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A C++ based, cross platform ray tracing library

Note that the current version of Visionaray is an early preview. At this stage, the framework, including the API, are likely to undergo frequent changes.

Getting Visionaray

The Visionaray git repository can be cloned using the following commands:

git clone
cd visionaray
git submodule update --init --recursive

Build requirements

  • C++11 compliant compiler (tested with g++-5.4.0 on Ubuntu 16.04 x86_64, tested with clang-900.0.39.2 on Mac OS X 10.13, tested with Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 VC14 for x64)

  • CMake version 2.8.11 or newer

  • OpenGL

  • GLEW

  • NVIDIA CUDA Toolkit version 7.0 or newer (optional)

  • All external dependencies but CMake should be installed as developer packages containing C/C++ header files

  • The OpenGL and GLEW dependency can optionally be relaxed by setting VSNRAY_GRAPHICS_API=None with CMake

  • When targeting NVIDIA CUDA, make sure you have a C++11 compliant version (v7.0 or newer)

  • Visionaray supports Fermi+ NVIDIA GPUs (e.g. >= GeForce 400 series or >= Quadro {4|5|6}000) (Visionaray does not support texturing on Fermi GPUs, bindless texture support is available with Kepler+ GPUs)

Additionally, in order to compile the viewer application and the examples, the following packages are needed or recommended:

Building the Visionaray library and viewer application

Linux and Mac OS X

It is strongly recommended to build Visionaray in release mode, as the source code relies heavily on function inlining by the compiler, and executables may be extremely slow without that optimization. It is also recommended to supply an architecture flag that corresponds to the CPU architecture you are targeting. Please ensure that you have C++11 support activated.

cd visionaray
mkdir build
cd build

cmake .. -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release -DCMAKE_CXX_FLAGS="-std=c++11 -march=native"
make install

The headers, libraries and viewer application will then be located in the standard install path of your operating system (usually /usr/local).

See the Getting Started Guide and the Troubleshooting section in the Wiki for further information.

Visionaray Viewer

Visionaray comes with a viewer application that supports a number of different 3D file formats. The viewer application is primarily targeted at developers, as a tool for debugging and testing. After being installed, the viewer application executable can be called using the following command:

vsnray-viewer <file>

where file is either a path to a wavefront .obj file, a .ply file, or a .pbrt file.


Thorough documentation can be found in the Wiki.

Source Code Organization


Visionaray is a template library, so that most algorithms are implemented in headers located under include/visionaray.

Visionaray can optionally interoperate with graphics and GPGPU APIs. Interoperability with the respective libraries is compiled into the Visionaray library. When not needing GPU interoperability, chances are high that you don't need to link with Visionaray, but can rather use it as a header only library.

Headers in ./detail subfolders are not part of the public API. Code in namespace detail contains private implementation. Template class implementations go into files ending with .inl, which are included at the bottom of the public interface header file.


Visionaray comes with a rudimentary viewer (see above) and a set of example applications. Those are implemented in

Common library

The viewer application and the examples link with the Visionaray-common library that provides functionality such as windowing classes or mouse interaction. The Visionaray-common library is not part of the public API and interfaces may change between releases.

  • src/common: library private to the viewer and example applications

Third-party libraries

The viewer application and the examples use the following third-party libraries (the Visionaray library can be built without these dependencies):

  • CmdLine library to handle command line arguments in the viewer and example applications.
  • dear imgui library for GUI elements in the viewer and example applications.
  • PBRT-Parser library to load 3D models in pbrt format.
  • RapidJSON library for parsing JSON scene descriptions.
  • tinyply library to load Stanford PLY models.

Revision History

See the file for updates on feature addition and removals, bug fixes and general changes.


If you use Visionaray or some of its code for your scientific project, it would be nice if you cited this paper:

author = {Zellmann, Stefan and Wickeroth, Daniel and Lang, Ulrich},
title = {Visionaray: A Cross-Platform Ray Tracing Template Library},
booktitle = {Proceedings of the 10th Workshop on Software Engineering and Architectures for Realtime Interactive Systems (IEEE SEARIS 2017)},
year = {2017},
publisher = {IEEE}


Visionaray is licensed under the MIT License (MIT)

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