Download and setup MobaXterm

Go to the MobaXterm website and download the free version. Make sure to select the Portable edition from the download page. Create a MobaXterm folder on your Windows user Documents one and uncompress inside it the contents of the downloaded zip file.

We chose to create the MobaXterm folder on that particular location and we will refer to that on this guide. You can, of course, select some other location of your preference if you wish.

There are two possibilities for configuring the MobaXterm suite to connect to the clusters:

  1. Setup a shortcut for a remote session
  2. Setup the environment to connect from a local MobaXterm terminal

If you are not familiar with using UNIX-like terminals and editing configuration files, we strongly recommend following the first approach.

1. Setup a shortcut for a remote session

We will detail the steps for configuring the remote access to the hmem cluster.

  1. Double click the MobaXterm_Personal executable file inside the Documents\MobaXterm folder. You should see the MobaXterm main window like this one:
mobaxterm main
  1. Click on the Session icon on the top left corner.
  2. The Session settings configuration panel will open, select the SSH session type and you should see a window like this:
ssh settings window
  1. In the Remote host field, introduce the hmem address, hmem.cism.ucl.ac.be, that you can find on the hmem Access section of the CÉCI clusters webpage. Tick the Specify username box and introduce your CÉCI username. Click the Advanced SSH settings tab and you will see these extra options:
advanced ssh options
  1. Tick the Use private key box and click on the icon on that field, a file browser will be opened, locate your id_rsa.ceci key file you received by e-mail. Take note that you should not change the location of the CÉCI key file. If you move it you will have to update its location in this setting section again, to allow MobaXterm to find it. Check that the SSH-browser type is set as SFTP protocol. The SSH settings tab should look like this at the end of the process:
ssh settings final options
  1. Press the OK button and you should be prompted for your passphrase. Enter here the passphrase you chose while filling the CÉCI web application form. The characters will be hidden and nothing at all will appear as you type (no circles, no symbols). You should connect to hmem and be greeted by a screen like this:
hmem greeting
On the left sidebar you will see on the Sftp tab a file browser of your home directory in the cluster. You will see by default many files whose names start with a dot (.) symbol. These are hidden files of the Linux environment and you should not delete nor move them. You can edit and customize them if you are aware of what you are doing.
  1. When you disconnect from the cluster (by typing exit or closing the terminal tab) you will find on the left sidebar on the Sessions tab a shortcut to the hmem session you just setup. From now on, when you open MobaXterm, you can just double click that shortcut and you will start a remote session on hmem. If you wish you can also create a direct shortcut on your desktop. To do that, right click on the saved session name and choose Create a desktop shortcut, as shown below. An icon will appear on your Desktop which double clicking starts MobaXterm with a session on the cluster.
session desktop shortcut
  1. Now you can repeat these steps for the rest of the CÉCI clusters you are planning to use. You will have then a shortcut on the Sessions tab of the left sidebar for each of them to connect to.

1.1 Copying files to and from the cluster

After you are able to setup the shortcut for connecting to a cluster, as we noted on the step 6 of the previous section, you will see on the left sidebar on the Sftp tab a file browser on the cluster you are connected to.

You can simply drag and drop files from your computer to that panel and they will be copied to the cluster. The same is valid for retrieving files from the cluster to your computer.

If you right click on that panel and you will see different options to interact with the browser (see the figure below). Remember always to press the Refresh current folder button after you copied something or a new file or folder is created on the cluster.

session desktop shortcut

Note that you also have the right-click options directly available through the icons on the toolbar at the top of the panel.

1.2 Accesing the clusters from home or abroad

As the clusters are not accessible from outside the university networks, you will need to either use a VPN or an SSH gateway. Going through an SSH gateway can be entirely transparent provided your client is correctly configured. The CÉCI does not offer a gateway service so you need to refer to your local support team for more information:

  • UCL: you can use gwceci.cism.ucl.ac.be as SSH gateway using a CECI account. See the CISM documentation
  • ULB: you can use hydra as a gateway if you have a VSC login.
  • UMons: contact the local support team.
  • UNamur: you can use hal.unamur.be using you UNamur identity or use the VPN (see UNamur intranet)
  • ULg: you need to use the VPN service.

Note that you can use any Linux computer that is connected to your university network to which you have SSH access from your home or abroad to act as gateway.

1.2.1 Using a VPN

If you can setup a VPN on your machine no extra step is required. When enabling the VPN, the shortcuts you created previously will work transparently as if you were inside the university network.

1.2.2 Using a ssh gateway

If you have a ssh gateway available to use you will have to configure an additional shortcut for each cluster you plan to use outside the university network. Your local support team will provide you with the following information of the ssh gateway:

  • Gateway address: gateway.address
  • Port: 22 (this is the default if nothing is specified)
  • Username: <gatewayuser>
  • Password: <password if you connect with a password or passphrase if you connect with a passphrase-protected SSH key>
  • Private ssh key: <(optional) in case login is with SSH key pair authentication>

To access the clusters through it, you must create a new shortcut going through the same steps as explained before. But on the step 5, after doing the setup on Advanced SSH settings, you must go to the Network settings tab and introduce the information of the ssh gateway as shown below:

ssh gateway config

Note that if a private ssh key is required to access the gateway you should tick the Use private key box and then on the icon to browse for the key on your computer.

Press the OK button and the shortcut will be created.

Double clicking the shortcut on the Sessions tab will allow you to connect to the cluster from any location. You will be prompted first for the gateway password/key-passphrase and afterwards for the passphrase of your CÉCI key. It is advisable to rename this new shortcut (by right clicking on it), introducing information to remind it is the one for external access.

2. Connect to the clusters from a local MobaXterm terminal

We provide here an alternative explanation for connecting to the clusters working from a local MobaXterm terminal. This option is interesting to try as the workflow is almost the same as the one in a UNIX-like environment.

As you get familiar to work on terminals and the command line, which is actually how you work when you are connected to a cluster, you might decide at some point to try a Linux dual boot install. In that case you will be prepared already to work with the clusters from a Linux terminal. The same is also valid in the case you switch to a Mac computer.

In the following we assume you are already familiar with working from a UNIX-like command line, i.e. you know what the home folder is, you are comfortable with commands to copy/move files and with editing text files with some terminal text editor.

We need to make the settings of the local MobaXterm environment persistent to work more comfortably with the local terminals. To do that we will create inside the Documents\MobaXterm folder two new ones and name them home and root.

Open the MobaXterm program and go in the menu to Settings -> Configuration, you should see the MobaXterm Configuration panel. Choose for the Persistent home directory the home folder we created before and for the Persistent root (/) directory the root one. The settings should look like this afterwards:

mobaxterm configuration settings

Press OK and you will be prompted for restarting MobaXterm, choose to do that.

When you open MobaXterm you always have an option on the right panel to Start local terminal (see the first figure on the previous section). When pressing that button you get a local terminal like this one:

mobaxterm local terminal

After the setup we made before, the home mountpoint of the local sessions will correspond to the Documents\MobaXterm\home folder on the Windows drive. In addition, MobaXterm automatically maps all your Windows drives inside the local terminal sessions, for instance the C:\ one is found on the /drives/c/ path.

In order to access a cluster from the local terminal you will have to use the ssh command. It is advisable to copy your CÉCI private key file id_rsa.ceci inside your home folder of the MobaXterm local sessions. A usual location is the .ssh/ folder, create it if does not exist and copy the CÉCI private key file from the location you saved it on your Windows drive to ~/.ssh/.

After you did so you can follow the steps to connect to the clusters described in the Connecting from UNIX-like environment guide.

You can start as many local terminals as you wish and use the scp command to copy or retrieve files from the clusters. But also note that when your active tab on the right panel is on a remote terminal, you will automatically find on the left panel a Sftp tab with a file browser on the remote machine where the terminal is focused.