Direct3D 11 - Simple Triangle

Rendering primitives is the raison d’être of a 3D graphics API. This tutorial explains the process of supplying Direct3D with primitive data and ensuring that the entire graphics pipeline is properly configured so as to produce visual evidence of the primitives on the screen. By the end a single rendered triangle will be visible on screen.

Vertex Data

The most basic 3D primitive is the triangle, and in order to render a triangle you must give Direct3D the positions of its three defining points, or vertices. Of course, there is a lot of other data you might want to pass in along with just the vertex positions; for example: color data, normals, texture coordinates, and blend weights are all types of data commonly described on a per-vertex basis. For now though, simple positions will do fine.

In order to supply vertex data to Direct3D, you need to compile all of your vertex data into an unmanaged memory buffer. In SlimDX, this can be accomplished using the DataStream class. Using a DataStream, you can write all of your vertex components into memory and then pass the final result to Direct3D. Most commonly a dedicated vertex structure is defined and then written into the buffer, but for our sample we will just write the vertices directly into the stream.

var vertices = new DataStream(12 * 3, true, true);
vertices.Write(new Vector3(0.0f, 0.5f, 0.5f));
vertices.Write(new Vector3(0.5f, -0.5f, 0.5f));
vertices.Write(new Vector3(-0.5f, -0.5f, 0.5f));

We create the stream with a given starting size which must not be overrun. In this case, we have three vertices, with each vertex being the size of one three element vector, or 12 bytes. Each vertex is then added to the buffer using the generic Write method.

Because DataStream is in fact a stream of memory and not just a buffer (not the wisest design decision in retrospect, but what can you do?), the position of the read and write pointer is significant. In order for our vertices to be read in order by Direct3D, we must rewind the stream back to the beginning, like so:

vertices.Position = 0;

Vertex Buffer

Once we have our vertex data in memory, we need to load it into a Direct3D vertex buffer, which can then be passed into the graphics pipeline.

var vertexBuffer = new Buffer(device, vertices, 12 * 3, ResourceUsage.Default, 
    BindFlags.VertexBuffer, CpuAccessFlags.None, ResourceOptionFlags.None, 0);

There are several parameters here, but the important ones are the second and third, which pass in our stream of vertex data and its total size, and the fifth, which indentifies this buffer as containing vertex data in particular. See the documentation for additional information on the rest of the parameters.


How exactly does Direct3D know how to take the vertex data we just gave generated and turn it into pixels on the display? As mentioned in the previous tutorial, Direct3D uses a pipeline system to take input vertices and process them in multiple ways to produce the final output pixels.

As also mentioned, each stage is configurable or customizable in some way. We saw that for the Output-Merger and Rasterizer stages, we could call methods on the DeviceContext to configure how they operated (such as setting a render target or a viewport). For other stages, we can completely specify the operation of the stage by writing short programs called shaders in HLSL, or High Level Shader Language. When assigned, Direct3D will pass a set of designated data into our shaders and pass their output on to the rest of the pipeline.

In Direct3D 11, there are five different shader types that correspond to five of the stages in the pipeline depicted above. They are Vertex Shaders, Hull Shaders, Domain Shaders, Geometry Shaders, and Pixel Shaders. Direct3D 11 additionally defines a separate set of shaders called Compute Shaders that are more generic and don’t directly interact with the graphics pipeline, so we won’t worry about them now. Each shader type mentioned is used to implement the functionality for the corresponding section of the pipeline.

Hull shaders, domain shaders, and geometry shaders are all optional stages that will be skipped if no HLSL program is provided for them. They will be discussed in a future tutorial. For now, we will focus on the two stages that must be implemented if any rendering is to be done: vertex shaders and pixel shaders.

Vertex Shaders

The Vertex Shader Stage is the first stage of the pipeline that is completely programmable. It has one main task: take input vertices and transform them into homogenous clip space. It can, of course, perform other operations, such as displacement mapping, vertex morphing, or per-vertex lighting, but it most always output one transformed vertex for every input vertex it receives.

All shaders in Direct3D 11 are written on top of the common shader core, which means they share a set of intrinsic functions, syntax, and methods for accessing resources and constant buffers. They are all written in HLSL, the syntax of which is closely related to C and C++. Shader programming can be complex and is certainly a vast topic; whole books are written on different techniques and effects you can accomplish with shaders. You can find a complete syntax and function reference on MSDN, and can find inspiration for shader content in graphics whitepapers and demos.

Since our input data for this sample is already in homogenous clip coordinates, we don’t have to worry about doing anything interesting in our vertex shader. We can simply take the input vertex and pass it straight through to the rest of the pipeline:

float4 VShader(float4 position : POSITION) : SV_POSITION
    return position;

This is our vertex shader function, which we’ve chosen to call “VShader”. It takes our input position, as a four element floating point vector (float4) and returns it directly without modifying it. This is all very familiar to anyone comfortable with the C family of programming languages, except for the semantics which are attached to each parameter and return type by a colon (colored in red above). These semantics are used to provide metadata about pieces of information that are flowing through the pipeline. Input semantics, such as the one attached to the position parameter, are matched up with semantics attached to the vertex data submitted by the application. This is how each piece of vertex data is mapped into the vertex shader. Output semantics, such as the SV_POSITION semantic attached to the return value of the function, mark the important pieces of data that will be passed on to the rest of the pipeline.

The combination of input parameters and their semantics define the input signature of the shader, and the same is true for the shader outputs forming the output signature. Direct3D 11 provides a ShaderSignature class that represents these formats and uses them to validate input and shader setup at runtime.

Pixel Shaders

The Pixel Shader Stage follows immediately after the Rasterizer Stage, which was discussed in the previous tutorial. After the rasterizer has done its job of clipping input data and converting it into pixels on screen, the pixel shader runs to calculate the final color value of the pixel. As input, the pixel shader takes output data coming from the vertex shader, interpolated across the three vertices of the triangle. The pixel shader is required to output a final color value for the pixel, and follows the same general layout of the vertex shader.

float4 PShader(float4 position : SV_POSITION) : SV_Target
    return float4(1.0f, 1.0f, 0.0f, 1.0f);

Here we see the output of the vertex shader, with an SV_POSITION semantic, being used as the input of the pixel shader. The color value output of the pixel shader has the special SV_Target semantic designating that the result of the pixel shader is to be sent to the current render target.

In this example we output a constant color value of yellow (full red, green, and alpha components) for every input pixel. For a more realistic shader other inputs such as texture coordinates and normals would be used to provide realistic texturing and lighting of the pixel.

Loading, Compiling, and Creating Shaders

Once you have your shaders written, you need to load and compile them before they can be used in your pipeline. This is all handled through the ShaderBytecode class, which contains methods to compile shader source. We will be using the CompileFromFile method, which has the following signature:

public static ShaderBytecode CompileFromFile(string fileName, string entryPoint, string profile, ShaderFlags shaderFlags, EffectFlags effectFlags);

There are many other overloads for this function that you can explore on your own. For now, let’s take a look at some of the parameters.

The last two parameters allow you to provide extra flags that control advanced options for the shader. We won’t be using any of them here.

Once we have a compiled shader bytecode for a shader, we can create the actual shader object. The following code snippet shows the entire process for both the vertex shader and the pixel shader.

using (var bytecode = ShaderBytecode.CompileFromFile("triangle.fx", "VShader", "vs_4_0", ShaderFlags.None, EffectFlags.None))
    vertexShader = new VertexShader(device, bytecode);

// load and compile the pixel shader
using (var bytecode = ShaderBytecode.CompileFromFile("triangle.fx", "PShader", "ps_4_0", ShaderFlags.None, EffectFlags.None))
    pixelShader = new PixelShader(device, bytecode);

Once we have these shader interfaces, we can set them to the pipeline to customize how our primitives are rendered. We will see how to accomplish that in a moment. First, we must work on getting our primitives into the pipeline.

The Input Assembler

The very beginning of the graphics pipeline is the input assembler.  The input assembler is responsible for taking input data, such as vertices and indices, assembling all the various components into a consistent stream and sending it all into the pipeline to be processed and rendered. In order to submit the vertex data for our triangle, we have to provide supporting information expected by the input assembler.

Input Layout

The first piece of data we need is an input layout, which is a set of structures defining the layout of our vertex data. Since our vertex data can contain any sort of input we want, we need to match it all up with a set of semantics so that it can all be properly identified in the vertex shader. To do this, we create an instance of the InputLayout class:

public InputLayout(Device device, ShaderSignature shaderSignature, InputElement[] elements);

Besides taking a reference to the 3D device, the InputLayout constructor also demands a ShaderSignature and a list of InputElements. As mentioned earlier, the ShaderSignature type is used to represent the input signature of a vertex shader. Direct3D demands such a signature here so that it can validate a given vertex shader with the provided input elements to ensure that the data can be successfully mapped. Getting such a signature once we have a compile shader bytecode is simple; just use the ShaderSignature.GetInputSignature() method to extract it and pass it to the function.

Besides the signature, we need to pass an array of elements describing the layout of our vertex data in memory. Each element describes a piece of the vertex data, including its offset in memory, its data format and size, and the semantic name used to match it to a parameter in the vertex shader.

In our program, each vertex only has a 12 byte position element, so we will create our input element list like so:

var elements = new[] { new InputElement("POSITION", 0, Format.R32G32B32_Float, 0) };

Note our how POSITION semantic matches the one used in the vertex shader we wrote earlier. The input layout will take this element and validate it against the shader signature we extracted earlier from the vertex shader.

Primitive Topology

The data necessary to render a triangle can change depending on how it is laid out. In the simplest case, a Triangle List, every three vertices in the input stream represent a single triangle. This can, however, be changed by taking advantage of other primitive topologies. If successively rendered triangles share a side, only one additional vertex is necessary to specify the additional triangle. This is called a Triangle Strip. This topology is demonstrated in the following image:

When drawing triangle 2 after triangle 1, only the extra vertex D need be sent to accomplish a full triangle. The advantage of this is that the size of the vertex buffer is reduced, which can improve performance.

There are several other topologies besides lists and strips. Since we only have one triangle, and are specifying all three vertices, we will use a Triangle List as our topology of choice.

Configuring the Pipeline

Once we have our input layout and topology chosen, we can set it all to the Input Assembler along with our vertex buffer to kick off the rendering pipeline. Setting the primitive topology and input layout is done by simply setting the appropriate property on the Input Assembler:

context.InputAssembler.InputLayout = layout;
context.InputAssembler.PrimitiveTopology = PrimitiveTopology.TriangleList;

To set our vertex buffer, we need to give one more piece of information: the stride of the vertex data inside the buffer. The stride refers to the amount of memory, in bytes, between each successive vertex. In our case, each vertex is 12 bytes long, so our stride is 12.

context.InputAssembler.SetVertexBuffers(0, new VertexBufferBinding(vertexBuffer, 12, 0));

That’s all that’s necessary to fully configure the Input Assembler stage of the pipeline. Now we can move on to setting up the Vertex Shader and Pixel Shader portions of the pipeline using the vertex shader and pixel shader objects we compiled and created earlier. Once again, the actual setting of the pipeline state is fairly simple:


Our graphics pipeline is now fully configured and ready to render our triangle.

Drawing the Triangle

After all that work we did to configure everything, the actual drawing is relatively simple. To do so, we call the Draw method on our device context, which has the following signature:

public void Draw(int vertexCount, int startVertexLocation);

The first parameter specifies the number of vertices to draw from the currently active vertex buffer in the Input Assembler. We had three vertices for our single triangle. The startVertexLocation parameter specifies an offset into the vertex buffer, in case we didn’t want to use all of the vertices there. Since we do want to use all of our vertices, the final draw call looks like this:

context.Draw(3, 0);

Voila! We have a triangle.

Form Resizing

There is one thing left we could improve on in our simple program. If you try resizing the window, you’ll notice that the triangle gets squished and stretched. This is because our swap chain’s back buffer isn’t resized along with the window, causing Direct3D to stretch the final image instead of rendering the scene properly. In order to fix this, we will need to override our form’s resizing event and recreate the render target whenever the size changes:

// handle form size changes
form.UserResized += (o, e) =>

    swapChain.ResizeBuffers(2, 0, 0, Format.R8G8B8A8_UNorm, SwapChainFlags.AllowModeSwitch);
    using (var resource = Resource.FromSwapChain<Texture2D>(swapChain, 0))
        renderTarget = new RenderTargetView(device, resource);


Most of this code is similar to the initial set up we did for rendering. Note however the ResizeBuffers method, which does the bulk of the work of resizing the back buffer without having to recreate the swap chain entirely.


Once again, we can’t forget to clean up all of our objects when the program has finished. We ended up with a lot more this time around:

// clean up all resources
// anything we missed will show up in the debug output


We have now shown how to create vertex data, compile and apply shaders, and configure the graphics pipeline in order to render a 3D primitive. This is the backbone of all 3D graphics, so all of your applications will build upon this base so understand it well.

In the future, we will look at further configuration of the pipeline, explore more in-depth shaders, and discuss how 3D primitives are positioned and transformed to provide a 3D perspective of a virtual object.

Download the source code for this tutorial:
Note: Requires the latest build of the library from SVN.