Entities are one of the three principal elements of an Entity Component System architecture. They represent the individual "things" in your game or application. An entity has neither behavior nor data; instead, it identifies which pieces of data belong together. Systems provide the behavior, and components store the data.
An entity is essentially an ID. The easiest way to think of it is as a lightweight GameObject that does not even have a name by default. Entity IDs are stable; you can use them to store a reference to another component or entity. For example, a child entity in a hierarchy might need to reference its parent entity.
Although an entity does not have a type, groups of entities can be categorized by the types of data components associated with them. As you create entities and add components to them, the EntityManager keeps track of the unique combinations of components on the existing entities. Such a unique combination is called an Archetype. The EntityManager creates an EntityArchetype struct as you add components to an entity. You can use existing
EntityArchetypes to create new entities that conform to that archetype. You can also create an
EntityArchetype in advance and use that to create entities.
The easiest way to create an entity is in the Unity Editor. You can set ECS to convert both GameObjects placed in a Scene and Prefabs into entities at runtime. For more dynamic parts of your game or application, you can create spawning systems that create multiple entities in a job. Finally, you can use one of the EntityManager.CreateEntity functions to create entities one at a time. Creating entities with the EntityManager is typically the least efficient method.
Creating entities with an EntityManager
Use one of the EntityManager.CreateEntity functions to create an entity. ECS creates the entity in the same World as the EntityManager.
You can create entities one-by-one in the following ways:
- Create an entity with components that use an array of ComponentType objects.
- Create an entity with components that use an EntityArchetype.
- Copy an existing entity, including its current data, with Instantiate
- Create an entity with no components and then add components to it. (You can add components immediately or when additional components are needed.)
You can also create multiple entities at a time:
- Fill a NativeArray with new entities with the same archetype using CreateEntity.
- Fill a NativeArray with copies of an existing entity, including its current data, using Instantiate.
Adding and removing components
After an entity has been created, you can add or remove components. When you do this, the archetype of the affected entities change and the EntityManager must move altered data to a new chunk of memory, as well as condense the component arrays in the original chunks.
Changes to an entity that cause structural changes — that is, adding or removing components that change the values of
SharedComponentData, and destroying the entity — cannot be done inside a job because these could invalidate the data that the job is working on. Instead, you add the commands to make these types of changes to an EntityCommandBuffer and execute this command buffer after the job is complete.
The EntityManager provides functions to remove a component from a single entity as well as all of the entities in a NativeArray. For more information, see the documentation on Components.
Iterating over all entities that have a matching set of components, is at the center of the ECS architecture. See Accessing entity data.
Entities in the Editor
In the Editor, the following icon represents an Entity: . You’ll see this when you use the specific Entities windows and Inspectors.