parse ASCII files with some structure information in it, as it is typically used by materials science codes.

On the master branch of the example project, we have a more 'realistic' example:

git checkout master

This example imagines a potential code output that looks like this (tests/data/example.out):

               *** super_code v2 ***

system 1
sites: H(1.23, 0, 0), H(-1.23, 0, 0), O(0, 0.33, 0)
latice: (0, 0, 0), (1, 0, 0), (1, 1, 0)
energy: 1.29372

*** This was done with magic source                                ***
***                                x°42                            ***

system 2
sites: H(1.23, 0, 0), H(-1.23, 0, 0), O(0, 0.33, 0)
cell: (0, 0, 0), (1, 0, 0), (1, 1, 0)
energy: 1.29372

At the top there is some general information. Below that is a list of simulated systems with "sites" and "lattice" describing the crystal structure, as well as a computed energy value as an example for a code specific quantity from a 'magic source'.

In order to convert the information from this file into the archive, we first have to parse the necessary quantities: the date, system, energy, etc. The nomad-lab Python package provides a text_parser module for declarative parsing of text files. You can define text file parsers like this:

def str_to_sites(string):
    sym, pos = string.split('(')
    pos = np.array(pos.split(')')[0].split(',')[:3], dtype=float)
    return sym, pos

calculation_parser = UnstructuredTextFileParser(quantities=[
    Quantity('sites', r'([A-Z]\([\d\.\, \-]+\))', str_operation=str_to_sites),
        r'(?:latice|cell): \((\d)\, (\d), (\d)\)\,?\s*\((\d)\, (\d), (\d)\)\,?\s*\((\d)\, (\d), (\d)\)\,?\s*',
    Quantity('energy', r'energy: (\d\.\d+)'),
    Quantity('magic_source', r'done with magic source\s*\*{3}\s*\*{3}\s*[^\d]*(\d+)', repeats=False)])

mainfile_parser = UnstructuredTextFileParser(quantities=[
    Quantity('date', r'(\d\d\d\d\/\d\d\/\d\d)', repeats=False),
    Quantity('program_version', r'super\_code\s*v(\d+)\s*', repeats=False),
        'calculation', r'\s*system \d+([\s\S]+?energy: [\d\.]+)([\s\S]+\*\*\*)*',

The quantities to be parsed can be specified as a list of Quantity objects with a name and a regular expression (re) pattern. The matched value should be enclosed in a group(s) denoted by (...). By default, the parser uses the findall method of re, hence overlap between matches is not tolerated. If overlap cannot be avoided, you should switch to the finditer method by passing findall=False to the parser. Multiple matches for the quantity are returned if repeats=True (default). The name, data type, shape and unit for the quantity can also be initialized by passing a metainfo.Quantity. An external function str_operation can also be passed to perform more specific string operations on the matched value. A local parsing on a matched block can be carried out by nesting a sub_parser. This is also an instance of the UnstructuredTextFileParser with a list of quantities to parse. To access a parsed quantity, you can use the get method.

We can apply these parser definitions like this:

mainfile_parser.mainfile = mainfile

This will populate the mainfile_parser object with parsed data and it can be accessed like a Python dict with quantity names as keys:

run = archive.m_create(Run)
run.program_name = 'super_code'
run.program_version = str(mainfile_parser.get('program_version'))
date = datetime.datetime.strptime(
    '%Y/%m/%d') - datetime.datetime(1970, 1, 1)
run.program_compilation_datetime = date.total_seconds()

for calculation in mainfile_parser.get('calculation'):
    system = run.m_create(System)

    system.lattice_vectors = calculation.get('lattice_vectors')
    sites = calculation.get('sites')
    system.atom_labels = [site[0] for site in sites]
    system.atom_positions = [site[1] for site in sites]

    scc = run.m_create(SCC)
    scc.single_configuration_calculation_to_system_ref = system
    scc.energy_total = calculation.get('energy') * units.eV
    scc.single_configuration_calculation_to_system_ref = system
    magic_source = calculation.get('magic_source')
    if magic_source is not None:
        scc.x_example_magic_value = magic_source

You can still run the parser on the given example file:

python -m exampleparser tests/data/example.out

Now you should get a more comprehensive archive with all the provided information from the example.out file.

Extending the Metainfo

The NOMAD Metainfo defines the schema of each archive. There are predefined schemas for all domains (e.g. for electronic structure codes; for experimental data, etc.). The sections Run, System, and the single configuration calculations (SCC) in the example are taken from While this covers most of the data usually provided in code input/output files, some data is typically format-specific and applies only to a certain code or method. For these cases, we allow to extend the Metainfo like this (exampleparser/

# We extend the existing common definition of a section "single configuration calculation"
class ExampleSCC(SCC):
    # We alter the default base class behavior to add all definitions to the existing
    # base class instead of inheriting from the base class
    m_def = Section(extends_base_section=True)

    # We define an additional example quantity. Use the prefix x_<parsername>_ to denote
    # non common quantities.
    x_example_magic_value = Quantity(type=int, description='The magic value from a magic source.')

Testing a parser

Until now, we simply run our parser on some example data and manually observed the output. To improve the parser quality and ease the further development, you should get into the habit of testing the parser.

We use the Python unit test framework pytest:

pip install pytest

A typical test would take one example file, parse it, and check assertions about the output:

def test_example():
    parser = rExampleParser()
    archive = EntryArchive()'tests/data/example.out', archive, logging)

    run = archive.section_run[0]
    assert len(run.section_system) == 2
    assert len(run.section_single_configuration_calculation) == 2
    assert run.section_single_configuration_calculation[0].x_example_magic_value == 42

You can run all tests in the tests directory like this:

pytest -svx tests

You should define individual test cases with example files that demonstrate certain features of the underlying code/format.

Structured data files with NumPsy

The DataTextParser uses the numpy.loadtxt function to load an structured data file. The loaded data can be accessed from property data.

XML Parser

The XMLParser uses the ElementTree module to parse an XML file. The parse method of the parser takes in an XPath-style key to access individual quantities. By default, automatic data type conversion is performed, which can be switched off by setting convert=False.

Add the parser to NOMAD

NOMAD has to manage multiple parsers and must decide during processing which parsers to run on which files. To decide what parser is used, NOMAD processing relies on specific parser attributes.

Consider the example where we use the MatchingParser constructor to add additional attributes that determine for which files the parser is intended for:

class ExampleParser(MatchingParser):
    def __init__(self):
            name='parsers/example', code_name='EXAMPLE', code_homepage='',
            mainfile_contents_re=(r'^\s*#\s*This is example output'),
            supported_compressions=["gz", "bz2", "xz"],
            mainfile_contents_dict={'program': {'version': '1', 'name': 'EXAMPLE'}})
  • mainfile_mime_re: A regular expression on the MIME type of files. The parser is run only on files with matching MIME type. The MIME type is guessed with libmagic.

  • mainfile_contents_re: A regular expression that is applied to the first 4k of a file. The parser is run only on files where this matches.

  • mainfile_name_re: A regular expression that can be used to match against the name and path of the file.

  • supported compressions: A list of [gz, bz2] if the parser supports compressed files.

  • mainfile_alternative: If True, a file is mainfile unless another file in the same directory matches mainfile_name_re.

  • mainfile_contents_dict: A dictionary to match the contents of the file. If provided, it will load the file and match the value of the key(s) provided.

Not all of these attributes have to be used. Those that are given must all match in order to use the parser on a file.

The NOMAD infrastructure keeps a list of parser objects (in nomad/parsing/ These parsers are considered in the order they appear in the list. The first matching parser is used to parse a given file.

While each parser project should provide its own tests, a single example file should be added to the infrastructure parser tests (tests/parsing/

Once the parser is added, it becomes also available through the command line interface and normalizers are applied as well:

nomad parse tests/data/example.out

Developing an existing parser

To refine an existing parser, you should install the parser via the nomad-lab package:

pip install nomad-lab

Clone the parser project:

git clone <parser-project-url>
cd <parser-dir>

Either remove the installed parser and pip install the cloned version:

rm -rf <path-to-your-python-env>/lib/python3.9/site-packages/<parser-module-name>
pip install -e .

Or set PYTHONPATH so that the cloned code takes precedence over the installed code:

PYTHONPATH=. nomad parse <path-to-example-file>

Alternatively, you can also do a full developer setup of the NOMAD infrastructure and enhance the parser there.