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OpenGL in Mac OS X OpenGL in Mac OS X implements the OpenGL client-server model using a common OpenGL framework and plug-in drivers. The framework and driver combine to implement the client portion of OpenGL, as shown in Figure 1-4. Dedicated graphics hardware provides the server. Although this is the common scenario, Apple.

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Important:OpenGL was deprecated in macOS 10.14. To create high-performance code on GPUs, use the Metal framework instead. See Metal.

Important OpenGL was deprecated in macOS 10.14. To create high-performance code on GPUs, use the Metal framework instead. See Metal.

OpenGL is an open, cross-platform graphics standard with broad industry support. OpenGL greatly eases the task of writing real-time 2D or 3D graphics applications by providing a mature, well-documented graphics processing pipeline that supports the abstraction of current and future hardware accelerators.

At a Glance

OpenGL is an excellent choice for graphics development on the Macintosh platform because it offers the following advantages:

  • Reliable Implementation. The OpenGL client-server model abstracts hardware details and guarantees consistent presentation on any compliant hardware and software configuration. Every implementation of OpenGL adheres to the OpenGL specification and must pass a set of conformance tests.

  • Performance. Applications can harness the considerable power of the graphics hardware to improve rendering speeds and quality.

  • Industry acceptance. The specification for OpenGL is controlled by the Khronos Group, an industry consortium whose members include many of the major companies in the computer graphics industry, including Apple. In addition to OpenGL for OS X, there are OpenGL implementations for Windows, Linux, Irix, Solaris, and many game consoles.

OpenGL Is a C-based, Platform-Neutral API

Because OpenGL is a C-based API, it is extremely portable and widely supported. As a C API, it integrates seamlessly with Objective-C based Cocoa applications. OpenGL provides functions your application uses to generate 2D or 3D images. Your application presents the rendered images to the screen or copies them back to its own memory.

The OpenGL specification does not provide a windowing layer of its own. It relies on functions defined by OS X to integrate OpenGL drawing with the windowing system. Your application creates an OS X OpenGL rendering context and attaches a rendering target to it (known as a drawable object). The rendering context manages OpenGL state changes and objects created by calls to the OpenGL API. The drawable object is the final destination for OpenGL drawing commands and is typically associated with a Cocoa window or view.

Different Rendering Destinations Require Different Setup Commands

Depending on whether your application intends to draw OpenGL content to a window, to draw to the entire screen, or to perform offscreen image processing, it takes different steps to create the rendering context and associate it with a drawable object.

Relevant Chapters:Drawing to a Window or View, Drawing to the Full Screen and Drawing Offscreen

OpenGL on Macs Exists in a Heterogenous Environment

Macs support different types of graphics processors, each with different rendering capabilities, supporting versions of OpenGL from 1.x through OpenGL 3.2. When creating a rendering context, your application can accept a broad range of renderers or it can restrict itself to devices with specific capabilities. Once you have a context, you can configure how that context executes OpenGL commands.

OpenGL on the Mac is not only a heterogenous environment, but it is also a dynamic environment. Users can add or remove displays, or take a laptop running on battery power and plug it into a wall. When the graphics environment on the Mac changes, the renderer associated with the context may change. Your application must handle these changes and adjust how it uses OpenGL.

Relevant Chapters:Choosing Renderer and Buffer Attributes, Working with Rendering Contexts, and Determining the OpenGL Capabilities Supported by the Renderer

OpenGL Helps Applications Harness the Power of Graphics Processors

Graphics processors are massively parallelized devices optimized for graphics operations. To access that computing power adds additional overhead because data must move from your application to the GPU over slower internal buses. Accessing the same data simultaneously from both your application and OpenGL is usually restricted. To get great performance in your application, you must carefully design your application to feed data and commands to OpenGL so that the graphics hardware runs in parallel with your application. A poorly tuned application may stall either on the CPU or the GPU waiting for the other to finish processing.

When you are ready to optimize your application’s performance, Apple provides both general-purpose and OpenGL-specific profiling tools that make it easy to learn where your application spends its time.

Relevant Chapters:Optimizing OpenGL for High Resolution, OpenGL on the Mac Platform,OpenGL Application Design Strategies, Best Practices for Working with Vertex Data, Best Practices for Working with Texture Data, Customizing the OpenGL Pipeline with Shaders, and Tuning Your OpenGL Application

Concurrency in OpenGL Applications Requires Additional Effort

Many Macs ship with multiple processors or multiple cores, and future hardware is expected to add more of each. Designing applications to take advantage of multiprocessing is critical. OpenGL places additional restrictions on multithreaded applications. If you intend to add concurrency to an OpenGL application, you must ensure that the application does not access the same context from two different threads at the same time.

Performance Tuning Allows Your Application to Provide an Exceptional User Experience

Once you’ve improved the performance of your OpenGL application and taken advantage of concurrency, put some of the freed processing power to work for you. Higher resolution textures, detailed models, and more complex lighting and shading algorithms can improve image quality. Full-scene antialiasing on modern graphics hardware can eliminate many of the “jaggies” common on lower resolution images.

Relevant Chapters:Customizing the OpenGL Pipeline with Shaders,Techniques for Scene Antialiasing

How to Use This Document

If you have never programmed in OpenGL on the Mac, you should read this book in its entirety, starting with OpenGL on the Mac Platform. Critical Mac terminology is defined in that chapter as well as in the Glossary.

If you already have an OpenGL application running on the Mac, but have not yet updated it for OS X v10.7, read Choosing Renderer and Buffer Attributes to learn how to choose an OpenGL profile for your application.

To find out how to update an existing OpenGL app for high resolution, see Optimizing OpenGL for High Resolution.

Once you have OpenGL content in your application, read OpenGL Application Design Strategies to learn fundamental patterns for implementing high-performance OpenGL applications, and the chapters that follow to learn how to apply those patterns to specific OpenGL problems.

Important: Although this guide describes how to create rendering contexts that support OpenGL 3.2, most code examples and discussion in the rest of the book describe the earlier legacy versions of OpenGL. See Updating an Application to Support the OpenGL 3.2 Core Specification for more information on migrating your application to OpenGL 3.2.


This guide assumes that you have some experience with OpenGL programming, but want to learn how to apply that knowledge to create software for the Mac. Although this guide provides advice on optimizing OpenGL code, it does not provide entry-level information on how to use the OpenGL API. If you are unfamiliar with OpenGL, you should read OpenGL on the Mac Platform to get an overview of OpenGL on the Mac platform, and then read the following OpenGL programming guide and reference documents:

  • OpenGL Programming Guide, by Dave Shreiner and the Khronos OpenGL Working Group; otherwise known as 'The Red book.”

  • OpenGL Shading Language, by Randi J. Rost, is an excellent guide for those who want to write programs that compute surface properties (also known as shaders).

  • OpenGL Reference Pages.

Before reading this document, you should be familiar with Cocoa windows and views as introduced in Window Programming Guide and View Programming Guide.

See Also

Keep these reference documents handy as you develop your OpenGL program for OS X:

  • NSOpenGLView Class Reference, NSOpenGLContext Class Reference, NSOpenGLPixelBuffer Class Reference, and NSOpenGLPixelFormat Class Reference provide a complete description of the classes and methods needed to integrate OpenGL content into a Cocoa application.

  • CGL Reference describes low-level functions that can be used to create full-screen OpenGL applications.

  • OpenGL Extensions Guide provides information about OpenGL extensions supported in OS X.

The OpenGL Foundation website,, provides information on OpenGL commands, the Khronos OpenGL Working Group, logo requirements, OpenGL news, and many other topics. It's a site that you'll want to visit regularly. Among the many resources it provides, the following are important reference documents for OpenGL developers:

  • OpenGL Specification provides detailed information on how an OpenGL implementation is expected to handle each OpenGL command.

  • OpenGL Reference describes the main OpenGL library.

  • OpenGL GLU Reference describes the OpenGL Utility Library, which contains convenience functions implemented on top of the OpenGL API.

  • OpenGL GLUT Reference describes the OpenGL Utility Toolkit, a cross-platform windowing API.

  • OpenGL API Code and Tutorial Listings provides code examples for fundamental tasks, such as modeling and texture mapping, as well as for advanced techniques, such as high dynamic range rendering (HDRR).

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Accelerating graphics and much more.

Metal provides near-direct access to the graphics processing unit (GPU), enabling you to maximize the graphics and compute potential of your apps on iOS, macOS, and tvOS. Building on an approachable, low-overhead architecture with precompiled GPU shaders, fine-grained resource control, and multithreading support, Metal further evolves support for GPU-driven command creation, simplifies working with the array of Metal-capable GPUs, and lets you tap into Pro power of Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR.

GPU-driven Compute Encoding

Moving beyond just rendering passes, Metal in iOS 13 and tvOS 13 empowers the GPU to construct its own compute commands with Indirect Compute Encoding. Now complete scenes using advanced culling and tessellation techniques can be built and scheduled with little or no CPU interaction.

Improved Raytracing Acceleration

Metal Performance Shaders (MPS) speed raytracing operations even more by moving the bounded volume hierarchy construction to the GPU. MPS also provide new, optimized de-noising filters in an essential collection of highly-optimized compute and graphics shaders.

Metal for Pro Apps

Professional content-creation apps can take advantage of outstanding enhancements in Metal on macOS Catalina. Metal Peer Groups make it easy to rapidly share data between multiple GPUs in Mac Pro without transferring through main memory. And enhancements to CAMetalLayer give you access to the High Dynamic Range capabilities of Pro Display XDR.

Simpler GPU Families

Developing with Metal is even easier with the dramatically simplified GPU Families. Three well-considered groupings allow you to easily target functionality that's common across all Metal-enabled GPUs, access unique capabilities of Apple-designed GPUs, and better harness supported third-party GPUs on macOS.

Metal Memory Debugger

The Metal Memory Debugger gives fine-grained insight into how much memory Metal objects and rendering resources consume at runtime. It also analyzes how your resources are configured and suggests improvements, so you can deeply optimize your game or app to take full advantage of Metal.

Metal-enabled iOS Simulator

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The Simulator now uses Metal to speed up the development of iOS apps that either use Metal directly or rely on Metal-based system frameworks. This is perfect for smoothly transitioning from OpenGL ES to Metal.

Download Opengl For Mac

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