Version: 2022.3
Language : English
Shader assets
Asynchronous shader compilation

Shader compilation


Every time you build your project, the Unity Editor compiles all the shaders that your build requires: every required shaderA program that runs on the GPU. More info
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variant, for every required graphics API.

When you’re working in the Unity Editor, the Editor does not compile everything upfront. This is because compiling every variant for every graphics API can take a very long time.

Instead, Unity Editor does this:

  • When it imports a shader asset, it performs some minimal processing (such as Surface Shader generation).
  • When it needs to show a shader variant, it checks the Library/ShaderCache folder.
  • If it finds a previously compiled shader variant that uses identicial source code, it uses that.
  • If it does not find a match, it compiles the required shader variant and saves the result to the cache.

Shader compilation is carried out using a process called UnityShaderCompiler. Multiple UnityShaderCompiler processes can be started (generally one per CPU core in your machine), so that at player build time shader compilation can be done in parallel. While the Editor is not compiling shaders, the compiler processes do nothing and do not consume computer resources.

The shader cache folder can become quite large, if you have a lot of shaders that are changed often. It is safe to delete this folder; it just causes Unity to recompile the shader variants.

At player build time, all the “not yet compiled” shader variants are compiled, so that they are in the game data even if the editor did not happen to use them.

Different shader compilers

Different platforms use different shader compilers for shader program compilation as follows:

  • Platforms that use DirectX use Microsoft’s FXC HLSL compiler.
  • Platforms that use OpenGL (Core & ES) use Microsoft’s FXC HLSL compiler, followed by bytecode translation into GLSL using HLSLcc.
  • Platforms that use Metal use Microsoft’s FXC HLSL compiler, followed by bytecode translation into Metal, using HLSLcc.
  • Platforms that use Vulkan use Microsoft’s FXC HLSL compiler, followed by bytecode translation into SPIR-V, using HLSLcc.
  • Other platforms, such as console platforms, use their respective compilers.
  • Surface ShadersA streamlined way of writing shaders for the Built-in Render Pipeline. More info
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    use HLSL and MojoShader for code generation analysis step.

You can configure various shader compiler settings using pragma directives.

The Caching Shader Preprocessor

Shader compilation involves several steps. One of the first steps is preprocessing. During this step, a program called a preprocessor prepares the shader source code for the compiler.

In previous versions of Unity, the Editor used the preprocessor provided by the shader compiler for the current platform. Now, Unity uses its own preprocessor, also called the Caching Shader Preprocessor.

The Caching Shader Preprocessor is optimized for faster shader import and compilation. It works by caching intermediate preprocessing data, so the Editor only needs to parse include files when their contents change, which makes compiling multiple variants of the same shader more efficient.

For detailed information on the differences between the Caching Shader Preprocessor and the previous behavior, see the Unity forum: New shader preprocessor.

AssetBundles and shaders

If you use AssetBundles, Unity might compile duplicate shaders if you reference one shader in two or more objects. For example:

  • A material in an AssetBundle and a material in a built sceneA Scene contains the environments and menus of your game. Think of each unique Scene file as a unique level. In each Scene, you place your environments, obstacles, and decorations, essentially designing and building your game in pieces. More info
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    reference the same shader.
  • Multiple AssetBundles contain materials that reference the same shader outside an AssetBundle.

This can increase the memory and storage space shaders use, and break draw call batching.

To avoid this, you can use the following approaches:

  • Load an AssetBundle that contains all your shaders first, then load and instantiate AssetBundle assets that reference the shaders. See AssetBundle Dependencies for more information.
  • Structure your AssetBundles to minimise duplication. See Asset Duplication for more information.

You can add materials and shader variant collections to an AssetBundle to specify which shader variants to include.

If you create a single AssetBundle, some shaders might stay in memory even if they’re no longer needed, because you cannot partially unload an AssetBundle. You can avoid this by creating a separate AssetBundle for each group of shaders you use together, for example a ‘forest’ AssetBundle and a ‘desert’ AssetBundle. See Managing loaded AssetBundles, or Memory management in the Addressables system if you use Addressables.

You can use the Asset Bundle Browser to check which assets in AssetBundles depend on other assets, and find out if any assets are duplicated.

Build time stripping

While building the game, Unity can detect that some of the internal shader variants are not used by the game, and exclude (“strip”) them from build data. For more information, see Shader variantsA verion of a shader program that Unity generates according to a specific combination of shader keywords and their status. A Shader object can contain multiple shader variants. More info
See in Glossary

Shader assets
Asynchronous shader compilation