Python Scripting With PLAMS

PLAMS (Python Library for Automating Molecular Simulation) is a collection of tools that provide powerful, flexible, and easily extendable Python interfaces to molecular modeling programs. The library takes care of input preparation, job execution, file management and output processing as well as helps with building more advanced data workflows.

See also

The Examples section of the PLAMS manual contains several PLAMS scripts and recipes.

Notes before starting the tutorial

These tutorials assume some familiarity with: Python (version 3.6), Unix command-line shells (like bash) and the ADF engine and AMS driver program of the Amsterdam Modeling Suite.

On Windows and MacOS computers all tutorials can conveniently be run within the preconfigured AMS command line:

Linux users should make sure that the Amsterdam Modeling Suite is installed and that the AMSBIN environment variable is correctly set (AMSBIN should contain the path to the Amsterdam Modeling Suite bin directory). You can test this by typing $AMSBIN/plams -h in a terminal: this should print PLAMS’ help message. If this is not the case (e.g. No such file or directory), you need to set up the environmental variable $AMSBIN (see the Linux Quickstart guide for details).

PLAMS is an open source library, but in order to run the tutorials’ example scripts you will need a license for the computational engines ADF and AMS. Contact for further questions.

First steps with PLAMS

We will start with the simple example of a water molecule geometry optimization using ADF as computational engine. In this script we will show how to:

  • create a Molecule
  • specify the input for ADF through the Settings object
  • create and run the AMSJob
  • read from the calculation’s Results

This is the full PLAMS script, which we will then explain step by step in this tutorial:

# Geometry optimization of a water molecule using ADF

# Create the molecule:
mol = Molecule()
mol.add_atom(Atom(symbol='O', coords=(0,0,0)))
mol.add_atom(Atom(symbol='H', coords=(1,0,0)))
mol.add_atom(Atom(symbol='H', coords=(0,1,0)))

# Initialize the settings for the ADF calculation:
sett = Settings()
sett.input.ams.task = 'GeometryOptimization'
sett.input.adf.basis.type = 'DZP'
sett.input.adf.xc.gga = 'PBE'

# Create and run the job:
job = AMSJob(molecule=mol, settings=sett, name='water_GO')

# Fetch and print some results:
energy = job.results.get_energy()
opt_mol = job.results.get_main_molecule()
bond_angle = opt_mol.atoms[0].angle(opt_mol.atoms[1], opt_mol.atoms[2])

print('== Water optimization Results ==')
print('Bonding energy: {:8.2f} kcal/mol'.format(Units.convert(energy, 'au', 'kcal/mol')))
print('Bond angle:     {:8.2f} degree'.format(Units.convert(bond_angle, 'rad', 'degree')))
print('Optimized coordinates:')

Running a PLAMS script

Create a working directory plams_tutorial, move into it, and save the script To execute the script with PLAMS, type in a terminal:


The calculation should take just a few seconds and you should obtain the following result:

[12:06:21] PLAMS working folder: /home/username/plams_tutorial/plams_workdir
[12:06:21] JOB water_GO STARTED
[12:06:21] JOB water_GO RUNNING
[12:06:23] JOB water_GO FINISHED
[12:06:23] JOB water_GO SUCCESSFUL
== Water optimization Results ==
Bonding energy:  -323.06 kcal/mol
Bond angle:       103.54 degree
Optimized coordinates:
    1         O      0.047189      0.047189      0.000000
    2         H      1.021233     -0.068422      0.000000
    3         H     -0.068422      1.021233      0.000000

[12:06:23] PLAMS run finished. Goodbye

Every time you run a PLAMS script, a new working directory is created (by default it is called plams_workdir). This folder will contain one subdirectory per job (in our case, one folder named water_GO). Each job folder contains the job’s input and results files.


You can initialize a Molecule object by:

  • creating an empty molecule and manually adding the atoms

    mol = Molecule()
    mol.add_atom(Atom(symbol='O', coords=(0,0,0)))
    mol.add_atom(Atom(symbol='H', coords=(1,0,0)))
    mol.add_atom(Atom(symbol='H', coords=(0,1,0)))
  • importing the atomic coordinates from an external file (supported formats: xyz, mol, mol2, and pdb):

    mol = Molecule('molecules/')
  • using the rdkit interface to generate the grometry from a SMILES string:

    mol = from_smiles('O')

The Molecule class provides several methods for basic molecular manipulations, such as rotate, translate. Furthermore, the list of Atoms contained in the corresponding Molecule object can be directly accessed and manipulated. See the Molecule section of the PLAMS documentation for the complete list of methods.

Settings class

The Settings class extends the regular Python dictionary by many useful features. In the following we show how the Settings object is used to define the input for an AMSJob. The reader is strongly encouraged to consult the Settings section of the PLAMS documentation for a detailed explanation of the Settings class.

One important aspect of the PLAMS library is that PLAMS knows (almost) nothing about the input options of the various computational engines. In other words, you need to know the structure of the text input file of the computational engine in order to set up the corresponding Settings object. Although input files for the various computational engines (ADF, BAND, and DFTB) use different sets of keywords, they share a similar structure – they consist of blocks and subblocks which in turn contain keys and values.

To give an example, the Settings object in

# Initialize the settings for the ADF calculation:
sett = Settings()
sett.input.ams.Task = 'GeometryOptimization'
sett.input.adf.Basis.Type = 'DZP'
sett.input.adf.XC.GGA = 'PBE'

will translate into the following input file when supplied to an AMSJob class

Task GeometryOptimization

Engine adf
    Type DZP

With the exception of the atomic coordinates (these will be picked up from the Molecule object; see above) all desired input options must be specified in the Settings object.

See the Amsterdam Modeling Suite section of the PLAMS documentation for a comprehensive description of how the settings object is converted into an ASCII input file.

You can get the computational engine’s input file via the job’s get_input() method. For example:

job = AMSJob(molecule=mol, settings=sett, name='water_GO')

Creating and running the Job

The Job class is the most important object in PLAMS as it takes care of the preparing, executing and collecting the results of a Job. For a detailed description of the Job class, see the Jobs section of the PLAMS documentation.

PLAMS ships several ready-to-use Job subclasses. The AMSJob subclass is used to run jobs via the AMS driver program. The base class Job can readily be extended to be interfaced with other computational engines.

Creating and running the AMSJob of our example is straightforward:

# Create and run the job:
job = AMSJob(molecule=mol, settings=sett, name='water_GO')

Each job has its own subdirectory (with the same name as the job) in the working folder.


After the successful completion of a job, the results can be accessed via the Results object associated with the job.

There are three ways of retrieving data from the job results:

  • For the most common results like the final energy or optimized geometry there are dedicated methods like in the example above.

    energy = job.results.get_energy()
    opt_mol = job.results.get_main_molecule()
  • For all other data the recommended approach is to read the binary results file (in KF format) by using readrkf. The readrkf method will access the appropriate binary file and returns the requested data in a python built-in type (int, float, bool, …). If the requested data is an array, it returns a python list.

    # Fetch and print some results:
    energy = job.results.readrkf('Energy', 'Bond Energy', file='adf')

    The two arguments are the respective “Section” and “Variable” names in the binary KF result file.


    You can check the content of a binary KF file with the kfbrowser tool. Make sure to switch kfbrowser to expert mode in order to see the real section and variable structure of the KF file.

    Most results in the binary KF file are provided in atomic units. The Units utility can be used to convert the results into the desired units:

    energy_in_kcal_mol = Units.convert(energy_in_au, 'au', 'kcal/mol')
  • You can also extract data from the standard output using the grep_output and awk_output methods. They will return a list of strings containing the matches of the grep or awk commands. Alternatively, you can use get_output_chunk to extract a continuous part of the output between two lines.

You can get the optimized geometry into a Molecule object via the get_main_molecule method:

opt_mol = job.results.get_main_molecule()