Commands in Vulkan, like drawing operations and memory transfers, are not executed directly using function calls. You have to record all of the operations you want to perform in command buffer objects. The advantage of this is that all of the hard work of setting up the drawing commands can be done in advance and in multiple threads. After that, you just have to tell Vulkan to execute the commands in the main loop.

Command pools

We have to create a command pool before we can create command buffers. Command pools manage the memory that is used to store the buffers and command buffers are allocated from them. Add a new class member to store a VkCommandPool:

VDeleter<VkCommandPool> commandPool{device, vkDestroyCommandPool};

Then create a new function createCommandPool and call it from initVulkan after the framebuffers were created.

void initVulkan() {
    createInstance();
    setupDebugCallback();
    createSurface();
    pickPhysicalDevice();
    createLogicalDevice();
    createSwapChain();
    createImageViews();
    createRenderPass();
    createGraphicsPipeline();
    createFramebuffers();
    createCommandPool();
}

...

void createCommandPool() {

}

Command pool creation only takes two parameters:

QueueFamilyIndices queueFamilyIndices = findQueueFamilies(physicalDevice);

VkCommandPoolCreateInfo poolInfo = {};
poolInfo.sType = VK_STRUCTURE_TYPE_COMMAND_POOL_CREATE_INFO;
poolInfo.queueFamilyIndex = queueFamilyIndices.graphicsFamily;
poolInfo.flags = 0; // Optional

Command buffers are executed by submitting them on one of the device queues, like the graphics and presentation queues we retrieved. Each command pool can only allocate command buffers that are submitted on a single type of queue. We're going to record commands for drawing, which is why we've chosen the graphics queue family.

There are two possible flags for command pools:

  • VK_COMMAND_POOL_CREATE_TRANSIENT_BIT: Hint that command buffers are rerecorded with new commands very often (may change memory allocation behavior)
  • VK_COMMAND_POOL_CREATE_RESET_COMMAND_BUFFER_BIT: Allow command buffers to be rerecorded individually, without this flag they all have to be reset together

We will only record the command buffers at the beginning of the program and then execute them many times in the main loop, so we're not going to use either of these flags.

if (vkCreateCommandPool(device, &poolInfo, nullptr, commandPool.replace()) != VK_SUCCESS) {
    throw std::runtime_error("failed to create command pool!");
}

Finish creating the command pool using the vkCreateCommandPool function. It doesn't have any special parameters.

Command buffer allocation

We can now start allocating command buffers and recording drawing commands in them. Because one of the drawing commands involves binding the right VkFramebuffer, we'll actually have to record a command buffer for every image in the swap chain once again. To that end, create a list of VkCommandBuffer objects as class member. Command buffers will be automatically freed when their command pool is destroyed, so we don't need a VDeleter.

std::vector<VkCommandBuffer> commandBuffers;

We'll now start working on a createCommandBuffers function that allocates and records the commands for each swap chain image.

void initVulkan() {
    createInstance();
    setupDebugCallback();
    createSurface();
    pickPhysicalDevice();
    createLogicalDevice();
    createSwapChain();
    createImageViews();
    createRenderPass();
    createGraphicsPipeline();
    createFramebuffers();
    createCommandPool();
    createCommandBuffers();
}

...

void createCommandBuffers() {
    commandBuffers.resize(swapChainFramebuffers.size());
}

Cleaning up command buffers involves a slightly different function than other objects. The vkFreeCommandBuffers function takes the command pool and an array of command buffers as parameters.

Command buffers are allocated with the vkAllocateCommandBuffers function, which takes a VkCommandBufferAllocateInfo struct as parameter that specifies the command pool and number of buffers to allocate:

VkCommandBufferAllocateInfo allocInfo = {};
allocInfo.sType = VK_STRUCTURE_TYPE_COMMAND_BUFFER_ALLOCATE_INFO;
allocInfo.commandPool = commandPool;
allocInfo.level = VK_COMMAND_BUFFER_LEVEL_PRIMARY;
allocInfo.commandBufferCount = (uint32_t) commandBuffers.size();

if (vkAllocateCommandBuffers(device, &allocInfo, commandBuffers.data()) != VK_SUCCESS) {
    throw std::runtime_error("failed to allocate command buffers!");
}

The level parameter specifies if the allocated command buffers are primary or secondary command buffers.

  • VK_COMMAND_BUFFER_LEVEL_PRIMARY: Can be submitted to a queue for execution, but cannot be called from other command buffers.
  • VK_COMMAND_BUFFER_LEVEL_SECONDARY: Cannot be submitted directly, but can be called from primary command buffers.

We won't make use of the secondary command buffer functionality here, but you can imagine that it's helpful to reuse common operations from primary command buffers.

Starting command buffer recording

We begin recording a command buffer by calling vkBeginCommandBuffer with a small VkCommandBufferBeginInfo structure as argument that specifies some details about the usage of this specific command buffer.

for (size_t i = 0; i < commandBuffers.size(); i++) {
    VkCommandBufferBeginInfo beginInfo = {};
    beginInfo.sType = VK_STRUCTURE_TYPE_COMMAND_BUFFER_BEGIN_INFO;
    beginInfo.flags = VK_COMMAND_BUFFER_USAGE_SIMULTANEOUS_USE_BIT;
    beginInfo.pInheritanceInfo = nullptr; // Optional

    vkBeginCommandBuffer(commandBuffers[i], &beginInfo);
}

The flags parameter specifies how we're going to use the command buffer. The following values are available:

  • VK_COMMAND_BUFFER_USAGE_ONE_TIME_SUBMIT_BIT: The command buffer will be rerecorded right after executing it once.
  • VK_COMMAND_BUFFER_USAGE_RENDER_PASS_CONTINUE_BIT: This is a secondary command buffer that will be entirely within a single render pass.
  • VK_COMMAND_BUFFER_USAGE_SIMULTANEOUS_USE_BIT: The command buffer can be resubmitted while it is also already pending execution.

We have used the last flag because we may already be scheduling the drawing commands for the next frame while the last frame is not finished yet. The pInheritanceInfo parameter is only relevant for secondary command buffers. It specifies which state to inherit from the calling primary command buffers.

If the command buffer was already recorded once, then a call to vkBeginCommandBuffer will implicitly reset it. It's not possible to append commands to a buffer at a later time.

Starting a render pass

Drawing starts by beginning the render pass with vkCmdBeginRenderPass. The render pass is configured using some parameters in a VkRenderPassBeginInfo struct.

VkRenderPassBeginInfo renderPassInfo = {};
renderPassInfo.sType = VK_STRUCTURE_TYPE_RENDER_PASS_BEGIN_INFO;
renderPassInfo.renderPass = renderPass;
renderPassInfo.framebuffer = swapChainFramebuffers[i];

The first parameters are the render pass itself and the attachments to bind. We created a framebuffer for each swap chain image that specifies it as color attachment.

renderPassInfo.renderArea.offset = {0, 0};
renderPassInfo.renderArea.extent = swapChainExtent;

The next two parameters define the size of the render area. The render area defines where shader loads and stores will take place. The pixels outside this region will have undefined values. It should match the size of the attachments for best performance.

VkClearValue clearColor = {0.0f, 0.0f, 0.0f, 1.0f};
renderPassInfo.clearValueCount = 1;
renderPassInfo.pClearValues = &clearColor;

The last two parameters define the clear values to use for VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_CLEAR, which we used as load operation for the color attachment. I've defined the clear color to simply be black with 100% opacity.

vkCmdBeginRenderPass(commandBuffers[i], &renderPassInfo, VK_SUBPASS_CONTENTS_INLINE);

The render pass can now begin. All of the functions that record commands can be recognized by their vkCmd prefix. They all return void, so there will be no error handling until we've finished recording.

The first parameter for every command is always the command buffer to record the command to. The second parameter specifies the details of the render pass we've just provided. The final parameter controls how the drawing commands within the render pass will be provided. It can have one of two values:

  • VK_SUBPASS_CONTENTS_INLINE: The render pass commands will be embedded in the primary command buffer itself and no secondary command buffers will be executed.
  • VK_SUBPASS_CONTENTS_SECONDARY_COMMAND_BUFFERS: The render pass commands will be executed from secondary command buffers.

We will not be using secondary command buffers, so we'll go with the first option.

Basic drawing commands

We can now bind the graphics pipeline:

vkCmdBindPipeline(commandBuffers[i], VK_PIPELINE_BIND_POINT_GRAPHICS, graphicsPipeline);

The second parameter specifies if the pipeline object is a graphics or compute pipeline. We've now told Vulkan which operations to execute in the graphics pipeline and which attachment to use in the fragment shader, so all that remains is telling it to draw the triangle:

vkCmdDraw(commandBuffers[i], 3, 1, 0, 0);

The actual vkCmdDraw function is a bit anticlimactic, but it's so simple because of all the information we specified in advance. It has the following parameters, aside from the command buffer:

  • vertexCount: Even though we don't have a vertex buffer, we technically still have 3 vertices to draw.
  • instanceCount: Used for instanced rendering, use 1 if you're not doing that.
  • firstVertex: Used as an offset into the vertex buffer, defines the lowest value of gl_VertexIndex.
  • firstIntance: Used as an offset for instanced rendering, defines the lowest value of gl_InstanceIndex.

Finishing up

The render pass can now be ended:

vkCmdEndRenderPass(commandBuffers[i]);

And we've finished recording the command buffer:

if (vkEndCommandBuffer(commandBuffers[i]) != VK_SUCCESS) {
    throw std::runtime_error("failed to record command buffer!");
}

In the next chapter we'll write the code for the main loop, which will acquire an image from the swap chain, execute the right command buffer and return the finished image to the swap chain.

C++ code / Vertex shader / Fragment shader