A lightweight system to help with defining and managing OpenGL shader programs.


Under the hood, Shadow is just a wrapper around the Varjo library used for writing shader programs, and some fluff to allow referencing shader programs by name, querying for basic information about them, as well as modifying uniform variables throughout the lifecycle of an OpenGL application. Limited and experimental support for writing to uniform buffer objects is also available.

The goal of Shadow is to be a simple solution to ease the task of writing and managing OpenGL shader programs, and as such, does not and will not contain every feature you might need.


(ql:quickload :shadow)


Basic Usage

Using Shadow is not very straightforward, mostly due to the borrowing of the "Vari" language used to write shader programs, which does not have much documentation. It does however try to stay familiar and resembles Common Lisp. Additionally, there are several videos of its usage created by its author.

Shader programs are written using a series of DEFUN-GPU and DEFSTRUCT-GPU forms representing GPU functions and structures respectively. As mentioned, their bodies follow the language rules of "Vari", which is not documented here.

Each DEFUN-GPU defines a shader stage or auxillary function thereof. It takes in input arguments and uniform variables, and sends its return values to the next stage of the shader pipeline as input arguments. The vertex stage's input arguments correspond to your Vertex Array Object attributes.

A simple OpenGL shader program:

(defun-gpu foo-vert ((position :vec3) (uv :vec2) &uniform (mvp :mat4))
  (values (* mvp (vec4 position 1))
          (vec4 1 0 0 1)))

(defun-gpu foo-frag ((color :vec4))
  (values color))

This defines 2 GPU functions, foo-vert and foo-frag that will serve as a very simple program once translated and compiled.

To use this program it first must be translated from the Lisp-like "Vari" language, into GLSL. This is done with the MAKE-SHADER-PROGRAM macro:

(make-shader-program :example-program (:version 330 :primitive :points)
  (:vertex () (foo-vert :vec3 :vec2))
  (:fragment () (foo-frag :vec4)))

Above, we call MAKE-SHADER-PROGRAM with a name to call our program, :example-program, the default stage version to use, :version 330, and the OpenGL drawing primitive the vertex stage should use, :primitive :points, followed by a sequence of "stage-specs" of the form: (stage-type (version) function-spec):

stage-type may be one of: :vertex, :tessellation-control, :tessellation-evaluation, :geometry, :fragment, or :compute.

version is a number, string, or symbol representing a GLSL version to use when compiling this stage, for example 330, "330", :330, or '|330| are all equivalent. The default version if not specified is derived from the options list of the containing MAKE-SHADER-PROGRAM form.

func-spec specifies which DEFUN-GPU function to use for this stage, and is a list consisting of the function name followed by the types of all of its input arguments. The types are important because the "Vari" shader language allows the same function name to exist with different signatures, so you must be explicit in which function you want to translate to GLSL.

Issuing the call to MAKE-SHADER-PROGRAM produces a PROGRAM object, which includes some useful information:

The SOURCE reader method is a hash table with keys consisting of shader stage keyword symbols, and values being strings of the translated "Vari" to GLSL source code:

(make-shader-program ...)

(source *) ; => #<HASH-TABLE :TEST EQL :COUNT 2 {10020C7603}>

(gethash :vertex *)
"#version 330

layout(location = 0)  in vec3 POSITION;
layout(location = 1)  in vec2 UV;

     out vec4 _VERTEX_STAGE_OUT_1;
} v_out;

uniform mat4 MVP;

void main()
    gl_Position = (MVP * vec4(POSITION,float(1)));
    v_out._VERTEX_STAGE_OUT_1 = vec4(float(1),float(0),float(0),float(1));

(gethash :fragment **)
"#version 330

     in vec4 _VERTEX_STAGE_OUT_1;
} v_in;

layout(location = 0)  out vec4 _FRAGMENT_STAGE_OUT_0;

void main()

As can be seen by the GLSL source, our vertex stage function is properly making use of the VALUES form. It takes the first value for itself, setting gl_Position, and passes all subsequent values as input arguments to the fragment stage, (vec4 1 0 0 1), which takes that for itself as the final fragment color of the pipeline.

So far, we have only translated the "Vari" shader language into the GLSL language understood by GPUs. We still have to compile the shader stages and link the final program object on the GPU.

At this point, a valid OpenGL context is needed to continue.

To compile a program's stages and link them into a program, you can use the BUILD-PROGRAM function:

(build-program :example-program)

This will compile all of the stages previously translated to GLSL in our :example-game program, and link it into a program object on the GPU. This returns a non-zero integer on success.

Alternatively, you can compile and link all GLSL translated programs in one shot, by using the BUILD-SHADER-DICTIONARY function, which takes no arguments and returns a hash table of all program objects keyed by name.

The only thing left to do, is make use of the shader program to do your rendering. This is done by issuing calls to the various UNIFORM-* functions within the body of the WITH-SHADER-PROGRAM macro:

(with-shader-program :example-program
  (uniform-mat4 :mvp *matrix*))

Here, we specify that we want to use :example-program during rendering, modifying a single 4x4 matrix uniform value. Here *matrix* refers to an imaginary matrix that you should have created for the object you wish to render. There are quite a few UNIFORM-* functions, and the full list can be viewed in the package's exported symbols. Note that each uniform function takes the name of a uniform variable as a keyword symbol, followed by the value to modify it with.

UBO/SSBO Support

Shadow also includes experimental support for uniform buffer objects (UBO's) and shader storage buffer objects (SSBO's). Usage will be documented at a later time when their implementation is more stable.


Copyright ? 2018 Michael Fiano .

Licensed under the MIT License.

A copy of the license is available here.

Michael Fiano <>
Michael Fiano <>