Vulkan (API)

Vulkan is a low-overhead, cross-platform 3D graphics and computing API. Vulkan targets high-performance realtime 3D graphics applications such as video games and interactive media across all platforms. Compared to OpenGL and Direct3D 11, and like Direct3D 12 and Metal, Vulkan is intended to offer higher performance and more balanced CPU/GPU usage. Other major differences from Direct3D 11 and OpenGL are Vulkan being a considerably lower-level API and offering parallel tasking. In addition to its lower CPU usage, Vulkan is also able to better distribute work among multiple CPU cores.
Vulkan was first announced by the non-profit Khronos Group at GDC 2015. The Vulkan API was initially referred to as the "next generation OpenGL initiative", or "OpenGL next" by Khronos, but use of those names was discontinued when Vulkan was announced. Vulkan is derived from and built upon components of AMD's Mantle API, which was donated by AMD to Khronos with the intent of giving Khronos a foundation on which to begin developing a low-level API that they could standardize across the industry.


Vulkan is intended to provide a variety of advantages over other APIs as well as its predecessor, OpenGL. Vulkan offers lower overhead, more direct control over the GPU, and lower CPU usage. The overall concept and feature set of Vulkan is similar to Mantle later adopted by Microsoft with Direct3D 12 and Apple with Metal.
Intended advantages of Vulkan over previous-generation APIs include:
One single global state machineObject-based with no global state
State is tied to a single contextAll state concepts are localized to a command buffer
Operations can only be executed sequentiallyMulti-threaded programming is possible
GPU memory and synchronization are usually hiddenExplicit control over memory management and synchronization
Extensive error checkingVulkan drivers do no error checking at runtime;
there is a validation layer for developers

NVIDIA notes that OpenGL is still a great option for a lot of use cases, as it comes at a much lower complexity and maintenance burden than Vulkan, while in many cases still providing great overall performance.
AMD says that Vulkan supports close-to-metal control, enabling faster performance and better image quality across Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, and Linux. No other graphics API offers the same powerful combination of OS compatibility, rendering features, and hardware efficiency.

Vulkan 1.1

At SIGGRAPH 2016, Khronos announced that Vulkan would be getting support for automatic multi-GPU features, similar to what is offered by Direct3D 12. Multi-GPU support included in-API removes the need for SLI or Crossfire which requires graphics cards to be of the same model. API multi-GPU instead allows the API to intelligently split the workload among two or more completely different GPUs. For example, integrated GPUs included on the CPU can be used in conjunction with a high-end dedicated GPU for a slight performance boost.
On March 7, 2018, Vulkan 1.1 was released by the Khronos Group. This first major update to the API standardized several extensions, such as multi-view, device groups, cross-process and cross-API sharing, advanced compute functionality, HLSL support, and YCbCr support. At the same time, it also brought better compatibility with DirectX 12, explicit multi-GPU support, ray tracing support, and laid the groundwork for the next generation of GPUs. Alongside Vulkan 1.1, SPIR-V was updated to version 1.3.

Vulkan 1.2

On January 15, 2020, Vulkan 1.2 was released by the Khronos Group. This second major update to the API integrates 23 additional commonly-used proven Vulkan extensions into the base Vulkan standard. Some of the most important features are "timeline semaphores for easily managed synchronization", "a formal memory model to precisely define the semantics of synchronization and memory operations in different threads", and "descriptor indexing to enable reuse of descriptor layouts by multiple shaders". The additional features of Vulkan 1.2 improve its flexibility when it comes to implementing other graphics APIs on top of Vulkan, including "uniform buffer standard layout", "scalar block layout", and "separate stencil usage".

Planned features

When releasing OpenCL 2.2, the Khronos Group announced that OpenCL would converge where possible with Vulkan to enable OpenCL software deployment flexibility over both APIs. This has been now demonstrated by Adobe's Premiere Rush using the clspv open source compiler to compile significant amounts of OpenCL C kernel code to run on a Vulkan runtime for deployment on Android.


The Khronos Group began a project to create a next generation graphics API in July 2014 with a kickoff meeting at Valve. At SIGGRAPH 2014, the project was publicly announced with a call for participants.
According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the trademark for Vulkan was filed on February 19, 2015.
Vulkan was formally named and announced at Game Developers Conference 2015, although speculation and rumors centered around a new API existed beforehand and referred to it as "glNext".


In early 2015, LunarG developed and showcased a Linux driver for Intel which enabled Vulkan compatibility on the HD 4000 series integrated graphics, despite the open-source Mesa drivers not being fully compatible with OpenGL 4.0 until later that year. There is still the possibility of Sandy Bridge support, since it supports compute through Direct3D11.
On August 10, 2015, Google announced that future versions of Android would support Vulkan. Android 7.x "Nougat" launched support for Vulkan on August 22, 2016. Android 8.0 "Oreo" has full support.
On December 18, 2015, the Khronos Group announced that the 1.0 version of the Vulkan specification was nearly complete and would be released when conforming drivers were available.


The specification and the open-source Vulkan SDK were released on February 16, 2016.



On February 26, 2018, Khronos Group announced that the Vulkan API became available to all on macOS and iOS through the MoltenVK library, which enables Vulkan to run on top of Metal. Other new developments were shown at SIGGRAPH 2018. Previously MoltenVK was a proprietary and commercially licensed solution, but Valve made an arrangement with developer Brenwill Workshop Ltd to open-source MoltenVK under the Apache 2.0 license and as a result the library is now available . Valve also announced that Dota 2 can as of 26 February 2018 run on macOS using the Vulkan API, which is based on MoltenVK.


On March 26, 2018, Khronos Group and GPUOpen announced project V-EZ. Short for "Easy Mode", it aims to reduce the complexity of the IDE syntax within the Vulkan API by implementing an additional library within the base SDK. In August 2018, AMD made the library open source.

GLOVE: OpenGL ES over Vulkan

Another middleware that allows legacy OpenGL ES applications to run on top of Vulkan was open-sourced by Think Silicon in August 2018. This software allows thinner Vulkan drivers to be used in the system instead of multiple OpenGL ES and Vulkan drivers. In addition with MoltenVK, GLOVE allows to use OpenGL ES on macOS/iOS devices. The ANGLE project has a similar goal.

Vulkan 1.1

On March 7, 2018, Vulkan 1.1 was released.


Vulkan SC

On Feb 25, 2019, the Vulkan Safety Critical Working Group was announced to bring Vulkan GPU acceleration to safety critical industries.


Google's Stadia streaming cloud gaming service uses Vulkan on Linux based servers with AMD GPUs.


Vulkan 1.2

On January 15, 2020, Vulkan 1.2 was released.
Alongside the Vulkan 1.2 release, the Khronos Group posted a blog post which considered that HLSL support in Vulkan had reached "production ready" status, given the improvements in Microsoft's DXC compiler and Khronos's glslang compiler, and new features in Vulkan 1.2 which enhance HLSL support.

Raspberry Pi Vulkan Driver

On February 3, 2020, the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced that it was working on an open source Vulkan driver for their Raspberry Pi, a popular single board computer. On June 20, 2020, a graphics engineer revealed that he had created one after two years of work that was capable of running VkQuake3 at over 100FPS on the small computer.

Real-time ray tracing

On March 17, 2020, Khronos Group released the Ray Tracing extensions by adopting previously existing Nvidia implementation with some minor changes.

Software that supports Vulkan


Game console emulators

The Vulkan Window System Integration does for Vulkan what EGL does for OpenGL and OpenGL ES. EGL is used by OpenGL and OpenGL ES programs to interface with the native platform windowing system. EGL handles context management, surface binding and rendering synchronization.


Initial specifications stated that Vulkan will work on hardware that currently supports OpenGL ES 3.1 or OpenGL 4.x and up. As Vulkan support requires new graphics drivers, this does not necessarily imply that every existing device that supports OpenGL ES 3.1 or OpenGL 4.x will have Vulkan drivers available.
Vulkan 1.1 with higher efforts is supported by the newer lines in Hardware like Intel Skylake and higher, AMD GCN 3rd and higher, Nvidia Kepler and higher.
AMD, Arm, Imagination Technologies, Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm supports actual hardware since second half of 2018 Vulkan 1.1 with own drivers.
Mesa 18.1 supports with RADV and ANVIL driver AMD and Intel hardware. Actual state in Mesa 3D of RADV and ANVIL see Mesamatrix.
Android 7.0 Nougat supports Vulkan 1.0. The software was released in August 2016. Vulkan 1.1 is supported in Android 9.0 Pie. Vulkan 1.1 support is mandatory for 64-bit devices running Android 10.
Vulkan support for iOS and macOS has not been announced by Apple, but an open-source library exists which provides a Vulkan implementation that runs on top of Metal on iOS and macOS devices.