Gfx-rs nuts and bolts

Gfx-rs is a low-level graphics abstraction layer in Rust. This blog supposedly hosts the major milestones, concepts, and recaps of the project.

Introduction to the gfx-rs rendering API

25 Jul 2014

The goal of the gfx-rs project is to make a high-performance, easy to use, robust graphics API for the Rust programming language. Later posts will detail show how we achieve that, but this one serves as a high-level introduction and tutorial to gfx-rs. A basic familiarity with 3D graphics in general is assumed (know what a vertex is). We’ll walk through the triangle example.

Basic Setup

First we need some boilerplate to link to the libraries we need.


extern crate gfx_macros;
extern crate gfx;
extern crate glfw;

Next, we define our vertex format. For this simple example, a 2D colored triangle, we only need 2D coordinates and the color. The #[vertex_format] attribute makes gfx-rs generate all of the glue code necessary for using our custom type with the underlying graphics API:

struct Vertex {
    pos: [f32, ..2],
    color: [f32, ..3]

Creating a renderer

The first thing any gfx-rs program needs to do is get a window to render to. Right now, only the glfw library is supported. We create an 800x600 window using the lastest OpenGL version the graphics driver supports:

let glfw = glfw::init(glfw::FAIL_ON_ERRORS).unwrap();

let (mut window, events) = gfx::glfw::WindowBuilder::new(&glfw)
    .title("Welcome to gfx-rs!")
    .expect("Could not make window :(");

The next thing we need to do is create a renderer and a device:

let (renderer, mut device) = {
    let (context, provider) = gfx::glfw::Platform::new(window.render_context(), &glfw);
    gfx::start(context, provider, 1).unwrap()

The context provides buffer swapping, and the provider exposes GL extension querying and function loading. The magic 1 is how many frames the renderer will send before it blocks on the device. When renderer.end_frame() is called, it will wait for a corresponding device.update() to finish processing the frame.

The device abstracts over a specific graphics API and isn’t that interesting, but the renderer provides a high-level, easy to use interface.

Let’s create a thread that will drive the renderer. This will allow the device to still make progress on the sent draw calls while the renderer is preparing more to send:

spawn(proc() {
    let mut renderer = renderer;

In order to begin drawing we’ll need to prepare:

  1. A Frame to render into.
  2. A DrawState. We don’t customize it here, but this tracks things like vertex winding order and how to do depth testing.
  3. A mesh to draw.
  4. A shader program to draw with.
  5. The description of how we want to clear the Frame before we draw into it.
    let frame = gfx::Frame::new();
    let state = gfx::DrawState::new();
    let vertex_data = vec![
        Vertex { pos: [ -0.5, -0.5 ], color: [1.0, 0.0, 0.0] },
        Vertex { pos: [ 0.5, 0.5 ], color: [0.0, 1.0, 0.0]  },
        Vertex { pos: [ 0.0, 0.5 ], color: [0.0, 0.0, 1.0]  }
    let mesh = renderer.create_mesh(vertex_data);
    let program = renderer.create_program(...);
    let bundle = renderer.bundle_program(program, ()).unwrap();

    let clear = gfx::ClearData {
        color: Some(gfx::Color([0.3, 0.3, 0.3, 1.0])),
        depth: None,
        stencil: None

The details of creating a shader program are skipped here, to be shown in a later post.

We are now ready to write the renderer loop. This is a simple demo, so there won’t be much here. We’ll clear the frame, draw the mesh, and then tell the device that we have finished:

    while !renderer.should_finish() {
        renderer.clear(clear, frame);
        renderer.draw(&mesh, gfx::mesh::VertexSlice(0, 3), frame, &bundle, state)
        for err in renderer.errors() {
            println!("Render error: {}", err);

Back in the main thread, we need to process the commands that the renderer is sending:

while !window.should_close() {
    // any event handling

The update method will process any commands it has received from the renderer. Compile and run, and you get:

triangle example output