Cg (programming language)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A scene containing several different 2D HLSL shaders. Distortion of the statue is achieved purely physically, while the texture of the rectangular frame beside it is based on color intensity. The square in the background has been transformed and rotated. The partial transparency and reflection of the water in the foreground are added by a shader applied finally to the entire scene.
Familyshading language
DevelopernVIDIA, Microsoft
Cg, HLSL, Playstation Shading Language
Influenced by
C, RenderMan Shading Language

Cg (short for C for Graphics) and High-Level Shader Language (HLSL) are two names given to a high-level shading language developed by Nvidia and Microsoft for programming shaders. Cg/HLSL is based on the C programming language and although they share the same core syntax, some features of C were modified and new data types were added to make Cg/HLSL more suitable for programming graphics processing units.[1][2]

Two main branches of the Cg/HLSL language exist: the Nvidia Cg compiler (cgc) which outputs DirectX or OpenGL and the Microsoft HLSL which outputs DirectX shaders in bytecode format.[3][4] Nvidia's cgc was deprecated in 2012, with no additional development or support available.[5]

HLSL shaders can enable many special effects in both 2D and 3D computer graphics. The Cg/HLSL language originally only included support for vertex shaders and pixel shaders, but other types of shaders were introduced gradually as well:


Due to technical advances in graphics hardware, some areas of 3D graphics programming have become quite complex. To simplify the process, new features were added to graphics cards, including the ability to modify their rendering pipelines using vertex and pixel shaders.

In the beginning, vertex and pixel shaders were programmed at a very low level with only the assembly language of the graphics processing unit. Although using the assembly language gave the programmer complete control over code and flexibility, it was fairly hard to use. A portable, higher level language for programming the GPU was needed, so Cg was created to overcome these problems and make shader development easier.

Some of the benefits of using Cg over assembly are:

  • High level code is easier to learn, program, read, and maintain than assembly code.
  • Cg code is portable to a wide range of hardware and platforms, unlike assembly code, which usually depends on hardware and the platforms it's written for.
  • The Cg compiler can optimize code and do lower level tasks automatically, which are hard to do and error prone in assembly.


Data types[edit]

Cg has six basic data types. Some of them are the same as in C, while others are especially added for GPU programming. These types are:

  • float - a 32bit floating point number
  • half - a 16bit floating point number
  • int - a 32bit integer
  • fixed - a 12bit fixed point number
  • bool - a boolean variable
  • sampler* - represents a texture object

Cg also features vector and matrix data types that are based on the basic data types, such as float3 and float4x4. Such data types are quite common when dealing with 3D graphics programming. Cg also has struct and array data types, which work in a similar way to their C equivalents.


Cg supports a wide range of operators, including the common arithmetic operators from C, the equivalent arithmetic operators for vector and matrix data types, and the common logical operators.

Functions and control structures[edit]

Cg shares the basic control structures with C, like if/else, while, and for. It also has a similar way of defining functions.



Cg implements many C preprocessor directives and its macro expansion system. It implements #include.[7]

HLSL features[edit]

  • Namespace
  • Annotation


Compilation targets[edit]

Cg programs are built for different shader profiles that stand for GPUs with different capabilities.[8] These profiles decide, among others, how many instructions can be in each shader, how many registers are available, and what kind of resources a shader can use. Even if a program is correct, it might be too complex to work on a profile.[7]

As the number of profile and shader types cropped up, Microsoft has switched to use the term "Shader Model" to group a set of profiles found in a generation of GPUs.[9] Cg supports some of the newer profiles up to Shader Model 5.0 as well as translation to glsl or hlsl.[8]

Comparison of HLSL pixel shaders
Pixel shader version 1.0 to 1.3[10] 1.4[10] 2.0[10][11] 2.0a[10][11][12] 2.0b[10][11][13] 3.0[10][14] 4.0[15]
Dependent texture limit 4 6 8 Unlimited 8 Unlimited Unlimited
Texture instruction limit 4 6*2 32 Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Position register No No No No No Yes Yes
Instruction slots 8+4 8+4 32 + 64 512 512 ≥ 512 ≥ 65536
Executed instructions 8+4 6*2+8*2 32 + 64 512 512 65536 Unlimited
Texture indirections 4 4 4 Unlimited 4 Unlimited Unlimited
Interpolated registers 2 + 4 2 + 6 2 + 8 2 + 8 2 + 8 10 32
Instruction predication No No No Yes No Yes No
Index input registers No No No No No Yes Yes
Temp registers 2 6 12 to 32 22 32 32 4096
Constant registers 8 8 32 32 32 224 16×4096
Arbitrary swizzling No No No Yes No Yes Yes
Gradient instructions No No No Yes No Yes Yes
Loop count register No No No No No Yes Yes
Face register (2-sided lighting) No No No No Yes Yes Yes
Dynamic flow control No No No No No Yes (24) Yes (64)
Bitwise Operators No No No No No No Yes
Native Integers No No No No No No Yes
  • PS 1.0 — Unreleased 3dfx Rampage, DirectX 8.
  • PS 1.1GeForce 3, DirectX 8.
  • PS 1.23Dlabs Wildcat VP, DirectX 8.0a.
  • PS 1.3GeForce 4 Ti, DirectX 8.0a.
  • PS 1.4Radeon 8500-9250, Matrox Parhelia, DirectX 8.1.
  • Shader Model 2.0Radeon 9500-9800/X300-X600, DirectX 9.
  • Shader Model 2.0aGeForce FX/PCX-optimized model, DirectX 9.0a.
  • Shader Model 2.0bRadeon X700-X850 shader model, DirectX 9.0b.
  • Shader Model 3.0Radeon X1000 and GeForce 6, DirectX 9.0c.
  • Shader Model 4.0Radeon HD 2000 and GeForce 8, DirectX 10.
  • Shader Model 4.1Radeon HD 3000 and GeForce 200, DirectX 10.1.
  • Shader Model 5.0Radeon HD 5000 and GeForce 400, DirectX 11.
  • Shader Model 5.1GCN 1+, Fermi+, DirectX 12 (11_0+) with WDDM 2.0.
  • Shader Model 6.0 — GCN 1+, Kepler+, DirectX 12 (11_0+) with WDDM 2.1.
  • Shader Model 6.1 — GCN 1+, Kepler+, DirectX 12 (11_0+) with WDDM 2.3.
  • Shader Model 6.2 — GCN 1+, Kepler+, DirectX 12 (11_0+) with WDDM 2.4.
  • Shader Model 6.3 — GCN 1+, Kepler+, DirectX 12 (11_0+) with WDDM 2.5.
  • Shader Model 6.4 — GCN 1+, Kepler+, Skylake+, DirectX 12 (11_0+) with WDDM 2.6.
  • Shader Model 6.5 — GCN 1+, Kepler+, Skylake+, DirectX 12 (11_0+) with WDDM 2.7.

"32 + 64" for Executed Instructions means "32 texture instructions and 64 arithmetic instructions."

Comparison of HLSL Vertex shaders
Vertex shader version VS 1.1[18] VS 2.0[11][18][19] VS 2.0a[11][18][19] VS 3.0[14][18] VS 4.0[15]
VS 4.1[20]
VS 5.0[17]
# of instruction slots 128 256 256 ≥ 512 ≥ 65536
Max # of instructions executed 128 1024 65536 65536 Unlimited
Instruction predication No No Yes Yes Yes
Temp registers 12 12 16 32 4096
# constant registers ≥ 96 ≥ 256 256 ≥ 256 16×4096
Static flow control No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dynamic flow control No No Yes Yes Yes
Dynamic flow control depth 24 24 64
Vertex texture fetch No No No Yes Yes
# of texture samplers 4 128
Geometry instancing support No No No Yes Yes
Bitwise operators No No No No Yes
Native integers No No No No Yes

The standard library[edit]

As in C, Cg/HLSL features a set of functions for common tasks in GPU programming. Some of the functions have equivalents in C, like the mathematical functions abs and sin, while others are specialized in GPU programming tasks, like the texture mapping functions tex1D and tex2D.

The Cg runtime library[edit]

Cg programs are merely vertex and pixel shaders, and they need supporting programs that handle the rest of the rendering process. Cg can be used with two graphics APIs: OpenGL or DirectX. Each has its own set of Cg functions to communicate with the Cg program, like setting the current Cg shader, passing parameters, and such tasks.

In addition to being able to compile Cg source to assembly code, the Cg runtime also has the ability to compile shaders during execution of the supporting program. This allows the runtime to compile the shader using the latest optimizations available for hardware that the program is currently executing on. However, this technique requires that the source code for the shader be available in plain text to the compiler, allowing the user of the program to access the source-code for the shader. Some developers view this as a major drawback of this technique.

To avoid exposing the source code of the shader, and still maintain some of the hardware specific optimizations, the concept of profiles was developed. Shaders can be compiled to suit different graphics hardware platforms (according to profiles). When executing the supporting program, the best/most optimized shader is loaded according to its profile. For instance there might be a profile for a graphics card that supports complex pixel shaders, and another profile for one that supports only minimal pixel shaders. By creating a pixel shader for each of these profiles a supporting program enlarges the number of supported hardware platforms without sacrificing picture quality on powerful systems.'

Compilers and dialects[edit]

The Cg dialect has only ever had one compiler, in the form of Nvidia's Cg toolkit.

Microsoft has released two compilers for HLSL. The original compiler was the closed-source FXC (Effect Compiler), supported until 2015. It was deprecated in favor of the open-source LLVM-based DXC (DirectXShaderCompiler) with support for newer HLSL features.[21] Both compilers generate bytecode: while the older FXC used DXBC, DXC now uses DXIL. DXC can also emit SPIR-V bytecode.[22]

The Khronos Group has also written a LLVM-based HLSL compiler, in the form of a frontend for glslang, their GLSL-to-SPIR_V compiler. Support for SPIR-V means that the shaders can be cross-platform, no longer limiting them to a DirectX stack.[23] This task was previously performed by source-level converters like HLSL2GLSL, but the resulting code is often bloated.[24]

Derived languages[edit]

The PlayStation Shading Language is based on Cg/HLSL.[25]

The ReshadeFX shading language is also based on Cg/HLSL. Shaders written in ReshadeFX are compiled to OpenGL, DX, or Vulkan and injected into games to act as post-processing filters.[26]

Applications and games that use Cg or HLSL[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fusion Industries :: Cg and HLSL FAQ ::". 24 August 2012. Archived from the original on 24 August 2012.
  2. ^ "The Cg Tutorial - Chapter 1. Introduction".
  3. ^ "Writing HLSL Shaders in Direct3D 9 (Windows)". 24 May 2021.
  4. ^ "Cg FAQ". NVIDIA DesignWorks. 8 March 2011. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  5. ^ "Cg Toolkit | NVIDIA Developer". 8 March 2011.
  6. ^ "Cg 2.0 Release Notes" (PDF). January 2008.
  7. ^ a b Mark J. Kilgard, Cg in Two Pages, 2003.
  8. ^ a b "Cg Profile Documentation". Nvidia developer.
  9. ^ "Shader Models vs Shader Profiles - Win32 apps". 30 June 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Pixel Shader Differences". 2011-02-08.
  11. ^ a b c d e Peeper, Craig (2004-03-15). "Microsoft DirectX High Level Shader Language (HLSL)" (PPT). pp. 5–8, 24–25.
  12. ^ Shimpi, Anand Lal. "NVIDIA Introduces GeForce FX (NV30)".
  13. ^ Wilson, Derek. "ATI Radeon X800 Pro and XT Platinum Edition: R420 Arrives".
  14. ^ a b Shader Model 3.0, Ashu Rege, NVIDIA Developer Technology Group, 2004.
  15. ^ a b The Direct3D 10 System, David Blythe, Microsoft Corporation, 2006.
  16. ^ "Registers - ps_4_1 (Windows)". 23 August 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Registers - ps_5_0 (Windows)". 23 August 2019.
  18. ^ a b c d "Vertex Shader Differences". 2011-02-08.
  19. ^ a b Shimpi, Anand Lal. "NVIDIA Introduces GeForce FX (NV30)".
  20. ^ "Registers - vs_4_1 (Windows)". 23 August 2019.
  21. ^ "Porting from FXC to DXC". GitHub.
  22. ^ "microsoft/DirectXShaderCompiler: This repo hosts the source for the DirectX Shader Compiler which is based on LLVM/Clang". Microsoft. 21 October 2020.
  23. ^ "glslang: Khronos-reference front end for GLSL/ESSL, partial front end for HLSL, and a SPIR-V generator". The Khronos Group. 21 October 2020.
  24. ^ Matt Turner. Video on YouTube.
  25. ^ Stenson, Richard; Ho, Chris. "PlayStation Shading Language for PS4". GDC Europe 2013.
  26. ^ "ReShade FX shading language". GitHub. 15 February 2022.
  27. ^ "Maya Cg Plug-in | NVIDIA".
  28. ^ "LightWave - 11.6 Features Overview".
  29. ^ "Unity - Manual: Writing Shaders".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]