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GLSL Overview

by Lea Rosema

  • semicolons are required
  • float numbers must contain a . (valid floats are 1.0, .5, 5.)
  • no implicit conversion between float and int
  • built-in vector/matrix arithmetics

Built-in data types

  • primitives (bool, int, float, double)
  • vectors (vec2, vec3, vec4)
  • matrices (mat2, mat3, mat4)
  • texture data (sampler2D)

Vector components

  • Vectors can be accessed by its properties, named x, y, z, w.
  • Because the vector data type is also used for colors, the components can also be accessed via r, g, b, a.
  • For accessing texture coordinates, there are also the aliases s, t, p, q

Vector swizzling


You create a new vector by "swizzling" the vector's components. Any combination of x, y, z, w is allowed.

vec3 a = vec3(1., 2., 3.);
vec2 b = a.yx; // vec2(2., 1.);
vec4 c = a.zxyx; // vec4(3., 1., 2., 1.);

Type conversion

// int to float and back
int i = 3;
float f = float(i);
int j = int(f);

// vector initialization

vec3 v1 = vec3(1.);     // vec3(1., 1., 1.)
vec4 v2 = vec4(v1, 2.); // vec4(1., 1., 1., 2.)

// vec2 to vec4

vec2 a = vec2(1.,2.);
vec4 b = vec4(a, 3., 4.); // vec4(1., 2., 3., 4.)

Special variable types

  • attribute – vertex data from WebGL buffers, only accessible in the vertex shader.
  • uniform – like global variables you pass in from the JavaScript side before executing the program
  • varying – passing attributes from the vertex shader to the fragment shader and interpolate in between coordinates

Built-in inputs and outputs


Vertex Shader Inputs

  • vec4 gl_Position – output: transformed vertex position (unit: clip coordinates)
  • float gl_PointSize – output: transformed point size; only with drawMode POINTS (unit: pixels)

Fragment shader Inputs

  • vec4 gl_FragCoord – input: current pixel coordinate, available in the pixel shader.
  • vec2 gl_PointCoord contains the 2D coordinate from within a point from 0.0 to 1.0 (drawMode POINTS only)
  • vec4 gl_FragColor – output: current pixel color (unit: RGBA color)
  • vec4 gl_FragData[n] – output: fragment color for color attachment n, used with WEBGL_draw_buffers

Layout of a WebGL program


Vertex Shader

precision highp float;
attribute vec4 position;
varying vec4 vPos;

void main() {
  vPos = position;
  gl_Position = position;

Fragment Shader (or Pixel Shader)

precision highp float;
varying vec4 vPos;

void main() {
  float red = 1.0 - length(vPos);
  float green = 0.0;
  float blue = 0.0;
  float alpha = 1.0;
  gl_FragColor = vec4(red, green, blue, alpha);

Useful built-in functions