Awesome Open Source
Awesome Open Source

VIL: Vulkan Introspection Layer

Vulkan in-app debugging layer that is able to provide live introspection and debugging via an overlay or window GUI.

This is still in a very early stage of development. Bug reports are welcome. There are various known issues and some of the features below are work-in-progess. See the rough overview over the currently implemented vulkan commands/extensions. Keep in mind that using extensions/features not supported by the layer at the moment might cause crashes.

Example of command viewer 1


  • showing all created resources, their usage, content and connection
    • can be identified via debug names
    • visualize content of images and see buffer content
  • inspect recorded and executing command buffers with live GPU timings
    • quickly inspect pipeline state
    • inspect all submissions done to the device and their connection
    • view the effective properties of draw & dispatch calls, also for indirect commands
    • show all state bound for a draw/dispatch command and all outputs, live
      • display images
      • show and interpret buffer content
      • show vertex input (vertex output, model visualization and other pre-rasterization stages are WIP)
      • show the contents of framebuffer attachments after a draw call
  • showing general debug information about the application such as
    • enabled device and instance extensions
    • enabled features
    • overall statistics on used memory and available memory budget

Intended much more as a live debugging tool than a profiling tool. Does not have all the features of existing debugging tools (such as renderdoc) at the moment, but can already be useful to debug problems that are hard to find in traditional debugging tools. Unlike capture-based tools, this allows a live introspection. This can be useful to debug temporal or synchronization issues (doing this with per-frame captures can be bothersome) or as first-try debugging approach to figure out roughly where a problem is, without having to wait for a capture to load. It also is useful as a general-purpose introspection tool, capture-based tools are usually optimized to only show resources important for their capture, leaving out the rest. It also allows to easily debug compute-only vulkan applications that don't have a swapchain (renderdoc can do that but requires the application to explicitly call renderdoc api).


  • Writing captures/gpu state to disk and viewing it later on is not possible and is likely just out of the scope of this project. There are great tools for that.
  • This isn't as stable/feature-complete as known tools
  • Currently, there is no shader debugging at all. Might be added in the far away future.
  • The live nature of the introspection brings various problems with it. While it is already possible to freeze some state and also view e.g. invalidated/destroyed command records, you might run into issues where state you would want to inspect (from a specific frame) is just not available anymore. Sometimes, capturing a single frame and inspecting that is the better approach.

Building & Installing

Supported/Tested platforms:

  • Unix, gcc & clang (with solid C++17 support)
    • xcb, xlib and wayland platforms
    • hooked overlay not supported on wayland, it is too well designed to allow hacks like that. Just integrate vil with your application using the API or use VIL_CREATE_WINDOW for a separate window (that works on native wayland). Or make your application use xcb/xlib.
      • only actively tested on linux, bug reports and improvements for other platforms appreciated
  • MSVC 2019 (x64)
  • MinGW (this one is not tested at the moment and might give you problems but reported issues will be fixed. CI for this platform is WIP).

NOTE: 32-bit platforms are currently not supported. Pull requests are welcome but you'd likely have to maintain it yourself/set up CI.

Currently (as there isn't even an official release), there are no prepackaged binaries or build scripts, you have to build and install it yourself. You'll need an up-to-date version of meson.


Just clone the repository and run:

meson build
ninja -C build

To install the layer you can just run ninja -C build install (you might need superuser rights for that). By default, meson will install to /usr/local so - depending on your system - the layer configuration file or layer library itself might not be found by the vulkan loader. Either make sure that /usr/local is properly included in your system's library and vulkan loader search paths or change the install prefix to /usr via meson (e.g. run meson --prefix=/usr build in the beginning). Be warned that using the /usr prefix for manually built libs/applications is generally not recommended since it might mess with your package manager.


On windows, this is actively tested with MSVC 2019, older version will likely not work due to incomplete/incorrect C++17 support. Since we require c11, MSVC >= 19.28 is required (visual studio 16.8). The recommended/tested way to build it:

  1. open the x64 Native Tools command prompt for your visual studio version. You can just search for that using the start menu when you have visual studio installed.
  2. Navigate to the vil folder.
  3. Run meson build --backend vs2019
  4. If everything goes correctly, you will have a Visual Studio solution you can build.

You will still need to install the layer after building it. On windows, layers are installed via registry entries, you have to add a registry entry in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Khronos\Vulkan\ExplicitLayers pointing to the generated layer config json (that must be located in the same folder as VkLayer_live_introspection.dll). See here or here for more details. You can simply run the register_layer.bat script in the build directory. Note that it will require admin privileges to add the registry key. You should usually not run random batch scripts from the internet that require admin privileges, so feel free to do it manually in an admin prompt:

REG ADD HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Khronos\Vulkan\ExplicitLayers /v <filepath of VkLayer_live_introspection.json> /t REG_DWORD /d 0

Replace <filepath of VkLayer_live_introspection.json> with full file path of the generated VkLayer_live_introspection.json file, e.g. D:\code\vil\build\vs19\VkLayer_live_introspection.json.

When building with something else than MSVC, you might have to adjust the name of the dll. For instance, MinGW might add a lib prefix. In that case, when using vil_api.h, you'll also have to redefine VIL_LIB_NAME before including the header to the name of the dll.

Using vil

Once installed, you have to make sure vulkan applications load VK_LAYER_live_introspection. Either pass it to your VkInstanceCreateInfo or enable it via environment variable VK_INSTANCE_LAYERS=VK_LAYER_live_introspection. During the early stages of this project, you likely want to load it before any validation layer. If your application then causes triggers validation errors with vil that are not there without it, make sure to report them here!

There are multiple ways of using the introspection gui:

  • Make the layer create a new window containing the debug gui when the application starts. This is the current default, you can enable it via the environment variable VIL_CREATE_WINDOW=1.
  • Make the layer draw an overlay over your application
    • Since the layer gui still needs input you have to supply it via a separate api. See include/vil_api.h. As soon as you call the API to create an overlay on a swapchain, the extra debug window will be closed (if there was one).
    • Experimental: Make the layer hook the application's input so the overlay can work as a simple drop-in, without having to change the application for it. This is highly platform-specific and might not work with certain platforms/applications. This is not enabled by default (and might be disabled from the default build config or even completely removed from the layer in future). You can force it via the environment variable VIL_HOOK_OVERLAY=1.

About retail games

Using this layer in retail application/games (i.e. games you don't develop yourself, without available source code or debugging symbols) IS NOT OFFICIALLY SUPPORTED. There are multiple reasons for this:

  • It can be expected that the layer will cause issues in quite some games, especially in this early stage of development. Bug reports of the form "Game XY crashes when enabling this layer" are not too useful since it would require installing Game XY and then trying to reverse-engineer what it does to cause a crash in the layer. Sometimes, the result would be that the game/application simply does not follow the vulkan spec and while the driver can handle it, the layer cannot. Even for open-source games such bug reports are not useful.
  • Using this layer in games will likely trigger anti-cheat mechanisms. USING THIS LAYER IN MULTIPLAYER GAMES MIGHT GET YOU BANNED AND THAT IS NOT OUR FAULT. This layer messes with draw calls (you can literally view the final image without certain draw calls being made) and so games are entirely right in banning players for using it. Even just playing games that include a multiplayer mode locally with the layer might get you in trouble. Just don't do it. And don't blame us if it backfires.
  • Usage of this layer in retail products might be motivated by abuse. Keep in mind that while game developers usually have no problem with players sharing videos or screenshots of the gameplay; extracting textures, models, raw framebuffer data or rendering techniques from the game (and then distributing them) might not be in the interest of the developer or fair use of the material. This is not the usecase this layer is intended for and not a usecase that will be supported in any way.

With that out of the way, there is nothing per se wrong with using the layer in retail products and games you have not written yourself. As long as you don't expect us to make it to work or distribute the results. When you can point out what exactly is causing the layer to crash with a specific game or fix a problem inside the layer to allow using it with a retail product, we definitely want to hear of it. But additional code paths inside the layer that work around specific game issues will not be accepted.

Using the layer via an overlay inside the demo level of vkQuake2: Running inside vkQuake2


SPDX-License-Identifier: GPL-3.0-only

Unless stated otherwise, code and assets in this repository are licensed under GPLv3. Contributors don't have to sign a CLA.

Note that since this is a dynamically loaded vulkan layer and not a library you link your application against, using this in production of proprietary products should not be a problem and is inside the intended usecase.

Get A Weekly Email With Trending Projects For These Topics
No Spam. Unsubscribe easily at any time.
C Plus Plus (370,326
Tool (6,395
Graphics (2,510
Vulkan (962
Debugging (894
Debugger (731
Live (588
Layer (213
Related Projects