Cloud Workstation

Learn about the Cloud Workstation app, which lets you explore and manipulate data on the DNAnexus Platform, as you would on a local Linux machine.

Why Use Cloud Workstation

Cloud Workstation sets up a virtual workstation that lets you access and work with data stored on the DNAnexus Platform, just as you would on a local Linux machine, but without having to download files to your computer.

You can configure this workstation to use any of the wide range of powerful instance types available on the Platform. You can easily save files or analysis results from your workstation session, to the project within which you launched it. You can also create a snapshot of the session, if you want to pick up work at a later date.

Launching Cloud Workstation

Before You Begin

You'll need the dx command-line client to access the virtual workstation. Download and install it if you haven't already done so.

You'll also need to set up SSH if you haven't already done so.

Launching the App

From the command line, use the dx client to navigate to the project you'd like to work in.

Note that to run the Cloud Workstation app from within a project, you must have either CONTRIBUTE or ADMINISTER access to that project.

Next, use dx run to launch Cloud Workstation, taking care to add the --ssh flag:

$ dx run app-cloud_workstation --ssh

Once the app launches, you'll see a list of optional parameters:

Select an optional parameter to set by its # (^D or <ENTER> to finish):

 [0] Maximum Session Length (suffixes allowed: s, m, h, d, w, M, y) (max_session_length) [default="1h"]
 [1] Files (fids)
 [2] Snapshot (snapshot)

See the in-product app documentation for more on setting these parameters.

Once you've either set or skipped the optional parameters, you'll be connected to the worker running Cloud Workstation. You'll see the following in your terminal:

Calling app-cloud_workstation with output destination 

Job ID: job-xxxx
Waiting for job-xxxx to start......
Resolving job hostname and SSH host key...........................
Checking connectivity to
Connecting to

Welcome to DNAnexus!

This is the DNAnexus Execution Environment, running job-xxxx.
Job: Cloud Workstation
App: cloud_workstation:main
Instance type: mem1_ssd1_v2_x8
Project: emiai (project-xxxx)
Workspace: container-xxxx
Running since: Mon Nov  1 17:40:51 UTC 2021
Running for: 0:00:38
The public address of this instance is
You are running byobu, a terminal session manager.
If you get disconnected from this instance, you can log in again; your work will be saved as long as the job is running.
For more information on byobu, press F1.
The job is running in terminal 1. To switch to it, use the F4 key (fn+F4 on Macs; press F4 again to switch back to this terminal).
Use sudo to run administrative commands.
From this window, you can:
 - Use the DNAnexus API with dx
 - Monitor processes on the worker with htop
 - Install packages with apt-get install or pip3 install
 - Use this instance as a general-purpose Linux workstation
OS version: Ubuntu 20.04.3 LTS (GNU/Linux 5.4.0-1056-aws x86_64)

Preparing Your Workstation

To access a file within your virtual workstation, you must download it from a Platform project to the workstation. If you want to save a file from your workstation session, you must upload it to the workstation's parent project.

In order to do either, you must prepare your workstation by running the following two commands:


The first command unsets an environment variable that's set when the workstation is launched. This allows you to navigate from within the workstation to any of the projects to which you have access. The second command invokes dx cd to change your workstation's working directory, to that of the parent project.

For more information about these and other environment variables used within the execution environment, see this Execution Environment Reference.

Your virtual workstation is now ready to use.

Accessing Files

To access a file within your virtual workstation, you must download it to the workstation, using the dx download command.

This includes files stored in the workstation's parent project.

You can download any file from any project to which you have access.

To download a file named my-file.txt from the parent project, use the command:

$ dx download my-file.txt

To download a set of reads from the SRR100022 exome from the public Demo Data project:

$ dx download project-BQbJpBj0bvygyQxgQ1800Jkk:/SRR100022/SRR100022_1.filt.fastq.gz

When downloading a file or files from a project other than the parent project, you might want to avoid having to enter the project ID. To do this, start by getting a list of projects to which you have access. Then choose a project:

$ dx select --level=VIEW

Available projects (VIEW or higher):
0) Working Project (CONTRIBUTE)
1) Research Project (VIEW)
2) Production Project (VIEW)

Pick a numbered choice or "m" for more options [0]: 1
Setting current project to: Research Project

Now you can download a file to your virtual workstation, by entering only the filename:

$ dx download my-file-1.txt

Getting Additional Tools

Your virtual workstation has network access, so you can download and use any tool you need during your session, just as you would on a Linux workstation.

If you would like a tool or tools to be available within your workstation when it launches, you can customize the Cloud Workstation app to enable this.

Saving Files

If you want to save any files from your workstation session, you must upload these files to the workstation's parent project, using dx upload.

Note that if you changed project context as you downloaded files to your virtual workstation, you must use the --path flag with dx upload, to ensure you upload files to the correct project:

$ dx upload --path "$DX_PROJECT_CONTEXT_ID:" <FILE>

Use the following commands to perform a test upload:

$ dx ls
$ echo "This is a test file" > file_from_workstation.txt
$ dx upload --path "$DX_PROJECT_CONTEXT_ID:" test_file_from_workstation.txt
$ dx ls

You should see the contents of your project change, with the new file test_file_from_workstation.txt appearing in the file list, between the first and second invocations of dx ls.

Terminating the Session

By default, your virtual workstation will automatically shut down once the maximum session length is reached. If you want to shut it down earlier, use the dx terminate command, taking care to use $DX_JOB_ID to include the workstation's job ID:

$ dx terminate $DX_JOB_ID

You can also shut down the workstation by finding the job in the UI's Monitor page, and clicking the Terminate button at the right end of the row displaying info on the job.

The contents of your virtual workstation will be destroyed on termination. Before the end of your session, be sure to upload any files you want to save.

Execution Environment

Instance Type

By default, your virtual workstation will launch on a mem1_ssd1_v2_x8 instance type, which has 8 cores, 16 GB of memory, and 180 GB of storage. To run the app on a different instance type, use the --instance-type flag with dx run, as in:

$ dx run --instance-type mem1_ssd1_v2_x36 --ssh app-cloud_workstation

See the Instance Types page for a full list of available instance types.

Operating System

The Cloud Workstation app is set up to use Ubuntu 20.04.

Job Execution Environment vs. Local Environment

When connecting to the execution environment, you are using the job's credentials to interact with the DNAnexus API. The job has a limited subset of your Platform user permissions. By default, a job running the Cloud Workstation app has VIEW permissions to all projects to which you have VIEW or greater permissions.

By default, the dx select command hides projects to which you have only VIEW permissions. To see a list of those projects, use the command dx select --level=VIEW.

Customizing Cloud Workstation

The Cloud Workstation app provides the minimum functionality necessary to support an interactive workstation.

To make your own version with enhanced functionality, you can create a custom applet, based on the Cloud Workstation app. To get the original source code for the the Cloud Workstation app, run dx get app-cloud_workstation. See Introduction to Building Apps to learn how to build a custom applet that incorporates an existing executable.

Possible customizations include:

  • Specifying different inputs

  • Prepackaging external utilities for use within the worker

  • Changing the instance type of the worker

  • Changing access permissions

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