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Safe Rust wrapper around the Vulkan API

Compute pipelines

In order to ask the GPU to perform an operation, we have to write some kind of code for it, like we would for a regular program. A program that runs on the GPU is called a shader.

This is done in two steps:

  • First we write the source code of the program in a programming language called GLSL. Vulkano will compile the GLSL code at compile-time into an intermediate representation called SPIR-V.
  • At runtime we pass this SPIR-V to the Vulkan implementation, which in turn converts it into its own implementation-specific format.

Note: In the very far future it may be possible to write programs in Rust, or in a domain specific language that resembles Rust.

The GLSL code

But first, we need to write the source code of the operation. The GLSL language looks a lot like the C programming language, but has some differences.

This guide is not going to cover teaching you GLSL, as it is an entire programming language. Just like many programming languages, the easiest way to learn GLSL is by looking an examples.

Let's take a look at some GLSL that takes each element of a buffer and multiplies it by 12:

#version 450

layout(local_size_x = 64, local_size_y = 1, local_size_z = 1) in;

layout(set = 0, binding = 0) buffer Data {
    uint data[];
} data;

void main() {
    uint idx = gl_GlobalInvocationID.x;[idx] *= 12;

Let's break it down a bit.

#version 450

The first line indicates which version of GLSL to use. Since GLSL was already the shading language of the OpenGL API (Vulkan's predecessor), we are in fact already at the version 4.50 of the language. You should always include this line at the start of every shader.

layout(local_size_x = 64, local_size_y = 1, local_size_z = 1) in;

We want to invoke the compute shader 65536 times in total, once for each element in the buffer. But in practice we are going to ask the GPU to spawn 1024 work groups, where each work group has a local size of 64. This line of code declares what the local size is. Each element of the local size corresponds to one invocation of the shader, which gives us 1024 * 64 = 65536 invocations.

You should always try to aim for a local size of at least 32 to 64. While we could ask to spawn 65536 work groups with a local size of 1, in practice this has been benchmarked to be slower than using a larger local size.

For convenience, the number of work groups and the local size are three-dimensional. You can use the y and z coordinates if you access a two-dimensional or a three-dimensional data structure. The shader will be called once for each possible combination of values for x, y and z.

layout(set = 0, binding = 0) buffer Data {
    uint data[];
} buf;

This declares a descriptor, which we are going to cover in more details in the next section. In particular, we declare a buffer whose name is buf and that we are going to access in our code.

The content of the buffer is an unsized array of uints. A uint is always similar to a u32 in Rust. In other words the line uint data[]; is equivalent in Rust to a variable named data of type [u32].

void main() {

Every GLSL code has an entry point named main, similar to C or Rust. This is the function that is going to be invoked 65536 times.

uint idx = gl_GlobalInvocationID.x;

As explained above we are going to spawn 1024 work groups, each having a local size of 64. Compute shaders in GLSL have access to several read-only static variables that let us know the index of the invocation we are currently in. The gl_GlobalInvocationID.x value here will contain a value that ranges between 0 and 65535. We are going to use it to determine which element of the array to modify.[idx] *= 12;

The content of the buffer is accessed with We multiply the value at the given index with 12.

Note: You can easily trigger a data race by calling for example[0] *= 12;, as all the shader invocations will access the buffer simultaneously. This is a safety problem that vulkano doesn't detect or handle yet. Doing so will lead to an undefined result but not in an undefined behavior.

Embedding the GLSL code in the Rust code

Now that we wrote the shader in GLSL, we have to compile it and load it at runtime.

While we're waiting for the Rust language to provide procedural macros, vulkano provides a "hack-ish" way to compile shaders thanks to the vulkano-shader-derive. To use it, we first have to add a dependency to it:

vulkano-shader-derive = "0.6"

And add these lines to our crate root:

extern crate vulkano_shader_derive;

Here is the syntax:

mod cs {
    #[ty = "compute"]
    #[src = "
#version 450

layout(local_size_x = 64, local_size_y = 1, local_size_z = 1) in;

layout(set = 0, binding = 0) buffer Data {
    uint data[];
} data;

void main() {
    uint idx = gl_GlobalInvocationID.x;[idx] *= 12;
    struct Dummy;

As you can see, we create a dummy struct with a some attributes that the vulkano_shader_derive crate will pick up. The crate will then compile the GLSL code (outputting compilation errors if any) and generate several structs, including one named Shader that provides a method named load. This is the method that we have to use next:

let shader = cs::Shader::load(device.clone())
    .expect("failed to create shader module");

This feeds the shader to the Vulkan implementation. The last step to perform at runtime is to create a compute pipeline object from that shader. This is the object that actually describes the compute operation that we are going to perform.

use std::sync::Arc;
use vulkano::pipeline::ComputePipeline;

let compute_pipeline = Arc::new(ComputePipeline::new(device.clone(), &shader.main_entry_point(), &())
    .expect("failed to create compute pipeline"));

Before invoking that compute pipeline, we need to bind a buffer to it. This is covered by the next section.