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How dstack works

Typical ML workflows include multiple steps, e.g. pre-processing data, training, fine-tuning, validation, etc. With dstack, you can define ML workflows in a simple YAML format, and run them via the CLI over a pool of your own servers or spot instances in your cloud.


Workflows are defined in the .dstack/workflows.yaml file inside a project's Git repository. Each workflow may have a name, a Docker image, commands, what files (in the repository) and what other workflows it depends on, and at what paths the files must be stored as output artifacts. Learn more…


Each workflow may have variables and their default values. Variables for each workflow are defined in the .dstack/varialbles.yaml file inside a project's Git repository. When a workflow is run, any of the variables can be overridden. Learn more…


CLI is an abbreviation of Command Line Interface. dstack's CLI can be installed via pip. It can be used from a terminal to invoke any command on dstack, be it running workflows, browsing logs, managing runners, etc. Learn more…


Runs are single instances of running workflows. If you submit a workflow to run (e.g. via dstack CLI), the corresponding run refers to the name of the workflow, the state of the Git repository (remote URL, branch name, commit hash, and local changes), and to the values of the variables if any of them were overridden via the CLI.


If the submitted run refers to a workflow that depends on other workflows, for every workflow, the dstack server schedules a separate job. If the submitted run refers to a workflow that doesn't have dependencies, then the dstack server schedules only one job. Each job refers to a single workflow that must be executed with a particular set of variables, dependencies, and state of the repository. Generally speaking, jobs are single units of work that can be executed by one machine (aka runner).


Runners are machines (either real or virtual) that host the dstack-runner daemon. This daemon listens to the dstack server for scheduled jobs. If a job is assigned to a particular runner, the daemon, based on the provided information, fetches the repository, download the artifacts of the jobs that the given job depends on, and run the commands of a given job as a Docker container. While the container is being running, the daemon reports the logs to dstack's logs storage and upload output artifacts of the job to the dstack's artifact storage.

As a user of dstack, you can either install the dstack-runner daemon to your own servers to make a pool of your own runners, or provide dstack credentials to your own cloud so dstack can create runners on-demand using spot instances.


  1. You define .dstack/workflows.yaml and .dstack/variables.yaml files inside your project (must be a Git repository).
  2. You install the dstack CLI via pip.
  3. You either install dstack-runner daemon on your servers, or use the dstack aws configure to authorize dstack to use your own cloud to create runners on-demand using spot instances.
  4. You use the dstack CLI to run workflows, manage runs, jobs, logs, artifacts, runners.
  5. When a workflow is submitted via the CLI (e.g. via dstack run) , the request is sent to the dstack server. The dstack server creates jobs for the submitted run, and assign them to available runners (either servers where you've installed dstack-runner or on-demand spot instances in your cloud that you allowed to create).
  6. Runners execute assigned jobs, report their logs in real-time, and upload artifacts once the job is finished.
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