Sample Code

Customizing Render Pass Setup

Render into an offscreen texture by creating a custom render pass.



A render pass is a sequence of rendering commands that draw into a set of textures. This sample executes a pair of render passes to render a view’s contents. For the first pass, the sample creates a custom render pass to render an image into a texture. This pass is an offscreen render pass, because the sample renders to a normal texture, rather than one created by the display subsystem. The second render pass uses a render pass descriptor, provided by the MTKView object, to render and display the final image. The sample uses the texture from the offscreen render pass as source data for the drawing command in the second render pass.

Offscreen render passes are fundamental building blocks for larger or more complicated renderers. For example, many lighting and shadow algorithms require an offscreen render pass to render shadow information and a second pass to calculate the final scene lighting. Offscreen render passes are also useful when performing batch processing of data that doesn’t need to be displayed onscreen.

Create a Texture for the Offscreen Render Pass

An MTKView object automatically creates drawable textures to render into. The sample also needs a texture to render into during the offscreen render pass. To create that texture, it first creates a MTLTextureDescriptor object and configures its properties.

MTLTextureDescriptor *texDescriptor = [MTLTextureDescriptor new];
texDescriptor.textureType = MTLTextureType2D;
texDescriptor.width = 512;
texDescriptor.height = 512;
texDescriptor.pixelFormat = MTLPixelFormatRGBA8Unorm;
texDescriptor.usage = MTLTextureUsageRenderTarget |

The sample configures the usage property to state exactly how it intends to use the new texture. It needs to render data into the texture in the offscreen render pass and read from it in the second pass. The sample specifies this usage by setting the MTLTextureUsageRenderTarget and MTLTextureUsageShaderRead flags.

Setting usage flags precisely can improve performance, because Metal can configure the texture’s underlying data only for the specified uses.

Create the Render Pipelines

A render pipeline specifies how to execute a drawing command, including the vertex and fragment functions to execute, and the pixel formats of any render targets it acts upon. Later, when the sample creates the custom render pass, it must use the same pixel formats.

This sample creates one render pipeline for each render pass, using the following code for the offscreen render pipeline:

pipelineStateDescriptor.label = @"Offscreen Render Pipeline";
pipelineStateDescriptor.sampleCount = 1;
pipelineStateDescriptor.vertexFunction =  [defaultLibrary newFunctionWithName:@"simpleVertexShader"];
pipelineStateDescriptor.fragmentFunction =  [defaultLibrary newFunctionWithName:@"simpleFragmentShader"];
pipelineStateDescriptor.colorAttachments[0].pixelFormat = _renderTargetTexture.pixelFormat;
_renderToTextureRenderPipeline = [_device newRenderPipelineStateWithDescriptor:pipelineStateDescriptor error:&error];

The code to create the pipeline for the drawable render pass is similar to that found in Using a Render Pipeline to Render Primitives. To guarantee that the two pixel formats match, the sample sets the descriptor’s pixel format to the view’s colorPixelFormat. Similarly, when creating the offscreen render pipeline, the sample sets the descriptor’s pixel format to the offscreen texture’s format.

Set Up the Offscreen Render Pass Descriptor

To render to the offscreen texture, the sample configures a new render pass descriptor. It creates a MTLRenderPassDescriptor object and configures its properties. This sample renders to a single color texture, so it sets colorAttachment[0].texture to point to the offscreen texture:

_renderToTextureRenderPassDescriptor.colorAttachments[0].texture = _renderTargetTexture;

The sample must also configure a load action and a store action for this render target.

_renderToTextureRenderPassDescriptor.colorAttachments[0].loadAction = MTLLoadActionClear;
_renderToTextureRenderPassDescriptor.colorAttachments[0].clearColor = MTLClearColorMake(1, 1, 1, 1);

_renderToTextureRenderPassDescriptor.colorAttachments[0].storeAction = MTLStoreActionStore;

A load action determines the initial contents of the texture at the start of the render pass, before the GPU executes any drawing commands. Similarly, a store action runs after the render pass completes, and determines whether the GPU writes the final image back to the texture. The sample configures a load action to erase the render target’s contents, and a store action that stores the rendered data back to the texture. It needs to do the latter because the drawing commands in the second render pass will sample this data.

Metal uses load and store actions to optimize how the GPU manages texture data. Large textures consume lots of memory, and working on those textures can consume lots of memory bandwidth. Setting the render target actions correctly can reduce the amount of memory bandwidth the GPU uses to access the texture, improving performance and battery life. See Setting Load and Store Actions for guidance.

A render pass descriptor has other properties not used in this sample that further modify the rendering process. For information on other ways to customize the render pass descriptor, see MTLRenderPassDescriptor.

Render to the Offscreen Texture

The sample has everything it needs to encode both render passes. It’s important to understand how Metal schedules commands on the GPU before seeing how the sample encodes the render passes.

When an app commits a buffer of commands to a command queue, by default, Metal must act as if it executes commands sequentially. To increase performance and to better utilize the GPU, Metal can run commands concurrently, as long as doing so doesn’t generate results inconsistent with sequential execution. To accomplish this, when a pass writes to a resource and a subsequent pass reads from it, as in this sample, Metal detects the dependency and automatically delays execution of the later pass until the first one completes. So, unlike Synchronizing CPU and GPU Work, where the CPU and GPU needed to be explicitly synchronized, the sample doesn’t need to do anything special. It simply encodes the two passes sequentially, and Metal ensures they run in that order.

The sample encodes both render passes into one command buffer, starting with the offscreen render pass. It creates a render command encoder using the offscreen render pass descriptor it previously created.

id<MTLRenderCommandEncoder> renderEncoder =
    [commandBuffer renderCommandEncoderWithDescriptor:_renderToTextureRenderPassDescriptor];
renderEncoder.label = @"Offscreen Render Pass";
[renderEncoder setRenderPipelineState:_renderToTextureRenderPipeline];

Everything else in the render pass is similar to Using a Render Pipeline to Render Primitives. It configures the pipeline and any necessary arguments, then encodes the drawing command. After encoding the command, it calls endEncoding to finish the encoding process.

[renderEncoder endEncoding];

Multiple passes must be encoded sequentially into a command buffer, so the sample must finish encoding the first render pass before starting the next one.

Render to the Drawable Texture

The second render pass needs renders the final image. The drawable render pipeline’s fragment shader samples data from a texture and returns that sample as the final color:

// Fragment shader that samples a texture and outputs the sampled color.
fragment float4 textureFragmentShader(TexturePipelineRasterizerData in      [[stage_in]],
                                      texture2d<float>              texture [[texture(AAPLTextureInputIndexColor)]])
    sampler simpleSampler;

    // Sample data from the texture.
    float4 colorSample = texture.sample(simpleSampler, in.texcoord);

    // Return the color sample as the final color.
    return colorSample;

The code uses the view’s render pass descriptor to create the second render pass, and encodes a drawing command to render a textured quad. It specifies the offscreen texture as the texture argument for the command.

id<MTLRenderCommandEncoder> renderEncoder =
    [commandBuffer renderCommandEncoderWithDescriptor:drawableRenderPassDescriptor];
renderEncoder.label = @"Drawable Render Pass";

[renderEncoder setRenderPipelineState:_drawableRenderPipeline];

[renderEncoder setVertexBytes:&quadVertices

[renderEncoder setVertexBytes:&_aspectRatio

// Set the offscreen texture as the source texture.
[renderEncoder setFragmentTexture:_renderTargetTexture atIndex:AAPLTextureInputIndexColor];

When the sample commits the command buffer, Metal executes the two render passes sequentially. In this case, Metal detects that the first render pass writes to the offscreen texture and the second pass reads from it. When Metal detects such a dependency, it prevents the subsequent pass from executing until the GPU finishes executing the first pass.

See Also


Creating and Sampling Textures

Load image data into a texture and apply it to a quadrangle.

Calculating Primitive Visibility Using Depth Testing

Determine which pixels are visible in a scene by using a depth texture.

Generating Multiple Output Vertex Streams from One Input Stream

Render efficiently to multiple layers or viewports.

Render Pipelines

Specify how graphics primitives should be rendered.


A group of render targets that hold the results of a render pass.


The object to use for encoding commands for a render pass.


An object that splits up a single render pass so that it can be simultaneously encoded from multiple threads.

Model I/O

Specify precise locations within the textures associated with graphics processing.