14.1. Shader Input and Output Interfaces

When multiple stages are present in a pipeline, the outputs of one stage form an interface with the inputs of the next stage. When such an interface involves a shader, shader outputs are matched against the inputs of the next stage, and shader inputs are matched against the outputs of the previous stage.

There are two classes of variables that can be matched between shader stages, built-in variables and user-defined variables. Each class has a different set of matching criteria. Generally, when non-shader stages are between shader stages, the user-defined variables, and most built-in variables, form an interface between the shader stages.

The variables forming the input or output interfaces are listed as operands to the OpEntryPoint instruction and are declared with the Input or Output storage classes, respectively, in the SPIR-V module.

Output variables of a shader stage have undefined values until the shader writes to them or uses the Initializer operand when declaring the variable.

14.1.1. Built-in Interface Block

Shader built-in variables meeting the following requirements define the built-in interface block. They must

  • be explicitly declared (there are no implicit built-ins),
  • be identified with a BuiltIn decoration,
  • form object types as described in the Built-in Variables section, and
  • be declared in a block whose top-level members are the built-ins.

Built-ins only participate in interface matching if they are declared in such a block. They must not have any Location or Component decorations.

There must be no more than one built-in interface block per shader per interface.

14.1.2. User-defined Variable Interface

The remaining variables listed by OpEntryPoint with the Input or Output storage class form the user-defined variable interface. These variables must be identified with a Location decoration and can also be identified with a Component decoration.

14.1.3. Interface Matching

A user-defined output variable is considered to match an input variable in the subsequent stage if the two variables are declared with the same Location and Component decoration and match in type and decoration, except that interpolation decorations are not required to match. For the purposes of interface matching, variables declared without a Component decoration are considered to have a Component decoration of zero.

Variables or block members declared as structures are considered to match in type if and only if the structure members match in type, decoration, number, and declaration order. Variables or block members declared as arrays are considered to match in type only if both declarations specify the same element type and size.

Tessellation control shader per-vertex output variables and blocks, and tessellation control, tessellation evaluation, and geometry shader per-vertex input variables and blocks are required to be declared as arrays, with each element representing input or output values for a single vertex of a multi-vertex primitive. For the purposes of interface matching, the outermost array dimension of such variables and blocks is ignored.

At an interface between two non-fragment shader stages, the built-in interface block must match exactly, as described above. At an interface involving the fragment shader inputs, the presence or absence of any built-in output does not affect the interface matching.

At an interface between two shader stages, the user-defined variable interface must match exactly, as described above.

Any input value to a shader stage is well-defined as long as the preceding stages writes to a matching output, as described above.

Additionally, scalar and vector inputs are well-defined if there is a corresponding output satisfying all of the following conditions:

  • the input and output match exactly in decoration,
  • the output is a vector with the same basic type and has at least as many components as the input, and
  • the common component type of the input and output is 32-bit integer or floating-point (64-bit component types are excluded).

In this case, the components of the input will be taken from the first components of the output, and any extra components of the output will be ignored.

14.1.4. Location Assignment

This section describes how many locations are consumed by a given type. As mentioned above, geometry shader inputs, tessellation control shader inputs and outputs, and tessellation evaluation inputs all have an additional level of arrayness relative to other shader inputs and outputs. This outer array level is removed from the type before considering how many locations the type consumes.

The Location value specifies an interface slot comprised of a 32-bit four-component vector conveyed between stages. The Component specifies components within these vector locations. Only types with widths of 32 or 64 are supported in shader interfaces.

Inputs and outputs of the following types consume a single interface location:

  • 32-bit scalar and vector types, and
  • 64-bit scalar and 2-component vector types.

64-bit three- and four-component vectors consume two consecutive locations.

If a declared input or output is an array of size n and each element takes m locations, it will be assigned m × n consecutive locations starting with the location specified.

If the declared input or output is an n × m 32- or 64-bit matrix, it will be assigned multiple locations starting with the location specified. The number of locations assigned for each matrix will be the same as for an n-element array of m-component vectors.

The layout of a structure type used as an Input or Output depends on whether it is also a Block (i.e. has a Block decoration).

If it is a not a Block, then the structure type must have a Location decoration. Its members are assigned consecutive locations in their declaration order, with the first member assigned to the location specified for the structure type. The members, and their nested types, must not themselves have Location decorations.

If the structure type is a Block but without a Location, then each of its members must have a Location decoration. If it is a Block with a Location decoration, then its members are assigned consecutive locations in declaration order, starting from the first member which is initially assigned the location specified for the Block. Any member with its own Location decoration is assigned that location. Each remaining member is assigned the location after the immediately preceding member in declaration order.

The locations consumed by block and structure members are determined by applying the rules above in a depth-first traversal of the instantiated members as though the structure or block member were declared as an input or output variable of the same type.

Any two inputs listed as operands on the same OpEntryPoint must not be assigned the same location, either explicitly or implicitly. Any two outputs listed as operands on the same OpEntryPoint must not be assigned the same location, either explicitly or implicitly.

The number of input and output locations available for a shader input or output interface are limited, and dependent on the shader stage as described in Table 14.1, “Shader Input and Output Locations”.

Table 14.1. Shader Input and Output Locations

Shader Interface Locations Available

vertex input


vertex output

maxVertexOutputComponents / 4

tessellation control input

maxTessellationControlPerVertexInputComponents / 4

tessellation control output

maxTessellationControlPerVertexOutputComponents / 4

tessellation evaluation input

maxTessellationEvaluationInputComponents / 4

tessellation evaluation output

maxTessellationEvaluationOutputComponents / 4

geometry input

maxGeometryInputComponents / 4

geometry output

maxGeometryOutputComponents / 4

fragment input

maxFragmentInputComponents / 4

fragment output


14.1.5. Component Assignment

The Component decoration allows the Location to be more finely specified for scalars and vectors, down to the individual components within a location that are consumed. The components within a location are 0, 1, 2, and 3. A variable or block member starting at component N will consume components N, N+1, N+2, … up through its size. For single precision types, it is invalid if this sequence of components gets larger than 3. A scalar 64-bit type will consume two of these components in sequence, and a two-component 64-bit vector type will consume all four components available within a location. A three- or four-component 64-bit vector type must not specify a Component decoration. A three-component 64-bit vector type will consume all four components of the first location and components 0 and 1 of the second location. This leaves components 2 and 3 available for other component-qualified declarations.

A scalar or two-component 64-bit data type must not specify a Component decoration of 1 or 3. A Component decoration must not be specified for any type that is not a scalar or vector.