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Vulkan sample on VK_NV_device_generated_commands
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Vulkan Device Generated Commands Sample

The "device generated cmds" sample demonstrates the use of the VK_NV_device_generated_commands (DGC) extension. Furthermore, it showcases the bindless resource usage through passing GPU pointers as push constants, via GLSL_EXT_buffer_reference and VK_EXT_buffer_device_address (core features in Vulkan 1.2).

We recommend to have a look at this blog post about the extension first.

The content being rendered in the sample is a CAD model which is made of many parts that have few triangles. Having such low complexity per draw-call can very often result into being CPU bound and also serves as stress test for the GPU's command processor.

The sample was a derived of the threaded cadscene sample. Please refer to its readme, as it explains the scene's principle setup.

sample screenshot



Upon renderer activation the scene is traversed and encoded into a list of "drawitems". Optionally this list can be globally sorted once with the "min statechanges" option. All renderers operate from the same "drawitems" list.

  • re-used cmds: The entire scene is encoded in a single big command-buffer, and re-used every frame.
  • threaded cmds: Each thread has FRAMES many CommandBufferPools, which are cycled through. At the beginning the pool is reset and command-buffers are generated from it in chunks. Using another pool every frame avoids the use of additional fences. Secondary commandbuffers are generated on the worker threads and passed for enqueing into a primary commandbuffer that is later submitted on the main thread.
  • generated cmds: Makes use of the DGC extension to generate the command buffer and render it (more details later).
  • preprocess,generated cmds: Uses the separate preprocess step of the DGC extension and then renders the command buffer (VK_INDIRECT_COMMANDS_LAYOUT_USAGE_EXPLICIT_PREPROCESS_BIT_NV). This allows us to measure the performance of the preprocessing operation in isolation. A separate preprocess may be useful to prepare work on an async compute queue.


  • drawcall individual: Each CAD surface of an object has its own drawcall (tons, stress test)
  • material groups: Drawcalls are combined based on materials within an object.


  • dsetbinding: For each drawcall we bind a separate descriptor set with offset for material and matrix.
  • pushaddress: We provide the address of the material and matrix buffer data as push constants.
    In GLSL the data is accessed via GLSL_EXT_buffer_reference. We acquire the buffer address through vkGetBufferDeviceAddress which is provided by either VK_EXT_buffer_device_address, VK_KHR_buffer_device_address, or Vulkan 1.2.

The reduce the amount of commands we do some level of redundancy filtering when generating the commands for each drawcall. Because this scene has such few triangles per drawcall, this is highly recommended.

In the scene.vert.glsl and scene.frag.glsl shaders check the UNIFORMS_TECHNIQUE define for differences.

Shader Changes

A particular new feature that the DGC extension provides is the ability to switch shaders on the device. For that purpose the sample generates 128 artificial vertex/fragment shader combinations, that generate polygon stippling patterns.

  • max shadergroups: Sets the subset of active shaders that are used in the scene.


  • copies: How many models are replicated in the scene (geometry buffers are re-used, but no hw instancing is used).
  • pct visible: Percentage of visible drawcalls.
  • sorted once (minimized state changes): Global sorting of drawcalls depending on state.
  • permutated (random state changes, gen: use seqindex): Compute a random permutation of drawcalls (stresses state changes).
    The "generated" renderers make use of the VK_INDIRECT_COMMANDS_LAYOUT_USAGE_INDEXED_SEQUENCES_BIT_NV / sequencesIndexBuffer.
  • gen: unordered (non-coherent): The "generate" renderers use the VK_INDIRECT_COMMANDS_LAYOUT_USAGE_UNORDERED_SEQUENCES_BIT_NV.
    This allows the hardware to ignore the original drawcall ordering, which is recommended and a lot faster. However, it can introduce a bit more z-flickering due to re-ordering of drawcalls.
  • gen: interleaved inputs: The inputs for the command generation are provided as single interleaved buffer (AoS). Otherwise each input has its own buffer section (SoA).
  • threaded: worker threads: How many threads are used to generate the command buffers.
  • threaded: drawcalls per cmdbuffer: How many drawcalls per command buffer.
  • threaded: batched submission: Each thread collects all secondary command buffers and passes them once to the main thread.
  • animation: Animates the matrices.

Device Generated Commands

For an overview on this extension, we recommend to have a look at this article.

There is a few principle steps:

  1. Define a sequence of commands you want to generate as IndirectCommandsLayoutNV
  2. If you want the ability to change shaders, create your graphics pipelines with VK_PIPELINE_CREATE_INDIRECT_BINDABLE_BIT_NV and then create an aggregate graphice pipeline that imports those pipelines as graphics shader groups using VkGraphicsPipelineShaderGroupsCreateInfoNV which extends VkGraphicsPipelineCreateInfo.
  3. Create a preprocess buffer based on sizing information acquired by vkGetGeneratedCommandsMemoryRequirementsNV.
  4. Fill your input buffer(s) for the generation step and setup VkGeneratedCommandsInfoNV accordingly.
  5. Optionally use a separate preprocess step via vkCmdPreprocessGeneratedCommandsNV.
  6. Run the execution via vkCmdExecuteGeneratedCommandsNV.

Highlighted Files

  • nv_device_generated_commands.h: contains the additions to the Vulkan API, as well as some very basic comments. The official extension spec integration can be found at khronos.
  • resources_vkgen.cpp: contains the additions to resources handling to support the device binding of shader groups.
    • ResourcesVKGen::initPipes() creates the graphics pipeline containing the shader groups.
  • renderer_vkgen.cpp: contains the new renderers.
    • initGenerator creates the IndirectCommandsLayoutNV
    • setupInputInterleaved or setupInputSeparate show how the input buffers are filled
    • setupPreprocess handles the sizing and setup of the preprocess buffer
    • getGeneratedCommandsInfo cmdPreprocess cmdExecute are the functions used for generating the commands.

Graphics Pipeline ShaderGroups

The ray tracing extension introduced the notion of "ShaderGroups" that are stored within a pipeline object. This extension makes use of the same principle to store multiple shader groups within a graphics pipeline object.

Each shader group can override a subset of the pipeline's state:

typedef struct VkGraphicsShaderGroupCreateInfoNV
  // A shadergroup, is a set of unique shader combinations (VS,FS,...) etc.
  // that all are stored within a single graphics pipeline that share
  // most of the state.
  // Must not mix mesh with traditional pipeline.
  VkStructureType sType;
  const void*     pNext;

  // overrides createInfo from original graphicsPipeline
  uint32_t                                          stageCount;
  const VkPipelineShaderStageCreateInfo*            pStages;
  const VkPipelineVertexInputStateCreateInfo*       pVertexInputState;
  const VkPipelineTessellationStateCreateInfo*      pTessellationState;
} VkGraphicsShaderGroupCreateInfoNV;

``` cpp
typedef struct VkGraphicsPipelineShaderGroupsCreateInfoNV
  // extends regular VkGraphicsPipelineCreateInfo
  // If bound via vkCmdBindPipeline will behave as if pGroups[0] is active,
  // otherwise bind using vkCmdBindPipelineShaderGroup with proper index
  VkStructureType                          sType;
  const void*                              pNext;

  uint32_t                                 groupCount;
  const VkGraphicsShaderGroupCreateInfoNV* pGroups;
  uint32_t                                 pipelineCount;
  const VkPipeline*                        pPipelines;
} VkGraphicsPipelineShaderGroupsCreateInfoNV;

You can bind a shader group using vkCmdBindPipelineShaderGroupNV(.... groupIndex). However the primary use-case is to bind them indirectly on the device.

Important Note: To make any graphics pipeline bindable by the device set the VK_PIPELINE_CREATE_INDIRECT_BINDABLE_BIT_NV flag. This is also true for imported pipelines.

To speed up creation of a pipeline that contains many pipelines, you can pass existing pipelines to be referenced via pPipelines. You must ensure that those referenced pipelines are alive as long as the referencing pipeline is alive. The referenced pipelines must match in all state, except for what can be overridden per shader group. The shader groups from such imported pipelines are virtually appended in order of the array.

With this mechanism you can easily collect existing pipelines (thought don't forget the bindable flag and the state compatibility), which should ease the integration of this technology.


The DGC extension allows you to generate some common graphics commands on the device based on a pre-defined sequence of command tokens. This sequence is encoded in the IndirectCommandsLayoutNV object.

The following pseudo code illustrates the kind of state changes you can make. You will see that there is no ability to change the descriptor set bindings, which is why this sample showcases the passing of bindings via push constants. This is somewhat similar to ray tracing as well, where you manage all resources globally as well.

void cmdProcessSequence(cmd, pipeline, indirectCommandsLayout, pIndirectCommandsStreams, s)
  for (uint32_t t = 0; t < indirectCommandsLayout.tokenCount; t++){
    token = indirectCommandsLayout.pTokens[t];

    uint32_t stride   = indirectCommandsLayout.pStreamStrides[];
    stream            = pIndirectCommandsStreams[];
    uint32_t offset   = stream.offset + stride * s + token.offset;
    const void* input = stream.buffer.pointer( offset )

      VkBindShaderGroupIndirectCommandNV* bind = input;

      // the pipeline must have been created with

      vkCmdBindPipelineShaderGroupNV(cmd, indirectCommandsLayout.pipelineBindPoint,
        pipeline, bind->groupIndex);

      VkSetStateFlagsIndirectCommandNV* state = input;

      if (token.indirectStateFlags & VK_INDIRECT_STATE_FLAG_FRONTFACE_BIT_NV){
        if ( & (1 << 0)){
        } else {

      uint32_t* data = input;

        token.pushconstantSize, data);

      VkBindIndexBufferIndirectCommandNV* data = input;

      // the indexType may optionally be remapped
      // from a custom uint32_t value, via
      // VkIndirectCommandsLayoutTokenNV::pIndexTypeValues

      VkBindVertexBufferIndirectCommandNV* data = input;

      // if token.vertexDynamicStride is VK_TRUE
      // then the stride for this binding is set
      // using data->stride as well

        token.vertexBindingUnit, 1,

        stream.buffer, offset, 1, 0);

        offset, 1, 0);

    // only available if VK_NV_mesh_shader is supported
        stream.buffer, offset, 1, 0);

The sequence generation itself is also influenced by a few usage flags, as follows:

    cmd, pipeline, indirectCommandsLayout, pIndirectCommandsTokens,
    sequencesCountBuffer, sequencesCount, 
    sequencesIndexBuffer, sequencesIndexOffset)
  uint32_t sequencesCount = sequencesCountBuffer ?
    min(maxSequencesCount, sequencesCountBuffer.load_uint32(sequencesCountOffset) :

  for (s = 0; s < sequencesCount; s++)
    uint32_t sUsed = s;

      sUsed = sequencesIndexBuffer.load_uint32( sUsed * sizeof(uint32_t) + sequencesIndexOffset);

      sUsed = incoherent_implementation_dependent_permutation[ sUsed ];

    cmdProcessSequence(cmd, pipeline, indirectCommandsLayout, pIndirectCommandsTokens, sUsed);

Preprocess Buffer

The NVIDIA implementation of the DGC extension currently needs some device space to generate the commands prior their execution. The preprocess buffer provides this space, and is sized via vkGetGeneratedCommandsMemoryRequirementsNV.

As you can see below, it depends on the pipeline, as well as the indirectCommandsLayout and the number of maximum sequences you may generate. Most sizing information is based on the token type alone, however there can be some variable costs. Especially the complexity of the shader group changes influences the number of bytes a lot. The more similar the shader groups are, the less memory will be required.

typedef struct VkGeneratedCommandsMemoryRequirementsInfoNV
  VkStructureType                     sType;
  const void*                         pNext;

  VkPipelineBindPoint                 pipelineBindPoint;
  VkPipeline                          pipeline;
  VkIndirectCommandsLayoutNV          indirectCommandsLayout;

  uint32_t                            maxSequencesCount;
} VkGeneratedCommandsMemoryRequirementsInfoNV;

The sample shows the size of the buffer in the UI as "outputBuffer ... KB". As of writing, the size may be substantial for a very large number of drawcalls. If you need to stay within a memory budget, you can split your execution into multiple passes and re-use the preprocess memory.

If you make use of the dedicated preprocess step through vkCmdPreprocessGeneratedCommandsNV, then you must ensure all inputs (all buffer content etc.) are the same at execution time. An implementation is allowed to split the workload required for execution into these two functions.

You can see the time it takes to preprocess in the UI as "Preproc. GPU [ms]" if you selected the preprocess,generate cmds renderer.


Preliminary results from Quadro RTX 6000, Intel i7-6850K, Windows 10 64-bit. The settings can be seen in the screenshot, and are deliberately set as stress test, with very few triangles per drawcall (we do not recommend this, you will become front-end bound and GPU scalability will suffer):

  • ~ 540 000 drawcalls
  • ~ 5.2 M triangles (i.e. in average only 10 triangles per drawcall)
  • ~ 70 000 shaderbinds (alternating between 16 shadergroups)
  • device generated commands setup
    • ~ 132 MB preprocess buffer size

We account the time it takes to generate the commands on the CPU as "preprocess" time.

renderer preprocess [ms] draw (GPU) [ms]
re-used cmds 0.0 (CPU) 11.1
threaded cmds (6 threads) 3.8 (CPU) 11.9
preprocess,generated (ordered) 0.8 (GPU) 9.3
preprocess,generated (unordered) 0.2 (GPU) 9.3

The test shows that generating the commands on the GPU can be pretty fast even when generating a lot of drawcalls. For best performance we recommend the unordered version.

At the time of writing and in this particular stress-test the draw time on the GPU was reduced, as the graphics pipeline containing the many shader groups allows faster state transitions between them. The cost for this is some additional work when creating the container pipeline state object.

However, we want to stress again, that the main goal of this extension is not generating so much work or simply moving things on the GPU, but leveraging it to reduce the actual work needed.

For example by using occlusion culling, or other techniques that allow you to reduce the required workload on the device.


Make sure to have installed the Vulkan-SDK. Always use 64-bit build configurations.

Ideally clone this and other interesting nvpro-samples repositories into a common subdirectory. You will always need shared_sources and on Windows shared_external. The shared directories are searched either as subdirectory of the sample or one directory up.

If you are interested in multiple samples, you can use build_all CMAKE as entry point, it will also give you options to enable/disable individual samples when creating the solutions.

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