AIRR Software WG - Guidance for AIRR Software Tools#

Version 1.0


The Adaptive Immune Receptor Repertoire (AIRR) Community will benefit greatly from cooperation among groups developing software tools and resources for AIRR research. The goal of the AIRR Software Working Group is to promote standards for AIRR software tools and resources in order to enable rigorous and reproducible immune repertoire research at the largest scale possible. As one contribution to this goal, we have established the following standards for software tools. Authors whose tools comply with this standard will, subject to ratification from the AIRR Software WG, be permitted to advertise their tools as being AIRR-compliant.


Tools must:

  1. Be published in source code form, and hosted on a publicly available repository with a clear versioning system.

  2. Support community-curated standard file formats and strive for modularity and interoperability with other tools. In particular, tools must read and write AIRR Data Representations standards corresponding to their tool.

  3. Include example data (in AIRR standard formats where applicable) and an automated check for expected output from that data, in order to provide a minimal example of functionality allowing users to check that the software is performing as described.

  4. Provide information about run parameters as part of the output.

  5. Provide a container build file that can be used to create an image which encapsulates the software tool, its dependencies, and required run environment. This needs to be remotely and automatically built. The build should conclude by running the example data through the tool (see point 3) and confirming that the expected output is obtained. We currently recognize two software solutions, although we will adapt as software evolves:

    1. A Dockerfile that automatically builds a container image on Docker Hub.

    2. A Singularity recipe file that automatically builds a container image on Singularity Hub.

  1. Provide user support, clearly stating which level of support users can expect, and how and from whom to obtain it.


We suggest software tools be published under a license that permits free access, use, modification, and sharing, such as GPL, Apache 2.0, or MIT. However, we understand that this depends on institutional intellectual property restrictions, thus it is a recommendation rather than a requirement.

Explanatory Notes#

Open Source Software and Versioned Repositories#

Software tools in the AIRR field are evolving rapidly. In the interests of reproducibility and transparency, published work should be based on tools (and versions of tools) that can be obtained easily by other researchers in the future. To that end, AIRR compliant tools must be published in open repositories such as GitHub or Bitbucket, and we encourage publishing users to provide specifics on the version and configuration of tools that have been employed.

Community-Curated File Formats#

The AIRR Data Representation Working Group has defined standards for immune receptor repertoire sequencing datasets. Software tool authors are requested to support these standards as much as possible, for applicable data sets. The currently implemented standard covers submission of reads to NCBI repositories (BioProject, BioSample, SRA and Genbank) and annotated immune receptor rearrangements. Tool authors can assist by easing/guiding the process of submission as much as possible.

Example Data and Checks#

Because the installation and operation of the tools in this field may be complex, we require example data and details of expected output, so that users can confirm that their installation is functioning as expected. Furthermore, metadata (for example, germline gene libraries) and other software dependencies should be checked when the tool runs, and informative error messages issued if necessary. A means should be provided to check the expected output automatically.

Dependencies and Containers#

Containers encapsulate everything needed to run a piece of software into a single convenient executable that is largely independent of the user’s software environment. For the following purposes, providers of AIRR-compliant tools must provide a containerized implementation (based on a published build script as described above) as one download option that users can choose:

  • Containers allow users to use and evaluate a tool easily and reproduce results, without the need to resolve dependencies or configure the environment.

  • Having these containers be automatically built also provides a self-validated way to understand the fine details of installation from a known starting point.

To ensure that containers are up to date, they must be built automatically when the current release version of the tool is updated. We will use automated builds on Docker Hub and Singularity Hub for this purpose. The corresponding build files document dependencies clearly, and make it easy for the maintainer to keep the container’s dependencies up to date in subsequent releases.

An example Docker container is provided on the Software WG Github Repository. This example encapsulates IgBLAST, and implements the bioboxes command-line standard.

Support Statements#

Tool authors must provide support for the tool. They must state explicitly what level of support is provided, and explain how support can be obtained. We recommend a method such as the issues tracker on Github, that publishes support requests transparently and links resolutions to specific versions or releases. Users are advised to check that the level of support and the frequency of software updates matches their expectations before committing to a tool.

Analysis Workflows#

  • At the moment, we do not endorse a specific workflow technology standard:

    • Technology is evolving too rapidly for us to commit to a particular workflow.

    • Typically, AIRR analysis tools have many options and modes, which would make it difficult to support a “plug and play” environment without unduly restricting functionality.

  • As tools and workflows evolve, we will keep the position under review and may make stronger technology recommendations in the future.

  • We strongly encourage authors of tools to provide concrete, documented, examples of workflows that employ their tools, together with sample input and output data.

  • Likewise we encourage authors of research publications to provide

    documented workflows that will enable interested readers to reproduce the results.


Authors may submit tools to the AIRR Software WG requesting ratification against the standard. The submitter should provide a completed copy of the AIRR Software WG - Compliance Checklist for AIRR Software Tools to evidence reviewable and itemised evidence of compliance with each Requirement listed above.

The Software WG will, where appropriate, issue a Certificate of Compliance, stating the version of the tool reviewed and the version of the Standard with which compliance was ratified. After receiving a Certificate, authors will be entitled to claim compliance with the Standard, and may incorporate any artwork provided by AIRR for that purpose.

The Software WG will maintain and publish a list of compliant software.

If a tool does not achieve ratification, the Software WG will provide an explanation. The Software WG encourages resubmission once issues have been resolved.

Authors must re-submit tools for ratification following major upgrades or substantial modifications. The Software WG may, at its discretion, request resubmission at any time. If a certified tool subsequently fails ratification, or is not re-submitted in response to a request from the Software WG, AIRR compliance may no longer be claimed and the associated artwork may no longer be used.

The Software WG may, at its discretion, issue a new version of this standard at any time. Tools certified against previous version(s) of the standard may continue to claim compliance with those versions and to use the associated artwork. Authors wishing to claim compliance with the new version must submit a new request for certification and may not claim compliance with the new version, or use associated artwork, until and unless certification is obtained.