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Using the Archive and Metainfo


NOMAD stores all processed data in a well defined, structured, and machine readable format. Well defined means that each element is supported by a formal definition that provides a name, description, location, shape, type, and possible unit for that data. It has a hierarchical structure that logically organizes data in sections and subsections and allows cross-references between pieces of data. Formal definitions and corresponding data structures enable the machine processing of NOMAD data.

archive example

The Metainfo is the schema for Archive data.

The Archive stores descriptive and structured information about materials-science data. Each entry in NOMAD is associated with one Archive that contains all the processed information of that entry. What information can possibly exist in an archive, how this information is structured, and how this information is to be interpreted is governed by the Metainfo.

On schemas and definitions

Each piece of Archive data has a formal definition in the Metainfo. These definitions provide data types with names, descriptions, categories, and further information that applies to all incarnations of a certain data type.

Consider a simulation Run. Each simulation run in NOMAD is characterized by a section, that is called run. It can contain calculation results, simulated systems, applied methods, the used program, etc. What constitutes a simulation run is defined in the metainfo with a section definition. All other elements in the Archive (e.g. calculation, system, ...) have similar definitions.

Definitions follow a formal model. Depending on the definition type, each definition has to provide certain information: name, description, shape, units, type, etc.

Types of definitions

  • Sections are the building block for hierarchical data. A section can contain other sections (via subsections) and data (via quantities).
  • Subsections define a containment relationship between sections.
  • Quantities define a piece of data in a section.
  • References are special quantities that allow to define references from a section to another section or quantity.
  • Categories allow to categorize definitions.
  • Packages are used to organize definitions.


NOMAD Metainfo is kept independent of the actual storage format and is not bound to any specific storage method. In our practical implementation, we use a binary form of JSON, called msgpack on our servers and provide Archive data as JSON via our API. For NOMAD end-users the internal storage format is of little relevance, since the archive data is provided exclusively by NOMAD's API. On top of the JSON API data, the NOMAD Python package provides a more convenient interface for Python users.

Archive JSON interface

The API section demonstrates how to access an Archive. The API will give you JSON data likes this:
    "run": [
            "program": {...},
            "method": [...],
            "system": [
                    "type": "bulk",
                    "configuration_raw_gid": "-ZnDK8gT9P3_xtArfKlCrDOt9gba",
                    "is_representative": true,
                    "chemical_composition": "KKKGaGaGaGaGaGaGaGaGa",
                    "chemical_composition_hill": "Ga9K3",
                    "chemical_composition_reduced": "K3Ga9",
                    "atoms": {...},
                    "springer_material": [...],
                    "symmetry": [...]
            "calculation": [...],
    "workflow": [...],
    "metadata": {...},
        "material": {...},
        "method": {...},
        "properties": {...},

This will show you the Archive as a hierarchy of JSON objects (each object is a section), where each key is a property (e.g. a quantity or subsection). Of course you can use this data in this JSON form. You can expect that the same keys (each item has a formal definition) always provides the same type of data. However, not all keys are present in every archive, and not all lists might have the same number of objects. This depends on the data. For example, some runs contain many systems (e.g. geometry optimizations), others don't; typically bulk systems will have symmetry data, non bulk systems might not. To learn what each key means, you need to look up its definition in the Metainfo.

You can browse the NOMAD metainfo schema or the archive of each entry (e.g. a VASP example) in the web-interface.

Archive Python interface

In Python, JSON data is typically represented as nested combinations of dictionaries and lists. Of course, you could work with this right away. To make it easier for Python programmers the NOMAD Python package allows you to use this JSON data with a higher level interface, which provides the following advantages:

  • code completion in dynamic coding environments like Jupyter notebooks
  • a cleaner syntax that uses attributes instead of dictionary access
  • all higher dimensional numerical data is represented as numpy arrays
  • allows to navigate through references
  • numerical data has a Pint unit attached to it

For each section the Python package contains a Python class that corresponds to its definition in the metainfo. You can use these classes to access json_data downloaded via API:

from nomad.datamodel import EntryArchive

archive = EntryArchive.m_from_dict(json_data)
calc =[0].calculation[-1]
total_energy_in_ev =
formula = calc.system_ref.chemical_formula_reduced

Archive data can also be serialized into JSON again:

import json

print(json.dumps(calc.m_to_dict(), indent=2))

Metainfo Python interface

To learn more about the Python interface, look at the Metainfo documentation that explains how the underlying Python classes work, and how you can extend the metainfo by providing your own classes.