Introduction

The nf-core/methylseq package is actually two pipelines in one. The default workflow uses Bismark with Bowtie2 as alignment tool: unless specified otherwise, nf-core/methylseq will run this pipeline.

Since bismark v0.21.0 it is also possible to use HISAT2 as alignment tool. To run this workflow, invoke the pipeline with the command line flag --aligner bismark_hisat. HISAT2 also supports splice-aware alignment if analysis of RNA is desired (e.g. SLAMseq experiments), a file containing a list of known splicesites can be provided with --known_splices.

The second workflow uses BWA-Meth and MethylDackel instead of Bismark. To run this workflow, run the pipeline with the command line flag --aligner bwameth.

Samplesheet input

You will need to create a samplesheet with information about the samples you would like to analyse before running the pipeline. Use this parameter to specify its location. It has to be a comma-separated file with 3 columns, and a header row as shown in the examples below.

--input '[path to samplesheet file]'
--input '[path to samplesheet file]'

Multiple runs of the same sample

The sample identifiers have to be the same when you have re-sequenced the same sample more than once e.g. to increase sequencing depth. The pipeline will concatenate the raw reads before performing any downstream analysis. Below is an example for the same sample sequenced across 3 lanes:

sample,fastq_1,fastq_2
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L003_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L004_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L004_R2_001.fastq.gz
sample,fastq_1,fastq_2
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L003_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L004_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L004_R2_001.fastq.gz

Full samplesheet

The pipeline will auto-detect whether a sample is single- or paired-end using the information provided in the samplesheet. The samplesheet can have as many columns as you desire, however, there is a strict requirement for the first 4 columns to match those defined in the table below.

A final samplesheet file consisting of both single- and paired-end data may look something like the one below. This is for 6 samples, where TREATMENT_REP3 has been sequenced twice.

sample,fastq_1,fastq_2
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP2,AEG588A2_S2_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A2_S2_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP3,AEG588A3_S3_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A3_S3_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
TREATMENT_REP1,AEG588A4_S4_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP2,AEG588A5_S5_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP3,AEG588A6_S6_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP3,AEG588A6_S6_L004_R1_001.fastq.gz,
sample,fastq_1,fastq_2
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP2,AEG588A2_S2_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A2_S2_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP3,AEG588A3_S3_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A3_S3_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
TREATMENT_REP1,AEG588A4_S4_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP2,AEG588A5_S5_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP3,AEG588A6_S6_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP3,AEG588A6_S6_L004_R1_001.fastq.gz,
ColumnDescription
sampleCustom sample name. This entry will be identical for multiple sequencing libraries/runs from the same sample.
fastq_1Full path to FastQ file for Illumina short reads 1. File has to be gzipped and have the extension “.fastq.gz” or “.fq.gz”.
fastq_2Full path to FastQ file for Illumina short reads 2. File has to be gzipped and have the extension “.fastq.gz” or “.fq.gz”.

An example samplesheet has been provided with the pipeline.

Samplesheet input

You will need to create a samplesheet with information about the samples you would like to analyse before running the pipeline. Use this parameter to specify its location. It has to be a comma-separated file with 3 columns, and a header row as shown in the examples below.

--input '[path to samplesheet file]'
--input '[path to samplesheet file]'

Multiple runs of the same sample

The sample identifiers have to be the same when you have re-sequenced the same sample more than once e.g. to increase sequencing depth. The pipeline will concatenate the raw reads before performing any downstream analysis. Below is an example for the same sample sequenced across 3 lanes:

sample,fastq_1,fastq_2
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L003_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L004_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L004_R2_001.fastq.gz
sample,fastq_1,fastq_2
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L003_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L004_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L004_R2_001.fastq.gz

Full samplesheet

The pipeline will auto-detect whether a sample is single- or paired-end using the information provided in the samplesheet. The samplesheet can have as many columns as you desire, however, there is a strict requirement for the first 3 columns to match those defined in the table below.

A final samplesheet file consisting of both single- and paired-end data may look something like the one below. This is for 6 samples, where TREATMENT_REP3 has been sequenced twice.

sample,fastq_1,fastq_2
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP2,AEG588A2_S2_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A2_S2_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP3,AEG588A3_S3_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A3_S3_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
TREATMENT_REP1,AEG588A4_S4_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP2,AEG588A5_S5_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP3,AEG588A6_S6_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP3,AEG588A6_S6_L004_R1_001.fastq.gz,
sample,fastq_1,fastq_2
CONTROL_REP1,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A1_S1_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP2,AEG588A2_S2_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A2_S2_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
CONTROL_REP3,AEG588A3_S3_L002_R1_001.fastq.gz,AEG588A3_S3_L002_R2_001.fastq.gz
TREATMENT_REP1,AEG588A4_S4_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP2,AEG588A5_S5_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP3,AEG588A6_S6_L003_R1_001.fastq.gz,
TREATMENT_REP3,AEG588A6_S6_L004_R1_001.fastq.gz,
ColumnDescription
sampleCustom sample name. This entry will be identical for multiple sequencing libraries/runs from the same sample. Spaces in sample names are automatically converted to underscores (_).
fastq_1Full path to FastQ file for Illumina short reads 1. File has to be gzipped and have the extension “.fastq.gz” or “.fq.gz”.
fastq_2Full path to FastQ file for Illumina short reads 2. File has to be gzipped and have the extension “.fastq.gz” or “.fq.gz”.

An example samplesheet has been provided with the pipeline.

Running the pipeline

The typical command for running the pipeline is as follows:

nextflow run nf-core/methylseq --input ./samplesheet.csv --outdir ./results --genome GRCh37 -profile docker
nextflow run nf-core/methylseq --input ./samplesheet.csv --outdir ./results --genome GRCh37 -profile docker

This will launch the pipeline with the docker configuration profile. See below for more information about profiles.

Note that the pipeline will create the following files in your working directory:

work                # Directory containing the nextflow working files
<OUTDIR>            # Finished results in specified location (defined with --outdir)
.nextflow_log       # Log file from Nextflow
# Other nextflow hidden files, eg. history of pipeline runs and old logs.
work                # Directory containing the nextflow working files
<OUTDIR>            # Finished results in specified location (defined with --outdir)
.nextflow_log       # Log file from Nextflow
# Other nextflow hidden files, eg. history of pipeline runs and old logs.

If you wish to repeatedly use the same parameters for multiple runs, rather than specifying each flag in the command, you can specify these in a params file.

Pipeline settings can be provided in a yaml or json file via -params-file <file>.

⚠️ Do not use -c <file> to specify parameters as this will result in errors. Custom config files specified with -c must only be used for tuning process resource specifications, other infrastructural tweaks (such as output directories), or module arguments (args).

The above pipeline run specified with a params file in yaml format:

nextflow run nf-core/methylseq -profile docker -params-file params.yaml
nextflow run nf-core/methylseq -profile docker -params-file params.yaml

with params.yaml containing:

input: './samplesheet.csv'
outdir: './results/'
genome: 'GRCh37'
<...>
input: './samplesheet.csv'
outdir: './results/'
genome: 'GRCh37'
<...>

You can also generate such YAML/JSON files via nf-core/launch.

Updating the pipeline

When you run the above command, Nextflow automatically pulls the pipeline code from GitHub and stores it as a cached version. When running the pipeline after this, it will always use the cached version if available - even if the pipeline has been updated since. To make sure that you’re running the latest version of the pipeline, make sure that you regularly update the cached version of the pipeline:

nextflow pull nf-core/methylseq
nextflow pull nf-core/methylseq

Reproducibility

It is a good idea to specify a pipeline version when running the pipeline on your data. This ensures that a specific version of the pipeline code and software are used when you run your pipeline. If you keep using the same tag, you’ll be running the same version of the pipeline, even if there have been changes to the code since.

First, go to the nf-core/methylseq releases page and find the latest pipeline version - numeric only (eg. 1.3.1). Then specify this when running the pipeline with -r (one hyphen) - eg. -r 1.3.1. Of course, you can switch to another version by changing the number after the -r flag.

This version number will be logged in reports when you run the pipeline, so that you’ll know what you used when you look back in the future. For example, at the bottom of the MultiQC reports.

To further assist in reproducbility, you can use share and re-use parameter files to repeat pipeline runs with the same settings without having to write out a command with every single parameter.

💡 If you wish to share such profile (such as upload as supplementary material for academic publications), make sure to NOT include cluster specific paths to files, nor institutional specific profiles.

Core Nextflow arguments

NB: These options are part of Nextflow and use a single hyphen (pipeline parameters use a double-hyphen).

-profile

Use this parameter to choose a configuration profile. Profiles can give configuration presets for different compute environments.

Several generic profiles are bundled with the pipeline which instruct the pipeline to use software packaged using different methods (Docker, Singularity, Podman, Shifter, Charliecloud, Apptainer, Conda) - see below.

We highly recommend the use of Docker or Singularity containers for full pipeline reproducibility, however when this is not possible, Conda is also supported.

The pipeline also dynamically loads configurations from https://github.com/nf-core/configs when it runs, making multiple config profiles for various institutional clusters available at run time. For more information and to see if your system is available in these configs please see the nf-core/configs documentation.

Note that multiple profiles can be loaded, for example: -profile test,docker - the order of arguments is important! They are loaded in sequence, so later profiles can overwrite earlier profiles.

If -profile is not specified, the pipeline will run locally and expect all software to be installed and available on the PATH. This is not recommended, since it can lead to different results on different machines dependent on the computer enviroment.

  • test
    • A profile with a complete configuration for automated testing
    • Includes links to test data so needs no other parameters
  • docker
    • A generic configuration profile to be used with Docker
  • singularity
    • A generic configuration profile to be used with Singularity
  • podman
    • A generic configuration profile to be used with Podman
  • shifter
    • A generic configuration profile to be used with Shifter
  • charliecloud
    • A generic configuration profile to be used with Charliecloud
  • apptainer
    • A generic configuration profile to be used with Apptainer
  • conda
    • A generic configuration profile to be used with Conda. Please only use Conda as a last resort i.e. when it’s not possible to run the pipeline with Docker, Singularity, Podman, Shifter, Charliecloud, or Apptainer.

-resume

Specify this when restarting a pipeline. Nextflow will use cached results from any pipeline steps where the inputs are the same, continuing from where it got to previously. For input to be considered the same, not only the names must be identical but the files’ contents as well. For more info about this parameter, see this blog post.

You can also supply a run name to resume a specific run: -resume [run-name]. Use the nextflow log command to show previous run names.

-c

Specify the path to a specific config file (this is a core Nextflow command). See the nf-core website documentation for more information.

Custom configuration

Resource requests

Whilst the default requirements set within the pipeline will hopefully work for most people and with most input data, you may find that you want to customise the compute resources that the pipeline requests. Each step in the pipeline has a default set of requirements for number of CPUs, memory and time. For most of the steps in the pipeline, if the job exits with any of the error codes specified here it will automatically be resubmitted with higher requests (2 x original, then 3 x original). If it still fails after the third attempt then the pipeline execution is stopped.

To change the resource requests, please see the max resources and tuning workflow resources section of the nf-core website.

Custom Containers

In some cases you may wish to change which container or conda environment a step of the pipeline uses for a particular tool. By default nf-core pipelines use containers and software from the biocontainers or bioconda projects. However in some cases the pipeline specified version maybe out of date.

To use a different container from the default container or conda environment specified in a pipeline, please see the updating tool versions section of the nf-core website.

Custom Tool Arguments

A pipeline might not always support every possible argument or option of a particular tool used in pipeline. Fortunately, nf-core pipelines provide some freedom to users to insert additional parameters that the pipeline does not include by default.

To learn how to provide additional arguments to a particular tool of the pipeline, please see the customising tool arguments section of the nf-core website.

Command error:
    .command.sh: line 9:  30 Killed    STAR --genomeDir star --readFilesIn WT_REP1_trimmed.fq.gz --runThreadN 2 --outFileNamePrefix WT_REP1. <TRUNCATED>
Work dir:
    /home/pipelinetest/work/9d/172ca5881234073e8d76f2a19c88fb
 
Tip: you can replicate the issue by changing to the process work dir and entering the command `bash .command.run`
Command error:
    .command.sh: line 9:  30 Killed    STAR --genomeDir star --readFilesIn WT_REP1_trimmed.fq.gz --runThreadN 2 --outFileNamePrefix WT_REP1. <TRUNCATED>
Work dir:
    /home/pipelinetest/work/9d/172ca5881234073e8d76f2a19c88fb
 
Tip: you can replicate the issue by changing to the process work dir and entering the command `bash .command.run`

For beginners

A first step to bypass this error, you could try to increase the amount of CPUs, memory, and time for the whole pipeline. Therefor you can try to increase the resource for the parameters --max_cpus, --max_memory, and --max_time. Based on the error above, you have to increase the amount of memory. Therefore you can go to the parameter documentation of rnaseq and scroll down to the show hidden parameter button to get the default value for --max_memory. In this case 128GB, you than can try to run your pipeline again with --max_memory 200GB -resume to skip all process, that were already calculated. If you can not increase the resource of the complete pipeline, you can try to adapt the resource for a single process as mentioned below.

Advanced option on process level

To bypass this error you would need to find exactly which resources are set by the STAR_ALIGN process. The quickest way is to search for process STAR_ALIGN in the nf-core/rnaseq Github repo. We have standardised the structure of Nextflow DSL2 pipelines such that all module files will be present in the modules/ directory and so, based on the search results, the file we want is modules/nf-core/star/align/main.nf. If you click on the link to that file you will notice that there is a label directive at the top of the module that is set to label process_high. The Nextflow label directive allows us to organise workflow processes in separate groups which can be referenced in a configuration file to select and configure subset of processes having similar computing requirements. The default values for the process_high label are set in the pipeline’s base.config which in this case is defined as 72GB. Providing you haven’t set any other standard nf-core parameters to cap the maximum resources used by the pipeline then we can try and bypass the STAR_ALIGN process failure by creating a custom config file that sets at least 72GB of memory, in this case increased to 100GB. The custom config below can then be provided to the pipeline via the -c parameter as highlighted in previous sections.

process {
  withName: bismark_align {
    memory = 32.GB
  }
}
process {
  withName: bismark_align {
    memory = 32.GB
  }
}

NB: We specify the full process name i.e. NFCORE_RNASEQ:RNASEQ:ALIGN_STAR:STAR_ALIGN in the config file because this takes priority over the short name (STAR_ALIGN) and allows existing configuration using the full process name to be correctly overridden.

If you get a warning suggesting that the process selector isn’t recognised check that the process name has been specified correctly.

Updating containers (advanced users)

The Nextflow DSL2 implementation of this pipeline uses one container per process which makes it much easier to maintain and update software dependencies. If for some reason you need to use a different version of a particular tool with the pipeline then you just need to identify the process name and override the Nextflow container definition for that process using the withName declaration. For example, in the nf-core/viralrecon pipeline a tool called Pangolin has been used during the COVID-19 pandemic to assign lineages to SARS-CoV-2 genome sequenced samples. Given that the lineage assignments change quite frequently it doesn’t make sense to re-release the nf-core/viralrecon everytime a new version of Pangolin has been released. However, you can override the default container used by the pipeline by creating a custom config file and passing it as a command-line argument via -c custom.config.

  1. Check the default version used by the pipeline in the module file for Pangolin

  2. Find the latest version of the Biocontainer available on Quay.io

  3. Create the custom config accordingly:

    • For Docker:

      process {
          withName: PANGOLIN {
              container = 'quay.io/biocontainers/pangolin:3.0.5--pyhdfd78af_0'
          }
      }
      process {
          withName: PANGOLIN {
              container = 'quay.io/biocontainers/pangolin:3.0.5--pyhdfd78af_0'
          }
      }
    • For Singularity:

      process {
          withName: PANGOLIN {
              container = 'https://depot.galaxyproject.org/singularity/pangolin:3.0.5--pyhdfd78af_0'
          }
      }
      process {
          withName: PANGOLIN {
              container = 'https://depot.galaxyproject.org/singularity/pangolin:3.0.5--pyhdfd78af_0'
          }
      }
    • For Conda:

      process {
          withName: PANGOLIN {
              conda = 'bioconda::pangolin=3.0.5'
          }
      }
      process {
          withName: PANGOLIN {
              conda = 'bioconda::pangolin=3.0.5'
          }
      }

NB: If you wish to periodically update individual tool-specific results (e.g. Pangolin) generated by the pipeline then you must ensure to keep the work/ directory otherwise the -resume ability of the pipeline will be compromised and it will restart from scratch.

nf-core/configs

In most cases, you will only need to create a custom config as a one-off but if you and others within your organisation are likely to be running nf-core pipelines regularly and need to use the same settings regularly it may be a good idea to request that your custom config file is uploaded to the nf-core/configs git repository. Before you do this please can you test that the config file works with your pipeline of choice using the -c parameter. You can then create a pull request to the nf-core/configs repository with the addition of your config file, associated documentation file (see examples in nf-core/configs/docs), and amending nfcore_custom.config to include your custom profile.

See the main Nextflow documentation for more information about creating your own configuration files.

If you have any questions or issues please send us a message on Slack on the #configs channel.

Azure Resource Requests

To be used with the azurebatch profile by specifying the -profile azurebatch. We recommend providing a compute params.vm_type of Standard_D16_v3 VMs by default but these options can be changed if required.

Note that the choice of VM size depends on your quota and the overall workload during the analysis. For a thorough list, please refer the Azure Sizes for virtual machines in Azure.

Running in the background

Nextflow handles job submissions and supervises the running jobs. The Nextflow process must run until the pipeline is finished.

The Nextflow -bg flag launches Nextflow in the background, detached from your terminal so that the workflow does not stop if you log out of your session. The logs are saved to a file.

Alternatively, you can use screen / tmux or similar tool to create a detached session which you can log back into at a later time. Some HPC setups also allow you to run nextflow within a cluster job submitted your job scheduler (from where it submits more jobs).

Nextflow memory requirements

In some cases, the Nextflow Java virtual machines can start to request a large amount of memory. We recommend adding the following line to your environment to limit this (typically in ~/.bashrc or ~./bash_profile):

NXF_OPTS='-Xms1g -Xmx4g'
NXF_OPTS='-Xms1g -Xmx4g'

Nextflow edge releases

Stable releases will be becoming more infrequent as Nextflow shifts its development model to becoming more dynamic via the usage of plugins. This will allow functionality to be added as an extension to the core codebase with a release cycle that could potentially be independent to that of Nextflow itself. As a result of the reduction in stable releases, some pipelines may be required to use Nextflow edge releases in order to be able to exploit cutting “edge” features e.g. version 3.0 of the nf-core/rnaseq pipeline requires Nextflow >=20.11.0-edge in order to be able to directly download Singularity containers over http (see nf-core/rnaseq#496).

There are a number of ways you can install Nextflow edge releases, the main difference with stable releases being that you have to export the version you would like to install before issuing the appropriate installation/execution commands as highlighted below.

  • If you have Nextflow installed already, you can issue the version you would like to use on the same line as the pipeline command and it will be fetched if required before the pipeline execution.
NXF_VER="20.11.0-edge" nextflow run nf-core/rnaseq -profile test,docker -r 3.0
NXF_VER="20.11.0-edge" nextflow run nf-core/rnaseq -profile test,docker -r 3.0
  • If you have Nextflow installed already, another alternative to the option above is to export it as an environment variable before you run the pipeline command:
export NXF_VER="20.11.0-edge"
nextflow run nf-core/rnaseq -profile test,docker -r 3.0
export NXF_VER="20.11.0-edge"
nextflow run nf-core/rnaseq -profile test,docker -r 3.0
  • If you would like to download and install a Nextflow edge release from scratch with minimal fuss:
export NXF_VER="20.11.0-edge"
wget -qO- get.nextflow.io | bash
sudo mv nextflow /usr/local/bin/
nextflow run nf-core/rnaseq -profile test,docker -r 3.0
export NXF_VER="20.11.0-edge"
wget -qO- get.nextflow.io | bash
sudo mv nextflow /usr/local/bin/
nextflow run nf-core/rnaseq -profile test,docker -r 3.0

Note if you don’t have sudo privileges required for the last command above then you can move the nextflow binary to somewhere else and export that directory to $PATH instead. One way of doing that on Linux would be to add export PATH=$PATH:/path/to/nextflow/binary/ to your ~/.bashrc file so that it is available every time you login to your system.