Tag: simulation

ncDataReader2 | 2.2.4

A new release 2.2.4 of ncDataReader2 is out. Some bugs were fixed and the API has slightly changed. This version should work both with Dymola and OpenModelica on Linux and Windows. When you have a DAP-enabled netcdf library  it will even fetch data from the web in background. I already did some Dymola simulations with on-demand loading of data from a server, a post about this topic will follow.

Changes include:

  • the meaning of offset and scale factor for a ncDatSet1D was changed
  • chunk loading was implemented
  • Akima interpolation was changed heavily, works much faster now
  • better support for newer netcdf libraries
  • new helper functions for setting attributes
  • changed some char* to const char* to work with OpenModelica
  • a lot of bugs were fixed

Accessing external data from Modelica with ncDataReader2

This example demonstrates the use of the library ncDataReader2 to access data sets from Modelica in a way suitable for the simulation system. The access is handled via external functions from Modelica which read and interpolate the data stored in netCDF files.

Dymola is used as the simulation system here. As ncDataReader2 is a simple, platform-independant  library implemented in ANSI-C this approach should work (in theory) with other Modelica implementations too. As soon as I have tested other simulation systems the results will be documented here.


When working with complex models you often have to access external data. This may be measured time rows of climate parameters or friction factors for different plant components. Some advantages of using ncDataReader2 in such situations:

  • data is presented as continous functions of one or two variables with automatic interpolation
  • can handle very large data sets that will not even fit into memory at once (load on demand)
  • offers different interpolation and extrapolation methods
  • data is stored in netCDF format which offers very efficient access to multi-dimensional data
  • data files can be easily exchanged without changing or recompiling your model
  • data files can contain many different data sets (scalar, 1D, 2D) at the same time
  • when you store interrelated data sets in one file, the chance of accidently mixing inconsistent data is minimized

A typical use is reading weather files into a thermal building simulation. The weather files contain different climate parameters like air temperature and humidity, radiation, wind speed as time rows for one year as well as latitude, longitude and the timezone for one location. You can easily exchange the data file and simulate the building in a totally different location without touching the model. ncDataReader2 is used in the Modelica library FluidFlow.


If you don’t already have Dymola installed, you can download a demo version here. It has some restrictions but will work with the simple model used in this example.

The simple model

The following model is used as a starting point for our example. The equation for t will be exchanged with a function call in the next steps. x is just a dummy to have something to integrate.


Installing ncDataReader2

There is no special installation procedure. Just put the necessary header and library files into the working directory (usually where you saved the model file). Which files are actually needed depends on the Dymola version and the compiler (gcc, msvc). The easiest way is to extract the whole contents of precompiled binary package (Win32 zip) into the working directory. It includes everything needed by Dymola and the executables ncgen and ncdump which are used in the next step. If you compile ncDataReader by yourself, you should at least copy ncDataReaderEA.h and the netCDF and ncDataReader2 library files (dll and/or lib).

Defining Modelica functions

The  next file makes the C functions of the library ncDataReader2 available in Modelica. It contains descriptions of the most important functions of the library (actually of the easy api / EA) that can be read by Modelica. Just put it in the working directory.


Generating the data file in netCDF format

The data must be stored in file in netCDF format. There are many different ways to convert data to this format. My favourite way is a python script that uses one of the netCDF-modules.

But in this example we will write a CDL text file and convert it to netCDF. This step does not require additional software. Use the command:

ncgen -o datafile.nc datafile.cdl

to convert the following file or download the example file here. ncgen is usually shipped with netCDF.


This file contains the two variables time and temperature . The temperature will be interpolated with cubic Akima splines and time will be handled periodically. A netCDF file can be converted back to a CDL file with ncdump.

Adjust the model and simulate

The variable t as a function of time will now contain values from the file instead of the functions used above. An import statement is necessary to use the functions from the library. The call to NcEasyGet1D will return a value of the variable temperature in the file datafile.nc for the current value of the variable time.


That’s it! Just run the simulation and look at the results.

The temperature is read and interpolated from the file. It can be used as a normal variable in models.


This was only a very basic example. Of course you can read and interpolate a large number of variables using different methods of interpolation and extrapolation. Scalar parameters can be read as well. Please have a look at the documentation of ncDataReader2 for more information on the naming conventions, attributes and more.

The conversion of data to the netCDF formats looks confusing to the beginner but is not hard to understand. A typical CSV file can usually be converted with a couple of lines of Python code which is my favourite method.

ncDataReader2 works both with netCDF-3 and netCDF-4, but you should not mix the tools and libraries between both versions.

Smooth transition between functions with tanh()

The problem to get a smooth transition between two curves appears very often. I had this problem a lot when working with simulations of DAE systems where some parameters were defined by empiric functions that did not fit well at the intersection point. An approach that is very easy to implement is the use of the tanh() function (hyperbolic tangent). This function is available in many of the modern programming languages.

Let’s exercise a simple example: f(x) = 1/x and  g(x) = x². Obviously both functions intersect at x=1. We want a function that follows f(x) left of the intersection and g(x) for values right of this point.

To get a smooth transition at the intersection (x=1) we need a third function that smoothly “switches” between two values at a defined point. The pure tanh() function shows this behaviour, it returns values close to -1 for x<<0 and values close to 1 for x>>0. We define our new function s(x) = 0.5+0.5 tanh((x-a)/b). The function was shifted to return values between 0 and 1 and the parameters a and b can be used to define the switch point and the smoothing level. With a=1 (intersection point between f(x) and g(x)) and b=1 it shows the following curve:

With b=3 it is much smoother:And with b=0.1 it looks more like a step function:

In the last step we only need to combine the new switch function s(x) with the original functions: h(x) = s(x) g(x) + (1-s(x)) f(x). The result is a smooth curve that meets our requirements:

The smoothing level can be adjusted with the parameter b. The example above uses b=0.1. The following chart shows the results with b=0.05:

This method works even at points where both functions  do not intersect. The smoothing function s(x) can fill the gap between f(x) and g(x). For the next chart the parameter a was changed from 1 to 1.2 (with b=0.01).

The result may not be perfect for further calculations, but it is a smooth, continous function (given that f(x) and g(x) have the same quality). Since s(x) will never reach 0 or 1, the resulting function h(x) will differ from f(x) and g(x) over the whole range. This difference can be minimized with small values of b, but it will never disappear. If you can’t tolerate this, you need to replace s(x) with another function. One possibility is a piece of the sin()-function combined with a constant part, like the SinSteps interpolation method used in ncDataReader2.

You can play a bit with the example above using this gnuplot script. It reproduces all pictures shown in this post. In gnuplot press ENTER to continue.

set samples 1000
set xtics 1

f(x) = 1/x
g(x) = x*x
plot f(x), g(x)
pause -1

s(x) = 0.5+0.5*tanh((x-a)/b)
a = 1
b = 1
plot s(x)
pause -1

b = 3
pause -1

b = 0.1
pause -1

set xrange [0.5:1.5]
set xtics 0.1

plot f(x), g(x), s(x), s(x)*g(x) + (1-s(x))*f(x)
pause -1

b = 0.05
pause -1

a = 1.2
b = 0.01
pause -1

ncDataReader2 | 2.2.0

A new release of ncDataReader2 is out. Changes include:

  • switched from autoconf to cmake
  • tested to compile on Linux, Windows and MacOS
  • the easy API (EA) was completed
  • EA works now with Modelica (Dymola):
    • a weather file reader was implemented and tested with the  modelica library FluidFlow
  • new documentation in english
  • support for netCDF attributes was completed




  • Buildingsystems – Eine modular hierarchische Modell-Bibliothek zur energetischen Gebäude und Anlagensimulation
    BAUSIM 2016 IBPSA Germany, 14.-16. September. Conference Proceedings. Dresden
    Christoph Nytsch-Geusen, Christoph Banhardt, Alexander Inderfurth, Katharina Mucha, Jens Möckel, Jörg Rädler, Matthis Thorade, Carles Tugores






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