Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Should I call glEnable and glDisable every time I draw something?

How often should I call OpenGL functions like glEnable() or glEnableClientState() and their corresponding glDisable counterparts? Are they meant to be called once at the beginning of the application, or should I keep them disabled and only enable those features I immediately need for drawing something? Is there a performance difference?

From stackoverflow
  • "That depends".

    If you entire app only uses one combination of enable/disable states, then by all means just set it up at the beginning and go.

    Most real-world apps need to mix, and then you're forced to call glEnable() to enable some particular state(s), do the draw calls, then glDisable() them again when you're done to "clear the stage".

    State-sorting, state-tracking, and many optimization schemes stem from this, as state switching is sometimes expensive.

  • If you find that you are checking the value of state variables often and subsequently calling glEnable/glDisable you may be able to clean things up a bit by using the attribute stack (glPushAttrib / glPopAttrib).

    The attribute stack allows you to isolate areas of your code and such that changes to attribute in one sections does not affect the attribute state in other sections.

    void drawObject1(){
      /* Isolated Region 1 */
    void drawObject2(){
       /* Isolated Region 2 */
    void drawScene(){

    Although GL_LIGHTING and GL_DEPTH_TEST are set in drawObject1 their state is not preserved to drawObject2. In the absence of glPushAttrib this would not be the case. Also - note that there is no need to call glDisable at the end of the function calls, glPopAttrib does the job.

    As far as performance, the overhead due of individual function calls to glEnable/glDisable is minimal. If you need to be handling lots of state you will probably need to create your own state manager or make numerous calls to glGetInteger... and then act accordingly. The added machinery and control flow could made the code less transparent, harder to debug, and more difficult to maintain. These issues may make other, more fruitful, optimizations more difficult.

    The attribution stack can aid in maintaining layers of abstraction and create regions of isolation.

    glPushAttrib manpage

    Jim Buck : .. and its client counterpart glPush/PopClientAttrib
  • A rule of thumb that I was taught said that it's almost always cheaper to just enable/disable at will rather than checking the current state and changing only if needed.

    That said, Marc's answer is something that should definitely work.

  • First of all, which OpenGL version do you use? And which generation of graphics hardware does your target group have? Knowing this would make it easier to give a more correct answer. My answer assumes OpenGL 2.1.

    OpenGL is a state machine, meaning that whenever a state is changed, that state is made "current" until changed again explicitly by the programmer with a new OpenGL API call. Exceptions to this rule exist, like client state array calls making the current vertex color undefined. But those are the exceptions which define the rule.

    "once at the beginning of the application" doesn't make much sense, because there are times you need to destroy your OpenGL context while the application is still running. I assume you mean just after every window creation. That works for state you don't need to change later. Example: If all your draw calls use the same vertex array data, you don't need to disable them with glDisableClientState afterwards.

    There is a lot of enable/disable state associated with the old fixed-function pipeline. The easy redemption for this is: Use shaders! If you target a generation of cards at most five years old, it probably mimics the fixed-function pipeline with shaders anyway. By using shaders you are in more or less total control of what's happening during the transform and rasterization stages, and you can make your own "states" with uniforms, which are very cheap to change/update.

    Knowing that OpenGL is a state machine like I said above should make it clear that one should strive to keep the state changes to a minimum, as long as it's possible. However, there are most probably other things which impacts performance much more than enable/disable state calls. If you want to know about them, read down.

    The expense of state not associated with the old fixed-function state calls and which is not simple enable/disable state can differ widely in cost. Notably linking shaders, and binding names, ("names" of textures, programs, buffer objects) are usually fairly expensive. This is why a lot of games and applications used to sort the draw order of their meshes according to the texture. In that way, they didn't have to bind the same texture twice. Nowadays however, the same applies to shader programs. You don't want to bind the same shader program twice if you don't have to. Also, not all the features in a particular OpenGL version are hardware accelerated on all cards, even if the vendors of those cards claim they are OpenGL compliant. Being compliant means that they follow the specification, not that they necessarily run all the featurs efficiently. Some of the functions like glHistogram and glMinMax from GL__ ARB __imaging should be remembered in this regard.

    Conclusion: Unless there is an obvious reason not to, use shaders! It saves you from a lot of uncecessary state calls since you can use uniforms instead. OpenGL shaders have just been around for about six years you know. Also, the overhead of enable/disable state changes can be an issue, but usually there is a lot more to gain from optimizing other more expensive state changes, like glUseProgram, glCompileShader, glLinkprogram, glBindBuffer and glBindTexture.

    P.S: OpenGL 3.0 removed the client state enable/disable calls. They are implicitly enabled as draw arrays is the only way to draw in this version. Immediate mode was removed. gl..Pointer calls were removed as well, since one really just needs glVertexAttribPointer.


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