Open Graphics Library

A cross-language, cross-platform application programming interface (API) for rendering 2D and 3D vector graphics.
Opengl Logo (nov14)

Open Graphics Library (OpenGL) is a cross-language, cross-platform application programming interface (API) for rendering 2D and 3D vector graphics. The API is typically used to interact with a graphics processing unit (GPU), to achieve hardware-accelerated rendering.

Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) began developing OpenGL in 1991 and released it on June 30, 1992; applications use it extensively in the fields of computer-aided design (CAD), virtual reality, scientific visualization, information visualization, flight simulation, and video games. Since 2006, OpenGL has been managed by the non-profit technology consortium Khronos Group.

The OpenGL specification describes an abstract API for drawing 2D and 3D graphics. Although it is possible for the API to be implemented entirely in software, it is designed to be implemented mostly or entirely in hardware.

The API is defined as a set of functions that may be called by the client program, alongside a set of named integer constants (for example, the constant GL_TEXTURE_2D, which corresponds to the decimal number 3553). Although the function definitions are superficially similar to those of the programming language C, they are language-independent. As such, OpenGL has many language bindings, some of the most noteworthy being the JavaScript binding WebGL (API, based on OpenGL ES 2.0, for 3D rendering from within a web browser); the C bindings WGL, GLX and CGL; the C binding provided by iOS; and the Java and C bindings provided by Android.

In addition to being language-independent, OpenGL is also cross-platform. The specification says nothing on the subject of obtaining, and managing an OpenGL context, leaving this as a detail of the underlying windowing system. For the same reason, OpenGL is purely concerned with rendering, providing no APIs related to input, audio, or windowing.


OpenGL is an evolving API. New versions of the OpenGL specifications are regularly released by the Khronos Group, each of which extends the API to support various new features. The details of each version are decided by consensus between the Group's members, including graphics card manufacturers, operating system designers, and general technology companies such as Mozilla and Google.

In addition to the features required by the core API, graphics processing unit (GPU) vendors may provide additional functionality in the form of extensions. Extensions may introduce new functions and new constants and may relax or remove restrictions on existing OpenGL functions. Vendors can use extensions to expose custom APIs without needing support from other vendors or the Khronos Group as a whole, which greatly increases the flexibility of OpenGL. All extensions are collected in and defined by, the OpenGL Registry.

Each extension is associated with a short identifier, based on the name of the company which developed it. For example, Nvidia's identifier is NV, which is part of the extension name GL_NV_half_float, the constant GL_HALF_FLOAT_NV, and the function glVertex2hNV(). If multiple vendors agree to implement the same functionality using the same API, a shared extension may be released, using the identifier EXT. In such cases, it could also happen that the Khronos Group's Architecture Review Board gives the extension their explicit approval, in which case the identifier ARB is used.

The features introduced by each new version of OpenGL are typically formed from the combined features of several widely-implemented extensions, especially extensions of type ARB or EXT.

Key Terms

khronos group
open graphics library

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Sources & Credits

Last modified on May 6 2020
Content adapted from Wikipedia is service provided by Codecide, a company located in Chicago, IL USA.
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