Molecular Dyamics Simulations

In this chapter, all necessary information will be given in order to perform MD simulations with xTB. The adjustable parameters will be discussed and a guide to how to change them will be given.

General command-line control

There are two main possibilities how to evoke a MD simulation. With the flag --omd geometry optimization will be performed and this structure then will be used for the MD simulation, a loose optimization level will be chosen.

> xtb coord --omd

By using the flag --md the MD simulation will be performed directly with the user given input structure.

> xtb coord --md

It is strongly recommended to start the MD simulation from an xTB optimized structure. Otherwise there may be instabilities during the MD and the equilibration will be severely hindered.


In order to change the parameters of the MD simulation the $md block in the input file has to be modified.

key value default description
dump real 50 fs interval for trajectory printout
hmass integer 4 times mass of hydrogen atoms
nvt boolean true perform simulation in NVT ensemble
restart boolean false read velocities from mdrestart
temp real 298.15 K thermostat temperature
time real 50 ps total run time of simulation
sccacc real 2.0 accuracy of xTB calculation in dynamics
shake integer 2

use SHAKE algorithm to constrain bonds

0 = off, 1 = X-H only, 2 = all bonds

step real 4 fs time step for propagation
velo boolean false also write out velocities

The above default setting should look like below in your input file

   temp=298.15 # in K
   time= 50.0  # in ps
   dump= 50.0  # in fs
   step=  4.0  # in fs
   nvt =true


For MD simulations with GFN-FF the time step must be reduced, for more information see section GFN-Force-Field (GFN-FF)

MD specific Files

After the xtb program has performed the desired MD simulation the trajectory of the structures can be found in xtb.trj. Furthermore, files with the names scoord.* are generated. After every picosecond of simulation the structure at this point will be written into these files. After a successful completion of the MD simulation a xtbmdok file will be touched. The structure and velocities at the end of the simulation will be written into a mdrestart file.


The number of structures in the xtb.trj file depends on the dump variable and the propagation time step. For practical purposes the two parameters are converted into a dump frequency n = (dump step/time step), e.g., a structure is written to the trajecotry equidistantly at every n-th propagation step. Due to this conversion the total number of structures in the xtb.trj file might be slightly larger than the expected (total runtime/dump step). The same applies to the scoord.* files.


The mdrestart file can be used to restart an MD simulation. This can be very helpful for equilibration purposes. In order to achive this, in the $md block the restart parameter has to be set to true.

> cat restart.inp

Example/Case study

To summarize the most important topics of this chapter we will perform an MD simulation of the ethane molecule with xTB. Make sure that xtb is properly set up and you have the following files in your working directory

> cat coord
 1.82409443250962  -0.02380488009596  0.17250251620479  c
 4.68095348739630  -0.02380488009596  0.17250308312263  c
 1.09744635742609   1.41159121722257 -1.12629926294082  h
 1.09744579050825   0.38329239564274  2.06499275150500  h
 1.09744635742609  -1.86629844212581 -0.42118612892243  h
 5.40760175145245   1.81868868193389  0.76619172824984  h
 5.40760212939767  -0.43090215583466 -1.71998734115020  h
 5.40760175145245  -1.45920097741449  1.47130486226824  h
> cat md.inp

As you can see, we will run the simulation for 10 ps with a timestep of 1 fs at a temperature of 500 Kelvin. Furthermore, all hydrogen-containing bonds will be constrained using the SHAKE algorithm. To start the simulation we call xtb as follows

> xtb coord --input md.inp --omd

The program will start with performing a geometry optimization, the optimized structure used to start the dynamic can be found and inspected in xtbopt.coord.

In the file xtb.trj we can find our trajectory. We can analyze the structures now by displaying them in a molecular graphics editor (e.g., MOLDEN, VMD etc. ) or a trajectory analyzer (e.g. TRAVIS).