SETI@home's transition to BOINC

SETI@home is switching to BOINC, a platform for distributed computing. There are now two separate projects:

These projects are doing the same scientific work, though SETI@home/BOINC will evolve to do new science.

Each project has its own account database. Some BOINC accounts are linked to a Classic account, and show the work done (results, CPU hours) by that Classic account.

NOTE: your Classic account will be linked to your BOINC account only if your Classic account has a valid email address (i.e. one where you can receive email) before the final cutover date (see below).

SETI@home on BOINC

This version of SETI@home is based on BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). Several other projects besides SETI@home are using BOINC. BOINC lets you participate in more than one project, and it lets you specify what fraction of your computer time should go to each project.

Compared to the original 'SETI@home Classic', you'll see several differences in the new BOINC-based SETI@home:

Multiple applications

BOINC allows projects to run more than one type of program on your computer. New program versions are downloaded automatically. SETI@home plans to use this feature do a new type of analysis of radio signals, looking for short broadband pulses that could be evidence of ET, black holes, or fast pulsars.

Variable credit per work unit

BOINC assigns a variable amount of credit per completed work unit, based on your CPU speed and the CPU time used.

Finite work supply

Each work unit is now processed a limited number of times (typically two). When we have no work for your computer, you'll get a 'no work available' message. We encourage you to participate in other BOINC-based projects; then, when SETI@home has no work, your computer can stay busy doing other scientific research.

Highly configurable preferences

You have more control over how your computer is used: for example, you can limit the disk usage, the network bandwidth, and the work hours. You can also control the amount of work that your computer downloads each time it connects to our server. These 'preferences' are managed using a web-based interface, and they automatically are applied to all the computers on which you run SETI@home.

OpenGL-based graphics

SETI@home's graphics now have a modern 3-D look. When they're running in a window, you can use the mouse to rotate and zoom. You can even customize the graphics using a web-based interface.

Open source

The source code for both %sSETI@home%s and %sBOINC%s are available. If you have a rare kind of computer, or like to compile things yourself for security reasons, you can still run SETI@home.

Transition timetable

The plan for the transition is as follows:

14 May 2004

We made a 'snapshot' of Classic user information (accounts, teams, profiles) and used it to initialize the SETI@home/BOINC database. A BOINC account must be 'validated' (by responding to an email sent to the account's email address) before it can be used. The BOINC accounts created at this time remain linked to the Classic account, even if the email address of either account is changed.

22 June 2004

We made SETI@home/BOINC available for general use.

16 March 2005

We updated the BOINC database with current information from Classic. Classic accounts created since 14 May 2004 were linked to the BOINC account having the same email address, if it existed; otherwise a new BOINC account was created with that email address (see technical details below).

To be announced

Account creation is disabled on Classic.

To be announced

We stop creating workunits for Classic.

To be announced (1 April 2005 or later)

We turn off the data server for Classic. Classic will no longer send workunits or accept results. Functions to update account information are disabled. We update the BOINC account database with current information from SETI@home Classic one final time. At this point the Classic statistics are frozen (though we may continue to eliminate 'cheaters').

Questions and answers

Why is SETI@home switching to BOINC?

Several reasons:

Can I run both versions at once?

If you do this, SETI@home/BOINC won't get any CPU time because it runs at a lower priority. We recommend that you uninstall SETI@home Classic before running SETI@home/BOINC.

What will happen to my workunit totals?

BOINC projects can have workunits of many different lengths, so BOINC keeps track of your computer's work in terms of actual computation performed rather than number of workunits.

Because of this change, BOINC accounts will have separate old and new work totals. The old total is the workunit total from Classic. It won't change, and a section of our web site will show the final leaderboards based on old work totals. New work unit totals will start from zero.

What will happen with SETI@home teams?

All Classic teams, and their membership, were copied over to BOINC on May 14 2004.

What SETIQueue (and related programs) still work?

These programs, which have been very useful with Classic, won't work with BOINC. But some of their functions can be performed by other means:

What platforms will be supported?

BOINC supports Windows/X86, Linux/X86, Solaris/SPARC, and Mac OS X.

Can I run multiple instances on a multiprocessor?

Yes, but it's not necessary; BOINC, by default, uses all the host's processors.

Will the format of input and output files change?

Yes. The new format is XML-like (though not legal XML). Programs that display information about the signals found in SETI@home work units will need to be modified to support the new formats. Information about file formats and network communication is here. Work unit and result files will be about the same size as now.

Is BOINC secure?

Public distributed computing involves many security issues, involving threats to both participants and projects. Some of these are discussed here. BOINC uses a mechanism called 'digital signing' to ensure that downloaded executable code is valid.

Technical details

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SETI@home and Astropulse are funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and donations from SETI@home volunteers. AstroPulse is funded in part by the NSF through grant AST-0307956.