GLSL quasiquoting in Rust!

GLSL quasiquoting in Rust!

quasiquoting, glsl

2018-10-05 19:00:00 UTC, by Dimitri Sabadie

A year ago, I announced the glsl crate, a crate used to parse GLSL450-formated sources (and possibly GLSL460 since it’s almost the same thing, but a feature flag is needed for that). I didn’t get much feedback about it but I’ve been using it in my cheddar crate with a great of success (along with spectra).

The glsl crate enables you to parse a GLSL-formatted input (raw string or byte slice) into an AST you can manipulate in Rust.

It’s very likely you will never have to work with that AST representation directly. Instead, you might be interested in all the possible outcomes you can get from using the glsl crate:

Lately, in spectra, I’ve been working on a more abstract way to write shaders in GLSL. The idea is that I need to ship the library with some GLSL. The typical way people do this is by embedding a static string into your library / application, like so:

const SOME_VERTEX_SHADER: &str =
"void main() {
  // …

You can also use the include_str! standard macro to read it from a file at compile-time.

The cheddar crate provides you with an enriched version of GLSL (the Cheddar language), and the integration in spectra is pretty much seamless. The GLSL is parsed from Cheddar, transpiled to the GLSL AST and then the whole thing is passed luminance that acts as a rendering backend of spectra. Becauses some AST transformation is needed, the glsl crate is used in cheddar, and some GLSL must be added in order to provide a smoother and nicer experience within spectra.

The problem kicks in that transformation part. Since Cheddar is parsed directly into memory as an AST (via the cheddar crate), how could we transform and add things to values from cheddar?

The hard and manual way: the constructor syntax

Pretty much all of the glsl crate is public. There’s no invariant, so no need to hide anything. It’s possible to create, for instance, a AssignmentExpr by simply calling its constructor syntax:

let assignment_expr = AssignmentExpr {
  // fields here

This is the regular way to go, but if you look at some types, such as the SimpleStatement, you’ll get that it can get very noisy and verbose very quickly. So that’ll work, but that’ll also be very incomfortable to work with.

The advantage of constructing and transforming that way is that you can destructure and pattern-match ASTs.

Enter the nice solution: quasiquoting

As a Haskeller, I’ve been very frustrated by that construction problem, thinking that there must be an easier and less noisy way to do so. That reminds me of all the EDSLs I wrote in my Haskeller life and some very, very sweet embedded languages, like SQL, C or Java, directly into Haskell. That is done via something we call quasiquoting. Quasiquoting is a general concept but in our case, applies to embedded languages.

The concept is simple: you write in a foreign language in a quasiquoter in your host language (Haskell or Rust). The compiler then recognizes the quasiquoter and executes some code at compile time. Once it’s done, it replaces the quasiquoted statement with the result of its computation.

One good example of quasiquoting is postgresql-query, a Haskell quasiquoting library for SQL. SQL queries can be built with regular Haskell code but they can also be built out of a quasiquoter, like so:

-- some code elided for simplicity here
pqQuery [sqlExp|SELECT,, u.age
                FROM users AS u ^{cond}
                ORDER BY ^{ord}|]

The [sqlExp|…|] notation uses the quasiquoter syntax: the sqlExp is the quasiquoter to use, and everything between the two pipes are the content / input to pass the quasiquoter. The compiler just reads that, executes some code defined in the postgresql-query library and if it runs correctly, the resulting expression is inserted directly at the place of use as if nothing has happened. Brillant, right? :)

Having written glsl, that seemed like a perfect – maybe even wanted and mandatory? – opportunity to me to introduce GLSL quasiquoting into the Rust environment. Maybe it’ll also bring some people onto the glsl project – I really need hands, especially because the SPIR-V transpiler doesn’t exist yet!

So, here you go. glsl-quasiquote-0.1 was released today! The crate provides you with two macros: glsl! and glsl_str!. Both are procedural macros that requires a nightly compiler and the proc_macro_non_items feature. They will both output a TranslationUnit, that represents a whole shader AST.

The glsl! AST works the same way a quasiquoter from Haskell: instead of delimiting your GLSL code with pipes, you write them inside parens or brackets, like so:

  void main() {

The glsl_str! macro does the exact same thing but expects a literal string as input. This is due to the fact that quasiquoting in Rust is a bit tricky – who’s looking at me like I was about to write an RFC? – because regular macros and procedural macros eat Rust tokens as inputs, forcing their content to be Rust-friendly syntax. Well, GLSL is not: the #version and #extension pragmas need newlines at the end, so the following will not work:

  #version 330 core
  void main() {

Instead, you must use the glsl_str! quasiquoter:

  #version 330 core

  void main() {

It’s a bit of an unaesthetica and pretty weird syntax but we don’t really have a choice (so far).

Whenever a GLSL is incorrectly formatted, you’ll get a compiler error. For instance, the following:

  void main() 3 {

generates the following rustc output:

error: proc macro panicked
  --> tests/
26 |     let _ = glsl!{
   |  ___________^
27 | |     void main() 3 {
28 | |     }
29 | |   };
   | |___^
   = help: message: GLSL error: Err(ParseError { kind: Many1, info: "void main (  ) 3 {  }" })

error: aborting due to previous error

The crate was released today, so it needs a lot of love, attention and testing. I’m adding support for it in spectra for my experiences, so I should be updating it if I find anything wrong with it.

Feel free to use it, and have fun! I’m awaiting your feedback!

Keep the vibes!