Running Alphafold Without Docker

With the release of Alphafold 2, we have an alterate way to predict structure that is much faster than similar tools, such as Rosetta. Alphafold 2 also crushed CASP14, the main protein prediction competition, having the lowest RMS atom position error in many categories.

However, by default, Alphafold uses a Docker container to run. This is great if you own your own cluster, but many shared clusters do not have Docker (for good reason; having Docker access is effectively having root access, even with a lot of laborious hardening work). By reading the,, and Dockerfile used in Alphafold, we can backtrack the commands needed to setup a local install.

Table of Contents

Installing CUDA.

As seen at the top of the Dockerfile:

FROM nvidia/cuda:${CUDA}-cudnn8-runtime-ubuntu18.04
# FROM directive resets ARGS, so we specify again (the value is retained if
# previously set).

Alphafold expects that the CUDA version used is hard-coded to 11.0. Installing CUDA drivers is outside of the scope of this post; if you are running on a cluster, you may have multiple different CUDA versions available. Loading a CUDA version later than 11.0 will likely result in a “drivers out of date” error.

Target directory layout

Pick a directory to install all of the relevant Alphafold content into. If you are downloading the full dataset, be warned; unpacked, the dataset takes around 2.3TiB of space! The size of all other files is relatively small.

$ mkdir alphafold_install
$ cd alphafold_install

The final directory layout will look like this (many files removed for brevity):

│   ├───alphafold
│   │   └───common
│   │       ├───stereo_chemical_props.txt
│   │       ├───stereo_chemical_props.txt.1
│   │       └───stereo_chemical_props.txt.2
│   ├───docker
│   │   └───openmm.patch
│   ├───
│   └───scripts
│       └───
│   ├───(others)
│   ├───alphafold
│   ├───aria2c
│   ├───hhalign
│   ├───hhblits
│   └───kalign
│   ├───archives
│   ├───bfd
│   ├───mgnify
│   ├───params
│   ├───pdb70
│   ├───pdb_mmcif
│   ├───small_bfd
│   ├───uniclust30
│   └───uniref90
│   ├───install
│   ├───hh-suite
│   ├───hmmer-3.3.2
│   └───kalign-3.3.1

Clone the Alphafold repository and download parameters

To get started, clone the Github repository and switch into it:

$ git clone
Cloning into 'alphafold'...
remote: Enumerating objects: 233, done.
remote: Counting objects: 100% (123/123), done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (75/75), done.
remote: Total 233 (delta 52), reused 72 (delta 47), pack-reused 110
Receiving objects: 100% (233/233), 5.68 MiB | 42.76 MiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (89/89), done.
Checking out files: 100% (89/89), done.
$ cd alphafold

Compile and install dependencies: aria2c, HMMER, kalign, and HHsuite

Download the dataset and squashfs’ing

Create the necessary conda environment and patch OpenMM

Wrap the run script

Running Alphafold!

Christopher Johnstone
Christopher Johnstone
PhD Student

I am a PhD student in the Galloway Lab interested in the how biphysical feedback shapes gene expression and nuclear architecture, in addition to cellular reprogramming.