Data Type (GLSL)

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Revision as of 20:01, 20 March 2011 by Alfonse (talk | contribs) (Partial update.)
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The OpenGL Shading Language defines a number of types. It also defines the means by which users can define types.

Basic types

Note: This document will mention double-precision types. These are only available on GL 4.0 and above, or with appropriate extension support.


The basic non-vector types are:

  • bool: conditional type, values may be either true or false
  • int: a signed integer
  • uint: an unsigned integer
  • float: a floating point number
  • double: a double-precision floating-point number


Each of the scalar types, including booleans, have 2, 3, and 4-component vector equivalents. The n digit below can be 2, 3, or 4:

  • bvecn: a vector of booleans
  • ivecn: a vector of signed integers
  • uvecn: a vector of unsigned integers
  • vecn: a vector of single-precision floating-point numbers
  • dvecn: a vector of double-precision floating-point numbers

Vector values can have the same math operators applied to them that scalar values do. These all perform the component-wise operations on each component. However, in order for these operators to work on vectors, the two vectors must have the same number of components.


You can access the components of vectors using the following syntax:

vec4 someVec; someVec.x + someVec.y;

This is called swizzling. You can use x, y, z, or w, referring to the first, second, third, and fourth components, respectively.

The reason it has that name "swizzling" is because the following syntax is entirely valid:

vec2 someVec; vec4 otherVec = someVec.xyxx; vec3 thirdVec = otherVec.zyy;

You can use any combination of up to 4 of the letters to create a vector (of the same basic type) of that length. So otherVec.zyy is a vec3, which is how we can initialize a vec3 value with it. Any combination of up to 4 letters is acceptable, so long as the source vector actually has those components. Attempting to access the 'w' component of a vec3 for example is a compile-time error.

Additionally, there are 3 sets of swizzle masks. You can use xyzw, rgba (for colors), or stpq (for texture coordinates). These three sets have no actual difference; they're just syntactic sugar.


In addition to vectors, there are also matrix types. All matrix types are floating-point, either single-precision or double-precision. Matrix types are as follows, where n and m can be the numbers 2, 3, or 4:

  • matnxm: A matrix with n columns and m rows. OpenGL uses column-major matrices, which is standard for mathematics users. Example: mat3x4.
  • matn: A symmetric matrix with n columns and rows. This type is equivalent to matnxn.

Double-precision matrices (GL 4.0 and above) can be declared with a dmat instead of mat

Swizzling does not work with matrices. You can instead access a matrix's fields with array syntax:

mat3 theMatrix; theMatrix[1] = vec3(3.0, 3.0, 3.0); //Sets the second column to all 3.0s theMatrix[2][0] = 16.0; //Sets the first entry of the third column to 16.0.


Texture access is not as simple as reading a value from a memory address. Filtering and other processes are applied to textures, and how texture coordinates are interpreted can be part of the texture access operation. For these reason, texture access is somewhat complicated.

It starts with samplers, a special type that GLSL defines. Each sampler variable represents a texture that is attached to the context. Samplers have a type that defines what kind of texture can be attached to them.

Sampler types cannot be initialized to a value. They cannot have any operations executed on them. They can only be passed as parameters to functions, and variables of sampler types can only be global uniforms (declared outside of interface blocks or as input parameters to functions.

Implicit conversion

Certain values can be implicitly converted to certain types. This means that an explicit construction operation is not necessary.

Signed integers can be implicitly converted to unsigned integers, but the reverse is not true. Either integer type can be converted into floats, and integers and floats can be converted into doubles.

Vector and matrix values are implicitly converted if the basic type they contain is implicitly convertible.


Basic types can be grouped into sequences of those elements, called arrays. This generally works like in C/C++, but there are some limitations.

Sampler arrays

Arrays of sampler types


Constructors and initializers


Values have particular types.