User Guide


  • A relatively-recent Linux computer with more than 2Gb of RAM

We do not currently support Windows or Mac. (You can run this on Windows using the Ubuntu [WSL](


Clone the stable branch of Sunbeam and run the installation script:

git clone -b stable sunbeam-stable
cd sunbeam3-stable

The installer will check for and install the three components necessary for Sunbeam to work. The first is Conda, a system for downloading and managing software environments. The second is the Sunbeam environment, which will contain all the core dependencies. The third is the Sunbeam library, which provides the necessary commands to run Sunbeam.

All of this is handled for you automatically. If Sunbeam is already installed, you can upgrade either or both the Sunbeam environment and library by passing --upgrade [env/lib/all] to the install script.

If you don’t have Conda installed prior to this, you will need to add a line (displayed during install) to your config file (usually in ~/.bashrc or ~/.profile). Restart your terminal after installation for this to take effect.


We’ve included a test script that should verify all the dependencies are installed and Sunbeam can run properly. We strongly recommend running this after installing or updating Sunbeam:

bash tests/run_tests.bash

If the tests fail, you should either refer to our troubleshooting_ guide or file an issue on our Github page.


Sunbeam follows semantic versioning practices. In short, this means that the version has three numbers: major, minor and patch. For instance, a version number of 1.2.1 has 1 as the major version, 2 as the minor, and 1 as the patch.

When we update Sunbeam, if your config files and environment will work between upgrades, we will increment the patch or minor numbers (e.g. 1.0.0 -> 1.1.0). All you need to do is the following:

git pull
./ --upgrade all

Sunbeam 3.0.0 is designed to be installable separately on a system that already has sunbeam 2 installed. Follow the v3 installation instructions to run both versions side by side.

It’s a good idea to re-run the tests after this to make sure everything is working.

Uninstalling or reinstalling

If things go awry and updating doesn’t work, simply uninstall and reinstall Sunbeam.

source deactivate
conda env remove --name sunbeam3
rm -rf sunbeam-stable

Then follow the installation instructions above.

Installing Sunbeam extensions

As of version 3.0, Sunbeam extensions can be installed by running sunbeam extend followed by the URL of the extension’s GitHub repo:

sunbeam extend

For Sunbeam versions prior to 3.0, follow the instructions on the extension to install.


Activating Sunbeam

Almost all commands from this point forward require us to activate the Sunbeam conda environment:

source activate sunbeam3

You should see ‘(sunbeam3)’ in your prompt when you’re in the environment. To leave the environment, run source deactivate or close the terminal.

Creating a new project using local data

We provide a utility, sunbeam init, to create a new config file and sample list for a project. The utility takes one required argument: a path to your project folder. This folder will be created if it doesn’t exist. You can also specify the path to your gzipped fastq files, and Sunbeam will try to guess how your samples are named, and whether they’re paired.

sunbeam init --data_fp /path/to/fastq/files /path/to/my_project

In this directory, a new config file and a new sample list were created (by default named sunbeam_config.yml and samplelist.csv, respectively). Edit the config file in your favorite text editor- all the keys are described below.


Sunbeam will do its best to determine how your samples are named in the data_fp you specify. It assumes they are named something regular, like MP66_S109_L008_R1_001.fastq.gz and MP66_S109_L008_R2_001.fastq.gz. In this case, the sample name would be ‘MP66_S109_L008’ and the read pair indicator would be ‘1’ and ‘2’. Thus, the filename format would look like {sample}_R{rp}_001.fastq.gz, where {sample} defines the sample name and {rp} defines the 1 or 2 in the read pair.

If you have single-end reads, you can pass --single_end to sunbeam init and it will not try to identify read pairs.

If the guessing doesn’t work as expected, you can manually specify the filename format after the --format option in sunbeam init.

Finally, if you don’t have your data ready yet, simply omit the --data_fp option. You can create a sample list later with sunbeam list_samples.

If some config values are always the same for all projects (e.g. paths to shared databases), you can put these keys in a file and auto-populate your config file with them during initialization. For instance, if your Kraken databases are located at /shared/kraken/standard, you could have a file containing the following called common_values.yml:

  kraken_db_fp: "/shared/kraken/standard"

When you make a new Sunbeam project, use the --defaults common_values.yml as part of the init command.

If you have Sunbeam extensions installed, in Sunbeam >= 3.0, the extension config options will be automatically included in new config files generated by sunbeam init.

Further usage information is available by typing sunbeam init --help.


Sunbeam has lots of configuration options, but most don’t need individual attention. Below, each is described by section.



  • root: The root project folder, used to resolve any relative paths in the rest of the config file.
  • output_fp: Path to where the Sunbeam outputs will be stored.
  • samplelist_fp: Path to a comma-separated file where each row contains a sample name and one or two paths (if single- or paired-end) to raw gzipped fastq files. This can be created for you by sunbeam init or sunbeam list_samples.
  • paired_end: ‘true’ or ‘false’ depending on whether you are using paired- or single-end reads.
  • download_reads: ‘true’ or ‘false’ depending on whether you are using reads from NCBI SRA.
  • version: Automatically added for you by sunbeam init. Ensures compatibility with the right version of Sunbeam.


  • suffix: the name of the subfolder to hold outputs from the quality-control steps
  • threads: the number of threads to use for rules in this section
  • seq_id_ending: if your reads are named differently, a regular expression string defining the pattern of the suffix. For example, if your paired read ids are @D00728:28:C9W1KANXX:0/1 and @D00728:28:C9W1KANXX:0/2, this entry of your config file would be: seq_id_ending: "/[12]"
  • java_heapsize: the memory available to Trimmomatic
  • leading: (trimmomatic) remove the leading bases of a read if below this quality
  • trailing: (trimmomatic) remove the trailing bases of a read if below this quality
  • slidingwindow: (trimmomatic) the [width, avg. quality] of the sliding window
  • minlength: (trimmomatic) drop reads smaller than this length
  • adapter_template: (trimmomatic) path to the Illumina paired-end adaptors (templated with $CONDA_ENV) (autofilled)
  • fwd_adaptors: (cutadapt) custom forward adaptor sequences to remove using cutadapt. Replace with "" to skip.
  • rev_adaptors: (cutadapt) custom reverse adaptor sequences to remove using cutadapt. Replace with "" to skip.
  • mask_low_complexity: [true/false] mask low-complexity sequences with Ns
  • kz_threshold: a value between 0 and 1 to determine the low-complexity boundary (1 is most stringent). Ignored if not masking low-complexity sequences.
  • kz_window: window size to use (in bp) for local complexity assessment. Ignored if not masking low-complexity sequences.
  • pct_id: (decontaminate) minimum percent identity to host genome to consider match
  • frac: (decontaminate) minimum fraction of the read that must align to consider match
  • host_fp: the path to the folder with host/contaminant genomes (ending in *.fasta)


  • suffix: the name of the subfolder to hold outputs from the taxonomic classification steps
  • threads: threads to use for Kraken
  • kraken_db_fp: path to Kraken database


  • suffix: the name of the folder to hold outputs from the assembly steps
  • min_len: the minimum contig length to keep
  • threads: threads to use for the MEGAHIT assembler


  • suffix: the name of the folder to hold contig annotation results
  • min_contig_length: minimum length of contig to annotate (shorter contigs are skipped)
  • circular_kmin: smallest length of kmers used to search for circularity
  • circular_kmax: longest length of kmers used to search for circularity
  • circular_min_length: smallest length of contig to check for circularity


  • threads: number of threads provided to all BLAST programs


  • root_fp: path to a directory containing BLAST databases (if they’re all in the same place)

  • nucleotide: the section to define any nucleotide BLAST databases (see tip below for syntax)

  • protein: the section to define any protein BLAST databases (see tip below)


    The structure for this section allows you to specify arbitrary numbers of BLAST databases of either type. For example, if you had a local copy of nt and a couple of custom protein databases, your section here would look like this (assuming they’re all in the same parent directory):

      root_fp: "/local/blast_databases"
        nt: "nt/nt"
        vfdb: "virulence_factors/virdb"
        card: "/some/other/path/card_db/card"

    This tells Sunbeam you have three BLAST databases, two of which live in /local/blast_databases and a third that lives in /some/other/path. It will run nucleotide blast on the nucleotide databases and BLASTX and BLASTP on the protein databases.


  • suffix: the name of the subfolder to create for mapping output (bam files, etc)
  • genomes_fp: path to a directory with an arbitrary number of target genomes upon which to map reads. Genomes should be in FASTA format, and Sunbeam will create the indexes if necessary.
  • threads: number of threads to use for alignment to the target genomes
  • samtools_opts: a string added to the samtools view command during mapping. This is a good place to add ‘-F4’ to keep only mapped reads and decrease the space these files occupy.


  • suffix: the name of the subfolder to create for download output (fastq.gz files)
  • threads: number of threads to use for downloading (too many at once may make NCBI unhappy)

Building Databases

A detailed discussion on building databases for tools used by Sunbeam, while important, is beyond the scope of this document. Please see the following resources for more details:


To run Sunbeam, make sure you’ve activated the sunbeam environment. Then run:

sunbeam run --configfile ~/path/to/config.yml

There are many options that you can use to determine which outputs you want. By default, if nothing is specified, this runs the entire pipeline. However, each section is broken up into subsections that can be called individually, and will only execute the steps necessary to get their outputs. These are specified after the command above and consist of the following:

  • all_qc: basic quality control on all reads (no host read removal)
  • all_decontam: quality control and host read removal on all samples
  • all_mapping: align reads to target genomes
  • all_classify: classify taxonomic provenance of all qc’d, decontaminated reads
  • all_assembly: build contigs from all qc’d, decontaminated reads
  • all_annotate: annotate contigs using defined BLAST databases

To use one of these options, simply run it like so:

sunbeam run -- --configfile ~/path/to/config.yml all_classify

In addition, since Sunbeam is really just a set of snakemake rules, all the (many) snakemake options apply here as well. Some useful ones are:

  • -n performs a dry run, and will just list which rules are going to be executed without actually doing so.
  • -k allows the workflow to continue with unrelated rules if one produces an error (useful for malformed samples, which can also be added to the exclude config option).
  • -p prints the actual shell command executed for each rule, which is very helpful for debugging purposes.
  • --cores specifies the total number of cores used by Sunbeam. For example, if you run Sunbeam with --cores 100 and each rule/processing step uses 20 threads, it will run 5 rules at once.

Cluster options

Sunbeam inherits its cluster abilities from Snakemake. There’s nothing special about installing Sunbeam on a cluster, but in order to distribute work to cluster nodes, you have to use the --cluster and --jobs flags. For example, if we wanted each rule to run on a 12-thread node, and a max of 100 rules executing in parallel, we would use the following command on our cluster:

sunbeam run -- --configfile ~/path/to/config.yml --cluster "bsub -n 12" -j 100 -w 90

The -w 90 flag is provided to account for filesystem latency that often causes issues on clusters. It asks Snakemake to wait for 90 seconds before complaining that an expected output file is missing.


This section describes all the outputs from Sunbeam. Here is an example output directory, where we had two samples (sample1 and sample2), two BLAST databases, one nucleotide (‘bacteria’) and one protein (‘card’).

     ├ annotation
     │   ├ blastn
     │   │   └ bacteria
     │   │       └ contig
     │   ├ blastp
     │   │   └ card
     │   │       └ prodigal
     │   ├ blastx
     │   │   └ card
     │   │       └ prodigal
     │   ├ genes
     │   │   └ prodigal
     │   │       └ log
     │   └ summary
     ├ assembly
     │   ├ contigs
     ├ classify
     │   └ kraken
     │       └ raw
     ├ mapping
     │   └ genome1
     └ qc
         ├ cleaned
         ├ decontam
         ├ log
         │   ├ decontam
         │   ├ cutadapt
         │   └ trimmomatic
         └ reports

In order of appearance, the folders contain the following:

Contig annotation

     ├ annotation
     │   ├ blastn
     │   │   └ bacteria
     │   │       └ contig
     │   ├ blastp
     │   │   └ card
     │   │       └ prodigal
     │   ├ blastx
     │   │   └ card
     │   │       └ prodigal
     │   ├ genes
     │   │   └ prodigal
     │   │       └ log
     │   └ summary

This contains the BLAST/Diamond results in blast tabular format from the assembled contigs. blastn contains the results from directly BLASTing the contig nucleotide sequences against the nucleotide databases. blastp and blastx use genes identified by the ORF finding program Prodigal to search for hits in the protein databases.

The genes found from Prodigal are available in the genes folder.

Finally, the summary folder contains an aggregated report of the number and types of hits of each contig against the BLAST databases, as well as length and circularity.

Contig assembly

├ assembly
│   ├ contigs

This contains the assembled contigs for each sample under ‘contigs’.

Taxonomic classification

├ classify
│   └ kraken
│       └ raw

This contains the taxonomic outputs from Kraken, both the raw output as well as summarized results. The primary output file is all_samples.tsv, which is a BIOM-style format with samples as columns and taxonomy IDs as rows, and number of reads assigned to each in each cell.

Alignment to genomes

├ mapping
│   └ genome1

Alignment files (in BAM format) to each target genome are contained in subfolders named for the genome, such as ‘genome1’.

Quality control

└ qc
    ├ cleaned
    ├ decontam
    ├ log
    │   ├ decontam
    │   ├ cutadapt
    │   └ trimmomatic
    └ reports

This folder contains the trimmed, low-complexity filtered reads in cleaned. The decontam folder contains the cleaned reads that did not map to any contaminant or host genomes. In general, most downstream steps should reference the decontam reads.