Often it is convenient to keep most of a piece of shader code fixed but also allow slightly different shader “variants” to be produced. This is commonly called “mega shaders” or “uber shaders”, and is achieved by compiling the shader code multiple times with different preprocessor directives for each case.
At runtime, the appropriate shader variant is picked up from the Material keywords (Material.EnableKeyword and DisableKeyword) or global shader keywords (Shader.EnableKeyword and DisableKeyword).
A directive like:
#pragma multi_compile FANCY_STUFF_OFF FANCY_STUFF_ON
Will produce two shader variants, one with
FANCY_STUFF_OFF defined, and another with
FANCY_STUFF_ON. At runtime, one of them will be activated based on the Material or global shader keywords. If neither of these two keywords are enabled then the first one (“off”) will be used.
There can be more than two keywords on a multi_compile line, for example this will produce four shader variants:
#pragma multi_compile SIMPLE_SHADING BETTER_SHADING GOOD_SHADING BEST_SHADING
When any of the names are all underscores, then a shader variant will be produced, with no preprocessor macro defined. This is commonly used for shaders features, to avoid using up two keywords (see notes on keywork limit below). For example, the directive below will produce two shader variants; first one with nothing defined, and second one with
#pragma multi_compile __ FOO_ON
#pragma shader_feature is very similar to
#pragma multi_compile, the only difference is that unused variants of shader_feature shaders will not be included into game build. So shader_feature makes most sense for keywords that will be set on the materials, while multi_compile for keywords that will be set from code globally.
Additionally, it has a shorthand notation with just one keyword:
#pragma shader_feature FANCY_STUFF
Which is just a shortcut for
#pragma shader_feature _ FANCY_STUFF, i.e. it expands into two shader variants (first one without the define; second one with it).
Several multi_compile lines can be provided, and the resulting shader will be compiled for all possible combinations of the lines:
#pragma multi_compile A B C #pragma multi_compile D E
This would produce three variants for first line, and two for the second line, or in total six shader variants (A+D, B+D, C+D, A+E, B+E, C+E).
It’s easiest to think of each multi_compile line as controlling a single shader “feature”. Keep in mind that the total number of shader variants grows really fast this way. For example, ten multi_compile “features” with two options each produces 1024 shader variants in total!
When using shader variants, you should bear in mind that there is a limit of 128 keywords in Unity and a few of these are used internally and therefore subtract from the limit. Also, the keywords are enabled globally throughout a particular Unity project so you should be careful not to exceed the limit when multiple keywords are defined in several different shaders.
There are several “shortcut” notations for compiling multiple shader variants; they are mostly to deal with different light, shadow and lightmap types in Unity. See rendering pipeline for details.
multi_compile_fwdbasecompiles all variants needed by
ForwardBase(forward rendering base) pass type. The variants deal with different lightmap types and main directional light having shadows on or off.
multi_compile_fwdaddcompiles variants for
ForwardAdd(forward rendering additive) pass type. This compiles variants to handle directional, spot or point light types, and their variants with cookie textures.
multi_compile_fwdadd_fullshadows- same as above, but also includes ability for the lights to have realtime shadows.
multi_compile_fogexpands to several variants to handle different fog types (off/linear/exp/exp2).
Most of the built-in shortcuts result in quite many shader variants. It is possible to skip compiling some of them if you know they are not neeeded, by using
#pragma skip_variants. For example:
#pragma multi_compile_fwdadd // will make all variants containing // "POINT" or "POINT_COOKIE" be skipped #pragma skip_variants POINT POINT_COOKIE
One common reason to need shader variants is to create fallbacks or simplified shaders to be able to efficiently run on both high and low end hardware within a single target platform - such as OpenGL ES. To provide a specially optimised set of variants for different levels of hardware capability, you can use shader hardware variants.
To enable the generation of shader hardware variants, add
#pragma hardware_tier_variants renderer, where
renderer is one of the available renderering platforms for shader program pragmas. With this
#pragma 3 shader variants will be generated for each shader, regardless of any other keywords. Each variant will have one of the following defined:
UNITY_HARDWARE_TIER1 UNITY_HARDWARE_TIER2 UNITY_HARDWARE_TIER3
You can use these to write conditional fallbacks or extra features for lower or higher end. In the editor you can test any of the tiers by using the Graphics Emulation menu, which allows you to change between each of the tiers.
To help keep the impact of these variants as small as possible, only one set of shaders is ever loaded in the player. In addition, any shaders which end up identical - for example if you only write a specialised version for TIER1 and all others are the same - then these shaders will not take up any extra space on disk.
At load time Unity will examine the GPU that it is using and auto-detect a tier value, with a default fallback to the highest tier if the GPU is not auto-detected. You can override this tier value by setting
Shader.globalShaderHardwareTier, however this must be done before any shaders you want to vary are loaded - once the shaders are loaded they will have selected their set of variants and this value will have no effect. A good place to set this would be in a pre-load scene before you load your main scene.
Note that these shader hardware tiers are not related to the quality settings of the player, they are purely detected from the relative capability of the GPU the player is running on.