In a few days I’ll merge the last 2.5 months of work on sokol_gfx.h and sokol_app.h back into the master branch.

The bulk of this is an experimental WebGPU backend for sokol_gfx.h (“experimental” because the WebGPU API is still in flux). Since the WebGPU backend required one small change in the public API of sokol_gfx.h I took the chance and did another small breaking change which I had in the back of my head for quite a while.

This post goes over what has changed, and the required code changes in applications using sokol-gfx or sokol-app. A later blog post will then look in detail into the new WebGPU backend.

Overview of changes

First a quick overview of what’s new and what has changed. Each change will then be described more thoroughly.

If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details you can review this pull request:

Changes in sokol_gfx.h:

  • experimental WebGPU backend
  • a new enum type sg_sampler_type
  • a new item sampler_type in struct sg_shader_image_desc
  • new items and a new internal layout in struct sg_desc
  • …and related to this, a more convenient default-value behaviour for pixel formats and sample counts when creating pipeline state objects and images

Only the last two points are actual breaking changes which require some updates to the sokol-gfx initialization call sg_setup().

Changes in sokol_app.h:

  • a new enum sapp_pixel_format to describe the pixel format of the default-framebuffer
  • new functions to query default-framebuffer attributes:
    • sapp_pixel_format sapp_color_format(void)
    • sapp_pixel_format sapp_depth_format(void)
    • int sapp_sample_count(void)
  • WebGPU device- and swapchain-initialization code (so far only in the emscripten code-path)
  • new functions sapp_wgpu_*() to query WebGPU device and swapchain object handles

Other changes:

  • a new header sokol_glue.h which will contain a slowly growing set of “header interop helper functions” which are useful when specific combinations of sokol headers are used together
  • the sokol-shdc shader cross-compiler has a new output option for WebGPU which currently produces SPIRV-blobs (later this will be changed to the new WGSL shading language)

The changes in detail:

Experimental WebGPU backend

This really deserves its own blog post so I’ll just give a very broad overview here for now:

The WebGPU backend is selected with the new SOKOL_WGPU preprocessor define both in sokol_gfx.h and sokol_app.h.

It’s currently called “experimental” because the WebGPU API itself still changes quite a lot, especially in the area of resource management and shaders.

The implementation is based on the current “Google/Mozilla WebGPU flavour”, using the WebGPU C-API available both for Google’s native WebGPU library and the webgpu.h header plus JS shim in the Emscripten SDK.

Just as with WebGL vs GL, the WebGPU backend in sokol_gfx.h doesn’t care whether it’s running in a native environment via a native WebGPU implementation library (like Google Dawn), or in a web environment via a JS shim provided by the Emscripten SDK.

The same isn’t true yet for sokol_app.h though: currently only the Emscripten code path has the required updates for creating the WebGPU device and swapchain. But the plan for sokol_app.h is definitely to also add support for native WebGPU libraries. One important reason for this is because it dramatically simplifies the debugging situation (because debugging native code is a lot easier currently than debugging WASM binaries).

The sg_sampler_type enum

This is a new enumeration type in the public API of sokol_gfx.h which had to be added for WebGPU. The reason is that texture bindings in WebGPU need to know whether the texture will be sampled as float, signed integer or unsigned integer in the vertex- or fragment-shader.

The corresponding WebGPU enum is here.

The sampler type has been added to the sg_shader_image_desc as .sampler_type, which is nested into the sg_shader_desc struct passed to the shader creation function sg_make_shader():

typedef struct sg_shader_image_desc {
    const char* name;
    sg_image_type type;
    sg_sampler_type sampler_type;
} sg_shader_image_desc;

NOTE: I was considering to rename the existing type member to image_type but decided against that for now for the sake of not introducing too many breaking changes at the same time. Might be an option for later though.

The simple rules-of-thumb for this new item are:

  • if you don’t use the WebGPU backend, you can safely ignore it
  • if you use sokol-shdc you can also ignore it because it will be automatically filled into the code-generated sg_shader_desc struct from the shader’s reflection information
  • otherwise, with GLSL as example shading language, the shader’s sampler type corresponds with the sokol_gfx.h sg_sampler_type enum values like this:
    • sampler*: SG_SAMPLERTYPE_FLOAT
    • isampler*: SG_SAMPLERTYPE_INT
    • usampler*: SG_SAMPLERTYPE_UINT

Unfortunately there isn’t really a way to check whether the sg_sampler_type provided when creating a sokol-gfx shader object matches the underlying shader’s sampler in the sokol_gfx.h validation layer, since this would require access to shader reflection information in all backends. So instead of an “early validation” in sokol_gfx.h, a mismatch can only be caught in the underlying WebGPU validation layer.

New layout for the sg_desc struct

This change has the biggest impact on existing code because it is a breaking change. With each new rendering backend, I grew a little more unhappy with the sg_desc struct because each new backend required a few new fields to be added, and with the existing flat layout this started to look messy.

Long story short, this is what the new sg_desc struct looks like when completely ‘unfolded’:

sg_desc desc = {
    .buffer_pool_size = ...,
    .image_pool_size = ...,
    .shader_pool_size = ...,
    .pipeline_pool_size = ...,
    .pass_pool_size = ...,
    .context_pool_size = ...,
    .uniform_buffer_size = ...,
    .staging_buffer_size = ...,
    .sampler_cache_size = ...,

    .context = {
        .color_format = ...,
        .depth_format = ...,
        .sample_count = ...,
        .gl = {
            .force_gles2 = ...,
        .metal = {
            .device = ...,
            .renderpass_descriptor_cb = ...,
            .drawable_cb = ...,
        .d3d11 = {
            .device = ...,
            .device_context = ...,
            .render_target_view_cb = ...,
            .depth_stencil_view_cb = ...,
        .wgpu = {
            .device = ...,
            .render_view_cb = ...,
            .resolve_view_cb = ...,
            .depth_stencil_view_cb = ...,

There’s a couple of new items, and other items have been shuffled around a bit, and as you can see, the information needed to bind sokol_gfx.h to a specific backend 3D-API context is getting quite unwieldy indeed, and in a simple “Hello Triangle” demo this can take up a significant portion of the overall line count. This is where the new sokol_glue.h header will come in, but more on that further down).

First let’s look at the new and changed items in sg_desc:


Formerly this was called mtl_global_uniform_buffer_size, was specific to the Metal backend and described the size of the “per frame uniform buffer”, e.g. the buffer that needs to hold all uniform data updated in a single frame via calls to sg_apply_uniforms(). The new WebGPU backend has a similar uniform update strategy as the Metal backend, so this is a general setup parameter now (it’s only used in the Metal and WebGPU backend though).


This was also a Metal-specific parameter before called mtl_sampler_cache_size. It describes the number of unique entries in an internal cache for texture sampler objects. The WebGPU backend also has such a sampler cache, so the setup parameter has been generalized. But again, this parameter is only used in the Metal and WebGPU backend.


Currently used only in the WebGPU backend, this configuration parameter describes the size in bytes of a “per frame staging buffer” for dynamic data uploads from CPU-visible to GPU-visible memory. The staging buffer size must be big enough to hold all the dynamically updated data via sg_update_buffer(), sg_append_buffer() and sg_update_image() in a single frame. This part of the WebGPU API is still heavily in flux though, so maybe such a user-side staging buffer won’t actually be necessary in the future and this configuration parameter might disappear again.


All the backend-specific information required to “bind” sokol_gfx.h to a 3D-API context (e.g. rendering device and swapchain) has been moved into a nested structure of the new type sg_context_desc, and in there each backend has gotten its own nested structure as well.

Those nested structs have a specific reason: they allow initialization with a single assignment inside a C99 designated initialization block.

More on this below where I’m introducing the new sokol_glue.h header.

The nested context struct has 3 new members to describe the pixel formats and MSAA sample count of the default framebuffer (which must be created outside of sokol_gfx.h, for instance in sokol_app.h):

sg_desc desc = {
    .context = {
        .color_format = ..., // color-buffer format as sg_pixel_format
        .depth_format = ..., // depth-stencil buffer-format as sg_pixel_format
        .sample_count = ..., // MSAA sample count

These new configuration values replace some hardwired assumptions in the sokol_gfx.h implementation and make it a bit more convenient to create pipeline state objects that are compatible with the default frame buffer, because the default values for the pipeline object’s color_format, depth_format and sample_count state are no longer hardwired, but taken from the new context configuration values provided in sg_desc.


If the default framebuffer uses MSAA antialiased rendering, previously you had to provide the matching sample count when creating a pipeline state object, because sokol_gfx.h didn’t actually know that the default framebuffer is multisampled:

sg_pipeline pip = sg_make_pipeline(&(sg_pipeline_desc){
    .rasterizer.sample_count = 4,

Now that the default framebuffer’s sample count is provided upfront in sg_setup(), this is used as the default value for pipeline state object creation, and the sample_count can be left zero-initialized when creating an sg_pipeline object used for rendering to the default frame buffer:

sg_pipeline pip = sg_make_pipeline(&(sg_pipeline_desc){

The other improvement is that there’s now a new validation check which makes sure that the sample count of a pipeline state object matches the default-framebuffer’s sample count.

There’s a somewhat unexpected side effect regarding this new default-behaviour:

When creating a render target image, the default values for the pixel format and sample count will also be taken from the default framebuffer configuration passed into sg_setup(), but at first glance this doesn’t make much sense because there’s no reason that offscreen render targets should have the same pixel format and sample count as the default framebuffer.

After some back and forth I decided on this behaviour so that a default-initialized render target image will always be compatible with a default-initialized pipeline state object.

Admittedly, that’s almost a bit too much ‘under-the-hood-magic’ for my taste, but I think in this specific situation it’s justified because the whole idea of having ‘useful defaults’ to reduce line count was a central design goal of sokol_gfx.h from the start.

You just need to keep in mind that if your default-framebuffer is antialiased, then all your render targets will also be antialiased as long as the sg_image_desc.sample_count has been left zero-initialized. This behaviour differs from before, where the default sample_count value was always 1.

On to the next topic:

The sokol_glue.h header

As described above, the main reason for adding nested structures to sg_desc to hold all the 3D-backend specific ‘context information’ was to set all this data with a single assignment like this:

        .context = get_context()

Such a get_context() function would simply return a completely filled out sg_context_desc structure by value, which can then be assigned to the nested struct sg_desc.context.

But such a helper function can neither be part of the sokol_app.h API, nor part of the sokol_gfx.h API, because the core sokol headers must remain properly decoupled from each other.

And that’s where the new sokol_glue.h header comes in, this is a special header providing helper ‘glue functions’ for combinations of sokol headers.

The sokol_glue.h header is meant to be included after all other sokol header because it automatically detects specific header combinations and offers matching ‘extension functions’.

In a typical ‘sokol_app.h + sokol_gfx.h’ application it might look like this:

#include "sokol_app.h"
#include "sokol_gfx.h"
#include "sokol_glue.h"

In the sokol_glue.h header, API functions are wrapped like this:

SOKOL_API_DECL sg_context_desc sapp_sgcontext(void);

So when both sokol_gfx.h and sokol_app.h have been included before sokol_glue.h, a new glue function sapp_sgcontext() becomes available, which looks like it’s part of the sokol_app.h API but has actually been defined in the sokol_glue.h header.

With this new glue function, the “new way” to setup sokol_gfx.h with the backend context information obtained from sokol_app.h looks like this:

        .context = sapp_sgcontext()

Currently, sokol_glue.h only has this one function, but more and similar helper functions will be added in the future for other combinations of sokol headers (or even combinations of sokol headers with ‘foreign’ APIs).

And finally on to the last change:

WebGPU shader output in sokol-shdc

The sokol-shdc shader-cross-compiler/code-generation tool now has a new output option for WebGPU which (currently) outputs SPIRV bytecode (later this will be changed to the new WGSL shading language):

> sokol_shdc --input shader.glsl --output shader.h --slang wgpu

This creates a C header with embedded SPIRV byte code and code-generated structs and functions for integrating the shader with sokol-gfx.

The only other noteworthy feature is that the new sg_sampler_type enum I already talked about above is extracted from the shader’s texture samplers using the SPIRVCross reflection API.

Existing ‘annotated GLSL shader code’ doesn’t require any changes. This ‘no changes’ requirement was actually a bit of a challenge, because WebGPU basically expects that uniform-block- and texture-bindings have explicitely defined ‘binding sets’, in GLSL it looks like this for instance:

layout(set = 0, binding = 0) uniform vs_params { ... };
layout(set = 2, binding = 0) uniform sampler2D tex;

But such binding sets are not exposed in the sokol-gfx API, instead each backend defines a hardwired internal mapping of sokol-gfx’s resource bind slots to the resource binding model of a specific backend API.

The sokol-shdc shader tool also needs to be aware of this backend-specific mapping, but in the opposite direction, it needs to know how the 3D-APIs resource binding model maps back to the sokol-gfx binding model. To accomplish this, it needs to add annotations (or rather in SPIRV-lingo: decorations) to shader resources like uniform blocks and texture samplers.

This ‘decoration step’ happens through the SPIRVCross library after the GLSL input source code has been compiled to SPIRV and before the translation to the various shading languages happens.

But since WebGPU (currently) accepts SPIRV directly, the entire SPIRVCross translation step shouldn’t be necessary. And that was a problem for those manually added resource binding decorations, because (at least from what I’ve seen) the other SPIRV tools don’t provide such a detailed access to the SPIRV internals (I admittedly didn’t look very hard, but I also didn’t want to waste any more time with this problem).

So in a sudden stroke of (perverted) genius I’m now compiling the shader code twice from GLSL to SPIRV:

  • first, compile the ‘undecorated’ GLSL source to SPIRV
  • feed the result into SPIRVCross and “manually” set decorations
  • have SPIRVCross translate this decorated SPIRV bytecode back to GLSL
  • and finally, compile the generated GLSL source (this time with decorations) again to SPIRV

…not exactly elegant, but it does the job :D

And that’s all, I think. Some time in the next few days I will slap a git-tag on the current sokol-gfx master branch (as well as sokol-tools and sokol-samples), and then merge the changes described here into master.

A much more detailed blog post about the new sokol-gfx WebGPU backend will also follow soon-ish.