Staging buffer


The vertex buffer we have right now works correctly, but the memory type that allows us to access it from the CPU may not be the most optimal memory type for the graphics card itself to read from. The most optimal memory has the VK_MEMORY_PROPERTY_DEVICE_LOCAL_BIT flag and is usually not accessible by the CPU on dedicated graphics cards. In this chapter we’re going to create two vertex buffers. One staging buffer in CPU accessible memory to upload the data from the vertex array to, and the final vertex buffer in device local memory. We’ll then use a buffer copy command to move the data from the staging buffer to the actual vertex buffer.

Transfer queue

The buffer copy command requires a queue family that supports transfer operations, which is indicated using VK_QUEUE_TRANSFER_BIT. The good news is that any queue family with VK_QUEUE_GRAPHICS_BIT or VK_QUEUE_COMPUTE_BIT capabilities already implicitly support VK_QUEUE_TRANSFER_BIT operations. The implementation is not required to explicitly list it in queueFlags in those cases.

If you like a challenge, then you can still try to use a different queue family specifically for transfer operations. It will require you to make the following modifications to your program:

  • Modify QueueFamilyIndices and findQueueFamilies to explicitly look for a queue family with the VK_QUEUE_TRANSFER_BIT bit, but not the VK_QUEUE_GRAPHICS_BIT.

  • Modify createLogicalDevice to request a handle to the transfer queue

  • Create a second command pool for command buffers that are submitted on the transfer queue family

  • Change the sharingMode of resources to be VK_SHARING_MODE_CONCURRENT and specify both the graphics and transfer queue families

  • Submit any transfer commands like vkCmdCopyBuffer (which we’ll be using in this chapter) to the transfer queue instead of the graphics queue

It’s a bit of work, but it’ll teach you a lot about how resources are shared between queue families.

Abstracting buffer creation

Because we’re going to create multiple buffers in this chapter, it’s a good idea to move buffer creation to a helper function. Create a new function createBuffer and move the code in createVertexBuffer (except mapping) to it.

void createBuffer(VkDeviceSize size, VkBufferUsageFlags usage, VkMemoryPropertyFlags properties, VkBuffer& buffer, VkDeviceMemory& bufferMemory) {
    VkBufferCreateInfo bufferInfo{};
    bufferInfo.size = size;
    bufferInfo.usage = usage;
    bufferInfo.sharingMode = VK_SHARING_MODE_EXCLUSIVE;

    if (vkCreateBuffer(device, &bufferInfo, nullptr, &buffer) != VK_SUCCESS) {
        throw std::runtime_error("failed to create buffer!");

    VkMemoryRequirements memRequirements;
    vkGetBufferMemoryRequirements(device, buffer, &memRequirements);

    VkMemoryAllocateInfo allocInfo{};
    allocInfo.allocationSize = memRequirements.size;
    allocInfo.memoryTypeIndex = findMemoryType(memRequirements.memoryTypeBits, properties);

    if (vkAllocateMemory(device, &allocInfo, nullptr, &bufferMemory) != VK_SUCCESS) {
        throw std::runtime_error("failed to allocate buffer memory!");

    vkBindBufferMemory(device, buffer, bufferMemory, 0);

Make sure to add parameters for the buffer size, memory properties and usage so that we can use this function to create many different types of buffers. The last two parameters are output variables to write the handles to.

You can now remove the buffer creation and memory allocation code from createVertexBuffer and just call createBuffer instead:

void createVertexBuffer() {
    VkDeviceSize bufferSize = sizeof(vertices[0]) * vertices.size();

    void* data;
    vkMapMemory(device, vertexBufferMemory, 0, bufferSize, 0, &data);
        memcpy(data,, (size_t) bufferSize);
    vkUnmapMemory(device, vertexBufferMemory);

Run your program to make sure that the vertex buffer still works properly.

Using a staging buffer

We’re now going to change createVertexBuffer to only use a host visible buffer as temporary buffer and use a device local one as actual vertex buffer.

void createVertexBuffer() {
    VkDeviceSize bufferSize = sizeof(vertices[0]) * vertices.size();

    VkBuffer stagingBuffer;
    VkDeviceMemory stagingBufferMemory;

    void* data;
    vkMapMemory(device, stagingBufferMemory, 0, bufferSize, 0, &data);
        memcpy(data,, (size_t) bufferSize);
    vkUnmapMemory(device, stagingBufferMemory);


We’re now using a new stagingBuffer with stagingBufferMemory for mapping and copying the vertex data. In this chapter we’re going to use two new buffer usage flags:

  • VK_BUFFER_USAGE_TRANSFER_SRC_BIT: Buffer can be used as source in a memory transfer operation.

  • VK_BUFFER_USAGE_TRANSFER_DST_BIT: Buffer can be used as destination in a memory transfer operation.

The vertexBuffer is now allocated from a memory type that is device local, which generally means that we’re not able to use vkMapMemory. However, we can copy data from the stagingBuffer to the vertexBuffer. We have to indicate that we intend to do that by specifying the transfer source flag for the stagingBuffer and the transfer destination flag for the vertexBuffer, along with the vertex buffer usage flag.

We’re now going to write a function to copy the contents from one buffer to another, called copyBuffer.

void copyBuffer(VkBuffer srcBuffer, VkBuffer dstBuffer, VkDeviceSize size) {


Memory transfer operations are executed using command buffers, just like drawing commands. Therefore we must first allocate a temporary command buffer. You may wish to create a separate command pool for these kinds of short-lived buffers, because the implementation may be able to apply memory allocation optimizations. You should use the VK_COMMAND_POOL_CREATE_TRANSIENT_BIT flag during command pool generation in that case.

void copyBuffer(VkBuffer srcBuffer, VkBuffer dstBuffer, VkDeviceSize size) {
    VkCommandBufferAllocateInfo allocInfo{};
    allocInfo.commandPool = commandPool;
    allocInfo.commandBufferCount = 1;

    VkCommandBuffer commandBuffer;
    vkAllocateCommandBuffers(device, &allocInfo, &commandBuffer);

And immediately start recording the command buffer:

VkCommandBufferBeginInfo beginInfo{};

vkBeginCommandBuffer(commandBuffer, &beginInfo);

We’re only going to use the command buffer once and wait with returning from the function until the copy operation has finished executing. It’s good practice to tell the driver about our intent using VK_COMMAND_BUFFER_USAGE_ONE_TIME_SUBMIT_BIT.

VkBufferCopy copyRegion{};
copyRegion.srcOffset = 0; // Optional
copyRegion.dstOffset = 0; // Optional
copyRegion.size = size;
vkCmdCopyBuffer(commandBuffer, srcBuffer, dstBuffer, 1, &copyRegion);

Contents of buffers are transferred using the vkCmdCopyBuffer command. It takes the source and destination buffers as arguments, and an array of regions to copy. The regions are defined in VkBufferCopy structs and consist of a source buffer offset, destination buffer offset and size. It is not possible to specify VK_WHOLE_SIZE here, unlike the vkMapMemory command.


This command buffer only contains the copy command, so we can stop recording right after that. Now execute the command buffer to complete the transfer:

VkSubmitInfo submitInfo{};
submitInfo.commandBufferCount = 1;
submitInfo.pCommandBuffers = &commandBuffer;

vkQueueSubmit(graphicsQueue, 1, &submitInfo, VK_NULL_HANDLE);

Unlike the draw commands, there are no events we need to wait on this time. We just want to execute the transfer on the buffers immediately. There are again two possible ways to wait on this transfer to complete. We could use a fence and wait with vkWaitForFences, or simply wait for the transfer queue to become idle with vkQueueWaitIdle. A fence would allow you to schedule multiple transfers simultaneously and wait for all of them complete, instead of executing one at a time. That may give the driver more opportunities to optimize.

vkFreeCommandBuffers(device, commandPool, 1, &commandBuffer);

Don’t forget to clean up the command buffer used for the transfer operation.

We can now call copyBuffer from the createVertexBuffer function to move the vertex data to the device local buffer:


copyBuffer(stagingBuffer, vertexBuffer, bufferSize);

After copying the data from the staging buffer to the device buffer, we should clean it up:


    copyBuffer(stagingBuffer, vertexBuffer, bufferSize);

    vkDestroyBuffer(device, stagingBuffer, nullptr);
    vkFreeMemory(device, stagingBufferMemory, nullptr);

Run your program to verify that you’re seeing the familiar triangle again. The improvement may not be visible right now, but its vertex data is now being loaded from high performance memory. This will matter when we’re going to start rendering more complex geometry.


It should be noted that in a real world application, you’re not supposed to actually call vkAllocateMemory for every individual buffer. The maximum number of simultaneous memory allocations is limited by the maxMemoryAllocationCount physical device limit, which may be as low as 4096 even on high end hardware like an NVIDIA GTX 1080. The right way to allocate memory for a large number of objects at the same time is to create a custom allocator that splits up a single allocation among many different objects by using the offset parameters that we’ve seen in many functions.

You can either implement such an allocator yourself, or use the VulkanMemoryAllocator library provided by the GPUOpen initiative. However, for this tutorial it’s okay to use a separate allocation for every resource, because we won’t come close to hitting any of these limits for now.

In the next chapter we’ll learn about index buffers for vertex reuse.