Batch processing with foreach

Image processing often involves executing the same command on many different subjects or time points within a study. MRtrix includes a bash script called foreach to simplify this process. The main benefit of using foreach compared to a bash for loop is a simpler and less verbose syntax. However other benefits include multi-threaded job execution (to exploit modern multi-core CPUs when the command being run is not already multi-threaded), and automatic identification of path basenames and prefixes. To view the full help page run foreach on the command line with no arguments.

Example 1 - using IN

Many people like to organise their imaging datasets with one directory per subject. For example:


The foreach script can be used to run the same command on each subject, for example:

$ foreach study/* : dwidenoise IN/dwi.mif IN/dwi_denoised.mif

The first part of the command above is the foreach script name, followed by the pattern matching string (study/*) to identify all the files (which in this case are directories) to be looped over. The colon is used to separate the pattern matching from the start of the command. In this example the dwidenoise command will be run multiple times, by substituting the keyword IN with each of the directories that match the pattern (study/001_patient, study/002_patient, etc).

Example 2 - using NAME

Other people may pefer to organise their imaging datasets with one folder per image type and have all subjects inside. For example:


The NAME keyword can be used in this situation to obtain the basename of the file path. For example:

$ mkdir study/dwi_denoised
$ foreach study/dwi/* : dwidenoise IN study/dwi_denoised/NAME

Here, the IN keyword will be substituted with the full string from the matching pattern (study/dwi/001_patient.mif, study/dwi/002_patient.mif, etc), however the NAME keyword will be replaced with the basename of the matching pattern (001_patient.mif, 002_patient.mif, etc).

Alternatively, the same result can be achieved by running foreach from inside the study/dwi directory. In this case NAME would not be required. For example:

$ mkdir study/dwi_denoised
$ cd study/dwi
$ foreach * : dwidenoise IN ../dwi_denoised/IN

Example 3 - using PRE

For this example let us assume we want to convert all dwi.mif files from example 2 to NIfTI file format (*.nii). This can be performed using:

$ foreach study/dwi/* : mrconvert IN study/dwi/PRE.nii
$ rm *.mif

There the PRE keyword will be replaced by the file basename, without the file extension.

Example 4 - Sequential Processing

As an example of a single foreach command running multiple sequential commands (e.g. with the bash ;, |, &&, || operators), lets assume in the previous example we wanted to remove the *.mif files as they were converted. We could use the && operator, which means “run next command only if current command succeeds without error”.

$ foreach study/dwi/* : mrconvert IN study/dwi/PRE.nii "&&" rm IN

As shown the && operator must be escaped with quotes to prevent the shell from interpreting it. Bash operator characters can also be escaped with the “” character, for example to pipe an image between two MRtrix commands (assuming the data set directory layout from example 1):

$ foreach study/* : dwiextract -bzero IN/dwi.mif - \| mrmath - mean -axis 3 IN/mean_b0.mif

Example 5 - Parallel Processing

To run multiple jobs at once, add the -N option before the colon, where N is the number of concurrent jobs required. For example:

$ foreach -8 study/* : dwidenoise IN/dwi.mif IN/dwi_denoised.mif

will run up to 8 of the required jobs in parallel. Note that most MRtrix commands are multi-threaded and will use all available CPU cores, and therefore running multiple jobs in parallel is unlikely to benefit the computation time.