GATK, properly pronounced "Gee-ay-tee-kay" (/dʒi•eɪ•ti•keɪ/) and not ] "Gat-kay" (/ɡæt•keɪ/), stands for Genome Analysis Toolkit. It is a collection of command-line tools for analyzing high-throughput sequencing data with a primary focus on variant discovery. The tools can be used individually or chained together into complete workflows. We provide end-to-end workflows, called GATK Best Practices, tailored for specific use cases.
Starting with version 4.0, GATK contains a copy of the Picard toolkit, so all Picard tools are available from within GATK itself. Their documentation is available in the Tool Index section of this website.
- Preview the pipelines
- Quick start for the impatient
- Get GATK
- Install it
- Test that it works
- Run GATK and Picard commands
- Learn the Best Practices
- Run pipelines
- Get help
- Subscribe to forum notifications
1. Preview the pipelines
If you don't yet know for sure you're actually going to use GATK for your work, then you should consider test-driving the software without having to do any real work yourself.
To do so, consider using our cloud platform, Terra, which makes it easier to get started with GATK. We have set up all our Best Practices pipelines in pre-configured workspaces so you can poke at them, see how they work, and examine the results they produce on example data. You can also upload your own data (privately and securely) to test how the pipelines perform on that.
We're complementing this with new tutorials that use Jupyter Notebooks, also in Terra, to walk you through the logic, operation and results of each step of the pipeline. We've already been using this approach in our popular workshop series with very encouraging results, and going forward we're planning to offer all of our tutorials as Jupyter Notebooks.
You can read more about how and why you can get started with GATK on Terra at our overview for GATK on the Cloud with Terra
If you end up liking it, you can even adopt Terra to do all your work! That said, we don't expect it to be a fit for everyone, which is why GATK will always remain available and open-source to the online community. By having multiple option, we can offer best way to empower you to try out our tools and test new releases without having to put in a ton of effort up front.
2. Quick start for the impatient
- Run on Linux or MacOSX; MS Windows is not supported.
- Make sure you have Java 8 / JDK 1.8 (Oracle or OpenJDK, doesn't matter).
- Download the GATK package here OR get the Docker image here.
- There are two jars because of reasons, but don't worry about that; see the next point.
- Invoke GATK through the
gatkwrapper script rather than calling either jar directly
- Basic syntax is
gatk [--java-options "-Xmx4G"] ToolName [GATK args]; full details here.
- Use the Terra workspaces to test the pipelines and learn what each tool does.
- If you need help, read the User Guide and ask questions on the forum.
Most GATK4 tools have fairly simple software requirements: a Unix-style OS and Java 1.8. However, a subset of tools have additional R and/or Python dependencies. These dependencies (as well as the base system requirements) are described in detail here. So we strongly recommend using the Docker container system, if that's an option on your infrastructure, rather than a custom installation. All released versions of GATK4 can be found as prepackaged container images in Dockerhub here. If you can't use Docker, do yourself a favor and use the Conda environment that we provide to manage dependencies, as described in the github repository README.
You will also need Python 2.6 or greater to run the
gatk wrapper script (described below).
If you run into difficulties with the Java version requirement, see this article for help.
4. Get GATK
You can download the GATK package here OR get the Docker image here. The instructions below will assume you downloaded the GATK package to your local machine and are planning to run it directly. For instructions on how to go the Docker route, see this tutorial.
Once you have downloaded and unzipped the package (named
gatk-[version]), you will find four files inside the resulting directory:
gatk gatk-package-[version]-local.jar gatk-package-[version]-spark.jar README.md
Now you may ask, why are there two jars? As the names suggest,
gatk-package-[version]-spark.jar is the jar for running Spark tools on a Spark cluster, while
gatk-package-[version]-local.jar is the jar that is used for everything else (including running Spark tools "locally", i.e. on a regular server or cluster).
So does that mean you have to specify which one you want to run each time? Nope! See the
gatk file in there? That's an executable wrapper script that you invoke and that will choose the appropriate jar for you based on the rest of your command line. You could still invoke a specific jar if you wanted, but using
gatk is easier, and it will also take care of setting some parameters that you would otherwise have to specify manually.
5. Install it
There is no installation necessary in the traditional sense, since the precompiled jar files should work on any POSIX platform that satisfies the requirements listed above. You'll simply need to open the downloaded package and place the folder containing the jar files and launch script in a convenient directory on your hard drive (or server filesystem).
Although the jars themselves cannot simply be added to your PATH, you can do so with the
gatk wrapper script. Please look up instructions depending on the terminal shell you use; in
bash the typical syntax is
export PATH="/path/to/gatk-package/:$PATH" where
/path/to/gatk-package/ is the path to the location of the
gatk executable. Note that the jars must remain in the same directory as
gatk for it to work. Be sure to include the final
/ in your path.
You can also create an alias to executable within your
.bash_profile file, so that simply typing in
gatk will run the file path:
6. Test that it works
To test that you can successfully invoke the GATK, run the following command in your terminal application. Here we assume that you have added
gatk to your PATH as recommended above
This should output a summary of the invocation syntax, options for listing tools and invoking a specific tool's help documentation, and main Spark options if applicable.
7. Run GATK and Picard commands
Available tools are listed and described in some detail in the Tool Index section, along with available options. The basic syntax for invoking any GATK or Picard tool is the following:
gatk [--java-options "jvm args like -Xmx4G go here"] ToolName [GATK args go here]
So for example, a simple GATK command would look like:
gatk --java-options "-Xmx8G" HaplotypeCaller -R reference.fasta -I input.bam -O output.vcf
You can find more information about GATK command-line syntax here.
Syntax for Picard tools
When used from within GATK, all Picard tools use the same syntax as GATK. The conversion relative to the "Picard-style" syntax is very straightforward; wherever you used to do e.g.
I=input.bam, you now do
-I input.bam. So for example, a simple Picard command would look like:
gatk ValidateSamFile -I input.bam -MODE SUMMARY
8. Learn the Best Practices
The GATK Best Practices are end-to-end workflows that are meant to provide step-by-step recommendations for performing variant discovery analysis in high-throughput sequencing (HTS) data. We have several such workflows tailored to project aims (by type of variants of interest) and experimental designs (by type of sequencing approach). And although they were originally designed for human genome research, the GATK Best Practices can be adapted for analysis of non-human organisms of all kinds, including non-diploids.
The documentation for the Best Practices includes high-level descriptions of the processes involved, various types of documents that explain deeper details and adaptations that can be made depending on constraints and use cases, a set of actual pipeline implementations of these recommendations, and perhaps the most important, workshop materials including slide decks, videos and tutorials that walk you through every step.
9. Run pipelines
Most of the work involved in processing sequence data and performing variant discovery can be automated in the form of pipeline scripts, which often include some form of parallelization to speed up execution. We provide scripted implementations of the GATK Best Practices workflows plus some additional helper/accessory scripts in order to make it easier for everyone to run these sometimes rather complex workflows.
These workflows are written in WDL and intended to be run on any platform that supports WDL execution. Options are listed in the Pipelining section of the User Guide. Our preferred option is the Cromwell execution engine, which like GATK is also developed by the Broad's Data Sciences Platform (DSP), and is available as a service on our cloud platform, Terra (formerly known as FireCloud).
If you choose to run GATK workflows through Terra, you don't really need to do any of the above, since everything is already preloaded in a ready-to-run form (the software, the scripts, even some example data). At this point Terra the easiest way to run the workflows exactly as we do in our own work. As noted above, we've set up all our Best Practices pipelines in preconfigured workspaces on a cloud platform called Terra, so you can try them out without having to do any setup. You can compare the results to other pipelines and also upload your own data (privately and securely) to test how our pipelines perform on that.
10. Get Help
We provide all support through our very active community forum. You can ask questions and report any problems that you might encounter, with the following guidelines:
Before asking for help
Before posting to the Forum, please do the following:
- Use the Search box in the top-right corner of every page -- it will search everything including the User Guide and the Forum.
- If something is not working:
- run validation checks on all your input files to make sure they're all properly formatted
- look at the Troubleshooting GATK4 Issues section of the User Guide, which covers common issues that are not bugs
- search the forum for previous reports, e.g. using the error message
- try again the latest version of whatever tool you're using
When asking for help
When asking a question about a problem, please include the following:
- All version information (GATK version, Java, your operating system if possible).
- Don't just tell us you are following the Best Practices -- describe exactly what you are doing.
- Include relevant details, e.g. platform, DNA- or RNA-Seq, WES (+capture kit) or WGS (PCR-free or PCR+), paired- or single-end, read length, expected average coverage, somatic data, etc.
- For tool errors, include the full command you ran AND the stacktrace (_i.e. the long pile of unreadable software gobbledygook in the terminal output) if there is one.
- For format issues, include the result of running ValidateSamFile for BAMs or ValidateVariants for VCFs.
- For weird/unexpected results, include an illustrative example, e.g. attach IGV screenshots, and explain in detail why you think the result is weird -- especially if you're working with non-human data. We may not be aware of your organism's quirks.
We will typically get back to you with a response within one or two business days, but be aware that more complex issues (or unclear reports) may take longer to address. In addition, some times of the year are especially busy for us and we may take longer than usual to answer your question.
We may ask you to submit a formal bug report, which involves sending us some test data that we can use to reproduce the problem ourselves. This is often required for debugging. Rest assured we treat all data transferred to us as private and confidential. In some cases we may ask for your permission to include a snippet of your test case in our testing framework, which is publicly accessible. In such a case, YOU are responsible for verifying with whoever owns the data whether you are authorized to allow us to make that data public.
Note that the information in this documentation guide is targeted at end-users. For developers, the source code and related resources are available on GitHub.
11. Subscribe to forum notifications
Consider subscribing to forum notifications and announcements so you'll get an email when we answer your questions and when we post new content to the blog, which is the best way to stay informed of new features and opportunities. For instructions, see this link.