Dating back to the early 1900s, scientists established the field of genomics when they began to map the genomes of various organisms, including humans. Because sequencing technology was still in its infancy at the time, these early maps were relatively crude. It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that advances in genomic sequencing technology allowed scientists to sequence entire genomes for the first time. This led to a dramatic increase in genomic research, and by the early 2000s, scientists began to realize the potential of whole exome sequencing for disease diagnosis and treatment. As a result, there was a growing need for tools that could help automate data analysis pipelines.


Coding Complications

Bioinformaticians often write custom code to address specific needs in their data analysis pipelines. However, this can be difficult, as there are many different programming languages and libraries available. In addition, each platform and bioinformatic software package can have its own unique quirks and requirements.

Common issues that bioinformaticians face when writing custom code include:

  • Choosing the right programming language and library
  • Adapting to different software packages and platforms
  • Figuring out how to best organize code for readability and reusability
  • Debugging code that doesn’t work correctly

One of the biggest challenges that bioinformaticians face when writing code is ensuring that their code is efficient and reproducible, as there are many different types of data and analysis pipelines that can be used in bioinformatics. In order to ensure the efficiency and reproducibility of their code, bioinformaticians often use workflow languages to develop their pipelines.


Work Smarter, Not Harder

Workflow languages have revolutionized bioinformatics by enabling scientists to develop more efficient and reproducible data analysis pipelines. Whereas custom coding is akin to developing a website line-by-line from scratch, utilizing a workflow language is similar to employing CSS, giving bioinformaticians the flexibility to define common themes and re-use them easily throughout their development.

Workflow languages are important for organizing and automating data analysis pipelines, which can be composed of hundreds of individual steps. By using a workflow language, bioinformaticians can modularize their pipelines, making them easier to troubleshoot and maintain. Additionally, many workflow languages include built-in tools for automating common tasks, such as data cleaning and parsing. This automation can help bioinformaticians reduce the amount of time spent on routine tasks, allowing them to focus on more complex analyses.

While there are many different workflow languages available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, WDL, CWL, Nextflow and Snakemake are four of the most popular options. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each language, bioinformaticians can choose the best tool for their needs



Workflow Description Language (WDL) is a common language used for developing bioinformatic pipelines. It is important for organizing and automating these pipelines, which can be composed of hundreds of individual steps. It is easy to learn and use, and is well-suited for small to medium-sized pipelines.



Common Workflow Language (CWL) is one of the most popular workflow languages used in bioinformatics. Although slightly more complex than WDL, CWL offers more features and flexibility and is suitable for larger pipelines.

CWL provides a number of features that streamline the pipeline creation process. For instance, CWL allows users to describe the steps of their data analysis pipeline using a simple, human-readable language, making it easier to understand and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. Additionally, CWL can automatically parallelize tasks across multiple processors, which can speed up the data analysis process. CWL can also be used to create self-contained executables, which makes it easy to share data analysis pipelines with others.

Overall, CWL is an important tool for developing reliable, efficient pipelines. It allows users to easily describe the steps of their pipeline, and also provides a number of features that improve the efficiency and reproducibility of data analysis.



Nextflow is a Java-based workflow language that is popular because it allows users to develop data analysis pipelines that are scalable, portable, and reproducible. Similar to CWL in compared complexity to WDL, Nextflow offers even more features and flexibility than CWL and is suitable for very large pipelines.

Overall, Nextflow is an important tool for developing reliable, efficient data analysis pipelines. It allows users to easily describe the steps of their pipeline and provides a number of features that improve the efficiency and reproducibility of data analysis, including:

  • A concise and easy-to-read syntax
  • The ability to run pipelines on a range of computing platforms, from local machines to the cloud
  • Support for parallel execution, which can dramatically speed up data analysis tasks

Nextflow has become increasingly popular among bioinformaticians in recent years and is now used in a wide range of applications. For example, it has been used to analyze data from the Human Genome Project, the 1000 Genomes Project, and the Cancer Genome Atlas.



Snakemake is a Python-based workflow language that is popular for its simplicity and flexibility. It can be used to create reproducible workflows by specifying the dependencies between individual steps, and it also has built-in support for running parallel tasks, which can improve the efficiency of data analysis pipelines.


Opportunities of Workflow Languages

Workflow languages help encourage collaboration and consistency among bioinformaticians by providing a common language in pipeline development. This can help ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to data analysis, and that any errors or inconsistencies in the pipeline are caught and corrected. Additionally, using a workflow language can help improve the reproducibility of data analysis pipelines, making it easier to reproduce results.

Although workflow languages have streamlined the process of developing bioinformatic pipelines, it can still take a significant amount of time. In many cases, it can take days or even weeks to build a complex pipeline that is both efficient and reliable. This is because creating a good workflow requires careful planning and testing. If even a single step in the pipeline is incorrect, it can lead to inaccurate results or even data loss. As such, bioinformaticians must take care to design their workflows carefully, and test them thoroughly before using them on real data.


What’s Next?

Since their introduction, workflow languages have become increasingly popular among bioinformaticians. This is largely due to the growing number of tools and libraries that support them. In addition, many scientific computing platforms now include built-in support for workflow languages. This makes it easier for bioinformaticians to develop and execute data analysis pipelines. As genomic research continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more advances in the field of bioinformatics, in which workflow languages will undoubtedly play an important role.

Experience the next level of pipeline development with g.nome®, a new bioinformatic software platform from Almaden Genomics. The cloud-native platform accelerates research teams through streamlined, scalable, and interoperable genomic workflows by providing an intuitive drag-and-drop user interface, a wide selection of biological databases and toolkits, as well as robust post-run reporting and insights. g.nome makes it easier for teams to build, run and troubleshoot their pipelines, allowing them to work at the speed of their own innovation.