VK_AMD_shader_early_and_late_fragment_tests

This document describes a proposal for a new SPIR-V execution mode that allows fragment shaders to be discarded by early fragment operations, even if they contain writes to storage resources or other side effects.

1. Problem Statement

Most graphics devices are able to take advantage of early fragment operations when a fragment shader avoids certain operations - e.g. writing to depth or stencil, or to storage resources, providing significant performance advantages in most cases. This is implicitly enabled wherever possible, and can be explicitly enabled by specifying the EarlyFragmentTests execution mode in SPIR-V. However the EarlyFragmentTests execution mode makes it invalid to write fragment depth from a shader.

Some implementations can perform depth testing both before and after fragment shading, allowing a conservative early test to discard most fragments and a late test to discard with more precision. GL_ARB_conservative_depth added a way to enable this optimisation even when depth was written by the fragment shader, allowing further optimisations to be achieved in certain conditions. However, if the shader also writes to storage resources, no such optimisation is possible due to the predictability requirements of the specification. In cases where an application does not care whether storage writes are performed by a fragment shader when discarded, it is possible to use this capability for a significant performance improvement on some console platforms, but so far Vulkan has no mechanism to do this. For some applications, this can mean an unnecessary performance hit that should be relatively straightforward to solve.

2. Solution Space

There is only really one solution to this problem, which is to expose this capability to applications in some way. The main question is how to expose this, at what granularity, and whether we should provide any guarantees. Ultimately this should be relatively easy to turn on/off, and ideally should be set per-fragment shader in some form.

The main options for signifying the switch are:

  1. Pipeline creation flag

  2. SPIR-V execution mode

  3. Non-semantic instruction

If it becomes a pipeline creation flag, it is easy to turn on/off on a per-pipeline basis. However, the knowledge of whether the writes can be discarded is usually a property of whatever algorithm has been written in the fragment shader code itself, meaning this property has to be specified in two places. From that perspective, it makes sense to have something in the shader code itself.

A SPIR-V execution mode is a straightforward way to express this, and it is consistent with the way that conservative depth is expressed in SPIR-V (e.g. DepthGreater Execution Mode). The downside of using an execution mode which is essentially an optimisation hint is that drivers have to implement the extension for the SPIR-V to be valid; when in fact it can be safely ignored in all cases.

Non-Semantic instructions seem like they could offer a way to specify the behavior without need for drivers to implement anything new. Unfortunately, as the induced behavior violates the current Vulkan specification, it is not suitable for this use case, as it cannot be safely added to all shaders.

Without a wider "this can be ignored but can change behavior" extension along the lines of the non-semantic extension, a SPIR-V execution mode is likely the most suitable option. Applications, a user-facing library, or a Vulkan software layer could be used to automatically remove the execution mode when not supported. Implementations should also eventually be able to support the execution mode as a no-op if they do not have the required capabilities.

3. Proposal

3.1. New Vulkan feature

typedef struct VkPhysicalDeviceShaderEarlyAndLateFragmentTestsFeaturesAMD {
    VkStructureType    sType;
    void*              pNext;
    VkBool32           shaderEarlyAndLateFragmentTests;
} VkPhysicalDeviceShaderEarlyAndLateFragmentTestsFeaturesAMD;

This feature allows the new execution mode in SPIR-V shaders consumed by the implementation.

3.2. New SPIR-V Execution Modes

A new execution mode is introduced which allows for early depth and stencil tests to be performed both early and late when depth and stencil writes are performed, in combination with the depth optimisations. In order to allow for stencil reference writes with this new execution mode, similar stencil reference write optimisations are provided.

Execution mode Extra Operands Enabling Capabilities

5017

EarlyAndLateFragmentTestsAMD
Fragment tests can be performed both before and after fragment shader execution, with latter tests taking values written to FragDepth and FragStencilRefEXT into account. Early tests are not guaranteed, late tests are.+
If neither of ExecutionModeDepthReplacing or ExecutionModeStencilRefReplacingEXT are specified, functions identically to EarlyFragmentTests.
If this and ExecutionModeStencilRefReplacingEXT are both specified, one of StencilRefGreaterAMD, StencilRefLessAMD, or StencilRefUnchangedAMD must also be specified.
If this and ExecutionModeDepthReplacing are both specified, one of DepthGreater, DepthLess, or DepthUnchanged must also be specified.

Only valid with the Fragment Execution Model.
See client API for detail on fragment operations.

Shader

5079

StencilRefUnchangedFrontAMD
Indicates that early per-fragment tests may assume that any FragStencilRefEXT built in-decorated value written by the shader is equal to the stencil reference value set for the front face in the client API after masking. Late per-fragment tests will use the written value as normal.

Only valid with the Fragment Execution Model.
At most one of StencilRefGreaterAMD, StencilRefLessAMD, and StencilRefUnchangedAMD can be specified.

StencilExportEXT

5080

StencilRefGreaterFrontAMD
Indicates that early per-fragment tests may assume that any FragStencilRefEXT built in-decorated value written by the shader is greater than or equal to the stencil reference value set for the front face in the client API after masking. Late per-fragment tests will use the written value as normal.

Only valid with the Fragment Execution Model.
At most one of StencilRefGreaterAMD, StencilRefLessAMD, and StencilRefUnchangedAMD can be specified.

StencilExportEXT

5081

StencilRefLessFrontAMD
Indicates that early per-fragment tests may assume that any FragStencilRefEXT built in-decorated value written by the shader is less than or equal to the stencil reference value set for the front face in the client API after masking. Late per-fragment tests will use the written value as normal.

Only valid with the Fragment Execution Model.
At most one of StencilRefGreaterAMD, StencilRefLessAMD, and StencilRefUnchangedAMD can be specified.

StencilExportEXT

5082

StencilRefUnchangedBackAMD
Indicates that early per-fragment tests may assume that any FragStencilRefEXT built in-decorated value written by the shader is equal to the stencil reference value set for the back face in the client API after masking. Late per-fragment tests will use the written value as normal.

Only valid with the Fragment Execution Model.
At most one of StencilRefGreaterAMD, StencilRefLessAMD, and StencilRefUnchangedAMD can be specified.

StencilExportEXT

5083

StencilRefGreaterBackAMD
Indicates that early per-fragment tests may assume that any FragStencilRefEXT built in-decorated value written by the shader is greater than or equal to the stencil reference value set for the back face in the client API after masking. Late per-fragment tests will use the written value as normal.

Only valid with the Fragment Execution Model.
At most one of StencilRefGreaterAMD, StencilRefLessAMD, and StencilRefUnchangedAMD can be specified.

StencilExportEXT

5084

StencilRefLessBackAMD
Indicates that early per-fragment tests may assume that any FragStencilRefEXT built in-decorated value written by the shader is less than or equal to the stencil reference value set for the back face in the client API after masking. Late per-fragment tests will use the written value as normal.

Only valid with the Fragment Execution Model.
At most one of StencilRefGreaterAMD, StencilRefLessAMD, and StencilRefUnchangedAMD can be specified.

StencilExportEXT

This allows implementations to perform both early and late tests explicitly.

3.3. New GLSL Layout Qualifiers

The following new layout qualifiers are added to GLSL:

Fragment shaders allow the following stand-alone declaration:

__early_and_late_fragment_testsAMD

to request that certain fragment tests be performed before and after fragment shader execution, as described in the “Fragment Operations” chapter of the Vulkan 1.2 Specification. This declaration must appear in a line on its own.

The following additional standalone declarations may be specified:

layout-qualifier-id:
    __stencil_ref_unchanged_frontAMD
    __stencil_ref_less_frontAMD
    __stencil_ref_greater_frontAMD
    __stencil_ref_unchanged_backAMD
    __stencil_ref_less_backAMD
    __stencil_ref_greater_backAMD

These declarations must each appear in a line on their own. Only one stencil_ref_*frontAMD and one stencil_ref*_backAMD declaration may be specified. Each declaration constrains the intentions of the final value of gl_FragStencilRefARB written by any shader invocation. Implementations are allowed to perform optimizations assuming that the stencil test fails (or passes) for a given fragment if all values of gl_FragStencilRefARB consistent with the declaration would fail (or pass). This potentially includes skipping shader execution if the fragment is discarded because it is occluded and the shader has no side effects. If the final value of gl_FragStencilRefARB is inconsistent with the declaration for the facing of the shaded polygon, the result of the stencil test for the corresponding fragment is undefined. If the stencil test passes and stencil writes are enabled, the value written to the stencil buffer is always the value of gl_FragStencilRefARB, whether or not it is consistent with the layout qualifier.

Each of the above qualifiers maps directly to the equivalently named spir-v execution mode.

3.4. New HLSL Attributes

The following new Vulkan Specific Attribute is added:

  • early_and_late_tests: Marks an entry point as enabling early and late depth tests. If depth is written via SV_Depth, depth_unchanged must also be specified (SV_DepthLess and SV_DepthGreater can be written freely). If a stencil reference value is written via SV_StencilRef, one of stencil_ref_unchanged_front, stencil_ref_greater_equal_front, or stencil_ref_less_equal_front and one of stencil_ref_unchanged_back, stencil_ref_greater_equal_back, or stencil_ref_less_equal_back must be specified.

  • depth_unchanged: Specifies that any depth written to SV_Depth will not invalidate the result of early depth tests. Sets the DepthUnchanged execution mode in SPIR-V.

  • stencil_ref_unchanged_front: Specifies that any stencil ref written to SV_StencilRef will not invalidate the result of early stencil tests when the fragment is front facing. Sets the StencilRefUnchangedFrontAMD execution mode in SPIR-V.

  • stencil_ref_greater_equal_front: Specifies that any stencil ref written to SV_StencilRef will be greater than or equal to the stencil reference value set by the API when the fragment is front facing. Sets the StencilRefGreaterFrontAMD execution mode in SPIR-V.

  • stencil_ref_less_equal_front: Specifies that any stencil ref written to SV_StencilRef will be less than or equal to the stencil reference value set by the API when the fragment is front facing. Sets the StencilRefLessFrontAMD execution mode in SPIR-V.

  • stencil_ref_unchanged_back: Specifies that any stencil ref written to SV_StencilRef will not invalidate the result of early stencil tests when the fragment is back facing. Sets the StencilRefUnchangedBackAMD execution mode in SPIR-V.

  • stencil_ref_greater_equal_back: Specifies that any stencil ref written to SV_StencilRef will be greater than or equal to the stencil reference value set by the API when the fragment is back facing. Sets the StencilRefGreaterBackAMD execution mode in SPIR-V.

  • stencil_ref_less_equal_back: Specifies that any stencil ref written to SV_StencilRef will be less than or equal to the stencil reference value set by the API when the fragment is back facing. Sets the StencilRefLessBackAMD execution mode in SPIR-V.

Shaders must not specify more than one of stencil_ref_unchanged_front, stencil_ref_greater_equal_front, and stencil_ref_less_equal_front. Shaders must not specify more than one of stencil_ref_unchanged_back, stencil_ref_greater_equal_back, and stencil_ref_less_equal_back.

4. Issues

4.1. UNRESOLVED: Should we expose a feature/property indiciting if the implementation is actually going to perform early and late tests?

It would be useful if ultimately all implementations could ship this feature, treating it as a no-op where relevant - but if some implementations cannot gain any advantage from this, it might be reasonable to expose a property indicating this.