Common Lisp bindings for the Vulkan API.

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Lukas Herzberger <herzberger.lukas at gmail.com>


Lukas Herzberger <herzberger.lukas at gmail.com>




Autogenerated Common Lisp/CFFI bindings for the Vulkan API.


The goal of this project is to make Vulkan feel lispy without bringing in too much abstraction. It provides a layer of CLOS wrappers and functions atop CFFI-bindings to the Vulkan shared library that gets rid of redundant struct members and output parameters of functions as much as possible.

E.g. where you would have to write the following in C++ (without VulkanHpp) to get all GPUs on a computer:

std::vector<VkPhysicalDevice> devices;
uint32_t count = 0;

// first get the number of available devices
VkResult res = vkEnumeratePhysicalDevices(instance, &count, nullptr);

// then get the devices
res = vkEnumeratePhysicalDevices(instance, &count, devices.data());

You can just write the following with vk:

(let ((devices (vk:enumerate-physical-devices instance)))
  ;; do something with your devices


Supported CL implementations

vk has been mostly tested on SBCL.

Minimal tests (loading the system and running a dummy test) suggest that vk works on:

  • ABCL
  • Clozure CL
  • ECL
  • SBCL

Check out the results of the latest test actions.

Unfortunately CLISP fails to install using Roswell (at least via GitHub Actions), so it remains untested.

Allegro is installed in a 32 bit version by Roswell (at least via GitHub Actions) which does not support :long-long. 64 bit versions are untested.

CMUCL fails to find libvulkan.so in the test action.

Supported operating systems

vk has currently only been tested on linux (Ubuntu 20.04) and Windows (SBCL).

MacOS might also work if MoltenVK is set up correctly.

Supported Vulkan API versions

The current version of vk is based on version v1.2.198.

vk targets Vulkan 1.2, so all versions support the core API of version 1.2.x. The main branch is always generated from the most recent version of the Vulkan API XML registry supported by vk-generator which also made it to a Vulkan SDK release. Other versions are available on other branches named after the version (e.g. v1.2.153). For more information about supported versions see the documentation of vk-generator.

Versioning of vk

vk uses the following versioning scheme: major.minor.patch-<Vulkan API verion>.

Since there are a lot of different Vulkan API versions, when there's a bug fix for the current version older versions might not receive bug fixes right away. If you absolutely have to work with a specific version and it seems like a bug fix just won't come for that version, feel free to open an issue in the GitHub repository.

Migrating from 2.x.x-v1.2.x to 3.x.x-vx.x.x

Handle types are wrapped in version 3.0.0-v1.2.198 and above. Should you have used raw handles returned by vk functions with functions from other packages (e.g. for window surface creation), you have to unwrap them by calling vk:raw-handle.

Functions that query a device and return a struct (class) instance that has a pNext member (next slot) have an additional optional argument of that struct (class) type to allow querying extension-specific information via this pNext member. In some cases these new optional arguments might not have been added to the end of a function's lambda list from previous versions.

CL dependencies

  • alexandria
  • cffi

Test dependencies

  • rove

Other dependencies

  • The vulkan shared library. The easiest way of getting it is by installing the Vulkan SDK.

MacOS only


As of the may 2021 dist update vk is available on Quicklisp. Just make sure to have Vulkan installed (see Vulkan SDK), and then run

(ql:quickload :vk)



The main package of this system is vk. It provides class and function wrappers over the lower level bindings in the vulkan package.

Note that there is no validation done by vk whatsoever, so you still need to enable validation layers in the driver yourself when creating a vk:instance (i.e. a VkInstance) just as you would have to in every other language.

Shadowed Symbols

It is not meant do be :used by packages directly, since it shadows symbols from cl that clash with function and/or slot names from the Vulkan API:

  • format
  • set
  • stream
  • type
  • values

Naming conventions

In vk all names in the Vulkan API have been stripped of their prefixes (i.e. Vk for types and vk for commands) and lispified (e.g. VkInstanceCreateInfo is vk:instance-create-info).

Struct and union member names as well as command arguments designating pointers in the C API by being prefixes with either p or pp have also been stripped of those (e.g. pNext is just next).

Enum and bitmask value names have been stripped of any redundant prefixes denoting the enum or bitmask they belong to and are represented as keywords in vk (e.g. VK_FORMAT_R4G4_UNORM_PACK8 is just :r4g4-unorm-pack8).


There are a few name clashes in the C API which break the naming conventions. Currently, they all are between functions and slot accessors of the same name. As a general rule, function names take precedence over slot accessors. Slots and their :initargs still have the same name, but the accessors use the lispified names of their corresponding struct members in the C API.

  • The accessors to all slots named wait-semaphores are named p-wait-semaphores because they clash with the name of the function vk:wait-semaphores.
  • Types from external headers (e.g. OS specific types) are not modified.
  • Slots and accessors with the name function or pFunction in the C API are called function-handle.

vulkan (%vk)

vulkan (or %vk) contains the lower level cffi bindings to the C API.

The naming conventions are the same as in vk except for struct/union member names and command arguments.


VkResult values are automatically translated in both vk and vulkan. Each negative result value is represented as an error type. All error types are exposed via vk-error (as well as vk and vulkan).


Contains utilities for allocating resources and translating classes/structs to/from foreign memory.


When translating class instances the pointers to all translated struct members which are non-primitive types (e.g of vk:instance-create-info if it is bound to an instance of vk:debug-utils-messenger-create-info-ext) are stored in the hash table vk-alloc:*allocated-foreign-objects* and are freed before the pointer to the translated class instance is freed. Since hash tables are not thread-safe and there should be no case where type translation needs to span multiple threads, each thread can and should have its own vk-alloc:*allocated-foreign-objects* that is independent of those of other threads.

Note that the wrapper functions in vk overwrite vk-alloc:*allocated-foreign-objects* in their own scope, so if a thread doesn't explicitly translate class instances, you should be fine.


Contains utils for vk.

vk-utils contains with-style wrapper macros for most handles in the Vulkan API, e.g. with-instance:

;; the instance is created using the given create-info and is destroyed
;; at the end of the implicit progn of this macro:
(vk-utils:with-instance (instance instance-create-info)
  (format t "Found ~a devices!~%"
            (length (vk:enumerate-physical-devices instance))))

All available wrappers are listed in the API reference.

Aside from utilities for vk, this package also contains the function memcpy.

Samples and Usage

Check out the API reference.

Check out the project vk-samples for sample usage of vk as well as vk-utils.


The Vulkan C API contains loads of structs and unions which each have a corresponding CLOS class in vk. All these classes come with cffi translators, which automatically translate instances to and from foreign memory whenever they are needed. This also goes for nested structs, so whenever a struct has a pointer to another struct as a member, you can just bind the slot to an instance of the corresponding class.

E.g. the pInputAssemblyState member of a VkGraphicsPipelineCreateInfo could be set like this in vk:

 :input-assembly-state (vk:make-pipeline-input-assembly-state-create-info
                        :topology :triangle-list
                        :primitive-restart-enable nil)

Note that in some places where a class instance is used (as a slot value or a function argument), you can also use a cffi:foreign-pointer as well, which might save you computation time, if you store translated objects yourself somewhere (e.g. vk:allocation-callbacks).

vk exposes each class directly as well as a make-style constructor for every class.

In the C API structs and unions often contain members which specify the length of another member (e.g. of a const char*). Since those are redundant they are not included in the class wrappers and are set automatically during translation.

E.g. during translation, the queueCreateInfoCount member of a VkDeviceCreateInfo is automatically set to the length of the queue-create-info slot of the corresponding vk:device-create-info instance:

 :queue-create-infos (list (vk:make-device-queue-create-info

The exception to this are void pointers to arbitrary data, for which the size can not be determined without any knowledge about the type and number of elements in the array/buffer the pointer points to (e.g. the slot initial-data of the class vk:pipeline-cache-create-info which wraps VkPipelineCacheCreateInfo).

Another exception are cases where a slot specifies the length of an optional array (which can be null) but is not optional itself (e.g. descriptor-count in vk:descriptor-set-layout-binding and swapchain-count in vk:present-regions-khr or vk:present-times-info-google).


A class representing a union in the C API has one slot for each possible member of the union. In order for translation to work properly only one slot should be bound for an instance of a class representing a union. If more than one slot is bound, the first one (w.r.t. the order in which slots were specified in the class definition) will be used during translation. make-style constructors for such classes allow only exactly one slot to be set.

Extending Structs: pNext

Many structs in the Vulkan API can be extended by one or more other structs using their pNext member (a void pointer). In vk you can bind the next slot of such an instance to an instance of the class you'd like to extend it with. Like all other slots the data bound to a next slot will be automatically translated to foreign memory along with the class instance when it is used as an argument for a function. Note however, that there is no validation for bound next slots on the vk side. E.g. to register a debug messenger to a vk:instance during creation, you can write:

 :next (vk:make-debug-utils-messenger-create-info-ext
        :message-type '(:validation)
        :message-severity '(:info :warning :error)
        :pfn-user-callback ... ;; some CFFI callback
        :user-data ...) ;; whatever user data you want to pass
 :application-info ...) ;; whatever you want to enable for your Vulkan instance


Like structs, handle types are wrapped in vk with in order to allow type checks when calling vk functions. The rationale here is that not having to restart an interactive programming session because a segmentation fault that could have been prevented by a simple type check crashed the Lisp image is more important than the cost of wrapping and unwrapping handles. Handle wrappers are structs with a single member handle and have the lispified name of their C counterparts (e.g. instance instead of VkInstance). To access the raw foreign pointer within a handle wrapper, call vk:raw-handle. To make a handle wrapper from a raw foreign pointer call vk:make-<handle-name>-wrapper.

Enums & Bitmasks

Enums and bitmasks are represented by keywords, just as with all other cffi bindings.


Almost all functions in the C API return a VkResult which indicates if its execution was successful or not. So when a function should initialize a handle, it will take a pointer to the handle as an argument and by checking the VkResult you would be sure if the handle is valid or not. Since this doesn't feel very lispy, vk wraps all functions omitting these output parameters from the lamda lists of the wrapper functions and instead returns them as cl:values together with the VkResult. In the cl:values, the output parameters are in order of their appearence in the lambda list of the wrapped function followed by its return value (e.g. a wrapped/translated VkResult) if it returns a value (e.g. vk:create-instance returns (cl:values <the created instance> <a translated VkResult value>)).

As with classes, vk also omits arguments which specify the length of another argument from the wrapper functions lambda list. The same goes for return values. E.g. where vkEnumeratePhysicalDevices has two output parameters (pPhysicalDeviceCount and pPhysicalDevices), vk:enumerate-physical-devices only returns the found physical-device handles (and the result code, i.e. :success):

(let ((devices (vk:enumerate-physical-devices instance)))
  ;; do something with your devices

The exception to this are again void pointers (e.g. the parameter data in vk:get-query-pool-results which wraps vkGetQueryPoolResults in the C API) which would require some knowledge about the exact type, etc.


VkResult is an enum with positive and negative values, where negative values encode errors, zero encodes the success of a function and positive values encode the (partial) success of a function. If a function returns a negative VkResult vk signals a vk-error with the error code as a keyword.


All functions that allocate resources and initialize handles take an intance of vk:allocation-callbacks (i.e. VkAllocationCallbacks) as an optional argument. Since most of the time, this will be the same instance, vk provides the parameter vk:*default-allocator* which is used as the default value wherever an instance of vk:allocation-callbacks is used. It defaults to a cffi:null-pointer.

Using Extensions

The Vulkan API offers loads of extensions. To use them, you need to enable them when creating your vk:instance or vk:device (depending on the type of the extension) by passing their names via the enabled-extension-names slot of their respective *-create-infos. For this purpose vk provides the names of all extensions as constants with the following naming scheme +-*-extension-name+.

E.g. the name of the VK_EXT_debug_utils extension is vk:+ext-debug-utils-extension-name+:

 :application-info ...
 ;; we need to enable the debug utils extension during instance creation
 :enabled-extension-names (list vk:+ext-debug-utils-extension-name+))

Apart from being enabled, functions belonging to an extension also need to be loaded for the vk:instance or vk:device which used them. For this purpose every extension function has an additional optional argument at the very end of its lambda list: extension-loader. This always defaults to the parameter vk:*default-extension-loader* and must be an instance of the struct extension-loader.

In order for the an extension-loader to work, it needs to be supplied with a vk:instance and/or a vk:device. E.g. via creation:

(setf vk:*default-extension-loader* (vk:make-extension-loader
                                     :instance instance
                                     :device device))

Or by setting them using the readers (extension-loader-instance vk:*default-extension-loader*) and (extension-loader-device vk:*default-extension-loader*).

When calling an extension function the passed extension-loader is searched for the function pointer of the extension function. If it is the first call of the function using this extension-loader instance, the function pointer is fetched using vk:get-instance-proc-addr or vk:get-device-proc-addr and stored in an internal hash map of the extension-loader instance. Then and in every subsequent call of the extension function this function pointer is used to call the function.

Note that setting the device or instance of an extension-loader via the exposed accessors in vk require the given handles to be wrapped, whereas the vulkan counterparts require raw foreign pointers.

So after having initialized the vk:*default-extension-loader* you can call extension functions like every other function in vk:

(vk:create-debug-utils-messenger-ext instance

Note that function pointers fetched for a vk:device are favored over vk:instance function pointers, so if an extension-loader has a vk:device and a vk:instance and has already loaded the function pointer on a vk:instance level, it will fetch and use the vk:device level function pointers instead. The reason for this is that vk:device level function pointers avoid the overhead of possible dispatch mechanisms in the driver because the exact vk:device is already known. (This is also true for all other functions in the Vulkan API, so if you really care for performance then you might want to fetch function pointers for all functions via vk:get-device-proc-addr and use only those.)


Validation Errors & Slime

Validation errors produced by VK_LAYER_KHRONOS_validation are not logged via a debug utils messengers, but directly to stdout. This means that for slime users validation errors will be logged to *inferior-lisp* by default. See this stackoverflow answer for more information.

pNext-member of VkBaseOutStructure

Due to how foreign structs with pNext members are translated from foreign memory, a translated vk:base-out-structure will always have a foreign pointer or nil bound to its next-slot. This should not be a problem however, since there is almost no use for instances of vk:base-out-structure aside from determining the actual type of the instance by reading its s-type-slot.


The VkShaderModuleCreateInfo struct has a member called codeSize which is the number of bytes in its code member. You might be tempted to read your shaders byte by byte, but VkShaderModuleCreateInfo actually expects an array of uint32_t. As with other *Count-members in the Vulkan API, vk determines the value to set for codeSize automatically. For this to work properly, the code slot of a vk:shader-module also needs to be a sequence of 32-bit integers.

vk-utils:read-shader-source exists exactly for this purpose: it reads a SPIR-V binary and spits out a vector of 32-bit integers.

Another option is to use the package shaderc to compile shaders into a vector of 32-bit integers directly from your REPL.

Lambda list order

Many vk wrapper functions make use of optional arguments if their C counterparts don't require an argument to be set. In some cases, the order of the wrapper function's lambda list therefore differs from the order of the corresponding C function's argument list. E.g. vk:cmd-pipeline-barrier, where src-stage-mask and dst-stage-mask are the last two arguments instead of the second and third one.

Default values of slots

Some slots of vk's wrapper classes have default values (mostly number - 0.0 or 0 - and string slots - ""). The choice for these default values are determined automatically by the generator from the member's type in the C API. In some cases, these defaults don't make much sense (e.g. vk:viewport's max-depth slot is 0.0 by default).


Found a bug? Please open a bug report in the GitHub repository.


The whole project is autogenerated by vk-generator which has been forked from cl-vulkan and is partially ported from Vulkan-Hpp.

The documentation is autogenerated using staple.

Dependencies (3)

  • alexandria
  • cffi
  • rove

Dependents (0)

    • GitHub
    • Quicklisp