Using Intel® MKL with R


R is a programming language for statistical computing. The open source package also provides an environment for creating and running R programs. This guide will show how to use the BLAS and LAPACK libraries within Intel® Math Kernel Library (Intel® MKL) to improve the performance of R. To use other Intel MKL functions, you read this article on Extending R with Intel MKL.



Build R use with Intel MKL

R can be configured to use the Intel® MKL BLAS and LAPACK by using --with-blas.

If you are building R with GNU gcc and GNU gfortran, to use the GNU OpenMP* threaded version of Intel® MKL in R on a Linux operating system add the following:

source /opt/intel/compilers_and_libraries_2019.2.187/linux/mkl/bin/ intel64
MKL="-Wl,--no-as-needed -lmkl_gf_lp64 -Wl,--start-group -lmkl_gnu_thread  -lmkl_core  -Wl,--end-group -fopenmp  -ldl -lpthread -lm"
./configure --with-blas="$MKL" --with-lapack   

The order of the libraries is important. --with-lapack will cause the LAPACK from Intel MKL to be used as well.

The Intel® MKL libraries link line actually is varied based on different compiler and threading model.  Developer can select the right libraries by the tool named Intel® MKL Link Advisor to suit their own needs

( MKL Link Advisor webpage version:

Here are some other variations:

A: If you are building R with Intel C/C++ Compiler icc and Intel Fortran Compiler ifort, then please use 

source /opt/intel/ intel64

source /opt/intel/ intel64

MKL=" -L${MKLROOT}/lib/intel64 -lmkl_intel_lp64 -lmkl_intel_thread -lmkl_core -liomp5 -lpthread -lm -ldl "

./configure --with-blas="$MKL" --with-lapack 


source /opt/intel/ intel64 

source /opt/intel/ intel64

MKL="-Wl,--no-as-needed   -lmkl_rt  -liomp5 -lpthread  -lm"

	./configure --with-blas="$MKL" --with-lapack    

The default number of threads will equal the number of physical cores on the system, but can be controlled by setting OMP_NUM_THREADS or MKL_NUM_THREADS.

B. You can use the following if you want to dynamically linking a GNU threading version of Intel® MKL and using GNU GFORTRAN and GCC:

source /opt/intel/ intel64

MKL="-L${MKLROOT}/lib/intel64 -Wl,--no-as-needed -lmkl_intel_lp64 -lmkl_gnu_thread -lmkl_core -lgomp -lpthread -lm -ldl "


C. The following will link Intel® MKL statically the GNU threading runtime:

source /opt/intel/ intel64

MKL=" -L${MKLROOT}/lib/intel64   -Wl,--start-group  ${MKLROOT}/lib/intel64/libmkl_gf_lp64.a   ${MKLROOT}/lib/intel64/libmkl_gnu_thread.a  ${MKLROOT}/lib/intel64/libmkl_core.a -Wl,--end-group  -lgomp -lpthread"

Check if Intel® MKL is working

1. Check the config.log to see if Intel® MKL was working, 

configure:29075: checking for dgemm_ in -L/opt/intel/compilers_and_libraries_2019.2.187/linux/mkl/lib/intel64/ -lmkl_gf_lp64 -lmkl_sequential -lmkl_core
configure:29096: gcc -std=gnu99 -o conftest -g -O2  -I/usr/local/include  -L/usr/local/lib64 conftest.c -L/opt/intel/compilers_and_libraries_2019.2.187/linux/mkl/lib/intel64/ -lmkl_gf_lp64 -lmkl_sequential -lmkl_core  -lgfortran -lm -lrt -ldl -lm  >&5
conftest.c: In function 'main':
conftest.c:210: warning: implicit declaration of function 'dgemm_'
configure:29096: $? = 0
configure:29103: result: yes
configure:29620: checking whether double complex BLAS can be used
configure:29691: result: yes
configure:29711: checking whether the BLAS is complete

Or after build, If MKL library was dynamically linked in the R, type the simple command to verify this


$ ldd  ./R-3.5.2/lib/
 =>  (0x00007fffa45ff000)
 => /opt/intel/compilers_and_libraries_2019.2.187/linux/mkl/lib/intel64/ (0x00007fe963097000)


2. export MKL_VERBOSE=1 

Performance Results

To provide some indication of the performance improvements that this can provide, I ran R-benchmark-25.R found on the R benchmarks site on a system with a 48-core Intel(R) Xeon(R) Platinum 8168 CPU @ 2.70GHz with 196 Gb of RAM and running RHEL 7 x86_64. I first installed R-2.15.3 and ran the benchmark without Intel MKL. to get:

32.795 sec

After installing Intel MKL 2019.0 update 2, and following the methods above I was able to get:

4.09 sec

Known Issues

1.  Intel MKL blocks the use of FFTW in R 

Problem: When Intel MKL library was linked in R as the BLAS,  The MKL libraries like also integrated FFTW3  interface by default.  As not all of FFTW3 are implemented in library, it may cause some R extension based on FFTW* failed. Please see the threads.

Solution:  Build Using the Custom Shared Object Builder.  Intel MKL provide the tools under install folder : 

> cp -r /opt/intel/mkl/tools/builder .

>cd builder; source /opt/intel/mkl/bin/ intel64; make libintel64 export=blas_example_list parallel=gnu name=libRblas

2.  Intel OpenMP library hang R when upgrade to 2018 update 1 &2018 update 2.  

Problem: Please see the threads,  It is bug, so affect R with Intel MKL, which based on the libiomp5 libraries. 

Solution: The issue is fixed in 2018 update 3. 


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