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About WebGL – Passing data

by Lea Rosema

Textures and Image processing


Preloading images


In order to use images in WebGL, we need to use WebGL textures.

We'll start with a basic image loader. This is the javascript Image object with the load event wrapped into a Promise.

function loadImage(url) {
  return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    const img = new Image();
    img.crossOrigin = 'Anonymous';
    img.src = url;
    img.onload = () => {
    img.onerror = () => {

Instead of an image, you can also use a <video> element or another <canvas> element, or ImageData.

Loading images into WebGL


First, we'll create a texture and specify some parameters.

const texture = gl.createTexture();

// Select the active texture
const texutreIndex = 0;
gl.activeTexture(gl.TEXTURE0 + textureIndex);
gl.bindTexture(gl.TEXTURE_2D, texture);

// Set texture parameters
gl.texParameteri(gl.TEXTURE_2D, gl.TEXTURE_WRAP_S, gl.CLAMP_TO_EDGE);
gl.texParameteri(gl.TEXTURE_2D, gl.TEXTURE_WRAP_T, gl.CLAMP_TO_EDGE);
gl.texParameteri(gl.TEXTURE_2D, gl.TEXTURE_MIN_FILTER, gl.NEAREST);
gl.texParameteri(gl.TEXTURE_2D, gl.TEXTURE_MAG_FILTER, gl.NEAREST);

// Upload the image into the texture.
gl.texImage2D(gl.TEXTURE_2D, 0, gl.RGBA, gl.RGBA, gl.UNSIGNED_BYTE, image);

// Set a uniform variable containing the texture index
const locMyTexture = gl.getUniformLocation(program, 'myTexture');
gl.uniform1i('myTexture', 0);

Updating texture data


To update or partially update texture data, you can use texSubImage2D.

Texture coordinates

  • Texture coordinates are in the range from [0..1].
  • S represents the pixel position from left to right
  • T represents the pixel position from bottom to top

Texture parameters

  • TEXTURE_WRAP_S and TEXTURE_WRAP_T: this specifies what happens when you specify texture values outside the range [0..1]. The default is REPEAT (tiling). Another option is MIRRORED_REPEAT. CLAMP_TO_EDGE clamps the texture to the edges.
  • TEXTURE_MIN_FILTER and TEXTURE_MAG_FILTER: options are LINEAR (blurry upscaling), and NEAREST (pixelated upscaling)

One limitation of textures is the need to have sizes which are powers of two (64,128,256,...) if you make use of mipmapping or repeated texture wrapping. Mipmapping means: the GPU saves smaller versions of your texture down to 2x2. Check out the wikipedia mipmap article for a detailed description.

For more details about texture minification and magnification filtering, see this wikipedia article.

For all texture parameters, see the documentation about texParameter:fi

Accessing texture data from the shaders


To access the image data from inside the shaders, you can use texture2D

uniform sampler2D myTexture;

void main() {
  vec2 coord = 1.0 - gl_FragCoord.xy / vec2(width, height);
  gl_FragColor = texture2D(myTexture, coord);