About WebGL

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WebGL Helloworld

That's quite a lot of stuff, let's go through this together.

Vertex shader

The vertex shader receives vertex positions from the position buffer. In this minimal example, the position is passed directly to the global gl_Position variable.

precision highp float;
attribute vec4 position;

void main() {
  gl_Position = position;

Fragment shader

The fragment shader processes each pixel inside the specified shape formed by the vertex shader. It has a global input variable gl_FragCoord which contains the pixel position. To normalize the coordinates, the position is divided by the screen resolution vector. Additional, the vector is substracted by -.5, so 0 is at the center of the screen.

The global output variable gl_FragCoord sets the color of the pixel and takes a vec4 vector, containing red, green, blue and alpha values from 0..1 each.

precision highp float;
uniform float time;
uniform vec2 resolution;

void main() {
  vec2 p = gl_FragCoord.xy / resolution - .5;
  float x = length(p);
  gl_FragColor = vec4(x, 0., 0., 1.);

The JavaScript stuff

Initialize the WebGL context

This part is quite similar to working with the canvas 2D API:

const canvas = document.querySelector('canvas');
const gl = canvas.getContext('webgl');

For legacy browsers (IE11), the webgl context is provided via


Compile the shaders

GLSL is a compiled language. WebGL provides APIs to compile and link the shader code:

 * Compile Shader
 * @param {number} type gl.FRAGMENT_SHADER | gl.VERTEX_SHADER
 * @param {string} code shader code
function shader = (type, code) => {
  const sh = gl.createShader(type, code);
  gl.shaderSource(sh, code);
  if (!gl.getShaderParameter(sh, gl.COMPILE_STATUS)) {
    throw gl.getShaderInfoLog(sh);
  return sh;

Link the WebGL program

const program = gl.createProgram();
gl.attachShader(program, shader(g.FRAGMENT_SHADER, vert));
gl.attachShader(program, shader(g.FRAGMENT_SHADER, frag));

if (!gl.getProgramParameter(p, g.LINK_STATUS)) {
  throw gl.getProgramInfoLog(p);


Setting up buffers and attributes

We'll create a buffer that will hold 6 coordinates for 2 triangles:

Two triangles in the WebGL coordinate system

const positionAttrib = g.getAttribLocation(p, 'position');
const positionBuffer = g.createBuffer();
gl.bindBuffer(gl.ARRAY_BUFFER, positionBuffer);
  // 2D vertex data for two triangles filling up the whole screen
  new Float32Array([-1, -1, -1, 1, 1, -1, 1, -1, 1, 1, -1, 1]),

Then we assign an attribute variable to the buffer. The vertexAttribPointer call specifies that we are passing two float values per coordinate to the vertex shader, starting at offset 0.

// bind position buffer to position attribute.
// Specify that the variable is a vec2 of floats.
gl.bindBuffer(g.ARRAY_BUFFER, positionBuffer);
gl.vertexAttribPointer(positionAttrib, 2, gl.FLOAT, false, 0, 0);

Setting up the viewport and add resize handler

function setSize() {
  canvas.width = innerWidth;
  canvas.height = innerHeight;
  gl.viewport(0, 0, innerWidth, innerHeight);
  const locResolution = gl.getUniformLocation(program, 'resolution');
  gl.uniform2fv(locResolution, [innerWidth, innerHeight]);

window.addEventListener('resize', setSize, false);

Render loop

 * Render loop
function loop(time = 0) {
  const locTime = g.getUniformLocation(program, 'time');
  gl.uniform1f(locTime, time * 1e-3);

  // draw 6 vertices (=two triangles)
  gl.drawArrays(g.TRIANGLES, 0, 6);

Putting it all together

In the following Codepen demo, I put all the things into a web component via the customElements API.

The buffer that is passed to the vertex shader contains 2D coordinates for two triangles. The code for the shaders are specified in the html via custom <script type="vert|frag"> tags. These <script> tags are not executed as JavaScript, but instead compiled and linked to a WebGL program, as explained above.

Each rendered frame, the time uniform variable is set, containing the elapsed time.

CodePen Demo