Converting SPIR-V to WGSL

This document describes the challenges in converting SPIR-V into WGSL.

Note: Unless otherwise specified, the namespace for C++ code is tint::reader::spirv::.

Overall flow

  1. Validate the SPIR-V input.

    The SPIR-V module (binary blob) is validated against rules for Vulkan 1.1, using the SPIRV-Tools validator.

    This allows the rest of the flow to ignore invalid inputs. However, the SPIR-V might still be rejected in a later step because:

    • it uses features unavailable in WGSL, or
    • the SPIR-V Reader is insufficiently smart, or
    • the translated program tries to do something rejected by WGSL‘s rules (which are checked by Tint’s Resolver).
  2. Load the SPIR-V binary into an in-memory representation.

    The SPIR-V reader uses the in-memory representation of the SPIR-V module defined by the SPIRV-Tools optimizer. That provides convenient representation of basic structures such as:

    • instructions
    • types
    • constants
    • functions
    • basic blocks

    and provides analyses for:

    • relating definitions to uses (spvtools::opt::analysis::DefUseMgr)
    • types (spvtools::opt::analysis:TypeManager)
    • constants (spvtools::opt::analysis:ConstantManager)

    Note: The SPIR-V is not modified by the SPIR-V Reader.

  3. Translate the SPIR-V module into Tint's AST.

    The AST is valid for WGSL except for some small exceptions which are cleaned up by transformations.

  4. Post-process the AST to make it valid for WGSL.


    • Rewrite strided arrays and matrices (remove @stride attribute)
    • Rewrite atomic functions
    • Remove unreachable statements, to satisfy WGSL's behaviour analysis.

Overcoming mismatches between SPIR-V and WGSL

Remapping builtin inputs and outputs

SPIR-V for Vulkan models builtin inputs and outputs as variables in Input and Output storage classes.

WGSL builtin inputs are parameters to the entry point, and builtin outputs are result values of the entry point.


We only care about gl_Position from gl_PerVertex

Glslang SPIR-V output for a vertex shader has a gl_PerVertex output variable with four members:

  • gl_Position
  • gl_PointSize
  • gl_ClipDistance
  • gl_CullDistance

WGSL only supports the position builtin variable.

The SPIR-V Reader has a bunch of carveouts so it only generates the position variable. In partcular, it tracks which expressions are actually accesses into the per-vertex variable, and ignores accesses to other parts of the structure, and remaps accesses of the position member.

gl_PointSize must be 1.0

It's a WGSL rule. SPIR-V is more flexible, and the SPIR-V Reader checks that any assignment to (the equivalent of) gl_PointSize must the constant value 1.0.

Remapping sample mask inputs and outputs

There‘s some shenanigans here I don’t recall. See the SkipReason enum.

Integer signedness

In SPIR-V, the instruction determines the signedness of an operation, not the types of its operands.

For example:

%uint = OpTypeInt 32 0 ; u32 type
%int = OpTypeInt 32 1 ; i32 type

%int_1 = OpConstant %int 1  ;  WGSL 1i
%uint_2 = OpConstant %uint 2 ; WGSL 2u

; You can mix signs of an operand, and the instruction
; tells you the result type.
%sum_uint = OpIAdd %uint %int %int_1 %uint_2
%sum_int = OpIAdd %int %int %int_1 %uint_2

However, WGSL arithmetic tends to require the operands and result type for an operation to all have the same signedness.

So the above might translate to WGSL as:

let sum_uint: u32 = bitcast<u32>(1i) + 2u;
let sum_int: i32 = 1i + bitcast<i32>(2u);


  • ParserImpl::RectifyOperandSignedness
  • ParserImpl::RectifySecondOperandSignedness
  • ParserImpl::RectifyForcedResultType

Translating textures and samplers

SPIR-V textures and samplers are module-scope variables in UniformConstant storage class. These map directly to WGSL variables.

For a sampled-image operation, SPIR-V will:

  • load the image value from a texture variable
  • load the sampler value from a sampler variable
  • form a “sampled image” value using SpvOpSampledImage
  • then use that sampled image value in a image operation such as SpvOpImageSampleImplicitLod

For an image operation that is not a sampled-image operation (e.g. OpImageLoad or OpImageWrite), then the steps are similar except without a sampler (clearly), and without invoking OpSampledImage.

In contrast to the SPIR-V code pattern, the WGSL builtin requires the texture and sampler value to be passed in as separate parameters. Secondly, they are passed in by value, by naming the variables themselves and relying on WGSL's “Load Rule” to pass the handle value into the callee.

When the SPIR-V Reader translates a texture builtin, it traces backward through the OpSampledImage operation (if any), back through the load, and all the way back to the OpVariable declaration. It does this for both the image/texture variable and the sampler variable (if applicable). It then uses the names of those variables as the corresponding arguments to the WGSL texture builtin.

Passing textures and samplers into helper functions

Glslang generates SPIR-V where texture and sampler formal parameters are as pointer-to-UniformConstant.

WGSL models them as passing texture and sampler values themselves, conceptually as opaque handles. This is similar to GLSL, but unlike SPIR-V.

To support textures and samplers as arguments to user-defined functions, we extend the tracing logic so it knows to bottom out at OpFunctionParameter.

Also, code that generates function declarations now understands formal parameters declared as a pointer to uniform-constant as well as direct image and sampler values.

Example GLSL compute shader:

#version 450

layout(set=0,binding=0) uniform texture2D im;
layout(set=0,binding=1) uniform sampler s;

vec4 helper(texture2D imparam, sampler sparam) {
  return texture(sampler2D(imparam,sparam),vec2(0));

void main() {
  vec4 v = helper(im,s);

SPIR-V generated by Glslang (Shaderc's glslc):

; Version: 1.0
; Generator: Google Shaderc over Glslang; 10
; Bound: 32
; Schema: 0
               OpCapability Shader
          %1 = OpExtInstImport "GLSL.std.450"
               OpMemoryModel Logical GLSL450
               OpEntryPoint GLCompute %main "main"
               OpExecutionMode %main LocalSize 1 1 1
               OpSource GLSL 450
               OpSourceExtension "GL_GOOGLE_cpp_style_line_directive"
               OpSourceExtension "GL_GOOGLE_include_directive"
               OpName %main "main"
               OpName %helper_t21_p1_ "helper(t21;p1;"
               OpName %imparam "imparam"
               OpName %sparam "sparam"
               OpName %v "v"
               OpName %im "im"
               OpName %s "s"
               OpDecorate %im DescriptorSet 0
               OpDecorate %im Binding 0
               OpDecorate %s DescriptorSet 0
               OpDecorate %s Binding 1
       %void = OpTypeVoid
          %3 = OpTypeFunction %void
      %float = OpTypeFloat 32
          %7 = OpTypeImage %float 2D 0 0 0 1 Unknown
%_ptr_UniformConstant_7 = OpTypePointer UniformConstant %7
          %9 = OpTypeSampler
%_ptr_UniformConstant_9 = OpTypePointer UniformConstant %9
    %v4float = OpTypeVector %float 4
         %12 = OpTypeFunction %v4float %_ptr_UniformConstant_7 %_ptr_UniformConstant_9
         %19 = OpTypeSampledImage %7
    %v2float = OpTypeVector %float 2
    %float_0 = OpConstant %float 0
         %23 = OpConstantComposite %v2float %float_0 %float_0
%_ptr_Function_v4float = OpTypePointer Function %v4float
         %im = OpVariable %_ptr_UniformConstant_7 UniformConstant
          %s = OpVariable %_ptr_UniformConstant_9 UniformConstant
       %main = OpFunction %void None %3
          %5 = OpLabel
          %v = OpVariable %_ptr_Function_v4float Function
         %31 = OpFunctionCall %v4float %helper_t21_p1_ %im %s
               OpStore %v %31
%helper_t21_p1_ = OpFunction %v4float None %12
    %imparam = OpFunctionParameter %_ptr_UniformConstant_7
     %sparam = OpFunctionParameter %_ptr_UniformConstant_9
         %16 = OpLabel
         %17 = OpLoad %7 %imparam
         %18 = OpLoad %9 %sparam
         %20 = OpSampledImage %19 %17 %18
         %24 = OpImageSampleExplicitLod %v4float %20 %23 Lod %float_0
               OpReturnValue %24

What the SPIR-V Reader currently generates:

@group(0) @binding(0) var im : texture_2d<f32>;

@group(0) @binding(1) var s : sampler;

fn helper_t21_p1_(imparam : texture_2d<f32>, sparam : sampler) -> vec4<f32> {
  let x_24 : vec4<f32> = textureSampleLevel(imparam, sparam, vec2<f32>(0.0f, 0.0f), 0.0f);
  return x_24;

fn main_1() {
  var v : vec4<f32>;
  let x_31 : vec4<f32> = helper_t21_p1_(im, s);
  v = x_31;

@compute @workgroup_size(1i, 1i, 1i)
fn main() {

Dimensionality mismatch in texture builtins

Vulkan SPIR-V is fairly forgiving in the dimensionality of input coordinates and result values of texturing operations. There is some localized rewriting of values to satisfy the overloads of WGSL's texture builtin functions.

Reconstructing structured control flow

This is subtle.

  • Use structural dominance (but we didn't have the name at the time). See SPIR-V 1.6 Rev 2 for updated definitions.
  • See the big comment at the start of reader/spirv/
  • See internal presentations.


  • Compute a “structured order” for structurally reachable basic blocks.
  • Traversing in structured order, use a stack-based algorithn to identify intervals of blocks corresponding to structured constructs. For example, loop construct, continue construct, if-selection, switch-selection, and case-construct. Constructs can be nested, hence the need for a stack. This is akin to “drawing braces” around statements, to form block-statements that will appear in the output. This step performs some validation, which may now be redundant with the SPIRV-Tools validator. This is defensive programming, and some tests skip use of the SPIRV-Tools validator.
  • Traversing in structured order, identify structured exits from the constructs identified in the previous step. This determines what control flow edges correspond to break, continue, and return, as needed.
  • Traversing in structured order, generate statements for instructions. This uses a stack corresponding to nested constructs. The kind of each construct being entered or exited determines emission of control flow constructs (WGSL's if, loop, continuing, switch, case).

Preserving execution order

An instruction inside a SPIR-V instruction is one of:

  • control flow: see the previous section
  • combinatorial: think of this as an ALU operation, i.e. the effect is purely to evaluate a result value from the values of its operands. It has no side effects, and is not affected by external state such as memory or the actions of other invocations in its subgroup. Examples: arithmetic, OpCopyObject
  • interacts with memory or other invocations in some way. Examples: load, store, atomics, barriers, (subgroup operations when we get them)
  • function calls: functions are not analyzed to see if they are pure, so we assume function calls are non-combinatorial.

To preserve execution order, all non-combinatorial instructions must be translated as their own separate statement. For example, an OpStore maps to an assignment statement.

However, combinatorial instructions can be emitted at any point in evaluation, provided data flow constraints are satisfied: input values are available, and such that the resulting value is generated in time for consumption by downstream uses.

The SPIR-V Reader uses a heuristic to choose when to emit combinatorial values:

  • if a combinatorial expression only has one use, and
  • its use is in the same structured construct as its definition, then
  • emit the expression at the place where it is consumed.

Otherwise, make a let declaration for the value.


  • If a value has many uses, then computing it once can save effort. Preserve that choice if it was made by an upstream optimizing compiler.
  • If a value is consumed in a different structured construct, then the site of its consumption may be inside a loop, and we don't want to sink the computation into the loop, thereby causing spurious extra evaluation.

This heuristic generates halfway-readable code, greatly reducing the varbosity of code in the common case.

Hoisting and phis

SPIR-V uses SSA (static single assignment). The key requirement is that the definition of a value must dominate its uses.

WGSL uses lexical scoping.

It is easy enough for a human or an optimizing compiler to generate SSA cases which do not map cleanly to a lexically scoped value.

Example pseudo-GLSL:

void main() {
  if (cond) {
    const uint x = 1;
  } else {
  const uint y = x;  // x's definition dominates this use.

This isn't valid GLSL and its analog would not be a valid WGSL program because x is used outside the scope of its declaration.

Additionally, SSA uses phi nodes to transmit values from predecessor basic blocks that would otherwise not be visible (because the parent does not dominate the consuming basic block). An example is sending the updated value of a loop induction variable back to the top of the loop.

The SPIR-V reader handles these cases by tracking:

  • where a value definition occurs
  • the span of basic blocks, in structured order, where there are uses of the value.

If the uses of a value span structured contructs which are not contained by the construct containing the definition (or if the value is a phi node), then we “hoist” the value into a variable:

  • create a function-scope variable at the top of the structured construct that spans all the uses, so that all the uses are in scope of that variable declaration.

  • for a non-phi: generate an assignment to that variable corresponding to the value definition in the original SPIR-V.

  • for a phi: generate an assigment to that variable at the end of each predecessor block for that phi, assigning the value to be transmitted from that phi.

This scheme works for values which can be the stored in a variable.

It does not work for pointers. However, we don't think we need to solve this case any time soon as it is uncommon or hard/impossible to generate via standard tooling. See and

Mapping types

SPIR-V has a recursive type system. Types are defined, given result IDs, before any functions are defined, and before any constant values using the corresponding types.

WGSL also has a recursive type system. However, except for structure types, types are spelled inline at their uses.

Texture and sampler types

SPIR-V image types map to WGSL types, but the WGSL type is determined more by usage (what operations are performed on it) than by declaration.

For example, Vulkan ignores the “Depth” operand of the image type declaration (OpTypeImage). See 16.1 Image Operations Overview. Instead, we must infer that a texture is a depth texture because it is used by image instructions using a depth-reference, e.g. OpImageSampleDrefImplicitLod vs. OpImageSampleImplicitLod.

Similarly, SPIR-V only has one sampler type. The use of the sampler determines whether it maps to a WGSL sampler or sampler_comparison (for depth sampling).

The SPIR-V Reader scans uses of each texture and sampler in the module to infer the appropriate target WGSL type. See ParserImpl::RegisterHandleUsage

In Vulkan SPIR-V it is possible to use the same sampler for regular sampling and depth-reference sampling. In this case the SPIR-V Reader will infer a depth texture, but then the generated program will fail WGSL validation.

For example, this GLSL fragment shader:

#version 450

layout(set=1,binding=0) uniform texture2D tInput;
layout(set=1,binding=1) uniform sampler s;

void main() {
  vec4 v = texture(sampler2D(tInput,s),vec2(0));
  float f = texture(sampler2DShadow(tInput,s),vec3(0));

Converts to this WGSL shader:

@group(1) @binding(0) var tInput : texture_depth_2d;

@group(1) @binding(1) var s : sampler_comparison;

fn main_1() {
  var v : vec4<f32>;
  var f : f32;
  let x_23 : vec4<f32> = vec4<f32>(textureSample(tInput, s, vec2<f32>(0.0f, 0.0f)), 0.0f, 0.0f, 0.0f);
  v = x_23;
  let x_34 : f32 = textureSampleCompare(tInput, s, vec3<f32>(0.0f, 0.0f, 0.0f).xy, vec3<f32>(0.0f, 0.0f, 0.0f).z);
  f = x_34;

fn main() {

But then this fails validation:

error: no matching call to textureSample(texture_depth_2d, sampler_comparison, vec2<f32>)
15 candidate functions: ...

References and pointers

SPIR-V has a pointer type.

A SPIR-V pointer type corresponds to a WGSL memory view. WGSL has two memory view types: a reference type, and a pointer type.

See for details on the translation.

Mapping buffer types

Vulkan SPIR-V expresses a Uniform Buffer Object (UBO), or a WGSL ‘uniform buffer’ as:

  • an OpVariable in Uniform storage class
  • its pointee type (store type) is a Block-decorated structure type

Vulkan SPIR-V has two ways to express a Shader Storage Buffer Object (SSBO), or a WGSL ‘storage buffer’ as either deprecated-style:

  • an OpVariable in Uniform storage class
  • its pointee type (store type) is a BufferBlock-decorated structure type

or as new-style:

  • an OpVariable in StorageBuffer storage class
  • its pointee type (store type) is a Block-decorated structure type

Deprecated-style storage buffer was the only option in un-extended Vulkan 1.0. It is generated by tools that want to generate code for the broadest reach. This includes DXC.

New-style storage buffer requires the use of the OpExtension "SPV_KHR_storage_buffer_storage_class" or SPIR-V 1.3 or later (Vulkan 1.1 or later).

Additionally, a storage buffer in SPIR-V may be marked as NonWritable. Perhaps surprisingly, this is typically done by marking all the members of the top-level (Buffer)Block-decorated structure as NonWritable. (This is the common translation because that's what Glslang does.)

Translation of uniform buffers is straightforward.

However, the SPIR-V Reader must support both the deprecated and the new styles of storage buffers.


  • a storage buffer with all NonWritable members is translated with read access mode. This becomes a part of its WGSL reference type (and hence corresponding pointer type).
  • a storage buffer without all NonWritable members is translated with an explicit read_write access mode. This becomes a part of its WGSL reference type (and hence corresponding pointer type).

Note that read-only vs. read-write is a property of the pointee-type in SPIR-V, but in WGSL it's part of the reference type (not the store type).

To handle this mismatch, the SPIR-V Reader has bookkeeping to map each pointer value (inside a function) back to through to the originating variable. This originating variable may be a buffer variable which then tells us which address space and access mode to use for a locally-defined pointer value.

Since baseline SPIR-V does not allow passing pointers to buffers into user-defined helper functions, we don't need to handle this buffer type remapping into function formal parameters.

Mapping OpArrayLength

The OpArrayLength instruction takes a pointer to the enclosing structure (the pointee type of the storage buffer variable).

But the WGSL arrayLength builtin variable takes a pointer to the member inside that structure.

A small local adjustment is sufficient here.