The main tool for using the OpenSAFELY platform locally is the
opensafely Python module, which is run via the command-line interface (CLI).
Its main function is to run data extraction and analysis scripts that are specified in the project pipeline, in a way that mimics the production environment where real data is accessed.
It also contains other functions relating to the OpenSAFELY workflow, such as updating codelists from OpenCodelists.
This is a command-line program.
To install, go to the Anaconda prompt and run the following command (or use another method to install the module if you know how):
pip install opensafely
To check this has installed successfully, run
You should keep the tool up to date as much as possible. You can upgrade to a new version of
opensafely by running:
The above command only works with
opensafely version 1.6.0 or newer. If you are
using an older version, you will first need to upgrade it with:
pip install --upgrade opensafely
opensafely at the command line🔗
To view the in-built documentation for each command, run
opensafely --help at the terminal, which will list all the ways in which you can use it.
You can also use
opensafely run --help to learn more about the
run command, for example.
To run any of these commands for a specific OpenSAFELY project, you need to change the directory of your prompt to be the repository of the project.
More information on how to use the
opensafely module is available in specific sections elsewhere, but some key functions are described briefly below.
run - run an action from project.yaml🔗
The most common command you'll run.
This runs actions defined in the
project.yaml file and is the main way of testing your code.
opensafely run make_graph
will run the
To run or to force run?
run command takes
where the latter is the short form of the former.
However, what do these arguments do?
When an action is a dependency of another action,
run command uses the dependency action's outputs
-- and one of these arguments, if one is present --
to determine whether the dependency action should also run.
If you specify the action to run but don't pass one of these arguments, then:
- The action is run, whether or not its outputs exist.
- Its dependencies are also run, if their outputs do not exist. Conversely, its dependencies are not run, if their outputs exist.
If you specify the action to run and pass one of these arguments, then:
- The action is run, whether or not its outputs exist.
- Its dependencies are also run, whether or not their outputs exist.
What about the
Think of all actions as dependencies of the
If you specify the
run_all action but don't pass one of these arguments,
then for each action:
- If the action's outputs exist, then it is not run.
- If the action's outputs do not exist, then it is run.
If you specify the
run_all action and pass one of these arguments, then:
- All actions are run, whether or not their outputs exist.
codelists - managing codelists🔗
This command is for working with codelists.
opensafely codelists update
to retrieve each codelist listed in
/codelists/codelists.txt from OpenCodelists.
It will add (or update) the codelist
.csv files to the
opensafely codelists check
to check if the codelist files are up-to-date with those listed in
See the Codelist section for more information on codelists.
pull - updating Docker images🔗
To run your code on your machine, the
opensafely tool uses the same Docker
images that run in the secure server environments. There is the
cohortextractor image, for processing study definitions, and then the
python images, for running your analysis code. These last
three provide a pre-built environment for their specific language, with
a fixed set of pre-installed libraries.
These are updated periodically, for example when new libraries are installed. If you have error messages about missing libraries, your Docker images may need upgrading. To pull the most recent Docker images to your machine, run:
exec - Interactive development🔗
Normal development of analysis code uses the pipeline defined in project.yaml to execute and test your code.
However, data science languages are often used interactively to rapidly experiment and test code. The
opensafely exec command provides a simple way to do this, using the Docker images provided by OpenSAFELY. This can help ensure that your code works correctly in OpenSAFELY as you develop it, rather than accidentally relying on tools and libraries installed on your own machine.
opensafely exec IMAGE COMMAND does the following:
- runs an instance of the appropriate docker IMAGE (
- shares the files in your current directory with the instance
- executes COMMAND (or the default command for the image if you don't supply one)
This allows you develop and and test code as if it was a regular interactive session.
For example, to run an interactive Stata session:
opensafely exec stata-mp
This will run the Stata packaged in the
stata-mp docker image, and you can manually test your Stata code (the
opensafely tool knows how to fetch and apply the OpenSAFELY Stata licence).
Likewise, for R:
opensafely exec r R
This will launch the version of R packaged in the
r docker image, and your files can be executed (we need to specify the command as
R as the default is to run
Rscript, which is non-interactive).
For python, you can run a plain python interpreter with:
opensafely exec python
Or the popular ipython interactive REPL with
opensafely exec python ipython
Note: for jupyter notebooks, see section below.
For all images, you can run an interactive bash shell with:
opensafely exec IMAGE bash
This can be useful if you want to explore the image manually.
jupyter - Running JupyterLab🔗
Jupyter notebooks are useful interactive environments for developing code.
You can run JupyterLab to use Jupyter notebooks via the
tool. This ensures that the Python code you write will work in the
From the directory containing code that you are working on, run:
JupyterLab should then open in a web browser automatically. Otherwise,
copy the long URL shown by the JupyterLab logs — starting
http://localhost… — and use that URL in a web
browser to access JupyterLab.
To exit, press Ctrl+C in the command line - this also shuts down the container. Or alternatively go to File -> shutdown in the JupyterLab tab.
unzip - unzipping CSV files🔗
For performance and storage reasons on the backend, you must use the
csv.gz output format for cohortextractor output files. However,
you may need to inspect the raw CSV data. You can easily unzip a CSV file with
opensafely unzip outputs/input.csv.gz
This will create a decompressed
output/input.csv file you can view as normal.
opensafely tool runs your jobs in Docker containers. If you're on Windows or Mac
OSX, your installed Docker Desktop app will likely have a subset of CPU and memory
resources available to it. If using Docker Desktop, you can increase
the resources allocated in that application.
You can quickly view your current Docker resources with
opensafely run will run at most 2 jobs at a time. You can
increase or decrease this by adding the flag
Typically, there are two reasons to use this flag.
First, to go faster if you have the resources available. Note: this will decrease whole project run time but increase memory usage.:
opensafely run run_all -c 8
Second is to go slower, if your jobs are hitting memory limits, to give each job the full resources of your local Docker installation:
opensafely run job_with_heavy_dependencies -c 1
You may see errors reporting jobs being killed due to excessive memory usage, even if running just one job.
This can have two different causes. The first is that your local docker just does not have enough memory to run your code. You can try reducing your population size, increasing the memory allocated to docker, or setting concurrency to 1, as described above.
The second reason is that by default, the
opensafely tool tells docker to limit
individual jobs to 4G of memory. The purpose of this limit is to provide early
warning that this job is using a lot of memory. Locally, jobs are usually run against
small sets of dummy data, but in production, your dataset will likely be much
larger, and thus consume even more memory there too. See Memory Efficient
Working for information on how to reduce your
code's memory usage.
However, you may very well need that extra memory for good reason, even when
working locally. If so, you can increase the memory with the flag
-m for short.
opensafely run job_name -m 8G
Over time, some left over Docker containers and volumes can build up, and take up space.
You can use the
clean command in order to safely purge any such left over artifacts:
This will clean up any dangling images, containers and volumes, freeing up disk space and generally leaving your Docker installation free of clutter.