2.5. Threading Behavior

Vulkan is intended to provide scalable performance when used on multiple host threads. All commands support being called concurrently from multiple threads, but certain parameters, or components of parameters are defined to be externally synchronized. This means that the caller must guarantee that no more than one thread is using such a parameter at a given time.

More precisely, Vulkan commands use simple stores to update software structures representing Vulkan objects. A parameter declared as externally synchronized may have its software structures updated at any time during the host execution of the command. If two commands operate on the same object and at least one of the commands declares the object to be externally synchronized, then the caller must guarantee not only that the commands do not execute simultaneously, but also that the two commands are separated by an appropriate memory barrier (if needed).


Memory barriers are particularly relevant on the ARM CPU architecture which is more weakly ordered than many developers are accustomed to from x86/x64 programming. Fortunately, most higher-level synchronization primitives (like the pthread library) perform memory barriers as a part of mutual exclusion, so mutexing Vulkan objects via these primitives will have the desired effect.

Many object types are immutable, meaning the objects cannot change once they have been created. These types of objects never need external synchronization, except that they must not be destroyed while they are in use on another thread. In certain special cases, mutable object parameters are internally synchronized such that they do not require external synchronization. One example of this is the use of a VkPipelineCache in vkCreateGraphicsPipelines and vkCreateComputePipelines, where external synchronization around such a heavyweight command would be impractical. The implementation must internally synchronize the cache in this example, and may be able to do so in the form of a much finer-grained mutex around the command. Any command parameters that are not labeled as externally synchronized are either not mutated by the command or are internally synchronized. Additionally, certain objects related to a command’s parameters (e.g. command pools and descriptor pools) may be affected by a command, and must also be externally synchronized. These implicit parameters are documented as described below.

Parameters of commands that are externally synchronized are listed below.

There are also a few instances where a command can take in a user allocated list whose contents are externally synchronized parameters. In these cases, the caller must guarantee that at most one thread is using a given element within the list at a given time. These parameters are listed below.

In addition, there are some implicit parameters that need to be externally synchronized. For example, all commandBuffer parameters that need to be externally synchronized imply that the commandPool that was passed in when creating that command buffer also needs to be externally synchronized. The implicit parameters and their associated object are listed below.