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How to Build a NetLogo Simulation of a Cellular Automaton

In this guide, we're excited to guide you through the process of creating a NetLogo simulation for a cellular automaton. Cellular automata are captivating mathematical models that can mimic various real-world systems and phenomena. In this step-by-step guide, we'll delve into building a NetLogo simulation of Conway's Game of Life—a classic cellular automaton. With our easy-to-follow explanations and code snippets, you'll be on your way to mastering NetLogo and crafting engaging simulations in no time. Whether you're a beginner looking to explore the world of computational modeling or an experienced programmer seeking to add another tool to your arsenal, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to create fascinating simulations.

Creating Conway's Game of Life in NetLogo

Explore the fascinating world of Conway's Game of Life through our comprehensive guide on building NetLogo simulations. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced programmer, our step-by-step instructions and code snippets provide valuable insights into mastering NetLogo and creating captivating cellular automata simulations. Need further assistance or guidance with your NetLogo assignment? Don't hesitate to reach out—we're here to help with your NetLogo assignment and support your journey into computational modeling.

Step 1: Open NetLogo

If you haven't already, it's essential to kickstart your journey by downloading and installing NetLogo from the official website (https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/). This versatile modeling environment is your gateway to exploring complex cellular automata and their real-world applications. Once the installation process is complete, open the NetLogo application to embark on your exciting journey into the world of computational modeling.

Step 2: Create a New Model

With NetLogo now at your fingertips, it's time to dive into the process of creating your cellular automaton simulation. Start by launching NetLogo, and within the user-friendly interface, navigate to the "File" menu. There, you'll find the option labeled "New." A simple click on "New" will initiate the creation of a fresh model canvas—an empty canvas ready for your imagination and coding expertise to shape into a compelling simulation.

1. Click on "File" > "New" to create a new model.

Step 3: Defining the Interface

Now, let's dive into the intricacies of defining the interface elements for your NetLogo simulation.

```netlogo breed [cells cell] ; Define a breed of agents called "cells" globals [grid-size] ; Define a global variable to store the grid size to setup clear-all set grid-size 20 ; Define the size of the grid (adjust as needed) resize-world 0 grid-size 0 grid-size ; Set the world dimensions create-cells grid-size * grid-size ; Create cells across the grid ; Set up initial state of cells (e.g., random or specific pattern) ask cells [set random-float 1.0 < 0.2] ; Initialize some cells as alive (adjust the probability) update-display end to update-display ; Clear the display and redraw the grid based on cell states clear-drawing ask cells [ ifelse-valuepcolor = white [set pcolor black] [set pcolor white] ; Change the color of the cell based on its state (alive or dead) ask patch-here [set pcolor [pcolor] of myself] ] End ```

Here's an explanation of each crucial aspect:

  1. Agent Breed Definition: We kick off by defining a breed of agents called "cells." These agents will be the building blocks of your cellular automaton, representing individual cells within the system.
  2. Global Variable Creation: Next, we create a global variable known as "grid-size." This variable serves as the reference for the size of your grid, allowing you the flexibility to adjust it as needed to suit your simulation's requirements.
  3. Setup Procedure: Within the "setup" procedure, we initiate critical actions. Firstly, we clear the entire world, providing a clean slate for your simulation. Then, we set the grid size and resize the world to accommodate it. Lastly, we create the cells across the grid, initializing the foundation of your cellular automaton.
  4. Cell Initialization: To establish the initial state of the cells, we employ the "ask cells" block. In our example, we utilize a 20% probability to bring cells to life. Feel free to fine-tune this probability to achieve your desired starting configuration.
  5. Display Update: Ensuring a visual representation of your cellular automaton, the "update-display" procedure plays a crucial role. It clears the display canvas and then redraws the grid based on cell states. Alive cells are portrayed in black, while deceased cells appear in white, creating a dynamic visual representation of your simulation.

With these steps, you're well on your way to designing a rich and interactive NetLogo simulation of a cellular automaton. Understanding the elements and procedures involved is key to crafting simulations that can mimic real-world systems and phenomena effectively.

Step 4: Define the Rules

Conway's Game of Life is governed by a set of straightforward yet profound rules that dictate how cells evolve: birth, survival, and death. These rules are the essence of your cellular automaton and must be carefully implemented in your NetLogo model.

to go ask cells [ let live-neighbors count neighbors with [pcolor = black] ifelse [pcolor] of self = black [ ; If the cell is alive: if live-neighbors < 2 or live-neighbors > 3 [set pcolor white] ; Death by underpopulation or overpopulation ] [ ; If the cell is dead: if live-neighbors = 3 [set pcolor black] ; Birth (cell becomes alive) ] ] update-display end


  1. Iterating with 'go': In the 'go' procedure, we embark on a vital journey. We traverse through every cell within your simulation, meticulously examining their surroundings. We count the live neighbors, those cells adorned with a black hue, for each cell under scrutiny.
  2. Life or Death: For cells that are already alive and kicking, we apply a simple but critical criterion. If a cell finds itself with fewer than 2 or more than 3 live neighbors, it meets its end—its color gracefully shifting from vibrant black to serene white, marking its transition to the realm of the deceased.
  3. A Chance at Life: On the flip side, for cells that are in the state of slumber (i.e., dead), we grant them an opportunity for rebirth. If a lifeless cell is fortunate enough to have exactly 3 live neighbors in its proximity, it experiences a miraculous transformation—it awakens and is colored in bold black, signifying its newfound vitality.

These rules are the heart and soul of Conway's Game of Life, shaping the dynamic evolution of your cellular automaton. Understanding and applying them effectively will allow you to observe mesmerizing emergent behaviors and patterns within your simulation.

Step 5: Create Interface Elements

In NetLogo, you wield the power to design an interactive user interface for your simulation. For Conway's Game of Life, it's essential to provide users with intuitive controls. Here's a breakdown of how to implement these interface elements:

; Add interface elements globals [running?] running? false ; Global variable to track whether the simulation is running to setup clear-all set grid-size 20 resize-world 0 grid-size 0 grid-size create-cells grid-size * grid-size ask cells [set random-float 1.0 < 0.2] update-display ; Create interface elements create-button "Start" [start-simulation] ; Button to start the simulation create-button "Stop" [stop-simulation] ; Button to stop the simulation create-slider 1 10 [set delay (11 - value)] ; Slider to control simulation speed end to start-simulation set running? true repeat until [not running?] [ go wait delay ] end to stop-simulation set running? false end


  1. Button Magic: We conjure two buttons, "Start" and "Stop," into existence. These buttons will serve as the dynamic control center for your simulation, allowing users to initiate or halt the simulation process with a simple click.
  2. Slider for Precision: To offer users the fine-grained control they desire, we introduce a slider. This slider's role is to adjust the simulation speed, providing users with the ability to control the pace of the cellular automaton. The "delay" variable lies at the heart of this mechanism, determining the time interval between simulation steps. Lower values result in a faster-paced simulation.
  3. Starting the Show: The "start-simulation" procedure is where the magic begins. When triggered, it sets the "running?" variable to true and launches the simulation loop. This loop tirelessly calls the "go" procedure until the "running?" variable experiences a change of heart and becomes false. This efficient process effectively starts your cellular automaton's journey into life.
  4. Bringing It to a Halt: As with all great performances, there comes a time to conclude. The "stop-simulation" procedure gracefully steps in. When activated, it sets the "running?" variable to false, gently guiding your cellular automaton towards a tranquil halt. It's the perfect mechanism to bring your simulation to a close whenever the need arises.

With these interface elements in place, your NetLogo simulation of Conway's Game of Life is not only visually captivating but also user-friendly, providing an immersive experience for users of all backgrounds and skill levels.

Step 6: Run the Simulation

Having meticulously crafted your NetLogo simulation of Conway's Game of Life, the moment of truth has arrived. Running your simulation is a straightforward yet exhilarating process:

Execution Elegance:

With your simulation poised and ready, simply click the "Start" button you've thoughtfully provided. The simulation springs to life, its digital heart beating with excitement. This elegant user interaction initiates the enchanting dance of cells within your automaton.

Pace Control:

Now, the user's experience is entirely within their grasp. Thanks to the well-crafted slider at their disposal, they have the power to control the simulation's pace. By adjusting the slider, users can speed up the vibrant tapestry of cell interactions or savor each moment of emergence at a leisurely pace. The choice is theirs, making for an engaging and personalized experience.

Observing Emergence:

As the simulation unfolds, you'll have the privilege of witnessing the emergence of fascinating patterns, behaviors, and interactions within Conway's Game of Life. This dynamic process, guided by the rules you've defined and the user's input, can yield captivating results. Whether it's the pulsating rhythms of life or the emergence of complex structures, your NetLogo simulation is a window into the mesmerizing world of cellular automata.

With these steps, you're ready to embark on a captivating journey into the realm of cellular automata, where simplicity gives rise to complexity, and the digital canvas becomes a playground for emergent phenomena. Enjoy the exploration, observation, and creation that your NetLogo simulation offers.


Stay tuned for more steps to create a NetLogo simulation of Conway's Game of Life. You're well on your way to mastering this powerful modeling tool! By the end of this guide, you'll not only understand the intricacies of cellular automata but also be capable of designing and experimenting with your own simulations. Whether you're interested in exploring the principles of emergent behavior or using computational models to analyze complex systems, NetLogo provides a versatile platform for your scientific and educational endeavors.