H5MD format specification version 1.0.0

Objective

H5MD stands for “HDF5 for molecular data”. H5MD is a specification to store molecular simulation data and is based on the HDF5 file format (The HDF Group 2000–2013). The primary goal is to facilitate the portability of said data amongst scientific simulation and analysis programs.

File format

H5MD structures are stored in the HDF5 file format version 0 or later. It is recommended to use the HDF5 file format version 2, which includes the implicit tracking of the creation and modification times of the file and of each of its objects.

Notation and naming

HDF5 files are organized into groups and datasets, summarized as objects, which form a tree structure with the datasets as leaves. Attributes can be attached to each object. The H5MD specification adopts this naming and uses the following notation to depict the tree or its subtrees:

\-- item
An object within a group, that is either a dataset or a group. If it is a group itself, the objects within the group are indented by five spaces with respect to the group name.
+-- attribute
An attribute, that relates either to a group or a dataset.
\-- data: <type>[dim1][dim2]
A dataset with array dimensions dim1 by dim2 and of type <type>. The type is taken from Enumeration, Integer, Float or String and follows the HDF5 Datatype classes. If the type is not mandated by H5MD, <type> is indicated. A scalar dataspace is indicated by [].
(identifier)
An optional item.
<identifier>
An optional item with unspecified name.

H5MD defines a structure called H5MD element (or element whenever there is no confusion). An element is either a time-dependent group or a single dataset (see time-dependent data below), depending on the situation.

General organization

H5MD defines an organization of the HDF5 file or a part thereof into groups, datasets, and attributes. The root level of the H5MD structure may coincide with the root of the HDF5 file or be an arbitrary group inside the HDF5 tree. A number of groups are defined at the H5MD root level. Several levels of subgroups may exist inside the H5MD structure, allowing the storage and description of subsystems.

The H5MD structure is allowed to possess non-specified groups, datasets, or attributes that contain additional information such as application-specific parameters or data structures, leaving scope for future extensions. Only the h5md group is mandatory at the H5MD root level. All other root groups are optional, allowing the user to store only relevant data. Inside each group, every group or dataset is again optional, unless specified differently.

H5MD supports equally the storage of time-dependent and time-independent data, i.e., data that change in the course of the simulation or that do not. The choice between those storage types is not made explicit for the elements in the specification, it has to be made according to the situation. For instance, the species and mass of the particles are often fixed in time, but in chemically reactive systems this might not be appropriate.

Time-dependent data

Time-dependent data consist of a series of samples (or frames) referring to multiple time steps. Such data are found inside a single dataset and are accessed via dataset slicing. In order to link the samples to the time axis of the simulation, H5MD defines a time-dependent H5MD element as a group that contains, in addition to the actual data, information on the corresponding integer time step and on the physical time. The structure of such a group is:

<element>
 \-- step: Integer[variable]
 \-- time: Float[variable]
 \-- value: <type>[variable][...]
step
A dataset with dimensions [variable] that contains the time steps at which the corresponding data were sampled. It is of Integer type to allow exact temporal matching of data from one H5MD element to another. The values of the dataset are in monotonically increasing order.
time
A dataset that is the same as the step dataset, except it is Float-valued and contains the simulation time in physical units. The values of the dataset are in monotonically increasing order.
value
A dataset that holds the data of the time series. It uses a simple dataspace whose rank is given by 1 plus the tensor rank of the data stored. Its shape is the shape of a single data item prepended by a [variable] dimension that allows the accumulation of samples during the course of time. For instance, the data shape of scalars has the form [variable], D-dimensional vectors use [variable][D], etc. The first dimension of value must match the unique dimension of step and time.

If several H5MD elements are sampled at equal times, step and time of one element may be hard links to the step and time datasets of a different element. If two elements are sampled at different times (for instance, if one needs the positions more frequently than the velocities), step and time are unique to each of them.

Time-independent data

H5MD defines a time-independent H5MD element as a dataset. As for the value dataset in the case of time-dependent data, data type and array shape are implied by the stored data, where the [variable] dimension is omitted.

Storage order of arrays

All arrays are stored in C-order as enforced by the HDF5 file format (see § 3.2.5 in (“HDF5 User’s guide” 2000–2013)). A C or C++ program may thus declare r[N][D] for the array of particle coordinates while the Fortran program will declare a r(D,N) array (appropriate index ordering for a system of N particles in D spatial dimensions), and the HDF5 file will be the same.

H5MD root level

The root level of an H5MD structure holds a number of groups and is organized as follows:

H5MD root
 \-- h5md
 \-- (particles)
 \-- (observables)
 \-- (parameters)
h5md
A group that contains metadata and information on the H5MD structure itself. It is the only mandatory group at the root level of H5MD.
particles
An optional group that contains information on each particle in the system, e.g., a snapshot of the positions or the full trajectory in phase space. The size of the stored data scales linearly with the number of particles under consideration.
observables
An optional group that contains other quantities of interest, e.g., physical observables that are derived from the system state at given points in time. The size of stored data is typically independent of the system size.
parameters
An optional group that contains application-specific, custom data such as control parameters or simulation scripts.

In subsequent sections, the examples of HDF5 organization may start at the group level, omitting the display of H5MD root.

H5MD metadata

A set of global metadata describing the H5MD structure is stored in the h5md group as attributes. The contents of the group is:

h5md
 +-- version: Integer[2]
 \-- author
 |    +-- name: String[]
 |    +-- (email: String[])
 \-- creator
      +-- name: String[]
      +-- version: String[]
version

An attribute, of Integer datatype and of simple dataspace of rank 1 and size 2, that contains the major version number and the minor version number of the H5MD specification the H5MD structure conforms to.

The version x.y.z of the H5MD specification follows semantic versioning (Preston-Werner, n.d.): A change of the major version number x indicates backwards-incompatible changes to the file structure. A change of the minor version number y indicates backwards-compatible changes to the file structure. A change of the patch version number z indicates changes that have no effect on the file structure and serves to allow for clarifications or minor text editing of the specification.

As the z component has no impact on the content of a H5MD file, the version attribute contains only x and y.

author

A group that contains metadata on the person responsible for the simulation (or the experiment) as follows:

name
An attribute, of fixed-length string datatype and of scalar dataspace, that holds the author’s real name.
email
An optional attribute, of fixed-length string datatype and of scalar dataspace, that holds the author’s email address of the form email@domain.tld.
creator

A group that contains metadata on the program that created the H5MD structure as follows:

name
An attribute, of fixed-length string datatype and of scalar dataspace, that stores the name of the program.
version
An attribute, of fixed-length string datatype and of scalar dataspace, that yields the version of the program.

Modules

The H5MD specification can be complemented by modules specific to a domain of research. A module may define additional data elements within the H5MD structure, add conditions that the data must satisfy, or define rules for their semantic interpretation. Multiple modules may be present, as long as their prescriptions are not contradictory. Each module is identified by a name and a version number.

The modules that apply to a specific H5MD structure are stored as subgroups within the group h5md/modules. Each module holds its version number as an attribute, further module-specific information may be stored:

h5md
 \-- (modules)
      \-- <module1>
      |    +-- version: Integer[2]
      \-- <module2>
      |    +-- version: Integer[2]
      \-- ...
version

An attribute, of Integer datatype and of simple dataspace of rank 1 and size 2, that contains the major version number and the minor version number of the module.

The version x.y.z of an H5MD module follows semantic versioning (Preston-Werner, n.d.) and again only the components x and y are stored, see h5md/version in “H5MD metadata.”

Particles group

Information on each particle, i.e., particle trajectories, is stored in the particles group. The particles group is a container for subgroups that represent different subsets of the system under consideration, and it may hold one or several subgroups, as needed. These subsets may overlap and their union may be incomplete, i.e., not represent all particles of the simulation volume. The subgroups contain the trajectory data for each particle as time-dependent or time-independent data, depending on the situation. Each subgroup contains a specification of the simulation box, see below. For each dataset, the particle index is accommodated by the second (first, in the case of time-independence) array dimension.

The contents of the particles group assuming N particles in D-dimensional space could be the following:

particles
 \-- <group1>
      \-- box
      \-- (position)
      |    \-- step: Integer[variable]
      |    \-- time: Float[variable]
      |    \-- value: <type>[variable][N][D]
      \-- (image)
      |    \-- step: Integer[variable]
      |    \-- time: Float[variable]
      |    \-- value: <type>[variable][N][D]
      \-- (species: Enumeration[N])
      \-- ...

The following identifiers for H5MD elements are standardized:

position

An element that describes the particle positions as coordinate vectors of Float or Integer type.

If the component k of box/boundary (see below) is set to none, the data indicate for each particle the component k of its absolute position in space. If the component k of box/boundary is set to periodic, the data indicate for each particle the component k of the absolute position in space of an arbitrary periodic image of that particle.

image

An element that represents periodic images of the box as coordinate vectors of Float or Integer type and allows one to compute for each particle its absolute position in space. If image is present, position must be present as well. For time-dependent data, the step and time datasets of image must equal those of position, which must be accomplished by hard-linking the respective datasets.

If the component k of box/boundary (see below) is set to none, the values of the corresponding component k of image serve as placeholders. If the component k of box/boundary is set to periodic, for a cuboid box, the component k of the absolute position of particle i is computed as Rik=rik+Lkaik , where ri is taken from position, ai is taken from image, and L from box/edges.

velocity
An element that contains the velocities for each particle as a vector of Float or Integer type.
force
An element that contains the total forces (i.e., the accelerations multiplied by the particle mass) for each particle as a vector of Float or Integer type.
mass
An element that holds the mass for each particle as a scalar of Float type.
species
An element that describes the species for each particle, i.e., its atomic or chemical identity, as a scalar of Enumeration or Integer data type. Particles of the same species are assumed to be identical with respect to their properties and unbonded interactions.
id

An element that holds a scalar identifier for each particle of Integer type, which is unique within the given particle subgroup. The id serves to identify particles over the course of the simulation in the case when the order of the particles changes, or when new particles are inserted and removed. If id is absent, the identity of the particles is given by their index in the value datasets of the elements within the same subgroup.

A fill value (see § 6.6 in (“HDF5 User’s guide” 2000–2013)) may be defined for id/value upon dataset creation. When the identifier of a particle is equal to this user-defined value, the particle is considered non-existing, the entry serves as a placeholder. This permits the storage of subsystems whose number of particles varies in time. For the case of varying particle number, the dimension denoted by [N] above may be variable.

Simulation box

The specification of the simulation box is stored in the group box, which must be contained within each of the subgroups of the particles group. Storing the box information at several places reflects the fact that different subgroups may be sampled at different time grids. This way, the box information remains associated to a group of particles. A specific requirement for box groups inside particles is that the step and time datasets exactly match those of the corresponding position groups, which must be accomplished by hard-linking the respective datasets.

The spatial dimension and the boundary conditions of the box are stored as attributes to the box group, e.g., :

particles
 \-- <group1>
      \-- box
           +-- dimension: Integer[]
           +-- boundary: String[D]
           \-- (edges)
dimension
An attribute that stores the spatial dimension D of the simulation box and is of Integer datatype and scalar dataspace.
boundary

An attribute, of fixed-length string datatype and of simple dataspace of rank 1 and size D, that specifies the boundary condition of the box along each dimension. The values in boundary are either periodic or none:

periodic The simulation box is periodically continued along the given dimension and serves as the unit cell for an infinite tiling of space.

none No boundary condition is imposed. This summarizes the situations of open systems (i.e., an infinitely large box) and closed systems (e.g., due to an impenetrable wall). For those components where boundary is set to none, the corresponding values of edges serve as placeholders.

Information on the geometry of the box edges is stored as an H5MD element, allowing for the box to be fixed in time or not. Supported box shapes are the cuboid and triclinic unit cell, for other shapes a transformation to the triclinic shape may be considered (Bekker 1997). If all values in boundary are none, edges may be omitted.

edges

A D-dimensional vector or a D × D matrix, depending on the geometry of the box, of Float or Integer type. If edges is a vector, it specifies the space diagonal of a cuboid-shaped box. If edges is a matrix, the box is of triclinic shape with the edge vectors given by the rows of the matrix.

For a time-dependent box, a cuboid geometry is encoded by a dataset value (within the H5MD element) of rank 2 (1 dimension for the time and 1 for the vector) and a triclinic geometry by a dataset value of rank 3 (1 dimension for the time and 2 for the matrix).

For a time-independent box, a cuboid geometry is encoded by a dataset edges of rank 1 and a triclinic geometry by a dataset of rank 2.

For instance, a cuboid box that changes in time would appear as:

particles
 \-- <group1>
      \-- box
           +-- dimension: Integer[]
           +-- boundary: String[D]
           \-- edges
                \-- step: Integer[variable]
                \-- time: Float[variable]
                \-- value: <type>[variable][D]

where dimension is equal to D. A triclinic box that is fixed in time would appear as:

particles
 \-- <group1>
      \-- box
           +-- dimension: Integer[]
           +-- boundary: String[D]
           \-- edges: <type>[D][D]

where dimension is equal to D.

Observables group

Macroscopic observables, or more generally, averages of some property over many particles, are stored in the root group observables. Observables representing only a subset of the particles may be stored in appropriate subgroups similarly to the particles tree. Each observable is stored as an H5MD element. The shape of the corresponding dataset (the element itself for time-independent data and value for time-dependent data) is the tensor shape of the observable, prepended by a [variable] dimension for time-dependent data.

The contents of the observables group has the following structure:

observables
 \-- <observable1>
 |    \-- step: Integer[variable]
 |    \-- time: Float[variable]
 |    \-- value: <type>[variable]
 \-- <observable2>
 |    \-- step: Integer[variable]
 |    \-- time: Float[variable]
 |    \-- value: <type>[variable][D]
 \-- <group1>
 |    \-- <observable3>
 |         \-- step: Integer[variable]
 |         \-- time: Float[variable]
 |         \-- value: <type>[variable][D][D]
 \-- <observable4>: <type>[]
 \-- ...

Parameters group

The parameters group stores application-specific, custom data such as control parameters or simulation scripts. The group consists of groups, datasets, and attributes; the detailed structure, however, is left unspecified.

The contents of the parameters group could be the following:

parameters
 +-- <user_attribute1>
 \-- <user_data1>
 \-- <user_group1>
 |    \-- <user_data2>
 |    \-- ...
 \-- ...

References

Bekker, H. 1997. “Unification of Box Shapes in Molecular Simulations.” J. Comput. Chem. 18 (15): 1930–42. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1096-987X(19971130)18:15<1930::AID-JCC8>3.0.CO;2-P.

“HDF5 User’s guide.” 2000–2013. http://www.hdfgroup.org/HDF5/doc/UG.

Preston-Werner, Tom. n.d. “Semantic Versioning.” http://semver.org/spec/v2.0.0.html.

The HDF Group. 2000–2013. “Hierarchical Data Format Version 5.” http://www.hdfgroup.org/HDF5.