University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings, JCMB

May 9-10, 2017

9:00 - 17:00

Instructors: Juan Herrera, Manos Farsarakis, Mike Jackson, Rupert Nash

Helpers: Arno Proeme, Alexey Tarutin, Edward Wallace, Michael Spencer, Simon Waldman, Steve CARLYSLE-DAVIES

General Information

Software Carpentry aims to help researchers get their work done in less time and with less pain by teaching them basic research computing skills.

This workshop is hosted by EPCC, Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, and organised in collaboration by ARCHER, the Software Sustainability Institute, and UoE Research Data Service.

ARCHER, the UK's national supercomputing service, offers training in software development and high-performance computing to scientists and researchers across the UK. As part of our training service we are running a two-day Data Carpentry workshop.

The Software Sustanability Institute's mission is to cultivate better, more sustainable, research software to enable world-class research (better software, better research). Software is fundamental to research: seven out of ten UK researchers report that their work would be impossible without it.

The Research Data Service is a suite of tools and support for University staff and students to aid them in data management planning, working with data, sharing and preserving their data, and re-skilling. It is delivered by a virtual team spanning across a number of sections of Information Services including EDINA and Data Library, Library & University Collections, IT Infrastructure, User Services, and the Digital Curation Centre.

This hands-on workshop will cover basic concepts and tools, including program design, version control, data management, and task automation. Participants will be encouraged to help one another and to apply what they have learned to their own research problems.

For more information on what we teach and why, please see our paper "Best Practices for Scientific Computing".

Who: The course is aimed at graduate students and other researchers. You don't need to have any previous knowledge of the tools that will be presented at the workshop.

Where: Room 3217, James Clerk Maxwell Building, Peter Guthrie Tait Road, Edinburgh, EH9 3FD. Get directions with OpenStreetMap or Google Maps.

Requirements: Participants must bring a laptop with a Mac, Linux, or Windows operating system (not a tablet, Chromebook, etc.) that they have administrative privileges on. They should have a few specific software packages installed (listed below). They are also required to abide by Software Carpentry's Code of Conduct.

Accessibility: We are committed to making this workshop accessible to everybody. The workshop organisers have checked that:

Materials will be provided in advance of the workshop and large-print handouts are available if needed by notifying the organizers in advance. If we can help making learning easier for you (e.g. sign-language interpreters, lactation facilities) please get in touch and we will attempt to provide them.

Contact: Please email for more information.


To register, or to get more information, please, visit the ARCHER training page. You can also register directly here.


Please be sure to complete these surveys before and after the workshop.

Pre-workshop Survey

Post-workshop Survey


Day 1

9:00 Welcome and set-up
9:30 Version control with Git
10:30 Coffee break
11:00 Version control with Git
12:30 Lunch break
13:30 Automating tasks with Make
15:00 Coffee break
15:30 Automating tasks with Make
17:00 Close

Day 2

9:00 Python
10:30 Coffee break
11:00 Python
12:30 Lunch break
13:30 Python
15:00 Coffee break
15:30 Python
16:30 Wrap-up and feedback
17:00 Close

We will use this hackpad for chatting, taking notes, and sharing URLs and bits of code.


Version Control with Git

  • Creating a repository
  • Recording changes to files: add, commit, ...
  • Viewing changes: status, diff, ...
  • Ignoring files
  • Working on the web: clone, pull, push, ...
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Open licenses
  • Where to host work, and why
  • Reference...

Automating tasks with Make

  • Make is not just for compiling code
  • Basic Tasks
  • Automatic Variables and Wildcards
  • Patterns
  • Variables
  • Reference...

Building programs with Python

  • Using libraries
  • Working with arrays
  • Reading and plotting data
  • Creating and using functions
  • Loops and conditionals: for, if, else, ...
  • Defensive programming
  • Using Python from the command line
  • Reference...


To participate in a Software Carpentry workshop, you will need working copies of the software described below. Please make sure to install everything (or at least to download the installers) before the start of your workshop.

To participate in a Software Carpentry workshop, you will need access to the software described below. In addition, you will need an up-to-date web browser.

We maintain a list of common issues that occur during installation as a reference for instructors that may be useful on the Configuration Problems and Solutions wiki page.

The Bash Shell

Bash is a commonly-used shell that gives you the power to do simple tasks more quickly.


Video Tutorial
  1. Download the Git for Windows installer.
  2. Run the installer and follow the steps bellow:
    1. Click on "Next".
    2. Click on "Next".
    3. Keep "Use Git from the Windows Command Prompt" selected and click on "Next". If you forgot to do this programs that you need for the workshop will not work properly. If this happens rerun the installer and select the appropriate option.
    4. Click on "Next".
    5. Keep "Checkout Windows-style, commit Unix-style line endings" selected and click on "Next".
    6. Keep "Use Windows' default console window" selected and click on "Next".
    7. Click on "Install".
    8. Click on "Finish".
  3. If your "HOME" environment variable is not set (or you don't know what this is):
    1. Open command prompt (Open Start Menu then type cmd and press [Enter])
    2. Type the following line into the command prompt window exactly as shown:

      setx HOME "%USERPROFILE%"

    3. Press [Enter], you should see SUCCESS: Specified value was saved.
    4. Quit command prompt by typing exit then pressing [Enter]

This will provide you with both Git and Bash in the Git Bash program.

Mac OS X

The default shell in all versions of Mac OS X is Bash, so no need to install anything. You access Bash from the Terminal (found in /Applications/Utilities). See the Git installation video tutorial for an example on how to open the Terminal. You may want to keep Terminal in your dock for this workshop.


The default shell is usually Bash, but if your machine is set up differently you can run it by opening a terminal and typing bash. There is no need to install anything.


Git is a version control system that lets you track who made changes to what when and has options for easily updating a shared or public version of your code on You will need a supported web browser (current versions of Chrome, Firefox or Safari, or Internet Explorer version 9 or above).

You will need an account at for parts of the Git lesson. Basic GitHub accounts are free. We encourage you to create a GitHub account if you don't have one already. Please consider what personal information you'd like to reveal. For example, you may want to review these instructions for keeping your email address private provided at GitHub.


Git should be installed on your computer as part of your Bash install (described above).

Mac OS X

Video Tutorial

For OS X 10.9 and higher, install Git for Mac by downloading and running the most recent "mavericks" installer from this list. After installing Git, there will not be anything in your /Applications folder, as Git is a command line program. For older versions of OS X (10.5-10.8) use the most recent available installer labelled "snow-leopard" available here.


If Git is not already available on your machine you can try to install it via your distro's package manager. For Debian/Ubuntu run sudo apt-get install git and for Fedora run sudo yum install git.

Text Editor

When you're writing code, it's nice to have a text editor that is optimized for writing code, with features like automatic color-coding of key words. The default text editor on Mac OS X and Linux is usually set to Vim, which is not famous for being intuitive. if you accidentally find yourself stuck in it, try typing the escape key, followed by :q! (colon, lower-case 'q', exclamation mark), then hitting Return to return to the shell.


Video Tutorial

nano is a basic editor and the default that instructors use in the workshop. To install it, download the Software Carpentry Windows installer and double click on the file to run it. This installer requires an active internet connection.

Others editors that you can use are Notepad++ or Sublime Text. Be aware that you must add its installation directory to your system path. Please ask your instructor to help you do this.

Mac OS X

nano is a basic editor and the default that instructors use in the workshop. See the Git installation video tutorial for an example on how to open nano. It should be pre-installed.

Others editors that you can use are Text Wrangler or Sublime Text.


nano is a basic editor and the default that instructors use in the workshop. It should be pre-installed.

Others editors that you can use are Gedit, Kate or Sublime Text.


Python is a popular language for research computing, and great for general-purpose programming as well. Installing all of its research packages individually can be a bit difficult, so we recommend Anaconda, an all-in-one installer.

Regardless of how you choose to install it, please make sure you install Python version 3.x (e.g., 3.4 is fine).

We will teach Python using the IPython notebook, a programming environment that runs in a web browser. For this to work you will need a reasonably up-to-date browser. The current versions of the Chrome, Safari and Firefox browsers are all supported (some older browsers, including Internet Explorer version 9 and below, are not).


Video Tutorial
  1. Open with your web browser.
  2. Download the Python 3 installer for Windows.
  3. Install Python 3 using all of the defaults for installation except make sure to check Make Anaconda the default Python.

Mac OS X

Video Tutorial
  1. Open with your web browser.
  2. Download the Python 3 installer for OS X.
  3. Install Python 3 using all of the defaults for installation.


  1. Open with your web browser.
  2. Download the Python 3 installer for Linux.
    (Installation requires using the shell. If you aren't comfortable doing the installation yourself stop here and request help at the workshop.)
  3. Open a terminal window.
  4. Type
    bash Anaconda3-
    and then press tab. The name of the file you just downloaded should appear. If it does not, navigate to the folder where you downloaded the file, for example with:
    cd Downloads
    Then, try again.
  5. Press enter. You will follow the text-only prompts. To move through the text, press the space key. Type yes and press enter to approve the license. Press enter to approve the default location for the files. Type yes and press enter to prepend Anaconda to your PATH (this makes the Anaconda distribution the default Python).
  6. Close the terminal window.


Originally invented to manage compilation of programs written in languages like C, Make can be used to automatically update any set of files that depend on another set of files. This makes it a good solution for many data analysis and data management problems. While there are many build tools now in existence (e.g. ANT and CMake) they share the same fundamental concepts as Make.


Make will have been installed by the SWC installer.

Mac OS X

For OS X, version 10.9 (Mavericks) or above, download the Command Line Tools by doing:

xcode-select  --install

For more information, see the OSX Daily blog.

If you have an older OS X version and you do not already have access to make from within your shell, you will need to install XCode (which is free, but over a gigabyte to download).

  • Go to the Apple app store
  • Search for XCode
  • Click Free
  • Click Install App

Once XCode has installed:

  • Click Applications
  • Click XCode
  • Select XCode→Preferences...
  • Click Downloads
  • Select Command Line Tools
  • Click Install

You will now be able to run make within your shell.


Make is a standard tool on Linux systems and should already be available.

Check your setup

To check you have the necessary software and tools:

Recognising prompts and how to exit

If you find yourself in a shell that you don't recognise, or in an editor that you can't get out of then see Recognising prompts and how to exit.

Useful links

Software Carpentry online lessons:





Wilson G, Aruliah DA, Brown CT, Chue Hong NP, Davis M, et al. (2014) Best Practices for Scientific Computing. PLoS Biol 12(1): e1001745. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001745.

Sandve GK, Nekrutenko A, Taylor J, Hovig E (2013) Ten Simple Rules for Reproducible Computational Research. PLoS Comput Biol 9(10): e1003285. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003285.

Noble WS (2009) A Quick Guide to Organizing Computational Biology Projects. PLoS Comput Biol 5(7): e1000424. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000424.

Ram K (2013) "git can facilitate greater reproducibility and increased transparency in science", Source Code for Biology and Medicine 2013, 8:7 doi:10.1186/1751-0473-8-7.

Glass, R. (2002) Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering, Addison-Wesley, 2002. (PDF).

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