8. Shaders

A shader specifies programmable operations that execute for each vertex, control point, tessellated vertex, primitive, fragment, or workgroup in the corresponding stage(s) of the graphics and compute pipelines.

Graphics pipelines include vertex shader execution as a result of primitive assembly, followed, if enabled, by tessellation control and evaluation shaders operating on patches, geometry shaders, if enabled, operating on primitives, and fragment shaders, if present, operating on fragments generated by Rasterization. In this specification, vertex, tessellation control, tessellation evaluation and geometry shaders are collectively referred to as vertex processing stages and occur in the logical pipeline before rasterization. The fragment shader occurs logically after rasterization.

Only the compute shader stage is included in a compute pipeline. Compute shaders operate on compute invocations in a workgroup.

Shaders can read from input variables, and read from and write to output variables. Input and output variables can be used to transfer data between shader stages, or to allow the shader to interact with values that exist in the execution environment. Similarly, the execution environment provides constants that describe capabilities.

Shader variables are associated with execution environment-provided inputs and outputs using built-in decorations in the shader. The available decorations for each stage are documented in the following subsections.

8.1. Shader Modules

Shader modules contain shader code and one or more entry points. Shaders are selected from a shader module by specifying an entry point as part of pipeline creation. The stages of a pipeline can use shaders that come from different modules. The shader code defining a shader module must be in the SPIR-V format, as described by the Vulkan Environment for SPIR-V appendix.

Shader modules are represented by VkShaderModule handles:


To create a shader module, call:

VkResult vkCreateShaderModule(
    VkDevice                                    device,
    const VkShaderModuleCreateInfo*             pCreateInfo,
    const VkAllocationCallbacks*                pAllocator,
    VkShaderModule*                             pShaderModule);
  • device is the logical device that creates the shader module.

  • pCreateInfo is a pointer to an instance of the VkShaderModuleCreateInfo structure.

  • pAllocator controls host memory allocation as described in the Memory Allocation chapter.

  • pShaderModule points to a VkShaderModule handle in which the resulting shader module object is returned.

Once a shader module has been created, any entry points it contains can be used in pipeline shader stages as described in Compute Pipelines and Graphics Pipelines.

Valid Usage (Implicit)
  • device must be a valid VkDevice handle

  • pCreateInfo must be a valid pointer to a valid VkShaderModuleCreateInfo structure

  • If pAllocator is not NULL, pAllocator must be a valid pointer to a valid VkAllocationCallbacks structure

  • pShaderModule must be a valid pointer to a VkShaderModule handle

Return Codes



The VkShaderModuleCreateInfo structure is defined as:

typedef struct VkShaderModuleCreateInfo {
    VkStructureType              sType;
    const void*                  pNext;
    VkShaderModuleCreateFlags    flags;
    size_t                       codeSize;
    const uint32_t*              pCode;
} VkShaderModuleCreateInfo;
  • sType is the type of this structure.

  • pNext is NULL or a pointer to an extension-specific structure.

  • flags is reserved for future use.

  • codeSize is the size, in bytes, of the code pointed to by pCode.

  • pCode points to code that is used to create the shader module. The type and format of the code is determined from the content of the memory addressed by pCode.

Valid Usage
  • codeSize must be greater than 0

  • codeSize must be a multiple of 4

  • pCode must point to valid SPIR-V code, formatted and packed as described by the Khronos SPIR-V Specification

  • pCode must adhere to the validation rules described by the Validation Rules within a Module section of the SPIR-V Environment appendix

  • pCode must declare the Shader capability for SPIR-V code

  • pCode must not declare any capability that is not supported by the API, as described by the Capabilities section of the SPIR-V Environment appendix

  • If pCode declares any of the capabilities listed as optional in the SPIR-V Environment appendix, the corresponding feature(s) must be enabled.

Valid Usage (Implicit)

  • pNext must be NULL

  • flags must be 0

  • pCode must be a valid pointer to an array of \(\textrm{codeSize} \over 4\) uint32_t values

typedef VkFlags VkShaderModuleCreateFlags;

VkShaderModuleCreateFlags is a bitmask type for setting a mask, but is currently reserved for future use.

To destroy a shader module, call:

void vkDestroyShaderModule(
    VkDevice                                    device,
    VkShaderModule                              shaderModule,
    const VkAllocationCallbacks*                pAllocator);
  • device is the logical device that destroys the shader module.

  • shaderModule is the handle of the shader module to destroy.

  • pAllocator controls host memory allocation as described in the Memory Allocation chapter.

A shader module can be destroyed while pipelines created using its shaders are still in use.

Valid Usage
  • If VkAllocationCallbacks were provided when shaderModule was created, a compatible set of callbacks must be provided here

  • If no VkAllocationCallbacks were provided when shaderModule was created, pAllocator must be NULL

Valid Usage (Implicit)
  • device must be a valid VkDevice handle

  • If shaderModule is not VK_NULL_HANDLE, shaderModule must be a valid VkShaderModule handle

  • If pAllocator is not NULL, pAllocator must be a valid pointer to a valid VkAllocationCallbacks structure

  • If shaderModule is a valid handle, it must have been created, allocated, or retrieved from device

Host Synchronization
  • Host access to shaderModule must be externally synchronized

8.2. Shader Execution

At each stage of the pipeline, multiple invocations of a shader may execute simultaneously. Further, invocations of a single shader produced as the result of different commands may execute simultaneously. The relative execution order of invocations of the same shader type is undefined. Shader invocations may complete in a different order than that in which the primitives they originated from were drawn or dispatched by the application. However, fragment shader outputs are written to attachments in rasterization order.

The relative execution order of invocations of different shader types is largely undefined. However, when invoking a shader whose inputs are generated from a previous pipeline stage, the shader invocations from the previous stage are guaranteed to have executed far enough to generate input values for all required inputs.

8.3. Shader Memory Access Ordering

The order in which image or buffer memory is read or written by shaders is largely undefined. For some shader types (vertex, tessellation evaluation, and in some cases, fragment), even the number of shader invocations that may perform loads and stores is undefined.

In particular, the following rules apply:

  • Vertex and tessellation evaluation shaders will be invoked at least once for each unique vertex, as defined in those sections.

  • Fragment shaders will be invoked zero or more times, as defined in that section.

  • The relative execution order of invocations of the same shader type is undefined. A store issued by a shader when working on primitive B might complete prior to a store for primitive A, even if primitive A is specified prior to primitive B. This applies even to fragment shaders; while fragment shader outputs are always written to the framebuffer in rasterization order, stores executed by fragment shader invocations are not.

  • The relative execution order of invocations of different shader types is largely undefined.


The above limitations on shader invocation order make some forms of synchronization between shader invocations within a single set of primitives unimplementable. For example, having one invocation poll memory written by another invocation assumes that the other invocation has been launched and will complete its writes in finite time.

The Memory Model appendix defines the terminology and rules for how to correctly communicate between shader invocations, such as when a write is Visible-To a read, and what constitutes a Data Race.

Applications must not cause a data race.

8.4. Shader Inputs and Outputs

Data is passed into and out of shaders using variables with input or output storage class, respectively. User-defined inputs and outputs are connected between stages by matching their Location decorations. Additionally, data can be provided by or communicated to special functions provided by the execution environment using BuiltIn decorations.

In many cases, the same BuiltIn decoration can be used in multiple shader stages with similar meaning. The specific behavior of variables decorated as BuiltIn is documented in the following sections.

8.5. Vertex Shaders

Each vertex shader invocation operates on one vertex and its associated vertex attribute data, and outputs one vertex and associated data. Graphics pipelines must include a vertex shader, and the vertex shader stage is always the first shader stage in the graphics pipeline.

8.5.1. Vertex Shader Execution

A vertex shader must be executed at least once for each vertex specified by a draw command. If the subpass includes multiple views in its view mask, the shader may be invoked separately for each view. During execution, the shader is presented with the index of the vertex and instance for which it has been invoked. Input variables declared in the vertex shader are filled by the implementation with the values of vertex attributes associated with the invocation being executed.

If the same vertex is specified multiple times in a draw command (e.g. by including the same index value multiple times in an index buffer) the implementation may reuse the results of vertex shading if it can statically determine that the vertex shader invocations will produce identical results.


It is implementation-dependent when and if results of vertex shading are reused, and thus how many times the vertex shader will be executed. This is true also if the vertex shader contains stores or atomic operations (see vertexPipelineStoresAndAtomics).

8.6. Tessellation Control Shaders

The tessellation control shader is used to read an input patch provided by the application and to produce an output patch. Each tessellation control shader invocation operates on an input patch (after all control points in the patch are processed by a vertex shader) and its associated data, and outputs a single control point of the output patch and its associated data, and can also output additional per-patch data. The input patch is sized according to the patchControlPoints member of VkPipelineTessellationStateCreateInfo, as part of input assembly. The size of the output patch is controlled by the OpExecutionMode OutputVertices specified in the tessellation control or tessellation evaluation shaders, which must be specified in at least one of the shaders. The size of the input and output patches must each be greater than zero and less than or equal to VkPhysicalDeviceLimits::maxTessellationPatchSize.

8.6.1. Tessellation Control Shader Execution

A tessellation control shader is invoked at least once for each output vertex in a patch. If the subpass includes multiple views in its view mask, the shader may be invoked separately for each view.

Inputs to the tessellation control shader are generated by the vertex shader. Each invocation of the tessellation control shader can read the attributes of any incoming vertices and their associated data. The invocations corresponding to a given patch execute logically in parallel, with undefined relative execution order. However, the OpControlBarrier instruction can be used to provide limited control of the execution order by synchronizing invocations within a patch, effectively dividing tessellation control shader execution into a set of phases. Tessellation control shaders will read undefined values if one invocation reads a per-vertex or per-patch attribute written by another invocation at any point during the same phase, or if two invocations attempt to write different values to the same per-patch output in a single phase.

8.7. Tessellation Evaluation Shaders

The Tessellation Evaluation Shader operates on an input patch of control points and their associated data, and a single input barycentric coordinate indicating the invocation’s relative position within the subdivided patch, and outputs a single vertex and its associated data.

8.7.1. Tessellation Evaluation Shader Execution

A tessellation evaluation shader is invoked at least once for each unique vertex generated by the tessellator. If the subpass includes multiple views in its view mask, the shader may be invoked separately for each view.

8.8. Geometry Shaders

The geometry shader operates on a group of vertices and their associated data assembled from a single input primitive, and emits zero or more output primitives and the group of vertices and their associated data required for each output primitive.

8.8.1. Geometry Shader Execution

A geometry shader is invoked at least once for each primitive produced by the tessellation stages, or at least once for each primitive generated by primitive assembly when tessellation is not in use. A shader can request that the geometry shader runs multiple instances. A geometry shader is invoked at least once for each instance. If the subpass includes multiple views in its view mask, the shader may be invoked separately for each view.

8.9. Fragment Shaders

Fragment shaders are invoked as the result of rasterization in a graphics pipeline. Each fragment shader invocation operates on a single fragment and its associated data. With few exceptions, fragment shaders do not have access to any data associated with other fragments and are considered to execute in isolation of fragment shader invocations associated with other fragments.

8.9.1. Fragment Shader Execution

For each fragment generated by rasterization, a fragment shader may be invoked. A fragment shader must not be invoked if the Early Per-Fragment Tests cause it to have no coverage. If the subpass includes multiple views in its view mask, the shader may be invoked separately for each view.

Furthermore, if it is determined that a fragment generated as the result of rasterizing a first primitive will have its outputs entirely overwritten by a fragment generated as the result of rasterizing a second primitive in the same subpass, and the fragment shader used for the fragment has no other side effects, then the fragment shader may not be executed for the fragment from the first primitive.

Relative ordering of execution of different fragment shader invocations is not defined.

For each fragment generated by a primitive, the number of times the fragment shader is invoked is implementation-dependent, but must obey the following constraints:

  • Each covered sample is included in a single fragment shader invocation.

  • When sample shading is not enabled, there is at least one fragment shader invocation.

  • When sample shading is enabled, the minimum number of fragment shader invocations is as defined in Sample Shading.

When there is more than one fragment shader invocation per fragment, the association of samples to invocations is implementation-dependent.

In addition to the conditions outlined above for the invocation of a fragment shader, a fragment shader invocation may be produced as a helper invocation. A helper invocation is a fragment shader invocation that is created solely for the purposes of evaluating derivatives for use in non-helper fragment shader invocations. Stores and atomics performed by helper invocations must not have any effect on memory, and values returned by atomic instructions in helper invocations are undefined.

8.9.2. Early Fragment Tests

An explicit control is provided to allow fragment shaders to enable early fragment tests. If the fragment shader specifies the EarlyFragmentTests OpExecutionMode, the per-fragment tests described in Early Fragment Test Mode are performed prior to fragment shader execution. Otherwise, they are performed after fragment shader execution.

8.10. Compute Shaders

Compute shaders are invoked via vkCmdDispatch and vkCmdDispatchIndirect commands. In general, they have access to similar resources as shader stages executing as part of a graphics pipeline.

Compute workloads are formed from groups of work items called workgroups and processed by the compute shader in the current compute pipeline. A workgroup is a collection of shader invocations that execute the same shader, potentially in parallel. Compute shaders execute in global workgroups which are divided into a number of local workgroups with a size that can be set by assigning a value to the LocalSize execution mode or via an object decorated by the WorkgroupSize decoration. An invocation within a local workgroup can share data with other members of the local workgroup through shared variables and issue memory and control flow barriers to synchronize with other members of the local workgroup.

8.11. Interpolation Decorations

Interpolation decorations control the behavior of attribute interpolation in the fragment shader stage. Interpolation decorations can be applied to Input storage class variables in the fragment shader stage’s interface, and control the interpolation behavior of those variables.

Inputs that could be interpolated can be decorated by at most one of the following decorations:

  • Flat: no interpolation

  • NoPerspective: linear interpolation (for lines and polygons)

Fragment input variables decorated with neither Flat nor NoPerspective use perspective-correct interpolation (for lines and polygons).

The presence of and type of interpolation is controlled by the above interpolation decorations as well as the auxiliary decorations Centroid and Sample.

A variable decorated with Flat will not be interpolated. Instead, it will have the same value for every fragment within a triangle. This value will come from a single provoking vertex. A variable decorated with Flat can also be decorated with Centroid or Sample, which will mean the same thing as decorating it only as Flat.

For fragment shader input variables decorated with neither Centroid nor Sample, the assigned variable may be interpolated anywhere within the fragment and a single value may be assigned to each sample within the fragment.

If a fragment shader input is decorated with Centroid, a single value may be assigned to that variable for all samples in the fragment, but that value must be interpolated to a location that lies in both the fragment and in the primitive being rendered, including any of the fragment’s samples covered by the primitive. Because the location at which the variable is interpolated may be different in neighboring fragments, and derivatives may be computed by computing differences between neighboring fragments, derivatives of centroid-sampled inputs may be less accurate than those for non-centroid interpolated variables.

If a fragment shader input is decorated with Sample, a separate value must be assigned to that variable for each covered sample in the fragment, and that value must be sampled at the location of the individual sample. When rasterizationSamples is VK_SAMPLE_COUNT_1_BIT, the fragment center must be used for Centroid, Sample, and undecorated attribute interpolation.

Fragment shader inputs that are signed or unsigned integers, integer vectors, or any double-precision floating-point type must be decorated with Flat.

8.12. Static Use

A SPIR-V module declares a global object in memory using the OpVariable instruction, which results in a pointer x to that object. A specific entry point in a SPIR-V module is said to statically use that object if that entry point’s call tree contains a function that contains a memory instruction or image instruction with x as an id operand. See the “Memory Instructions” and “Image Instructions” subsections of section 3 “Binary Form” of the SPIR-V specification for the complete list of SPIR-V memory instructions.

Static use is not used to control the behavior of variables with Input and Output storage. The effects of those variables are applied based only on whether they are present in a shader entry point’s interface.

8.13. Invocation and Derivative Groups

An invocation group (see the subsection “Control Flow” of section 2 of the SPIR-V specification) for a compute shader is the set of invocations in a single local workgroup. For graphics shaders, an invocation group is an implementation-dependent subset of the set of shader invocations of a given shader stage which are produced by a single drawing command. For indirect drawing commands with drawCount greater than one, invocations from separate draws are in distinct invocation groups.


Because the partitioning of invocations into invocation groups is implementation-dependent and not observable, applications generally need to assume the worst case of all invocations in a draw belonging to a single invocation group.

A derivative group (see the subsection “Control Flow” of section 2 of the SPIR-V 1.00 Revision 4 specification) is a set of invocations which are used together to compute a derivative. For a fragment shader, a derivative group is the set of invocations generated by a single primitive.

Derivatives are undefined for a sampled image instruction if the instruction is in flow control that is not uniform across the derivative group.