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3. What is nf-core?

nf-core logo

nf-core is a community effort to collect a curated set of analysis pipelines built using Nextflow.

nf-core provides a standardised set of best practices, guidelines, and templates for building and sharing bioinformatics pipelines. These pipelines are designed to be modular, scalable, and portable, allowing researchers to easily adapt and execute them using their own data and compute resources.

The community is a diverse group of bioinformaticians, developers, and researchers from around the world who collaborate on developing and maintaining a growing collection of high-quality pipelines. These pipelines cover a range of applications, including transcriptomics, proteomics, and metagenomics.

One of the key benefits of nf-core is that it promotes open development, testing, and peer review, ensuring that the pipelines are robust, well-documented, and validated against real-world datasets. This helps to increase the reliability and reproducibility of bioinformatics analyses and ultimately enables researchers to accelerate their scientific discoveries.

nf-core is published in Nature Biotechnology: Nat Biotechnol 38, 276–278 (2020). Nature Biotechnology

An updated preprint is available at bioRxiv.

Key Features of nf-core pipelines

  • Documentation
    • nf-core pipelines have extensive documentation covering installation, usage, and description of output files to ensure that you won't be left in the dark.
  • CI Testing
    • Every time a change is made to the pipeline code, nf-core pipelines use continuous-integration testing to ensure that nothing has broken.
  • Stable Releases
    • nf-core pipelines use GitHub releases to tag stable versions of the code and software, making pipeline runs totally reproducible.
  • Packaged software
    • Pipeline dependencies are automatically downloaded and handled using Docker, Singularity, Conda, or other software management tools. There is no need for any software installations.
  • Portable and reproducible
    • nf-core pipelines follow best practices to ensure maximum portability and reproducibility. The large community makes the pipelines exceptionally well-tested and easy to execute.
  • Cloud-ready
    • nf-core pipelines are tested on AWS after every major release. You can even browse results live on the website and use outputs for your own benchmarking.

It is important to remember all nf-core pipelines are open-source, community driven, and are under active community development.

3.1 nf-core pipelines

There are currently >100 nf-core pipelines.

These pipelines are at various stages of development with 60 released, 34 under development, and 11 archived (April 2024).

The nf-core website contains a full list of pipelines, as well as their documentation, which can be explored.

Each released pipeline has a dedicated page that includes expansive documentation that is split into 6 sections:

  • Introduction: An introduction and overview of the pipeline
  • Usage: Descriptions of how to execute the pipeline
  • Parameters: Grouped pipeline parameters with descriptions
  • Output: Descriptions and examples of the expected output files
  • Results: Example output files generated from the full test dataset
  • Releases & Statistics: pipeline version history and statistics

3.2 Pulling an nf-core pipeline

Unless you intend to develop an nf-core pipeline independently, you do not need to clone a copy of a pipeine. Instead, you can use Nextflow’s built-in functionality to pull a pipeline:

nextflow pull nf-core/demo

The nextflow run command

The nextflow run command will also automatically pull the pipeline if it was not already available locally.

Nextflow will pull the default git branch if a pipeline version is not specified. This will be the master branch for nf-core pipelines with a stable release.

nf-core pipelines use GitHub releases to tag stable versions of the code and software. You will always be able to execute a previous version of a pipeline once it is released using the -revision or -r option.

Similarly, you can use the -r option to specify a GitHub branch.


Pull the dev branch of the nf-core/demo pipeline from GitHub:

nextflow pull nf-core/demo -r dev

Check that it has been pulled by listing your cached pipelines:

nextflow list

You can also view pipelines in your hidden assets folder:

ls $HOME/.nextflow/assets/