Chapter 9. Pipelines

The following figure shows a block diagram of the Vulkan pipelines. Some Vulkan commands specify geometric objects to be drawn or computational work to be performed, while others specify state controlling how objects are handled by the various pipeline stages, or control data transfer between memory organized as images and buffers. Commands are effectively sent through a processing pipeline, either a graphics pipeline or a compute pipeline.

The first stage of the graphics pipeline (Input Assembler) assembles vertices to form geometric primitives such as points, lines, and triangles, based on a requested primitive topology. In the next stage (Vertex Shader) vertices can be transformed, computing positions and attributes for each vertex. If tessellation and/or geometry shaders are supported, they can then generate multiple primitives from a single input primitive, possibly changing the primitive topology or generating additional attribute data in the process.

The final resulting primitives are clipped to a clip volume in preparation for the next stage, Rasterization. The rasterizer produces a series of framebuffer addresses and values using a two-dimensional description of a point, line segment, or triangle. Each fragment so produced is fed to the next stage (Fragment Shader) that performs operations on individual fragments before they finally alter the framebuffer. These operations include conditional updates into the framebuffer based on incoming and previously stored depth values (to effect depth buffering), blending of incoming fragment colors with stored colors, as well as masking, stenciling, and other logical operations on fragment values.

Framebuffer operations read and write the color and depth/stencil attachments of the framebuffer for a given subpass of a render pass instance. The attachments can be used as input attachments in the fragment shader in a later subpass of the same render pass.

The compute pipeline is a separate pipeline from the graphics pipeline, which operates on one-, two-, or three-dimensional workgroups which can read from and write to buffer and image memory.

This ordering is meant only as a tool for describing Vulkan, not as a strict rule of how Vulkan is implemented, and we present it only as a means to organize the various operations of the pipelines.

Figure 9.1. Block diagram of the Vulkan pipeline


Each pipeline is controlled by a monolithic object created from a description of all of the shader stages and any relevant fixed-function stages. Linking the whole pipeline together allows the optimization of shaders based on their input/outputs and eliminates expensive draw time state validation.

A pipeline object is bound to the device state in command buffers. Any pipeline object state that is marked as dynamic is not applied to the device state when the pipeline is bound. Dynamic state not set by binding the pipeline object can be modified at any time and persists for the lifetime of the command buffer, or until modified by another dynamic state command or another pipeline bind. No state, including dynamic state, is inherited from one command buffer to another. Only dynamic state that is required for the operations performed in the command buffer needs to be set. For example, if blending is disabled by the pipeline state then the dynamic color blend constants do not need to be specified in the command buffer, even if this state is marked as dynamic in the pipeline state object. If a new pipeline object is bound with state not marked as dynamic after a previous pipeline object with that same state as dynamic, the new pipeline object state will override the dynamic state. Modifying dynamic state that is not set as dynamic by the pipeline state object will lead to undefined results.