Render passes


Before we can finish creating the pipeline, we need to tell Vulkan about the framebuffer attachments that will be used while rendering. We need to specify how many color and depth buffers there will be, how many samples to use for each of them and how their contents should be handled throughout the rendering operations. All of this information is wrapped in a render pass object, for which we’ll create a new createRenderPass function. Call this function from initVulkan before createGraphicsPipeline.

void initVulkan() {


void createRenderPass() {


Attachment description

In our case we’ll have just a single color buffer attachment represented by one of the images from the swap chain.

void createRenderPass() {
    VkAttachmentDescription colorAttachment{};
    colorAttachment.format = swapChainImageFormat;
    colorAttachment.samples = VK_SAMPLE_COUNT_1_BIT;

The format of the color attachment should match the format of the swap chain images, and we’re not doing anything with multisampling yet, so we’ll stick to 1 sample.

colorAttachment.loadOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_CLEAR;
colorAttachment.storeOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_STORE_OP_STORE;

The loadOp and storeOp determine what to do with the data in the attachment before rendering and after rendering. We have the following choices for loadOp:

  • VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_LOAD: Preserve the existing contents of the attachment

  • VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_CLEAR: Clear the values to a constant at the start

  • VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_DONT_CARE: Existing contents are undefined; we don’t care about them

In our case we’re going to use the clear operation to clear the framebuffer to black before drawing a new frame. There are only two possibilities for the storeOp:

  • VK_ATTACHMENT_STORE_OP_STORE: Rendered contents will be stored in memory and can be read later

  • VK_ATTACHMENT_STORE_OP_DONT_CARE: Contents of the framebuffer will be undefined after the rendering operation

We’re interested in seeing the rendered triangle on the screen, so we’re going with the store operation here.

colorAttachment.stencilLoadOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_DONT_CARE;
colorAttachment.stencilStoreOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_STORE_OP_DONT_CARE;

The loadOp and storeOp apply to color and depth data, and stencilLoadOp / stencilStoreOp apply to stencil data. Our application won’t do anything with the stencil buffer, so the results of loading and storing are irrelevant.

colorAttachment.initialLayout = VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED;
colorAttachment.finalLayout = VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_PRESENT_SRC_KHR;

Textures and framebuffers in Vulkan are represented by VkImage objects with a certain pixel format, however the layout of the pixels in memory can change based on what you’re trying to do with an image.

Some of the most common layouts are:

  • VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_COLOR_ATTACHMENT_OPTIMAL: Images used as color attachment

  • VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_PRESENT_SRC_KHR: Images to be presented in the swap chain

  • VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_TRANSFER_DST_OPTIMAL: Images to be used as destination for a memory copy operation

We’ll discuss this topic in more depth in the texturing chapter, but what’s important to know right now is that images need to be transitioned to specific layouts that are suitable for the operation that they’re going to be involved in next.

The initialLayout specifies which layout the image will have before the render pass begins. The finalLayout specifies the layout to automatically transition to when the render pass finishes. Using VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED for initialLayout means that we don’t care what previous layout the image was in. The caveat of this special value is that the contents of the image are not guaranteed to be preserved, but that doesn’t matter since we’re going to clear it anyway. We want the image to be ready for presentation using the swap chain after rendering, which is why we use VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_PRESENT_SRC_KHR as finalLayout.

Subpasses and attachment references

A single render pass can consist of multiple subpasses. Subpasses are subsequent rendering operations that depend on the contents of framebuffers in previous passes, for example a sequence of post-processing effects that are applied one after another. If you group these rendering operations into one render pass, then Vulkan is able to reorder the operations and conserve memory bandwidth for possibly better performance. For our very first triangle, however, we’ll stick to a single subpass.

Every subpass references one or more of the attachments that we’ve described using the structure in the previous sections. These references are themselves VkAttachmentReference structs that look like this:

VkAttachmentReference colorAttachmentRef{};
colorAttachmentRef.attachment = 0;

The attachment parameter specifies which attachment to reference by its index in the attachment descriptions array. Our array consists of a single VkAttachmentDescription, so its index is 0. The layout specifies which layout we would like the attachment to have during a subpass that uses this reference. Vulkan will automatically transition the attachment to this layout when the subpass is started. We intend to use the attachment to function as a color buffer and the VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_COLOR_ATTACHMENT_OPTIMAL layout will give us the best performance, as its name implies.

The subpass is described using a VkSubpassDescription structure:

VkSubpassDescription subpass{};
subpass.pipelineBindPoint = VK_PIPELINE_BIND_POINT_GRAPHICS;

Vulkan may also support compute subpasses in the future, so we have to be explicit about this being a graphics subpass. Next, we specify the reference to the color attachment:

subpass.colorAttachmentCount = 1;
subpass.pColorAttachments = &colorAttachmentRef;

The index of the attachment in this array is directly referenced from the fragment shader with the layout(location = 0) out vec4 outColor directive!

The following other types of attachments can be referenced by a subpass:

  • pInputAttachments: Attachments that are read from a shader

  • pResolveAttachments: Attachments used for multisampling color attachments

  • pDepthStencilAttachment: Attachment for depth and stencil data

  • pPreserveAttachments: Attachments that are not used by this subpass, but for which the data must be preserved

Render pass

Now that the attachment and a basic subpass referencing it have been described, we can create the render pass itself. Create a new class member variable to hold the VkRenderPass object right above the pipelineLayout variable:

VkRenderPass renderPass;
VkPipelineLayout pipelineLayout;

The render pass object can then be created by filling in the VkRenderPassCreateInfo structure with an array of attachments and subpasses. The VkAttachmentReference objects reference attachments using the indices of this array.

VkRenderPassCreateInfo renderPassInfo{};
renderPassInfo.attachmentCount = 1;
renderPassInfo.pAttachments = &colorAttachment;
renderPassInfo.subpassCount = 1;
renderPassInfo.pSubpasses = &subpass;

if (vkCreateRenderPass(device, &renderPassInfo, nullptr, &renderPass) != VK_SUCCESS) {
    throw std::runtime_error("failed to create render pass!");

Just like the pipeline layout, the render pass will be referenced throughout the program, so it should only be cleaned up at the end:

void cleanup() {
    vkDestroyPipelineLayout(device, pipelineLayout, nullptr);
    vkDestroyRenderPass(device, renderPass, nullptr);

That was a lot of work, but in the next chapter it all comes together to finally create the graphics pipeline object!