The 'Checkpoint File' Optimization


Available in Cromwell 55 and higher.

This optimization provides a way to mitigate the problem of long-running tasks getting preempted partway through execution. It allows the user to save intermediates of a task at regularly scheduled checkpoints. After an interruption, the task can be restarted from the last saved checkpoint, thereby avoiding having to re-run the entire computation again.


Specifying a checkpointFile value in a task's runtime section designates a checkpoint file which will periodically be copied to cloud storage every 10 minutes. This checkpoint file will then be restored automatically on subsequent attempts if the job is interrupted. Once the final output has been successfully generated, the checkpoint file will be deleted.

To use this feature effectively, the WDL task must be written intentionally to use the checkpoint file. See example below.

Effects on cloud charges

Charges will accrue from storing the checkpoint file during the running of the task, and additional charges may apply to the transfer between the VM and the cloud storage bucket depending on their locations. These costs should be minor, especially balanced against the performance and cost benefits of being able to restore from the checkpoint when a worker VM gets preempted.

Since the checkpoint file is deleted after successful completion of the task, no further charges will accrue after completion. However, if the task is aborted or otherwise stopped externally, ie through interruption of Cromwell's operation, the checkpoint file will NOT be deleted and storage charges will continue to accrue indefinitely, or until the file is deleted manually.

Effect on Call Caching

The presence or absence of the checkpointFile attribute is not considered when determining whether to call cache.


The following WDL demonstrates the use of the checkpointFile optimization. It has a command that is checkpoint-aware:

  • It starts by attempting to restore state from the my_checkpoint file (or starts at 1 if the checkpoint is empty)
  • Then it counts up to 100, printing out the current counter value and a date timestamp at each value.

To make the checkpointing work, the runtime section specifies checkpointFile: "my_checkpoint".

version 1.0

workflow count_wf {
  # Count to 2100 at 1/second => 35 minutes to complete, but
  # luckily the state can be checkpointed every 10 minutes in
  # case of preemption: 
  call count { input: count_to = 2100 }

task count {
  input {
    Int count_to

  command <<<
    # Note: Cromwell will stage the checkpoint file on recovery attempts.
    # This task checks the 'my_checkpoint' file for a counter value, or else
    # initializes the counter at '1':
    FROM_CKPT=$(cat my_checkpoint | tail -n1 | awk '{ print $1 }')

    echo '--' >> my_checkpoint
    for i in $(seq $FROM_CKPT ~{count_to})
      echo $i $(date) >> my_checkpoint
      sleep 1

  runtime {
    docker: "ubuntu:latest"
    preemptible: 3
    # Note: This checkpointFile attribute is what signals to Cromwell to save
    # the designated checkpoint file:
    checkpointFile: "my_checkpoint"

  output {
    # Note: This task also uses the checkpoint as its output. This is not
    # required for checkpointing to work:
    Array[String] out = read_lines("my_checkpoint")

Backend Support

Cromwell supports the checkpointFile attribute on the following backends:

  • The Google PAPIv2 (alpha1) backend
  • The Google Life Sciences (beta) backend