In this sample, you’ll learn how to combine argument buffers with arrays of resources and resource heaps. In particular, you’ll learn how to define an argument buffer structure that contains arrays and how to allocate and use resources from a heap. The sample renders a static quad that uses multiple resources encoded into an argument buffer.
The Xcode project contains schemes for running the sample on macOS, iOS, or tvOS. Metal is not supported in the iOS or tvOS Simulator, so the iOS and tvOS schemes require a physical device to run the sample. The default scheme is macOS, which runs the sample as is on your Mac.
Arrays of Arguments in the Metal Shading Language
Arrays can be used as parameters to graphics or compute functions. When a function takes an array as a parameter, the index of the first resource in the array is equal to the base index of the array parameter itself. Thus, each subsequent resource in the array is automatically assigned a subsequent index value, counting incrementally from the base index value.
For example, the following fragment function, exampleFragmentFunction, has a parameter, textureParameters, that’s an array of 10 textures with a base index value of 5.
Because textureParameters has a [[ texture(5) ]] attribute qualifier, the corresponding Metal framework method to set this parameter is setFragmentTexture:atIndex:, where the values for index begin at 5. Thus, the texture at array index 0 is set at index number 5, the texture at array index 1 is set at index number 6, and so on. The last texture in the array, at array index 9, is set at index number 14.
Define Argument Buffers with Arrays
Arrays can also be used as elements of an argument buffer structure. In this case, the [[ id(n) ]] attribute qualifier of an argument buffer behaves the same way as the [[ texture(n) ]] attribute qualifier of a function parameter, where n is the base index value of the array. However, you don’t call the setFragmentTexture:atIndex: method, of a MTLRenderCommandEncoder object, to set a texture from the array. Instead, you call the setTexture:atIndex: method, of a MTLArgumentEncoder object, to encode a texture from the array into the argument buffer, where index corresponds to the base index value, n, plus the index of the texture within the array.
The argument buffer in this sample is declared as a FragmentShaderArguments structure, and this is its definition:
Each element of this structure uses the array<T, N> template, which defines the element as an array of a certain type, T, and number of elements, N. This argument buffer contains the following resources:
exampleTextures, an array of 32 2D textures with a base index value of 0.
exampleBuffers, an array of 32 float buffers with a base index value of 100.
exampleConstants, an array of 32 uint32_t constants with a base index value of 200.
Encode Array Elements into an Argument Buffer
This sample encodes array elements into an argument buffer by matching the index parameter of each setTexture:atIndex:, setBuffer:offset:atIndex:, and constantDataAtIndex: method call to the element’s corresponding index value, defined by the [[ id(n) ]] attribute qualifier in the argument buffer.
Access Array Elements in an Argument Buffer
Within a function, accessing elements of an array encoded in an argument buffer is the same as accessing elements of a standard array. In this sample, the exampleTextures, exampleBuffers, and exampleConstants arrays are accessed via the fragmentShaderArgs parameter of the fragmentShader function. Each array element is accessed with the [n] subscript syntax, where n is the index of the element within the array.
The fragmentShader function contains an if-else condition that evaluates the x component of texCoord to determine which side of the quad the fragment is on. If the fragment is on the left side of the quad, the function samples each texture in the exampleTextures array and adds the sampled values to determine the final output color.
If the fragment is on right side of the quad, the function reads a value from the exampleBuffers array. The function uses the x component of texCoord to determine which buffer to read from and then uses the y component of texCoord to determine where in the buffer to read from. The value in the buffer determines the final output color.
Combine Argument Buffers with Resource Heaps
The fragment function accesses 32 textures and 32 buffers via the argument buffer, totaling 64 different resources overall. If memory for each of these resources was allocated individually, despite residing in arrays, Metal would need to validate the memory of 64 individual resources before making these resources accessible to the GPU.
Instead, this sample allocates resources from a MTLHeap object. A heap is a single memory region from which multiple resources can be allocated. Therefore, the sample can make the heap’s entire memory, including the memory of all the resources within the heap, accessible to the GPU by calling the useHeap: method once.
The sample implements a loadResources method that loads the resource data into temporary MTLTexture and MTLBuffer objects. Then, the sample implements a createHeap method that calculates the total size required to store the resource data in the heap and creates the heap itself.
The sample implements a moveResourcesToHeap method that creates permanent MTLTexture and MTLBuffer objects allocated from the heap. Then, the method uses a MTLBlitCommandEncoder to copy the resource data from the temporary objects to the permanent objects.
Before using these resources, instead of calling the useResource:usage: method once for each resource, the sample calls the useHeap: method once for the entire heap.
In this sample, you learned how to combine argument buffers with arrays of resources and resource heaps. In the Encoding Argument Buffers on the GPU sample, you’ll learn how to encode resources into argument buffers with a graphics or compute function.