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How to use Snakemake dry runs

Snakemake dry runs, a deep dive

The --dry-run option in Snakemake is a fast and computationally cheap way to test a workflow. By running snakemake --dry-run, or its shorthand -n, you can preview a workflow without an expensive or lengthy full run.

In this deep dive, we'll look closer at Snakemake's dry run functionality and usage.

How --dry-run works

  1. When using --dry-run, Snakemake parses the Snakefile and evaluates the rules without running the commands.
  2. It generates a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) of all the jobs that would be run.
  3. Snakemake lists the jobs that would be executed, providing a snapshot of what the workflow intends to do.
  4. The developer – or an automated test – checks the output to catch errors in the workflow logic, such as missing input files or rule misconfigurations.


Basic dry run

To perform a basic dry run of your Snakemake workflow, add the -n or --dry-run flag to your Snakemake command. This prints the actions Snakemake would take without executing them.

snakemake --dry-run


snakemake -n

Dry run with quiet mode

For large workflows, combine the --dry-run option with --quiet to avoid lengthy output.

snakemake --dry-run --quiet

Dry run after cleaning

To test the workflow from scratch, especially after making changes to the Snakefile, clean the workflow outputs and then perform a dry run.

snakemake clean && snakemake --dry-run

Dry run for specific rules

To test only a specific part of the workflow, combine --dry-run with a particular rule or output file. This targets the dry run to a specific segment of your pipeline.

snakemake --dry-run specific_output_file


snakemake --dry-run --rule my_specific_rule

Dry run with detailed information

For an a deeper understanding of each step, you can use the --dry-run option with --printshellcmds. This shows the shell commands that would execute each step without actually running them.

snakemake --dry-run --printshellcmds


Catching file name mismatches

Some of the omst common errors caught by --dry-run are filename mismatches, but continuously re-running a dry-run without running snakemake clean can lead to those errors not being caught as the cache develops.

Running a dry run after cleaning closes that gap.

Writing fast integration tests

Integrating --dry-run with --printshellcmds is a fast way to quickly check that the expected commands are produced after making changes. If set up in a continuous integration process, this helps catch a lot of issues before going live with new pipelines changes – without the computational burden of actually running the pipeline.