Remote Driver


PoCL-Remote is an OpenCL driver which forwards OpenCL commands to a remote server over network. The remote OpenCL devices are listed in the local OpenCL platform device list and each each remote device can be used like it was a local OpenCL device. The properties of a remote device as queried via clGetDeviceInfo() mirror the remote physical device’s properties etc.

The key differentiating aim of PoCL-Remote to other similar remote forwarding OpenCL implementations is that the server side component is capable of autonomously scheduling commands based on event dependencies as well as communicating in peer-to-peer fashion with other servers in order to not tax the client’s network connection with signaling and buffer migrations between servers. The overall design focuses also on execution latency, not only throughput, and is still targeted to also support interactive low latency applications such as mixed reality.

On the client side PoCL-Remote is a PoCL driver backend that controls remote devices via a control protocol and transparently exposes them to applications as if they were local devices. On the server side, there is the pocld daemon which forwards requests to remote OpenCL implementations, which can be either PoCL-based or proprietary.

The PoCL-Remote client has successfully been run on PC and Android devices and with some tweaks (dubbed “Nano-PoCL”) it has proven usable even in bare metal firmware of low end embedded devices with limited toolchain support. This kind of portability is a big reason why the PoCL-Remote client and core PoCL components are written in plain C rather than C++. As a concrete example of this embedded support is this demo of the PoCL-Remote client running on the “AI Deck” add-on board of a Crazyflie nano drone.

Overall execution latency is optimized by leaving server side command ordering up to the underlying OpenCL driver via translated OpenCL event dependencies. In multi-node scenarios, communication is optimized to avoid overloading the client link by using peer-to-peer connections for inter-server communication. The peer-to-peer connections can optionally be made more efficient by building the daemon with RDMA support, which then gets used when migrating buffers between nodes. Applications that deal with variable sized data can addionally be written to make use of the cl_pocl_content_size extension that lets the runtime know that buffers don’t need to be transferred in full, which PoCL-Remote can take advantage of both in client-server and server-to-server communication.

More Information

PoCL-Remote has previously been showcased at IWOCL ‘20, SAMOS 2021 and IWOCL ‘23. There is also a full length journal article under review which describes the published version (for example its RDMA support). A preprint of the article is available in arXiv.

In publications, when referring to PoCL-R, please cite the introductory paper with the following format:

author="Solanti, Jan and Babej, Michal and Ikkala, Julius and Malamal Vadakital, Vinod Kumar and J{\"a}{\"a}skel{\"a}inen, Pekka",
title="PoCL-R: A Scalable Low Latency Distributed OpenCL Runtime",
booktitle="Embedded Computer Systems: Architectures, Modeling, and Simulation",


A machine with a working OpenCL implementation (can be any proprietary or pocl-based) to act as a server, and another machine as a client which runs the OpenCL application. Naturally, it’s possible to use the same machine for both for testing purposes.

The remote driver has been tested so far with AMD, NVidia and Intel OpenCL implementations as well as with PoCL’s CPU backend.

Current Status

The current version has been tested with various programs, such as:

  • the builtin tests of pocl

  • AMD’s Baikal ray-tracing application

  • Luxmark

  • FluidX3D

The image support in particular is quite new and very lightly tested. The same applies for multi-device setup.

printf() support exists, but please note that the “standard output” (stdout) of the server-side OpenCL will be printed to the PoCL-D stdout. Furthermore, the stdout is shared with all client-server connection, so if multiple client devices launch kernels with printf() simultaneously, the output order is undefined.

Known Bugs/Issues/WiP

  • The “-I” option to clBuildProgram does not work

  • clGetKernelWorkGroupInfo() can return incorrect information

  • clCompileProgram() and clLinkProgram() API calls are broken

  • clSetKernelArg() will not return a CL_INVALID_ARG_SIZE error if arg_size does not match the size of the data type for an argument that is not a memory object. Fixing this would require involving LLVM on the client side, as argument size information cannot be retrieved from OpenCL API runtime calls.

  • There are some hardcoded limits (max devices per server)

Known Bugs/Issues in OpenCL Implementations

  • Nvidia’s OpenCL implementation has a bug where clCreateKernelsInProgram() sometimes fails. This affects pocld since it uses clCreateKernelsInProgram in background. Workaround: always build programs for all devices. More details:

  • ARM Mali OpenCL SDK (on Linux) and some Android OpenCL implementations fail to return anything for clGetKernelArgInfo calls, so it’s unusable by itself (as backend for the proxy driver or for pocld). It is usable if pocl is built with at least two drivers (proxy/remote/pthread etc) of which at least one provides the build information. For OpenCL (pocl) users, it means all CL programs (to be used with Mali) must be built for at least two devices from two drivers, so the other driver provides the build information Mali does not. This Mali bug is only fixable by using another driver, or writing some extra compilation/parsing step, because without argument metadata it’s impossible to tell if an argument to clSetKernelArg is a pointer or an integer.

How to Build

First you need to install the build dependencies. These are listed in Installation or alternatively you can also take a look at the Dockerfiles in tools/docker.

Note that you do not need LLVM if you want to only use the PoCL-Remote driver to control server side devices for which a separate OpenCL driver exists.

These steps build pocl without the CPU driver (= with remote driver only).

If you want to use event tracing/profiling, scroll below as it requires installing some extra packages before building pocl.

To build the remote client:

mkdir build; cd build;
make -j$(nproc)

This should produce lib/CL/ (the client library that implements the OpenCL runtime API).

To build the remote server:

mkdir build; cd build;
cmake ../pocld

This should produce pocld (the server executable). If you need both the client library and server binary on the same machine you can alternatively add -DENABLE_REMOTE_SERVER=1 to the cmake flags in the client build to get pocld/pocld generated in the same build directory.

On the server, make sure that “clinfo” lists at least one OpenCL device, then run the server command:

./pocld -a <IP ADDRESS> -p <PORT>

Run pocld --help to list all options. Note that pocld will listen on three ports, PORT, PORT+1 and PORT+2. You can tune the amount of messages produced with the environment variable “POCLD_LOGLEVEL” before running pocld. The default log level is “err”. Accepted values are: debug, info, warn, err, critical, off.

On the client, export these environment variables (the first one must be done in the pocl remote-client build directory)

export OCL_ICD_VENDORS=$PWD/ocl-vendors/pocl-tests.icd
export POCL_DEVICES=remote

IP ADDRESS and PORT are self-explanatory, DEVICE ID is the index of the device on the server. PORT is the lower port number assigned to the server. Indices are from zero to N-1 where N is the total number of devices across all platforms on the server. The index is the order in which pocld lists the devices in the OpenCL platform it uses. This is the same order than can be displayed by “clinfo”.

PEER ADDRESS (and the preceding ‘#’ sign) is optional and is used for server-server communication when there are multiple remote servers that have a public IP and a private IP on a fast internal network. If a separate peer address is not given, server-server communication will use IP ADDRESS just like client-server communications.

To “smoke test” that the distributed setup works, you can use the clinfo tool, which should now list the remote devices also:

$ clinfo | grep PoCL-Remote
Device Version OpenCL 1.2 CUDA HSTR: PoCL-Remote 123.456.789.123:1000/0

Then you can run the simple dot product in example1:

$ cd examples/example1
$ ./example1
(0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000) . (0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000, 0.000000) = 0.000000
(1.000000, 1.000000, 1.000000, 1.000000) . (1.000000, 1.000000, 1.000000, 1.000000) = 4.000000
(2.000000, 2.000000, 2.000000, 2.000000) . (2.000000, 2.000000, 2.000000, 2.000000) = 16.000000
(3.000000, 3.000000, 3.000000, 3.000000) . (3.000000, 3.000000, 3.000000, 3.000000) = 36.000000

Android Build (Client Only)

See Using PoCL on Android on how to do this.

Windows build (server only)

Only the remote server can be built on Windows.

Note that later versions of the Khronos ICD have problems compiling with MSYS’s GCC. Git version from before Oct 3 2017 is known to compile. This is because apparently MS decided to forbid the graphics drivers from writing to some Windows registry entries in some later versions of Windows 10, and the Khronos ICD couldn’t find the list of OpenCL implementations in the same Windows registry entries as before, so the Khronos ICD gained some new code which uses new & awesome way to enumerate the OpenCL implementations - but this code does not compile under MSYS.

Possible workaround (untested): manually add OpenCL implementations to old registry paths (example is in

First, install MSYS2 from; only tested the x86_64 version has been tested. Follow the instructions to update all MSYS2 packages. Then install CMake, GCC and friends:

pacman -S cmake make gcc patch

Download Khronos ICD loader from and Khronos OpenCL headers from

  • put the PoCL-Remote and ICD loader sources in $HOME/pocl and $HOME/ICD

  • patch the ICD loader with <pocl_sources>/tools/patches/windows_khronos_icd.patch

  • from the OpenCL headers, take the “CL” directory and put it into $HOME/ICD/inc/

To build the ICD loader library:

mkdir b
cd b
make -j4

To build pocl:

cd $HOME/pocl
mkdir b
cd b
make -j8

This will result in pocld.exe in $HOME/pocl/b directory. This requires a few DLLs:

  • msys-2.0.dll  msys-gcc_s-seh-1.dll  msys-stdc++-6.dll from $MSYS/usr/bin

  • libOpenCL.dll from $HOME/ICD/b/bin

These can be copied into the same directory as pocld.exe. The binary is quite large; if debugging symbols are not needed, strip.exe command works as on Linux.

Event Tracing

It’s possible to use LTTNG to trace both the server and the client library. To install lttng on Ubuntu, run this as root / sudo:

apt install lttng-tools lttng-modules-dkms liblttng-ust-dev liblttng-ctl-dev

You must now run cmake with -DENABLE_LTTNG=YES and rebuild pocl.


First, check that lttng-sessiond is running. If it’s not, start it:

lttng-sessiond --daemonize

Then launch the pocld server / OpenCL client app / both. Note that LTTNG sessiond registers userspace events only AFTER the program has started and loaded the lttng library. This is OK for the server, but a problem for the client, since many OpenCL clients immediately start execution. There is an environment variable to help with this: POCL_STARTUP_DELAY=<N> where N is the delay in seconds. You’ll also need to enable tracing for the client application with POCL_TRACING so:

POCL_STARTUP_DELAY=<N> POCL_TRACING=lttng application [arguments]

To create a LTTNG session:

lttng create <session-name>

Now list the userspace events:

lttng list --userspace

You should see “pocl_trace:” events for the client, and “pocld_trace:” events for the server. Enable the ones you care about, or all:

lttng enable-event --userspace pocl_trace:*
lttng enable-event --userspace pocld_trace:*

You can trace any number/combination of events, and also kernelspace events (probably requires root).

To start tracing:

lttng start

To stop tracing:

lttng stop

To destroy session (this merely destroys session in the daemon, does not delete data):

lttng destroy

Now you have tracing data in $HOME/lttng-traces/<session-name>-<date>-<time> directory. You can view them using “babeltrace” tool, or eclipse-based “trace compass”, or possibly other tools.

Viewing Traces

For this you’ll need chrome/chromium, python and babeltrace installed. START_TIME and END_TIME are optional - they define a time slice to pick from the log. If not defined, the entire trace log will be converted to JSON (Warning : large logs can be a problem).

To convert binary LTTNG trace format to text, then to JSON, run:

cd $HOME/lttng-traces/<session-name>-<date>-<time>
babeltrace --clock-seconds . >/tmp/trace.text
./<pocl_source>/tools/scripts/ -o OUTPUT_FILE /tmp/trace.txt

To view the JSON trace, open Google Chrome/Chromium, type chrome://tracing, click Load, and find /tmp/trace.json.

Remote and Local Traces

It’s possible to combine local and remote tracing outputs to get a full view of what’s happening over network. Note that this requires LTTNG installed on servers as well, plus it requires very precisely synchronized time between all involved machines (1 microsecond or so should be good enough). The simplest way to achieve that seems to have all machines are equipped with an Intel NIC, and then setup PTP (Precision time protocol). Note that PTP requires hardware support from every network device in path to achieve sub-microsecond precision.

Distributed SYCL Execution Using PoCL-R

oneAPI DPC++ can be used to distribute SYCL applications using PoCL-R. Notably, only buffer-based memory management (not USM) works currently. To test it out, build DPC++ as instructed in the Getting Started with oneAPI DPC++ document.

Then, build a SYCL program of your choice as instructed in the DPC++ documentation and launch it like any OpenCL program with the PoCL-D running. Just ensure you use an OpenCL device in DPC++ and it points to a PoCL-R device:

export POCL_DEVICES=remote
export POCL_REMOTE0_PARAMETERS=localhost:7777/0
The results are correct!

Implementation Notes

Although PoCL-R has been in development for several years it has only seen limited testing outside the original lab since it has not been publicly available.

  • The current implementation is asynchronous across multiple command queues, but blocking within a command queue. In other words, multiple CQs progress in parallel, but each enqueued command has an implicit clFinish() and there is network communication before the next command is launched. This is a key bottleneck that will be resolved in a future version.

  • For the time being the client side part of PoCL-Remote must be built with the ENABLE_LOADABLE_DRIVERS build option set to OFF. See issue 1297.

  • The old SPIR 1.2/2.0 are not supported and the respective extension is masked out from remote devices’ extension lists by pocld.

  • There is no authentication or encryption whatsoever of network traffic. Don’t use PoCL-Remote outside of closed private networks.

  • Synchronous commands (like clCreate* / clBuildProgram etc) are run in a separate thread.

  • There are two separate network connections (TCP ports) used by the driver; one is for large transfers (like buffer transfers) and the other for fast / small transfers (clEnqueueNDRange).

  • The client and server CPUs must be both little-endian, but may differ in pointer size, although things may break in unexpected ways if using images or buffers larger than 4G.