The System Setup Stack: Understanding When to Use setup and configure

This document explains what happens during the OpenMDAO Problem setup process, and how some of the model API methods interact during that process.

The purpose of the setup process is to prepare the data structures that OpenMDAO needs to efficiently run your model or driver. In particular, this includes setting up the vectors used for passing data to inputs, converging solvers, and calculating derivatives. It also includes setting up the MPI communicators.

Setup also performs some level of model checking, mainly for critical errors. More extensive model checking can be done by setting “check” to True when calling setup, or by using the openmdao command line check. It is recommended that you do this before your first full run of the model.

The OpenMDAO Group API includes three methods that are invoked during the setup process: setup, configure, and initialize. Most of the time, setup is all you need to build a group. The specific use case for configure is shown below in the next section. The initialize method is only used for declaring options for your group (and also in Component), and their placement here allows them to be passed into the group as instantiation arguments.

One question that is often asked is: why can’t we just put all of our model building code into our group’s __init__ method so that everything is there when I instantiate the class? The answer is, when running a parallel model under MPI, certain systems might only be executed on certain processors. To save memory across the model, these systems are not fully set up on processors where they are not local. The only way to do this is to isolate the model building process into a custom method (setup) and only call it on the processors where you need the footprint for that group. While not everyone will run their models in parallel, it is a good practice to follow the stricter guideline so that, if someone wants to include your model in a larger parallel model, they won’t be forced to refactor it.

Usage of setup vs. configure

The need for two methods for setting up a group arose from a need to sometimes change the linear or nonlinear solvers in a subgroup after it has been added. When setup is called on the problem, the setup method in each group is called recursively from top to bottom of the hierarchy. For example, a group may contain several components and groups. Setup is first called in that top group, during which, those components and groups are instantiated. However, the setup methods belonging to those sub-components and groups cannot be called until the top group’s setup finishes. This means they are in a state where components and groups that are declared in the subgroup don’t exist yet.

To remedy this, there is a second api method called configure that lets you make changes to your subsystems after they have been created. The configure method is only needed with groups, and it is called recursively from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top, so that at any level, you can be sure that configure has already run for all your subsystems. This assures that changes made in higher-level groups take precedence over those in lower-level ones. Top precedence is given to changes made after calling setup on the Problem.

Here is a quick guide covering what you can do in the setup and configure methods.


  • Add subsystems
  • Issue connections
  • Assign linear and nonlinear solvers at this group level
  • Change solver settings for any solver at this group level
  • Assign Jacobians at this group level
  • Set system execution order
  • Add desvars, objectives, and constraints
  • Add a case recorder to the group or a solver in that group.


  • Assign linear and nonlinear solvers to subsystems
  • Change solver settings in subsystems
  • Assign Jacobians to subsystems
  • Set execution order in subsystems
  • Add a case recorder to a subsystem or a solver in a subsystem.

Things you should never do in configure

  • Add subsystems
  • Delete subsystems

Keep in mind that, when configure is being run, you are already done calling setup on every group and component in the model, so if you add something here, setup will never be called, and it will never be fully integrated into the model hierarchy.

Problem setup and final_setup

OpenMDAO 2.0 introduces a new change to the setup process in which the original monolithic process is split into two separate phases triggered by the methods: setup and final_setup. The final_setup method is however something you will probably never have to call, as it is called automatically the first time that you call run_model or run_driver after running setup. The reason that the setup process was split into two phases is to allow you to perform certain actions after setup:

Post-setup actions

  • Set values of unconnected inputs and indepvarcomps
  • Change settings on solvers
  • Change options on systems
  • Add recorders
  • Assign Jacobians
  • Add training data to metamodels

If you do anything that changes the model hierarchy, such as adding a component to a group, then you will need to run setup again.

During setup, the following things happen:

  • MPI processors are allocated
  • For each custom Group, setup function is called recursively from top to bottom
  • Model hierarchy is created
  • For each custom Group, configure function is called recursively from bottom to top
  • Variables are sized
  • Connections are assembled and verified

This is just enough to allow you to perform the post-setup actions listed above, but there are still more things to do before the model can run. In final_setup, the following happens:

  • All vectors for the nonlinear and linear systems are created and allocated
  • Data transfers are created (i.e., scatters for MPI)
  • Solvers are set up
  • Jacobians are set up and allocated
  • Recorders are set up
  • Drivers are set up
  • Initial values are loaded into the inputs and outputs vectors