Chapter 7. Render Pass

A render pass represents a collection of attachments, subpasses, and dependencies between the subpasses, and describes how the attachments are used over the course of the subpasses. The use of a render pass in a command buffer is a render pass instance.

An attachment description describes the properties of an attachment including its format, sample count, and how its contents are treated at the beginning and end of each render pass instance.

A subpass represents a phase of rendering that reads and writes a subset of the attachments in a render pass. Rendering commands are recorded into a particular subpass of a render pass instance.

A subpass description describes the subset of attachments that is involved in the execution of a subpass. Each subpass can read from some attachments as input attachments, write to some as color attachments or depth/stencil attachments, and do resolve operations to others as resolve attachments. A subpass description can also include a set of preserve attachments, which are attachments that are not read or written by the subpass but whose contents must be preserved throughout the subpass.

A subpass uses an attachment if the attachment is a color, depth/stencil, resolve, or input attachment for that subpass. A subpass does not use an attachment if that attachment is preserved by the subpass. The first use of an attachment is in the lowest numbered subpass that uses that attachment. Similarly, the last use of an attachment is in the highest numbered subpass that uses that attachment.

The subpasses in a render pass all render to the same dimensions, and fragments for pixel (x,y,layer) in one subpass can only read attachment contents written by previous subpasses at that same (x,y,layer) location.


By describing a complete set of subpasses a priori, render passes provide the implementation an opportunity to optimize the storage and transfer of attachment data between subpasses.

In practice, this means that subpasses with a simple framebuffer-space dependency may be merged into a single tiled rendering pass, keeping the attachment data on-chip for the duration of a render pass instance. However, it is also quite common for a render pass to only contain a single subpass.

Subpass dependencies describe ordering restrictions between pairs of subpasses. If no dependencies are specified, implementations may reorder or overlap portions (e.g., certain shader stages) of the execution of subpasses. Dependencies limit the extent of overlap or reordering, and are defined using masks of pipeline stages and memory access types. Each dependency acts as an execution and memory dependency, similarly to how pipeline barriers are defined. Dependencies are needed if two subpasses operate on attachments with overlapping ranges of the same VkDeviceMemory object and at least one subpass writes to that range.

A subpass dependency chain is a sequence of subpass dependencies in a render pass, where the source subpass of each subpass dependency (after the first) equals the destination subpass of the previous dependency.

A render pass describes the structure of subpasses and attachments independent of any specific image views for the attachments. The specific image views that will be used for the attachments, and their dimensions, are specified in VkFramebuffer objects. Framebuffers are created with respect to a specific render pass that the framebuffer is compatible with (see Render Pass Compatibility). Collectively, a render pass and a framebuffer define the complete render target state for one or more subpasses as well as the algorithmic dependencies between the subpasses.

The various pipeline stages of the drawing commands for a given subpass may execute concurrently and/or out of order, both within and across drawing commands. However for a given (x,y,layer,sample) sample location, certain per-sample operations are performed in API order.