luminance- Type-safe, type-level and stateless graphics framework

Copyright(C) 2015, 2016 Dimitri Sabadie
MaintainerDimitri Sabadie <>
Safe HaskellNone



What is luminance?

luminance is a small yet powerful graphics API. It was designed so that people can quickly get their feet wet and start having fun with graphics in Haskell. The main idea is to unleash the graphical and visual properties of GPUs in a stateless and type-safe way.

This library doesn’t expose any architectural patterns or designs. It’s up to you to design your program as you want and following your own plans. Because it’s a graphics and rendering API, you won’t find several common things you find in animations, games or simulations. If you need those you’ll have to look for dedicated libraries instead or write your own.

One of the most important thing you have to keep in mind is the fact that luminance won’t provide you with anything else than working with the GPU. That is, it won’t even provide functions to open windows. That’s actually a good thing, because then you’ll be able to use it with any kind of windowing and system library you want!

The drawback is about safety. If you screw up setting up the OpenGL context, there’s no way luminance will work. A few dedicated packages will be uploaded, like luminance-glfw to add GLFW-b support for instance.

Getting started

Setting up the window and OpenGL context

The first thing to do is to create a window. Here’s a typical GLFW-b snippet to create such a window.

  initialized <- init
  when initialized $ do

In the first place, we initialize the GLFW-b library and make sure everything ran smoothly.

    windowHint (WindowHint'Resizable False)
    windowHint (WindowHint'ContextVersionMajor 4)
    windowHint (WindowHint'ContextVersionMinor 5)
    windowHint (WindowHint'OpenGLForwardCompat False)
    windowHint (WindowHint'OpenGLProfile OpenGLProfile'Core)
    window <- createWindow 800 600 "luminance application" Nothing Nothing

That part just setup the window’s OpenGL hints so that we create a compatible context for luminance. That part is important as you need to select which OpenGL versions you want to use. luminance will work with OpenGL 3.3 and upper only, don’t even try to make it work with a lower implementation. We also disable the forward compatibility because we don’t need it and ask to stick to a core profile. You’ll need to compile with the proper flags depending on what context you’d have choosen.

    case window of
      Just window' -> do
        makeContextCurrent window
        swapInterval 1
        -- we’re good to go!
        destroyWindow window'
      Nothing -> hPutStrLn stderr "unable to create window; please check your hardware support OpenGL4.5"

We then test window. If we have successfully opened the window, we go on by making the OpenGL context of the window the current one for the current thread, set the swap interval (that’s not important for the purpose of that tutorial) and we’re good to go. Otherwise, we just display an error message and quit.


We finally close the GLFW-b context to cleanup everything.

Preparing the environment for luminance

A lot of the functions you’ll use work in special types. For instance, a lot of create* functions will require (MonadIO m,MonadResource m,MonadError e m) => m or so. For that reason, we’ll be using a type of our own and will unwrap it so that we end up in IO in the end.

Here’s the type:

  type App = ExceptT AppError (ResourceT IO)

  newtype AppError = AppError String deriving (Eq,Show)

And we’ll unwrap from our type to IO with:

  runResourceT . runExcepT

Creating shader stages can also fail, so we need to create data type to handle those

data Error = ErrorStage StageError | ErrorProgram ProgramError deriving (Show)
instance HasStageError Error where
  fromStageError = ErrorStage

instance HasProgramError Error where
  fromProgramError = ErrorProgram

Getting something to the screen

About the screen

luminance generalizes OpenGL concepts so that they’re made safer. In order to render something onto the screen, you have to understand what the screen truly is. It’s actually… a back buffer – assuming we have double buffering enabled, which is the case with GLFW-b by default. So rendering to the screen is the same thing than rendering to the back buffer and asking GLFW-b to swap the back buffer with the front buffer.

And guess what. luminance wraps the back buffer into a Framebuffer object. You can access it through defaultFramebuffer. That value will always represent the back buffer.

About batched rendering

In most graphics frameworks, rendering is the act of taking an object and getting it rendered. luminance follows a different path. Because of real world needs and, well, real applications, you cannot do that in luminance. Because, what serious application will render only one object? None. If so, then it’s an exception. We shouldn’t design our libraries and interfaces for the exceptions. We should build them for the most used case, which is, having a lot of objects in a scene.

That’s why luminance exposes the concept of batched rendering. The idea is that you have to gather your objects in batches and render them all at once. That enables a correct sharing of resources – for instance, framebuffers or shaders – and is very straight-forward to reason about.

Render batches are not directly exposed through the interface. Another concept is used instead: regions. Regions are used to bind resources and share them in a safe way. You can find two types of regions right now:

  • framebuffer regions ;
  • shaders regions.

About shader stages

luminance supports five kinds of shader stage:

  • tessellation evaluation shader
  • tessellation control shader
  • vertex shader
  • geometry shader
  • fragment shader

When creating a new shader, you have to pass a String representing the source code. This will change in the end. An EDSL is planned to make things easier and safer, but in the waiting, you are stuck with String, I’m sorry.

Whenever you create a program with shader stages, you'll need to unwrap ErrorStage and ErrorProgram.

(x::Either Error ()) <- runExceptT . runResourceT $ do

Each time

You have to write either GLSL330 or GLSL450 conformant code. If you compile with the gl45-bindless-textures flag, samplers will have an automatic qualifier to make them bindless.

About uniforms

Shaders are customized through uniforms. Those are very handy and very simple to use in luminance. You have the possibility to get them when creating shader Programs. The createProgram function expects two parameters: a list of shader Stages and a uniform interface builder function. That function takes another function as parameter you can use to retrieve a uniform U by passing Either a String for the name of the uniform or a Natural for its explicit semantic. Be careful when using explicit semantics though; they’re not tested.

Here’s an exemple of such a use:

  (program,uniformInterface) <- createProgram shaderStages $ \uni -> do
    resolutionU <- uni $ Left "resolution"
    timeU <- uni $ Left "time"
    pure $ divided resolutionU timeU

In that example, uniformInterface has type U ((Float,Float),Float), (Float,Float being the type of the resolutionU part and Float being the part for timeU. divided is a method of Divisible – the typeclass of divisible contravariant functors – which is defined in the "contravariant" package.

If you don’t need uniform interface, you can build a dummy object, like (), or simply use the appropriate createProgram_ function.

About RenderCmd and Geometry

RenderCmd is a very simple type yet powerful one. It’s a way to add stateless support to OpenGL render commands – draw commands, actually. It gathers several information you can set when performing a draw command. A RenderCmd can hold any type of object, but the most useful version of it holds Geometry.

A Geometry is a GPU version of a mesh. It’s composed of vertices, indices and a primitive mode used to know how to link vertices between each others. Sometimes, Geometry doesn’t have indices. That’s called direct geometry, because the vertices are supposed to be directly used when creating primitives. If you use indices, then you have an indexed geometry and the vertices can linked by looking at the indices you’ve fed in.

A Geometry is created with the createGeometry function and a RenderCmd is created with renderCmd. You’re supposed to create a Geometry once – while loading your resources for example – and the RenderCmd can be created on the fly – it doesn’t require IO.

Putting all together

Let’s draw a triangle on the screen! First, we need the vertices!

  vertices :: [V 2 Float]
  vertices =
      vec2 (-0.5) (-0.5)
    , vec2 0 0.5
    , vec2 0.5 (-0.5)

V 2 is a cool type used to represent vertex attributes. You’ll need DataKinds to be able to use it.

Then, we don’t need indices because we can directly issue a draw. Let’s then have the GPU version of those vertices:

  triangle <- createGeometry vertices Nothing Triangle

Then, we need a shader! Let’s write the vertex shader first:

  in vec2 co;
  out vec4 vertexColor;

  vec4 color[3] = vec4[](
      vec4(1., 0., 0., 1.)
    , vec4(0., 1., 0., 1.)
    , vec4(0., 0., 1., 1.)

  void main() {
    gl_Position = vec4(co, 0., 1.);
    vertexColor = color[gl_VertexID];

Nothing fancy, except that we pass vertexColor to the next stage so that we can blend between vertices.

Now, a fragment shader:

  in vec4 vertexColor;
  out vec4 frag;

  void main() {
    frag = vertexColor;

Now, let’s create the shader Stages and the shader Program:

  program <- sequenceA [createStage VertexShader vsSrc, createStage FragmentShader fsSrc] >>= createProgram_

Once again, that’s pretty straight-forward.

Finally, we need a FrameCmd. To create one, we'll make a DrawCmd from a RenderCmd

      rcmd = renderCmd Nothing False
      sbp geometry = pureDraw $ rcmd geometry
      fbb program geometry = defaultFrameCmd [ShadingCmd program (a -> mempty) [sbp geometry]]

Ok, so let’s explain all of this. renderCmd specifies a blending mode and depth test for rendering a geometry, in this case our triangle. We pass our program and a singleton list containing the RenderCmd we create with pureDraw to make a ShadingCmd that includes both our program and the geometry. Finally, we build a FrameCmd using the ShadingCmd with defaultFrameCmd. defaultFrameCmd uses the back buffer provided by GLFW-b.

We just need to issue a command to the GPU to render our triangle. That is done with a constrained type, Cmd.

  void . runCmd $ draw fbb

We don’t need the result of runCmd in our case so we discard it with void. runCmd runs in MonadIO.

We just need to swap the buffers with swapBuffers window – see GLFW-b for further details – and we’re good!

Dealing with Texture2D

Up to now, luminance only supports 2D-textures. More texture types will be added as luminance gets mature. The interface might change a lot, because it might be very inefficient, especially when converting from containers to others.



data FrameCmd rw c d a Source #

Frame command.



defaultFrameCmd :: [ShadingCmd RW () () a] -> FrameCmd RW () () a Source #

Build a FrameCmd for the default framebuffer.

data ShadingCmd rw c d a Source #

Shading command.



newtype DrawCmd rw c d a Source #

Draw command.




updateAndDraw :: (a -> U') -> RenderCmd rw c d Geometry -> DrawCmd rw c d a Source #

Build a DrawCmd, updating the program’s interface.

pureDraw :: RenderCmd rw c d Geometry -> DrawCmd rw c d a Source #

Build a DrawCmd without updating the program’s interface.

draw :: (MonadIO m, Writable w) => FrameCmd w c d a -> m (Output c d) Source #

Issue a draw to the GPU. Don’t be afraid of the type signature. Let’s explain it.

The first parameter is the framebuffer you want to perform the rendering in. It must be writable.

The second parameter is a list of shading commands. A shading command is composed of three parts:

  • a Program used for shading;
  • a (a -> U') uniform sink used to update uniforms in the program passed as first value; this is useful if you want to update uniforms only once per draw or for all render commands, like time, user event, etc.;
  • a list of render commands function; that function enables you to update uniforms via the (a -> U') uniform sink for each render command that follows.

This function yields a value of type Output m c d', which represents the output of the render – typically, textures or '()'.

shade :: MonadIO m => ShadingCmd rw c d a -> m () Source #

render :: MonadIO m => U' -> RenderCmd rw c d Geometry -> m () Source #