File I/O

Data import

The standard way of loading external data from disk is calling the global import_file() function:

from import import_file

pipeline = import_file("simulation.dump")

This high-level function works similar to the Load File function in OVITO’s graphical user interface and automatically detects the format of the input file. See the OVITO user manual for a list of supported file formats. The function returns a new Pipeline object, whose associated FileSource is set up to point to the specified data file.

In case you already have an existing Pipeline object, e.g. from a first call to import_file(), it is possible to later switch the input file of the pipeline with a call to the FileSource.load() method:


The load() method accepts the same parameters as the global import_file() function, but it doesn’t create a new pipeline. Any modifiers in the existing pipeline are preserved, only its input data gets replaced with a different input file in this case.


Unlike the Load File function in OVITO’s graphical user interface, the import_file() function does not automatically insert the loaded data into the three-dimensional scene. That means the data will not, by default, appear in rendered images or the interactive viewports (in case are running the graphical program). If you would like to see a visual representation of the imported data, you need to explicitly invoke Pipeline.add_to_scene() to make the pipeline part of the current scene. More on this can be found in the Rendering & visualization section.

Simulation trajectories

The FileSource class and the import_file() function support loading sequences of simulation frames (trajectories) and make them available as time-dependent pipeline input. To load a series of individual simulation files that follow a naming pattern such as frame.0.dump, frame.1000.dump, frame.2000.dump, etc., pass a wildcard pattern to the import_file() function:

pipeline = import_file("/path/frame.*.dump")

OVITO will automatically find all files in the directory matching the pattern and load them as one trajectory. File formats that can store multiple frames are automatically loaded as trajectories by OVITO. You can check how many frames were found by querying the FileSource.num_frames property:



To save memory and time, OVITO does not load all frames of a trajectory at once. The call to import_file() lets OVITO quickly scan the directory or the multi-frame file to discover all frames belonging to the trajectory. The actual data of a frame will only be loaded on demand, one at a time, whenever the pipeline is evaluated at a certain animation time, e.g., when jumping to a new frame in the animation or when rendering a movie.

Some MD simulation codes store the topology of a molecular system (i.e. the definition of atom types, bonds, etc.) and the atomic trajectories in two separate files. In this case, load the topology file first using import_file(). Then create and apply a LoadTrajectoryModifier, which will load the time-dependent atomic positions from the separate trajectory file:

pipeline = import_file("")
traj_mod = LoadTrajectoryModifier()

Accessing individual frames of a trajectory

Once a simulation trajectory was loaded using import_file(), we can step through the individual frames of the sequence using a for-loop:

for frame in range(pipeline.source.num_frames):
    data = pipeline.compute(frame)

The Pipeline.compute() method takes the frame number as argument at which the pipeline should be evaluated. This call triggers a load operation and lets the pipeline’s FileSource fetch the requested input data from the external simulation file. Note that frame numbering starts at 0 in OVITO.

Column-to-property mapping

When loading a MD simulation file, OVITO needs to map the stored information to corresponding particle properties in memory. Typically, this happens automatically. Certain file formats, however, do not contain sufficient information to perform this mapping automatically. For instance, when loading a plain XYZ file, the mapping of input file columns to OVITO’s particle properties needs to be explicitly specified using the columns keyword:

pipeline = import_file("", columns =
         ["Particle Type", "Position.X", "Position.Y", "Position.Z", "My Property"])

The number of entries in the columns list must match the number of data columns of the XYZ input file. See the documentation of the import_file() function for more information on this.

Data export

Exporting data to a file is typically done using the global function. For example, to export the particle information that is output by a Pipeline to a LAMMPS dump file, one would write:

from import export_file

export_file(pipeline, "outputfile.dump", "lammps/dump",
    columns = ["Position.X", "Position.Y", "Position.Z", "My Property"])

The second and third function parameters specify the output filename and the file format. For a list of supported file formats, see the export_file() documentation. Depending on the selected format, additional keyword arguments may need to be specified. For instance in the example above, the columns parameter specifies the list of particle properties to be exported to the output file.

In addition to particle data, export_file() can also export other types of data computed by OVITO. One example are attributes, which are global values output by modifiers during the pipeline evaluation. In other words, unlike particle properties, attributes are computation results that are associated with the particle dataset as a whole. For example, the ExpressionSelectionModifier outputs an attribute with the name SelectExpression.num_selected to report the number of particles that matched the given selection criterion.

We can export the value of this computed attribute to a text file, typically for all frames of a simulation as a table, to graphically plot the time evolution using an external program. For this purpose the export_file() function supports the txt output format:

pipeline = import_file("simulation*.dump")

modifier = ExpressionSelectionModifier(expression = "PotentialEnergy < -3.9")

export_file(pipeline, "potenergy.txt", "txt", multiple_frames = True,
         columns = ["Frame", "SelectExpression.num_selected"])

The multiple_frames keyword arguments tells the export_file() function to evaluate the pipeline for all animation frames. Without it, only the current frame (frame 0) would have been exported to the output file. The program above produces a text file potenergy.txt containing one line per simulation frame:

0 531
1 540
2 522
3 502

The first column contains the animation frame number (starting at 0) and the second column contains the value of the SelectExpression.num_selected attribute generated by the ExpressionSelectionModifier in the pipeline.

Typically, global attributes are dynamically generated by modifiers in the pipeline, but some may also be loaded from the data file that serves as input for the data pipeline. For example, an attributed named Timestep is automatically generated by OVITO when importing a LAMMPS dump file, denoting the simulation timestep number of the loaded snapshots. This makes it possible, for example, to replace the animation frame number in the first column above (corresponding to the predefined attribute Frame) with the actual timestep number from the simulation. See for more information.