OpenGL logo
Original author(s) Silicon Graphics
Developer(s) Khronos Group
Stable release 4.2[1] / August 8, 2011; 3 months ago (2011-08-08)
Written in C
Operating system Cross-platform
Platform Cross-platform
Type API
License Various[2]

OpenGL (Open Graphics Library)[3] is a standard specification defining a cross-language, cross-platform API for writing applications that produce 2D and 3D computer graphics. The interface consists of over 250 different function calls which can be used to draw complex three-dimensional scenes from simple primitives. OpenGL was developed by Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) in 1992[4] and is widely used in CAD, virtual reality, scientific visualization, information visualization, flight simulation, and video games. OpenGL is managed by the non-profit technology consortium Khronos Group.



OpenGL serves two main purposes, to:

  1. hide complexities of interfacing with different 3D accelerators by presenting a single, uniform interface
  2. hide differing capabilities of hardware platforms by requiring support of the full OpenGL feature set for all implementations (using software emulation if necessary)

In its basic operation, OpenGL accepts primitives such as points, lines and polygons, and converts them into pixels via a graphics pipeline known as the OpenGL state machine. Most OpenGL commands either issue primitives to the graphics pipeline, or configure how the pipeline processes these primitives. Prior to the introduction of OpenGL 2.0, each stage of the pipeline performed a fixed function and was configurable only within tight limits. OpenGL 2.0 offers several stages that are fully programmable using GLSL.

OpenGL is a low-level, procedural API, requiring the programmer to dictate the exact steps required to render a scene. This contrasts with descriptive (aka scene graph or retained mode) APIs, where a programmer only needs to describe a scene and can let the library manage the details of rendering it. OpenGL's low-level design requires programmers to have a good knowledge of the graphics pipeline, but also gives a certain amount of freedom to implement novel rendering algorithms.

OpenGL has historically been influential on the development of 3D accelerators, promoting a base level of functionality that is now common in consumer-level hardware:

Simplified version of the Graphics Pipeline Process; excludes a number of features like blending, VBOs and logic ops

A brief description of the process in the graphics pipeline could be:[5]

  1. Evaluation, if necessary, of the polynomial functions which define certain inputs, like NURBS surfaces, approximating curves and the surface geometry.
  2. Vertex operations, transforming and lighting them depending on their material. Also clipping non-visible parts of the scene in order to produce the viewing volume.
  3. Rasterisation or conversion of the previous information into pixels. The polygons are represented by the appropriate colour by means of interpolation algorithms.
  4. Per-fragment operations, like updating values depending on incoming and previously stored depth values, or colour combinations, among others.
  5. Lastly, fragments are inserted into the frame buffer.

Many modern 3D accelerators provide functionality far above this baseline, but these new features are generally enhancements of this basic pipeline rather than radical revisions of it.


This example will draw a green square on the screen. OpenGL has several ways to accomplish this task, but this is the easiest to understand. However, the reader should be aware that most of the APIs used in the code below have been deprecated in and after the OpenGL 3.0 specification.

This statement clears the color buffer, so that the screen will start blank. It takes an argument that defines which buffer to clear, in this case it is the color buffer.
glMatrixMode( GL_PROJECTION );      /* Subsequent matrix commands will affect the projection matrix */
glLoadIdentity();                   /* Initialise the projection matrix to identity */
glFrustum( -1, 1, -1, 1, 1, 1000 ); /* Apply a perspective-projection matrix */
These statements initialize the projection matrix, setting a 3d frustum matrix that represents the viewable area (viewing frustum). This matrix transforms objects from camera-relative space to OpenGL's projection space.
glMatrixMode( GL_MODELVIEW );       /* Subsequent matrix commands will affect the modelview matrix */
glLoadIdentity();                   /* Initialise the modelview to identity */
glTranslatef( 0, 0, -3 );           /* Translate the modelview 3 units along the Z axis */
These statements initialize the modelview matrix. This matrix defines a transform from model-relative coordinates to camera space. The combination of the modelview matrix and the projection matrix transforms objects from model-relative space to projection screen space.
glBegin( GL_POLYGON );              /* Begin issuing a polygon */
glColor3f( 0, 1, 0 );               /* Set the current color to green */
glVertex3f( -1, -1, 0 );            /* Issue a vertex */
glVertex3f( -1, 1, 0 );             /* Issue a vertex */
glVertex3f( 1, 1, 0 );              /* Issue a vertex */
glVertex3f( 1, -1, 0 );             /* Issue a vertex */
glEnd();                            /* Finish issuing the polygon */
These commands draw a green square in the XY plane. This is using immediate mode. The square could also be rendered using arrays and calling glDrawArrays( ).


OpenGL's popularity is partially due to the quality of its official documentation. The OpenGL ARB released a series of manuals along with the specification which have been updated to track changes in the API. These are almost universally known by the colors of their covers:

The Red Book
OpenGL Programming Guide, 7th edition. ISBN 0-321-55262-8
A readable tutorial and reference book – this is a 'must have' book for OpenGL programmers.
The Blue Book
OpenGL Reference manual, 4th edition. ISBN 0-321-17383-X
Essentially a hard-copy printout of the man pages for OpenGL.
Includes a poster-sized fold-out diagram showing the structure of an idealised OpenGL implementation.
The Green Book
OpenGL Programming for the X Window System. ISBN 0-201-48359-9
A book about X11 interfacing and GLUT.
The Alpha Book (white cover)
OpenGL Programming for Windows 95 and Windows NT. ISBN 0-201-40709-4
A book about interfacing OpenGL with Microsoft Windows.

Then, for OpenGL 2.0 and beyond:

The Orange Book
OpenGL Shading Language, 3rd edition. ISBN 0-321-63763-1
A readable tutorial and reference book for GLSL.


The OpenGL standard allows individual vendors to provide additional functionality through extensions as new technology is created. Extensions may introduce new functions and new constants, and may relax or remove restrictions on existing OpenGL functions. Each vendor has an alphabetic abbreviation that is used in naming their new functions and constants. For example, Nvidia's abbreviation (NV) is used in defining their proprietary function glCombinerParameterfvNV() and their constant GL_NORMAL_MAP_NV.

It may happen that more than one vendor agrees to implement the same extended functionality. In that case, the abbreviation EXT is used. It may further happen that the Architecture Review Board "blesses" the extension. It then becomes known as a standard extension, and the abbreviation ARB is used. The first ARB extension was GL_ARB_multitexture, introduced in version 1.2.1. Following the official extension promotion path, multitexturing is no longer an optionally implemented ARB extension, but has been a part of the OpenGL core API since version 1.3.

Before using an extension a program must first determine its availability, and then obtain pointers to any new functions the extension defines. The mechanism for doing this is platform-specific and libraries such as GLEW and GLEE exist to simplify the process.

Specifications for nearly all extensions can be found at the official extension registry.[6]

Associated utility libraries

Several libraries are built on top of or beside OpenGL to provide features not available in OpenGL itself. Libraries such as GLU can be found with most OpenGL implementations, and others such as GLUT and SDL have grown over time and provide rudimentary cross-platform windowing and mouse functionality, and if unavailable can easily be downloaded and added to a development environment. Simple graphical user interface functionality can be found in libraries like GLUI or FLTK. Still other libraries like GLAux (OpenGL Auxiliary Library) are deprecated and have been superseded by functionality commonly available in more popular libraries, but code using them still exists, particularly in simple tutorials. Other libraries have been created to provide OpenGL application developers a simple means of managing OpenGL extensions and versioning. Examples of these libraries include GLEW (the OpenGL Extension Wrangler Library) and GLEE (the OpenGL Easy Extension Library).

In addition to the aforementioned simple libraries, other higher-level object-oriented scene graph retained mode libraries exist such as PLIB, OpenSG, OpenSceneGraph, and OpenGL Performer. These are available as cross-platform free/open source or proprietary programming interfaces written on top of OpenGL and systems libraries to enable the creation of real-time visual simulation applications. Other solutions support parallel OpenGL programs for Virtual Reality, scalability or graphics clusters usage, either transparently like Chromium or through a programming interface like Equalizer.

Mesa 3D is a free/open source implementation of OpenGL. It supports pure software rendering as well as providing hardware acceleration for several 3D graphics cards under Linux. As of 22 June 2007 it implements the 2.1 standard, and provides some of its own extensions for some platforms.


In order to emphasize its multi-language and multi-platform characteristics, various bindings and ports have been developed for OpenGL in many languages. Some languages and their bindings are:

Higher level functionality

OpenGL was designed to be graphic output-only: it provides only rendering functions. The core API has no concept of windowing systems, audio, printing to the screen, keyboard/mouse or other input devices. While this seems restrictive at first, it allows the code that does the rendering to be completely independent of the operating system it is running on, allowing cross-platform development. However, some integration with the native windowing system is required to allow clean interaction with the host system. This is performed through the following add-on APIs:

Additionally, the GLUT, SDL, SFML, and GLFW libraries provide functionality for basic windowing using OpenGL, in a portable manner.

Some open source cross-platform toolkits, such as GTK+, Qt and WxWidgets, include widgets to embed OpenGL contents.


In the 1980s, developing software that could function with a wide range of graphics hardware was a real challenge. Software developers wrote custom interfaces and drivers for each piece of hardware. This was expensive and resulted in much duplication of effort.

By the early 1990s, Silicon Graphics (SGI) was a leader in 3D graphics for workstations. Their IRIS GL API[9] was considered state-of-the-art and became the de facto industry standard, overshadowing the open standards-based PHIGS. This was because IRIS GL was considered easier to use, and because it supported immediate mode rendering. By contrast, PHIGS was considered difficult to use and outdated in terms of functionality.

SGI's competitors (including Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and IBM) were also able to bring to market 3D hardware, supported by extensions made to the PHIGS standard. This in turn caused SGI market share to weaken as more 3D graphics hardware suppliers entered the market. In an effort to influence the market, SGI decided to turn the IrisGL API into an open standard.

SGI considered that the IrisGL API itself was not suitable for opening due to licensing and patent issues. Also, the IrisGL had API functions that were not relevant to 3D graphics. For example, it included a windowing, keyboard and mouse API, in part because it was developed before the X Window System and Sun's NeWS systems were developed.

In addition, SGI had a large number of software customers; by changing to the OpenGL API they planned to keep their customers locked onto SGI (and IBM) hardware for a few years while market support for OpenGL matured. Meanwhile, SGI would continue to try to maintain their customers tied to SGI hardware by developing the advanced and proprietary Iris Inventor and Iris Performer programming APIs.

As a result, SGI released the OpenGL standard.

OpenGL standardized access to hardware, pushed the development responsibility of hardware interface programs (sometimes called device drivers) to hardware manufacturers, and delegated windowing functions to the underlying operating system. With so many different kinds of graphics hardware, getting them all to speak the same language in this way had a remarkable impact by giving software developers a higher level platform for 3D-software development.

In 1992,[10] SGI led the creation of the OpenGL architectural review board (OpenGL ARB), the group of companies that would maintain and expand the OpenGL specification for years to come. OpenGL evolved from (and is very similar in style to) SGI's earlier 3D interface, IrisGL. One of the restrictions of IrisGL was that it only provided access to features supported by the underlying hardware. If the graphics hardware did not support a feature, then the application could not use it. OpenGL overcame this problem by providing support in software for features unsupported by hardware, allowing applications to use advanced graphics on relatively low-powered systems.

In 1994, SGI played with the idea of releasing something called "OpenGL++" which included elements such as a scene-graph API (presumably based on their Performer technology). The specification was circulated among a few interested parties – but never turned into a product.[11]

Microsoft released Direct3D in 1995, which eventually became the main competitor of OpenGL. On December 17, 1997,[12] Microsoft and SGI initiated the Fahrenheit project, which was a joint effort with the goal of unifying the OpenGL and Direct3D interfaces (and adding a scene-graph API too). In 1998, Hewlett-Packard joined the project.[13] It initially showed some promise of bringing order to the world of interactive 3D computer graphics APIs, but on account of financial constraints at SGI, strategic reasons at Microsoft, and general lack of industry support, it was abandoned in 1999.[14]

On the 31st July, 2006 it was announced at SIGGRAPH that control of the OpenGL specification would be passed to the Khronos group.[15][16]


OpenGL releases are backwards compatible. In general, graphics cards released after the OpenGL version release dates shown below support those version features, and all earlier features. For example the GeForce 6800, listed below, supports all features up to and including OpenGL 2.0 (specific cards may conform to an OpenGL specification, but selectively not support certain features. For details, the GPU Caps Viewer software includes a database of cards and their supported specifications).

OpenGL 1.0

Released in January 1992.
The first OpenGL specification was released by Mark Segal and Kurt Akeley.

OpenGL 1.1

Released in January 1997.
OpenGL 1.1 focused on supporting textures and texture formats on GPU hardware.
Supported GPU Cards: all

Extension Extension ID Functions
Vertex Arrays EXT_vertex_array glVertexPointer, glColorPointer, glNormalPointer
Polygon Offsets (depth biasing) EXT_polygon_offset glPolygonOffset
RGBA logical blending EXT_blend_logic_op glBlendFunc
Texture Copy and Sub-copy EXT_subtexture, EXT_copy_texture glTexSubImage1D/2D/3D
Texture Formats EXT_texture RGB, LUMINANCE, ALPHA, INTENSITY (in glTexImage2D)
Texture Objects EXT_texture_object glGenTextures, glBindTextures

OpenGL 1.2

Released on March 16, 1998.
OpenGL 1.2 focused on supporting volume textures, packed pixels, normal rescaling, clamped/edge texture sampling and image processing.
Supported GPU Cards: Rage 128, Rage 128 GL, Rage XL/XC, Rage 128 Pro, Rage Fury MAXX, GeForce2 MX, GeForce2 Ti, GeForce2 Pro, and all later cards.

Extension Extension ID Functions
3D Volume Textures GL_EXT_texture3D glTexImage3DEXT
BGRA Texture Format GL_EXT_bgra BGR_EXT, BGRA_EXT (in glTexImage2D)
Packed Pixels GL_EXT_packed_pixels
Normal Rescaling GL_EXT_rescale_normal
Separate Specular Color GL_EXT_separate_specular_color
Texture Coord Edge Clamping SGIS_texture_edge_clamp
Texture LOD Control SGIS_texture_lod
Draw Range Elements EXT_draw_range_elements glDrawRangeElements
Image Processing Subset EXT_color_table, EXT_convolution, SGI_color_matrix, EXT_histogram, EXT_blend_color, EXT_blend_minmax

OpenGL 1.2.1

Released on October 14, 1998
OpenGL 1.2.1 was a minor release after OpenGL 1.2 (March 16, 1998) which added multi-texture, or texture units, to the rendering pipeline. This allowed multiple textures to be blended per pixel during rasterization.
Supported Cards: Radeon, Radeon Mobility, Radeon 7500 Mobility, Radeon 8500, Radeon 9000, Radeon 9200, Radeon 9600, Radeon 9800, GeForce 3, GeForce 4Ti, GeForce FX, and all later cards

Extension Extension ID Functions
Multi-Texturing SGIS_multitexture glActiveTextureARB, glClientActiveTextureARB

OpenGL 1.3

Released on August 14, 2001.
OpenGL 1.3 added support for cubemap texture, multi-texturing, multi-sampling, and texture unit combine operations (add, combine, dot3, border clamp).
Supported Cards: Radeon 32/36, Radeon 64/7200, Radeon 7000, Radeo AIW, Radeon 7500, Radeon IGP 320M, Radeon IGP 345M, ES1000, Radeon 8500, Radeon 9000/Pro, Radeon 9100/9200/9250 (Pro & IGP), GeForce 3, GeForce 4Ti, GeForce FX, and all later cards.

Extension Extension ID Functions
Compressed Textures GL_ARB_texture_compression
Cubemaps GL_EXT_texture_cube_map TEXTURE_CUBE_MAP_EXT
Multi-Sampling GL_ARB_multisample
Texture Add GL_ARB_texture_env_add
Texture Combine GL_ARB_texture_env_combine
Texture Dot3 GL_ARB_texture_env_dot3
Texture Border Clamping GL_ARB_texture_border_clamp
Matrix Transpose GL_ARB_transpose_matrix

OpenGL 1.4

Released on July 24, 2002.
OpenGL 1.4 added hardware shadowing support, fog coordinates, automatic mipmap generation, and additional texture modes.
Supported Cards: Quadro DCC, Quadro4 380 XGL, Quadro4 500XGL, 550XGL, Quadro4 700XGL, 750XGL, 900XGL, 980XGL, and all later cards.

Extension Extension ID Functions
Automatic Mipmaps SGIS_generate_mipmap
Blend Squaring Functions GL_NV_blend_square
Depth Textures GL_ARB_depth_texture DEPTH_COMPONENT16/24/32_ARB
Hardware Shadowing Z-depth GL_ARB_shadow COMPARE_R_TO_TEXTURE
Fog Coordinates GL_EXT_fog_coord
Multiple Draw Arrays GL_EXT_multi_draw_arrays
Point Parameters GL_ARB_point_parameter
Secondary Color GL_EXT_secondary_color
Separate Blend Functions GL_EXT_blend_func_separate
Stencil Wrapping GL_EXT_stencil_wrap
Texture Crossbar Environment Mode GL_ARB_texture_env_crossbar
Texture LOD Bias GL_EXT_texture_lod_bias
Texture Mirrored Repeat GL_ARB_texture_mirrored_repeat
Window Raster Position GL_ARB_window_pos

OpenGL 1.5

Released on July 29, 2003.
OpenGL 1.5 added support for vertex buffer objects (VBOs), occlusion queries, and extended shadowing functions.
Supported Cards: Radeon X800, Radeon 9600, Radeon 9700, Radeon 9800, GeForce FX, and all later cards.

Extension Extension ID Functions
VBOs Vertex Buffer Objects GL_ARB_vertex_buffer_object glBindBufferARB, glBufferDataARB, glGenBuffersARB
Occlusion Queries GL_ARB_occlusion_query
Extended Shadow Functions GL_EXT_shadow_funcs

OpenGL 2.0

Released on September 7, 2004.

OpenGL 2.0 was originally conceived by 3Dlabs to address concerns that OpenGL was stagnating and lacked a strong direction.[17] 3Dlabs proposed a number of major additions to the standard. Most of these were, at the time, rejected by the ARB or otherwise never came to fruition in the form that 3Dlabs proposed. However, their proposal for a C-style shading language was eventually completed, resulting in the current formulation of GLSL (the OpenGL Shading Language, also slang). Like the assembly-like shading languages that it was replacing, it allowed the programmer to replace the fixed-function vertex and fragment pipe with shaders, though this time written in a C-like high-level language.

The design of GLSL was notable for making relatively few concessions to the limitations of the hardware then available; this hearkened back to the earlier tradition of OpenGL setting an ambitious, forward-looking target for 3D accelerators rather than merely tracking the state of currently available hardware. The final OpenGL 2.0 specification[18] includes support for GLSL.

OpenGL 2.0 added support for a true, GPU-based assembly language called ARB (designed by the Architecture Review Board), which would become the standard for vertex and fragment shaders. Cards released with OpenGL 2.0 were the first to offer user-programmable shaders.[19]

Extension Extension ID Functions
Shader Objects GL_ARB_shader_objects
Vertex Programs GL_ARB_vertex_program glBindProgramARB, glGenProgramsARB
Vertex Shaders (VS) GL_ARB_vertex_shader
Fragment Shaders (FS) GL_ARB_fragment_shader
Multiple Render Targets GL_ARB_draw_buffers glDrawBuffers
Non-power-of-two Texture GL_ARB_texture_non_power_of_two
Point Sprites GL_ARB_point_sprite
Multiple Render Targets GL_ARB_draw_buffers not truly "multiple" on ATI cards at that time (GL_MAX_DRAW_BUFFERS=1)
Vertex texture fetch not truly supported on ATI cards at that time (GL_MAX_VERTEX_TEXTURE_IMAGE_UNITS=0)
Separate Blend Equation GL_EXT_blend_equation_separate
Separate Stencil GL_EXT_stencil_two_side

OpenGL 2.1

Released on July 2, 2006.
OpenGL 2.1 introduced support for pixel buffer objects (PBOs), sRGB textures (gamma-corrected textures), and non-square matrices, and the Shading Language revision GLSL 1.20.[20]
Supported Cards: Intel HD Graphics, Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 Radeon HD 2350, GeForce FX (with late drivers), GeForce 6 series, GeForce 7 series, GeForce Go 7 series, Quadro FX 4000, Quadro FX 350, Quadro FX 550, Quadro FX 560, Quadro FX 1400, Quadro FX 1500, Quadro FX 5500, and all later cards.

Extension Extension ID Functions
Non-Square Matricies glUniformMatrix{}fv
PBOs Pixel Buffer Objects GL_ARB_pixel_buffer_object
sRGB Texture (gamma 2.2) GL_EXT_texture_sRGB

Longs Peak and OpenGL 3.0 controversy

Prior to the release of OpenGL 3.0, the new revision was known as the codename Longs Peak. At the time of its original announcement, Longs Peak was presented as the first major API revision in OpenGL's lifetime. It consisted of an overhaul to the way that OpenGL works, calling for fundamental changes to the API.

The draft introduced a change to object management. The GL 2.1 object model was built upon the state-based design of OpenGL. That is, in order to modify an object or to use it, one needs to bind the object to the state system, then make modifications to the state or perform function calls that use the bound object.

Because of OpenGL's use of a state system, objects must be mutable. That is, the basic structure of an object can change at any time, even if the rendering pipeline is asynchronously using that object. A texture object can be redefined from 2D to 3D. This requires any OpenGL implementations to add a degree of complexity to internal object management.

Under the Longs Peak API, object creation would become atomic, using templates to define the properties of an object which would be created with a single function call. The object could then be used immediately across multiple threads. Objects would also be immutable; however, they could have their contents changed and updated. For example, a texture could change its image, but its size and format could not be changed.

To support backwards compatibility, the old state based API would still be available, but no new functionality would be exposed via the old API in later versions of OpenGL. This would have allowed legacy code bases, such as the majority of CAD products, to continue to run while other software could be written against or ported to the new API.

Longs Peak was initially due to be finalized in September 2007 under the name OpenGL 3.0, but the Khronos group announced on October 30 that it had run into several issues that it wished to address before releasing the specification.[21] As a result, the spec was delayed, and the Khronos group went into a media blackout until the release of the final OpenGL 3.0 spec.

The final specification proved far less revolutionary than the Longs Peak proposal. Instead of removing all immediate mode and fixed functionality (non-shader mode), the spec included them as deprecated features. The proposed object model was not included, and no plans have been announced to include it in any future revisions. As a result, the API remained largely the same with a few existing extensions being promoted to core functionality.

Among some developer groups this decision caused something of an uproar,[22] with many developers professing that they would switch to DirectX in protest. Most complaints revolved around the lack of communication by Khronos to the development community and multiple features being discarded that were viewed favorably by many. Other frustrations included the requirement of DirectX 10 level hardware in order to use OpenGL 3.0 and the absence of geometry shaders and instanced rendering as core features.

Other sources reported that the community reaction was not quite as severe as originally presented,[23] with many vendors showing support for the update.[24][25]

OpenGL 3.0

Released on July 11, 2008.
OpenGL 3.0 added support for frame buffer objects, hardware instancing, vertex array objects (VAOs), and sRGB framebuffers (gamma 2.2).[26] OpenGL 3.0 introduced a deprecation mechanism to simplify the API in future revisions.
Supported Cards: Radeon HD series; GeForce 8, 9, 100-series, 200-series, 300-series, 400-series and 500-series; Intel Sandy Bridge HD Graphics 2000 and 3000.


  • OpenGL Shading Language revision 1.30 (GLSL)
  • Vertex Array Objects
  • More flexible Framebuffer Objects
  • 32-bit (single precision) floating-point textures and render buffers
  • 16-bit (half precision) floating-point vertex and pixel data
  • Ability to render vertex transformations into a buffer
  • Texture arrays
  • 32-bit (single precision) floating point depth buffer support

Full use of OpenGL 3.0 requires the same level of hardware as is required for DirectX 10 support. Unlike DirectX 10, OpenGL 3.0 does not require Windows Vista and can be used on any OS for which the appropriate drivers are provided.

Extension Extension ID Functions
FBOs Frame Buffer Objects GL_EXT_framebuffer_object glFrameBufferTexture2DEXT
FBO Multisampling GL_EXT_framebuffer_multisample
Hardware Instancing GL_EXT_draw_instanced glDrawArraysInstancedEXT, glDrawElementsInstancedEXT
VAOs Vertex Array Objects GL_ARB_vertex_array_object glBindVertexArray, glGenVertexArray
sRGB Framebuffers (gamma 2.2) GL_EXT_framebuffer_sRGB FRAMEBUFFER_SRGB_EXT
Transform Feedback GL_EXT_transform_feedback glBeginTransformFeedback, glBeginTransformFeedback, glBindBufferRange, glTransformFeedbackVaryings

Note that Transform feedback in OpenGL 3.0 is not modelled after NV_transform_feedback, which means that a program must be (re-)linked after calling glTransformFeedbackVaryings.

OpenGL 3.1

Released on March 24, 2009 and updated on May 28, 2009.
OpenGL 3.1 introduces a range of features to make the API more convenient to use, in addition to performance oriented features:[27]

  • OpenGL Shading Language revision 1.40 (GLSL)
  • Texture Buffer Objects - a new texture type that holds a one-dimensional array of texels
  • Uniform Buffer Objects for fast data share/update
  • Signed normalized textures (±1.0 range)
  • A minimum of 16 texture units accessible by the vertex shader
  • Primitive restart
  • Instancing - drawing of objects multiple times through the re-use of vertex data
  • CopyBuffer API for fast data copy; used in conjunction with OpenCL
  • Rectangular textures

With the release of the OpenGL 3.1 specification, a compatibility extension was also released that enables developers to access the OpenGL 1.X/2.X functionality removed in OpenGL 3.1.[28] Notably, legacy functionality for wide line support is retained.

Removed legacy functionality includes:[29]

  • All fixed-function options
  • Direct mode
  • Color index mode, i.e. pixel formats with color palettes

OpenGL 3.2

Released on August 3, 2009 and updated on December 7, 2009.
Supported Cards: GeForce 8, GeForce 9, GeForce 100, GeForce 200 and GeForce 300 series, Radeon HD series


  • OpenGL Shading Language revision 1.50 (GLSL)
  • Geometry Shader support
  • BGRA vertex component ordering
  • Shader Fragment coordinate convention control
  • Seamless cube map filtering
  • Fragment depth clamping
  • Multisampled textures and texture samples for specific sample locations
  • Sync and Fence objects

OpenGL 3.3

Released on March 11, 2010
Supported Cards: GeForce 8, GeForce 9, GeForce 100, GeForce 200 and GeForce 300 series, Radeon HD series

OpenGL 3.3, simultaneously released with OpenGL 4.0 and supplemented by a set of new ARB extensions, backports as much functionality as possible from the OpenGL 4.0 specification for use on previous generation GPU hardware. Includes GLSL 3.30.

OpenGL 4.0

Released on March 11, 2010
Supported Cards: Nvidia GeForce 400 series, Nvidia GeForce 500 series, ATI Radeon HD 5000 series, AMD Radeon HD 6000 Series


  • OpenGL Shading Language revision 4.00 (GLSL)
  • Two new shader stages that enable the GPU to offload geometry tessellation from the CPU.
  • Per-sample fragment shaders and programmable fragment shader input positions for increased rendering quality and anti-aliasing flexibility.
  • Shader subroutines for significantly increased programming flexibility.
  • Separation of texture state and texture data through the addition of a new object type called sampler objects.
  • Drawing of data generated by OpenGL or external APIs such as OpenCL, without CPU intervention.
  • 64-bit double precision floating point shader operations and inputs/outputs for increased rendering accuracy and quality.
  • Performance improvements; such as instanced geometry shaders, instanced arrays and a new timer query.

OpenGL 4.1

Released on 26 July 2010[31]
Supported Cards: Nvidia GeForce 400 series, Nvidia GeForce 500 series, ATI Radeon HD 5000 series, AMD Radeon HD 6000 Series

This new version adds these additional features to the specification, many of which help bring it in line with those in Direct3D 11:

  • OpenGL Shading language (GLSL) 4.1
  • Full compatibility with OpenGL for Embedded Systems (OpenGL ES) 2.0 APIs
  • Reduced shaders compilation times with the ability to query and load a binary for shader program objects
  • The ability to bind programs individually to the five programmable stages (Vertex, Tessellation Control, Tessellation Evaluation, Geometry, and Fragment)
  • Improvements to the general 64-bit floating point supported added in OpenGL 4.0 (64-bit floating-point component input for vertex shader)

OpenGL 4.2

Released on 8 August 2011[32]
Supported Cards: Nvidia GeForce 400 series, Nvidia GeForce 500 series, ATI Radeon HD 5000 series, AMD Radeon HD 6000 Series

  • Support for shaders with atomic counters and load/store/atomic read-modify-write operations to a single level of a texture.
  • Capturing GPU-tessellated geometry and drawing multiple instances of the result of a transform feedback to enable complex objects to be efficiently repositioned and replicated.
  • Support for modifying an arbitrary subset of a compressed texture, without having to re-download the whole texture to the GPU for significant performance improvements.
  • Support for packing multiple 8 and 16 bit values into a single 32-bit value for efficient shader processing with significantly reduced memory storage and bandwidth.

Sample renderings

See also

  • List of OpenGL programs – list of popular games and applications that use OpenGL
  • ARB (GPU assembly language) – OpenGL's low-level shading language
  • Cg – Nvidia's shading language that works with OpenGL
  • GLSL – Open crossplatform high-level shading language that works with OpenGL
  • OpenCL – Open crossplatform GPU general purpose language that works with OpenGL
  • OpenGL ES – OpenGL for embedded systems
  • OpenVG – 2D vector graphics API aiming to leverage accelerated-hardware
  • OpenAL – The Open Audio Library – designed to work well with OpenGL
  • OpenSL ES – Another audio library
  • OpenML – The Open Media Library – designed to work well with OpenGL
  • Graphics pipeline
  • Vertex Buffer Object

OpenGL support libraries

  • GLU – Some additional functions for OpenGL programs.
  • GLUT – The OpenGL utility toolkit.
  • freeglutOpen source alternative to GLUT
  • GLUI – a GUI toolkit made with GLUT
  • SDL – The Simple DirectMedia Layer.
  • GLee – The OpenGL Easy Extension library.
  • GLEW – The OpenGL Extension Wrangler Library.
  • GLM – C++ mathematics toolkit for OpenGL based on the GLSL specification.
  • SFML – Simple and Fast Multimedia Library.
  • JOGL – Java bindings for OpenGL API.

Other 3D graphics APIs

  • Direct3D – A competitor to OpenGL. See Comparison of OpenGL and Direct3D.
  • Glide – A graphics API for use on 3dfx Voodoo cards.
  • Mesa 3D – An open source implementation of OpenGL.
  • Open Inventor - C++ object oriented 3D graphics API that provides a higher layer of programming for OpenGL.
  • RISpecPixar's open API for photorealistic off-line rendering.
  • VirtualGL – An OpenGL 3D model server that sends rendered images to a remote X server.

Other 2D graphics APIs

  • cairo – a cross platform graphical vectorial draw and text toolkit.
  • GTK+ – a cross platform graphical widget toolkit.
  • Java 2D – a cross platform API for drawing two-dimensional graphics.
  • Qt – a cross platform graphical widget toolkit.
  • wxWidgets – a cross platform graphical widget toolkit.
  • Asymptote Vector Graphics Language – a script driven, LaTex compatible, language for high quality sketches, graphs, diagrams, geometry and typesetting with output in PostScript, PDF, SVG, and 3D PRC.


  1. ^ Khronos Enriches Cross-Platform 3D Graphics with 
Release of OpenGL 4.2 Specification
  2. ^
  3. ^ OpenGL 4.0 Specification
  4. ^ "SGI - OpenGL Overview". 
  5. ^ "The OpenGL Graphics System Specification. Version 2.1" (PDF). 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "IRIS GL, SGI's property". 
  10. ^ "Creation of the OpenGL ARB". 
  11. ^ "End of OpenGL++". 
  12. ^ "Announcement of Fahrenheit". 
  13. ^ "Members of Fahrenheit. 1998.". Computergram International. 1998. 
  14. ^ "End of Fahrenheit". 
  15. ^ OpenGL ARB to pass control of OpenGL specification to Khronos Group, Khronos press release
  16. ^ OpenGL ARB to Pass Control of OpenGL Specification to Khronos Group, AccessMyLibrary Archive
  17. ^ Fedy Abi-Chahla (2008-09-16). "OpenGL 3 (3DLabs And The Evolution Of OpenGL)". Tom's Hardware.,2019-2.html. Retrieved 2010-10-24. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ Supported cards for OpenGL 2.0: Radeon 9650, Radeon 9500, Radeon 9500/9550/9600/9700/9800 (Pro, SE, XT), Radeon X1050, Radeon Xpress 200 / 1100, Radeon X300, Radeon X550, Radeon X600/Pro, Radeon X700, Radeon X800 (VE, SE, GT, Pro), Radeon X850, Radeon Xpress 1250, Radeon X1200, Radeon X1250, Radeon 2100, Radeon X1300, X1550, X1600, X1650, X1800, X1900, X1950 (Pro, XT, GT), GeForce 6800, Quadro 600, Qaudro FX 500, Quadro FX 700, Quadro FX 1000, FX 2000, FX 3000, Quadro FX 1400, Quadro FX 1500, Quadro FX 3450, Quadro FX 3500, Quadro FX 4500X2, Quadro FX4500 SDI, and all later cards. It is also included in Intel GMA X3500, X4500 and clarkdale family (core i3, core i5 inbuilt gpu chip on cpu) CPUs
  20. ^ "OpenGL 2.1 Features". 
  21. ^ "OpenGL ARB announces an update on OpenGL 3.0". October 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "OpenGL BOF went over well, no pitch forks seen". 
  24. ^
  25. ^ "NVIDIA provides early OpenGL 3.0 driver now". 
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Khronos Releases Streamlined OpenGL 3.1 Specification" (Press release). Khronos Group. 24 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-30. 
  28. ^ Khronos webmaster (March 24, 2009). "Official feedback on OpenGL 3.1 thread". Discussion and Help Forums. Retrieved 2009-03-30. 
  29. ^ Bertuch, Manfred (25 March 2009). "Specification adopted for OpenGL 3.1". heise online. Retrieved 2011-01-04. 
  30. ^ Khronos webmaster (March 11, 2010). "Khronos Unleashes Cutting-Edge, Cross-Platform Graphics Acceleration with OpenGL 4.0". Khronos Press Releases. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  31. ^ "OpenGL 4.1 Specification Released".,2845,2366981,00.asp. 
  32. ^ "Khronos Enriches Cross-Platform 3D Graphics with 
Release of OpenGL 4.2 Specification". 


External links

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