SkSL & Runtime Effects


SkSL is Skia’s shading language. SkRuntimeEffect is a Skia C++ object that can be used to create SkShader and SkColorFilter objects with behavior controlled by SkSL code.

You can experiment with SkSL at The syntax is very similar to GLSL. When using SkSL effects in your Skia application, there are important differences (from GLSL) to remember. Most of these differences are because of one basic fact: With GPU shading languages, you are programming a stage of the GPU pipeline. With SkSL, you are programming a stage of the Skia pipeline.

Sampling other SkShaders

In GLSL, a fragment shader can sample a texture. With runtime effects, the object that you bind (in C++) and sample (in SkSL) is an SkShader. Skia has simple methods for creating an SkShader from an SkImage, so it’s easy to use images in your runtime effects:

Because the object you bind and sample is an SkShader, you can directly use any Skia shader, without necessarily turning it into an image (texture) first. For example, you can sample a linear gradient:

You can even sample another runtime effect:

Premultiplied Alpha

When dealing with transparent colors, there are two (common) possible representations. Skia calls these unpremultiplied (what Wikipedia calls straight), and premultiplied. In the Skia pipeline, every SkShader returns premultiplied colors.

If you’re familiar with OpenGL blending, you can think of it in terms of the blend equation. For common alpha blending (called source-over), you would normally configure your blend function as (GL_SRC_ALPHA, GL_ONE_MINUS_SRC_ALPHA). Skia defines source-over blending as if the blend function were (GL_ONE, GL_ONE_MINUS_SRC_ALPHA).

Skia’s use of premultiplied alpha implies:

  • If you start with an unpremultiplied SkImage (like a PNG), turn that into an SkImageShader, and sample that shader… the resulting colors will be [R*A, G*A, B*A, A], not [R, G, B, A].
  • If your SkSL will return transparent colors, it must be sure to multiply the RGB by A.
  • For more complex shaders, you must understand which of your colors are premultiplied vs. unpremultiplied. Many operations don’t make sense if you mix both kinds of color together.

Skia enforces that the color produced by your SkSL is a valid premultiplied color. In other words, RGB <= A. If your SkSL returns colors where that is not true, they will be clamped, leading to incorrect colors. The image below demonstrates this: properly premultiplied colors produce a smooth gradient as alpha decreases. Unpremultipled colors cause the gradient to display incorrectly, with a shift in hue as the alpha changes. This hue shift is caused by Skia clamping the color’s RGB values to its alpha.

Coordinate Spaces

To understand how coordinates work in SkSL, you first need to understand how they work in Skia. If you’re comfortable with Skia’s coordinate spaces, then just remember that the coordinates supplied to your main() are local coordinates. They will be relative to the coordinate space of the SkShader. This will match the local space of the canvas and any localMatrix transformations. Additionally, if the shader is invoked by another, that parent shader may modify them arbitrarily.

In addition, the SkShader produced from an SkImage does not use normalized coordinates (like a texture in GLSL). It uses (0, 0) in the upper-left corner, and (w, h) in the bottom-right corner. Normally, this is exactly what you want. If you’re sampling an SkImageShader with coordinates based on the ones passed to you, the scale is correct. However, if you want to adjust those coordinates (to do some kind of re-mapping of the image), remember that the coordinates are scaled up to the dimensions of the image: