Difference between revisions of "OpenGL Shading Language"

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== Language ==
== Language ==
{{main|GLSL Core Language}}
{{main|GLSL Core Language}}
GLSL is a lot like C/C++ in many ways. It supports most of the familiar structural components (for-loops, if-statements, etc). But it has some important language differences.
== Basic types ==
== Basic types ==

Revision as of 18:49, 19 March 2011

OpenGL Shading Language
Core in version 4.5
Core since version 2.0
ARB extension GL_ARB_shader_objects, GL_ARB_vertex_shader, GL_ARB_fragment_shader, GL_ARB_shading_language_100

The OpenGL Shading Language (GLSL) is the principle shading languages for OpenGL. While there are several shading languages available for use in OpenGL, GLSL is the only one that is a part of the OpenGL core.

GLSL is a C-style language. The language has undergone a number of version changes, and it shares the deprecation model of OpenGL. The current version of GLSL is 1.50.

Compilation model

GLSL is quite unique among shading languages due to its compilation model. It's compilation model is more like the standard C paradigm. Compilation is overseen by a number of object types. Note that these do not follow the standard OpenGL Objects paradigm.


Because of GLSL's unique compilation model, GLSL uses unique terminology.

According to GLSL's standard terminology, a shader is just a compiled set of strings for a particular programmable stage; it does not even need to have the complete code for that stage. A program is a fully linked program that covers multiple programmable stages.

For the sake of clarity, we will adjust this slightly. When the term shader is used, it will be synonymous with the GLSL concept of program. To refer to a GLSL shader, the term shader object will be used.


GLSL is a lot like C/C++ in many ways. It supports most of the familiar structural components (for-loops, if-statements, etc). But it has some important language differences.

Basic types

C has a number of basic types. What C does not have the concept of is basic vector-types: a basic type that intrinsically store more than one value. The OpenGL Shading Language does define vector types.

The basic non-vector types are:

  • bool: conditional type, values may be either true or false
  • int: a signed integer
  • uint: an unsigned integer
  • float: a floating point number

Each of these types, including booleans, can have 2, 3, and 4-component vector equivalents. The n digit below can be 2, 3, or 4:

  • bvecn: a vector of booleans
  • ivecn: a vector of signed integers
  • uvecn: a vector of unsigned integers
  • vecn: a vector of floating-point numbers

Vector values can have the same math operators applied to them that scalar values do. These all perform the component-wise operations on each component. However, in order for these operators to work on vectors, the two vectors must have the same number of components.

You can access vectors using the following syntax:

vec4 someVec;
someVec.x + someVec.y;

This is called swizzling. You can use x, y, z, or w, referring to the first, second, third, and fourth components, respectively.

The reason it has that name swizzling is because the following syntax is entirely valid:

vec2 someVec;
vec4 otherVec = someVec.xyxx;
vec3 thirdVec = otherVec.zyy;

You can use any combination of up to 4 of the letters to create a vector (of the same basic type) of that length. So otherVec.zyy is a vec3, which is how we can initialize a vec3 value with it. Any combination of up to 4 letters is acceptable, so long as the source vector actually has those components. Attempting to access the 'w' component of a vec3 for example is a compile-time error.

Additionally, there are 3 sets of swizzle masks. You can use xyzw, rgba (for colors), or stpq (for texture coordinates). These three sets have no actual difference; they're just syntactic sugar.


In addition to vectors, there are also matrix types. All matrix types are floating-point. Matrix types are as follows, where n and m can be the numbers 2, 3, or 4:

  • matnxm: A matrix with n columns and m rows. OpenGL uses column-major matrices, which is standard for mathematics users. Example: mat3x4.
  • matn: A symmetric matrix with n columns and rows. This type is equivalent to matnxn.

Swizzling does not work with matrices. You can instead access a matrix's fields with array syntax:

mat3 theMatrix;
theMatrix[1] = vec3(3.0, 3.0, 3.0); //Sets the second column to all 3.0s
theMatrix[2][0] = 16.0; //Sets the first entry of the third column to 16.0.

Structs and arrays


All types have constructor syntax that allows you to create values of that type. Constructors use this general syntax:

 type(value, value, ...);

The type is the type you wish to create, be it scalar, vector, matrix, struct, or array.

Constructors for scalar types are special. They can


Texture access is not as simple as reading a value from a memory address. Filtering and other processes are applied to textures, and how texture coordinates are interpreted can be part of the texture access operation. For these reason, texture access is somewhat complicated.

It starts with samplers, a special type that GLSL defines. Each sampler variable represents a texture that is attached to the context. Samplers have a type that defines what kind of texture can be attached to them.


Stage inputs and outputs

Each stage in the shader pipeline can define a number of input values and a number of output values. There is an implementation-defined maximum number of inputs and outputs for each stage.

In a very few cases, there are also certain built-in outputs or inputs that can be used. These are generated or required by fixed-functionality processes. However, most inputs and outputs are user-defined.

GLSL creates linkage between outputs from one stage and inputs to the next stage very simply. Because the entire program consists of all stages at once, the linkage is made via matching the variable names. It is illegal for the types of the two variables to be different if they have the same name. This will cause a linker error.

Inputs and outputs are defined as follows:

 in vec3 position;
 in vec3 normal;
 out vec3 vertNormal;

The "position" and "normal" are inputs, while "vertNormal" is an output of this stage.

The term "centroid" can be used in front of inputs and outputs as well. The syntax "centroid in" means . The syntax "centroid out" means .


The outputs from a vertex shader (or geometry shader) are interpolated across the surface of a primitive to compute the corresponding input values for the fragment shader. There are some controls that can be applied to the outputs that allow the user to decide how this interpolation takes place.

The default is to use the interpolation mechanism specified by OpenGL. This can be overridden by placing an interpolation qualifier on the output:

  • flat: No interpolation at all. The fragment shader value will receive a constant value over the surface of the triangle, based on the value of the provoking vertex.
  • smooth: Perspective-correct interpolation.
  • noperspective: Pure linear interpolation.


Multisampling causes multiple samples from a single pixel to be processed. Exactly which samples within a pixel are process is implementation defined. This can cause the interpolated value to fall outside of the actual portion of the primitive being rasterized.

This is usually fine. Sometimes, it is important that interpolated values never fall outside of the boundaries of the primitive. This would be the case if certain values would produce undefined results.

The way to handle this is to use "centroid" before the "out" and "in" value. This forces the multisampling algorithm to ensure that the interpolated value is within the boundaries of the primitive.

This does cause performance loss to some degree, so it should only be done where you have actually seen a visual glitch.

Using GLSL shaders

Building shaders

Attributes and draw buffers

For the stages at the start and end of the pipeline (vertex and fragment, respectively), the initial input values and final output values do not come from or go to shader stages. The input values to a vertex shader come from vertex data specified in a vertex array object, pulled from vertex buffer objects. The output values of a fragment shader are piped to particular buffers for the currently bound framebuffer; either the default framebuffer or a framebuffer object.

Because of this, there is a mapping layer for the program's inputs and outputs. The vertex shader's input names are mapped to attribute indices, while the fragment shader's output names are mapped to draw buffer indices. This mapping can be created before the program is linked. If it is not, or if the mapping does not cover all of the inputs and outputs, then the linker will automatically define what indices are mapped to which unmapped input or output names. This auto-generated mapping can be queried by the user after the program is linked.

Setting uniforms

Setting samplers

Error Checking

This short piece of code shows the process of loading a vertex and fragment shader from 2 text files. Then it compiles them and also checks for errors. The idea here is to encourage newcomers to GLSL to always check for errors. It is in C++ but that doesn't matter.

Note that the process of loading and compiling shaders hasn't changed much over the different GL versions.

	char *vertexsource;
	char *fragmentsource;
	int isCompiled_VS, isCompiled_FS;
	int IsLinked;
	int maxLength;
	char *vertexInfoLog;
	char *fragmentInfoLog;
	char *shaderProgramInfoLog;

	/* Read our shaders into the appropriate buffers */
	/* You need to code your own version of ReadTextFile() */
	/* Also, the file extension that you give to your vertex and fragment shader doesn't matter.
	/* Don't forget, OpenGL doesn't care about your files. */
        /* Let's assuming that ReadTextFile allocates a char array and fills it with text */
	vertexsource = ReadTextFile("myfile.vert");
	fragmentsource = ReadTextFile("myfile.frag");

	/* Create an empty vertex shader handle */
	vertexshader = glCreateShader(GL_VERTEX_SHADER);

	/* Send the vertex shader source code to GL */
	/* Note that the source code is NULL character terminated. */
	/* GL will automatically detect that therefore the length info can be 0 in this case (the last parameter) */
	glShaderSource(vertexshader, 1, (const GLchar**)&vertexsource, 0);

	/* Compile the vertex shader */

	glGetShaderiv(vertexshader, GL_COMPILE_STATUS, &IsCompiled_VS);
	if(IsCompiled_VS == FALSE)
		glGetShaderiv(vertexshader, GL_INFO_LOG_LENGTH, &maxLength);

		/* The maxLength includes the NULL character */
		vertexInfoLog = new char[maxLength];

		glGetShaderInfoLog(vertexshader, maxLength, &maxLength, vertexInfoLog);

		/* Handle the error in an appropriate way such as displaying a message or writing to a log file. */
		/* In this simple program, we'll just leave */
		delete [] vertexInfoLog;

	/* Create an empty fragment shader handle */
	fragmentshader = glCreateShader(GL_FRAGMENT_SHADER);

	/* Send the fragment shader source code to GL */
	/* Note that the source code is NULL character terminated. */
	/* GL will automatically detect that therefore the length info can be 0 in this case (the last parameter) */
	glShaderSource(fragmentshader, 1, (const GLchar**)&fragmentsource, 0);

	/* Compile the fragment shader */

	glGetShaderiv(fragmentshader, GL_COMPILE_STATUS, &IsCompiled_FS);
	if(IsCompiled_FS == FALSE)
		glGetShaderiv(fragmentshader, GL_INFO_LOG_LENGTH, &maxLength);

		/* The maxLength includes the NULL character */
		fragmentInfoLog = new char[maxLength];

		glGetShaderInfoLog(fragmentshader, maxLength, &maxLength, fragmentInfoLog);

		/* Handle the error in an appropriate way such as displaying a message or writing to a log file. */
		/* In this simple program, we'll just leave */
		delete [] fragmentInfoLog;

	/* If we reached this point it means the vertex and fragment shaders compiled and are syntax error free. */
	/* We must link them together to make a GL shader program */
	/* GL shader programs are monolithic. It is a single piece made of 1 vertex shader and 1 fragment shader. */
	/* Assign our program handle a "name" */
	shaderprogram = glCreateProgram();

	/* Attach our shaders to our program */
	glAttachShader(shaderprogram, vertexshader);
	glAttachShader(shaderprogram, fragmentshader);

	/* Link our program */
	/* At this stage, the vertex and fragment programs are inspected, optimized and a binary code is generated for the shader. */
	/* The binary code is uploaded to the GPU, if there is no error. */

	/* Again, we must check and make sure that it linked. If it fails, it would mean either there is a mismatch between the vertex */
	/* and fragment shaders. It might be that you have surpassed your GPU's abilities. Perhaps too many ALU operations or */
	/* too many texel fetch instructions or too many interpolators or dynamic loops. */

	glGetProgramiv(shaderprogram, GL_LINK_STATUS, (int *)&IsLinked);
	if(IsLinked == FALSE)
		/* Noticed that glGetProgramiv is used to get the length for a shader program, not glGetShaderiv. */
		glGetProgramiv(shaderprogram, GL_INFO_LOG_LENGTH, &maxLength);

		/* The maxLength includes the NULL character */
		shaderProgramInfoLog = new char[maxLength];

		/* Notice that glGetProgramInfoLog, not glGetShaderInfoLog. */
		glGetProgramInfoLog(shaderprogram, maxLength, &maxLength, shaderProgramInfoLog);

		/* Handle the error in an appropriate way such as displaying a message or writing to a log file. */
		/* In this simple program, we'll just leave */

	/* Deallocating these */
	delete [] vertexsource;
	delete [] fragmentsource;

	/* In your rendering code, you just need to call glUseProgram, call the various glUniform** to update your uniforms */
	/* and then render. */
	/* Load the shader into the rendering pipeline */

	/* When the user shuts down your program, you should deallocate all your GL resources. */
	/* Unbind your shader. */
	/* Let's detach */
	glDetachShader(shaderprogram, vertexshader);
	glDetachShader(shaderprogram, fragmentshader);
	/* Delete the shaders */
	/* Delete the shader object */

See also

External links