API calls

In general, programming for the GPU involves some level of calling into a graphics API: OpenGL, Vulkan, Metal, or various abstractions on top of them such as the Qt, Unreal, etc... RHIs, libraries such as BGFX, etc.

Like every non-declarative code, this has the sad side-effect of tying you to said library ; it's pretty hard to migrate to, say, Qt's RHI to pure OpenGL or BGFX. Here, we propose a method that aims to keep the algorithms reusable by having them state their needs without making any API calls.

The API comes with three optional methods that can be implemented in your processor to control behaviour for now:

// Allocates ressources and sends data from the CPU to the GPU.
// This method *must* be implemented if there are uniforms or samplers that 
// aren't bound to ports (and the pipeline wouldn't be very useful otherwise)
/* ??? */ update();

// Releases allocated ressources
// This method must take care of releasing anything allocated in update()
/* ??? */ release();

// Submit a draw call. If not implemented a default draw call will be done 
// for the mesh in input of the node.
/* ??? */ draw();

Defining a call

Here is how an update() method which allocates and update a texture may look:

gpp::texture_handle tex_handle{};

gpp::co_update update()
    int sz = 16*16*4;
    // If the texture hasn't been allocated yet
      // Request an allocation
      this->tex_handle = co_yield gpp::texture_allocation{
          .binding = 0
        , .width = 16
        , .height = 16

    // Generate some data
    for(int i = 0; i < sz; i++)
      tex[i] = rand();

    // Upload it to the GPU
    co_yield gpp::texture_upload{
        .handle = tex_handle
      , .offset = 0
      , .size = sz
      , .data = tex.data()


Note that there isn't any direct API call here. Instead, we return user-defined structs: for instance, texture_allocation is simply defined like this:

struct texture_allocation
  // Some keywords to allow the command to be matched to an API call
  enum { allocation, texture };

  // What this call is supposed to return
  using return_type = texture_handle;

  // Parameters of the command
  int binding;
  int width;
  int height;

The actual concrete type does not matter: the only important thing is for the following to be possible with the returned struct C:

// Identify the command

// Create a return value
typename C::return_type ret;

// Access the parameters of the call
void f(C& command) {
  int b = command.binding;
  int w = command.weight;
  int h = command.height;
  // etc.

This allows complete independence from the graphics API, as a node only specifies exactly the allocation / update / draw calls it needs to do in the most generic possible way ; for instance, a node that only allocates and uploads a texture should be easily bindable to any graphics API on earth.

An in-progress set of common commands is provided.


To allow this to work, gpp::co_update is a coroutine type. Here too, the binding code does not depend on the concrete type of the coroutine ; only that it matches a concept.

gpp::co_update is defined as:

// All the possible commands that can be used in update()
using update_action = std::variant<
  static_allocation, static_upload,
  dynamic_vertex_allocation, dynamic_vertex_upload, buffer_release,
  dynamic_index_allocation, dynamic_index_upload,
  dynamic_ubo_allocation, dynamic_ubo_upload, ubo_release,
  sampler_allocation, sampler_release,
  texture_allocation, texture_upload, texture_release,

// What the commands are allowed to return
using update_handle = std::variant<std::monostate, buffer_handle, texture_handle, sampler_handle>;

// Definition of the update() coroutine type
using co_update = gpp::generator<update_action, update_handle>;

Where gpp::generator is a type similar to std::generator which is not available yet in C++20 but will be in C++23.

Benefits of the approach

This has interesting benefits besides the separation of concern which is achieved:

  1. It allows to restrict what kind of call can be done in which function. For instance, the Qt RHI forbids uploading data during a draw operation: the coroutine type for draw does not contain the update commands, which allows to enforce this at compile-time. Yay C++ :-)

A node which only ever uploads textures could optimize a little bit by defining instead:

using update_action = std::variant<texture_allocation, texture_upload, texture_release>;
using update_handle = std::variant<std::monostate, texture_handle>;

using my_co_update = gpp::generator<update_action, update_handle>;

Of course, we would love this to be performed automatically as part of compiler optimizations... it seems that the science is not there yet though !

  1. This gives some amount of named-parameter-ness for GPU API calls which is also a good way to reduce bugs :-)

  2. As no "library" functions are called, the possibility to have ODR issues due to multiple function definitions is less likely, and can trivially be solved by wrapping the entirety of the user-provided code and command definitions in a custom namespace as the namespaces do not matter at all.

How does it work ??

It's very simple: the code which invokes update() more-or-less looks like this:

void invoke_update()
  if constexpr(requires { node.update(); })
    for (auto& promise : node.update())
      promise.result = visit(update_handler{}, promise.command);

where update_handler looks like:

struct update_handler
  template<typename C>
  auto operator()(C command) {
    if constexpr(requires { C::allocation; })
      if constexpr(requires { C::texture; })
        my_gpu_api_allocate_texture(command.width, command.height);
      else if constexpr(requires { C::ubo; })
      else ...
    else ...

One can check that given the amount of abstraction involved, the compiler can still generate reasonable amounts of code for this (when provided with a decent std::variant implementation :p).

Note that the implementation does not depend on the variant type being std::variant -- I also tested with boost.variant2 and mpark::variant which follow the same concepts.