Dominik Göddeke -- GPGPU::Reduction Tutorial

GPGPU::Reduction Tutorial


  1. Introduction and Prerequisites
  2. Basic idea
  3. Implementation
    1. Generic loop
    2. Solution 1: Precomputed texcoords
    3. Solution 2: On-the-fly texcoord manipulation
    4. Improvements
  4. Acknowledgements
  5. Disclaimer and Copyright

Source code

Source code of the example implementation is provided. All code has been tested using Visual Studio.NET on Windows and the Gnu and Intel compilers on Linux. Some code samples do not work currently on ATI hardware due to ATI's lack of support for LUMINANCE render targets. See below for details.

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Introduction and Prerequisites

This tutorial explains the implementation of reduction-type operations on the GPU. Reductions are characterized by (several) input vector(s) of length N >> 1 and an output scalar. In other words, reductions are functions that map large textures of size M by M to a texture of size 1x1. An example for such an operation is the computation of the maximum of a given floating point vector, which will be covered in this tutorial. Other applications from linear algebra include vector norms, dot products etc. The technique introduced in this tutorial is however very general and can be applied to many GPGPU operations.

To allow abstracting from special cases, we will assume N to be a power of two throughout this tutorial. For an implementation of general reductions, please refer to the chapter Mapping Computational Concepts to GPUs by Mark Harris, published in GPU Gems 2, and especially the freely available sample code.

This tutorial is not meant to reiterate everything that is explained in detail in the Basic Math Tutorial. The reader is expected to have a level of understanding of GPGPU computing as conveyed in that entry-level tutorial.

Some general remarks:

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Basic idea

Recall that on the GPU, the kernels are executed on all elements (texels) covered by the output region (viewport-sized quad). One obvious way to compute a scalar from an input vector therefore is to render a 1x1 output and use a kernel that reads in all values from the input texture(s). This naive approach however has several drawbacks. First, only one of parallel processing elements (PEs) would be busy, thus eleminating all parallel execution and therefore efficiency. Second, this might exceed the maximum allowed shader length and the static instruction count on some hardware.

The idea is to perform a parallel reduction operation instead, based on global communication techniques on parallel computers. The algorithm proceeds to recursively reduce the output size, e.g. by computing the local maximum of each 2x2 group of elements in one kernel. A related term in computer graphics is to build a mipmap pyramid, though in this example, it will not contain blended colors of subgroups of elements, but the maximum value.

On a high-level view, a parallel reduction on the GPU is an adjustment of the input and output texture sizes and element indices. For a given vector of length M by M, the output of the first step is a M/2 by M/2 texture. For each of its texels, the texture coordinates for the input texture are adjusted so that they cover disjunct 2 by 2 subregions. The values in these subregions are then compared and the maximum is written to the corresponding output locations. This is recursively repeated until a 2 by 2 texture has been reduced to the final 1 by 1 "scalar" texture, yielding a logarithmic number of iterations.

The following series of images summarizes the first reduction step of the algorithm for an 8 by 8 input texture. The image on the left shows the input texture. Highlighted in green is the range of the output texels (which are of course located in another texture). The image on the right shows the result of the first reduction pass. Observe that each texel in the output contains the local maximum of a corresponding 2 by 2 region in the input texture. This relation is further highlighted in the second row of images.

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Generic loop

In this tutorial, only the necessary steps to perform the actual reduction are explained in detail. The naming conventions are based on the Basic Math Tutorial to avoid confusion. Since the actual reduction is performed in a ping-pong manner, three different textures are required in this example: one input texture containing the input vector, and two (temporary) textures to perform the reduction itself. The following initializations are assumed:

// texture identifiers
GLuint pingpongTexID[2];
GLuint inputTexID;

// ping pong management vars
int writeTex = 0;
int readTex = 1;

All textures are assumed to be properly set up to the size sqrt(N) by sqrt(N). The texture identified by inputTexID is assumed to be already populated with the vector of length N we want to compute the maximum entry of.

The first step in the computation takes the texture identified by inputTexID as input and reduces it once into the currently writable ping-pong texture attached to an FBO. This first step is taken out of the reduction loop because we do not want to overwrite the input texture during the computation.

// enable fragment profile, bind program [...]

// enable input texture
cgGLSetTextureParameter(textureParam, inputTexID);

// set render destination
glDrawBuffer (attachmentpoints[writeTex]);

// calculate output region width and height
int outputWidth = texSize / 2;

// perform computation and ping-pong output textures

Here, drawQuad(w,h) and swap() are two generic functions that draw a quad of size w by h into the output texture and swap the role of the read-only and write-only textures attached to the FBO respectively.

Next, the remaining number of reduction steps is computed and the steps are executed in a loop with the usual ping-pong technique.

// calculate number of remaining passes: log_2 of current output width
int numPasses = (int)(log((double)outputWidth)/log(2.0));

// perform remaining reduction steps
for (int i=0; i<numPasses; i++) {
    // input texture is read-only texture of pingpong textures
    // set render destination
    glDrawBuffer (attachmentpoints[writeTex]);

    // calculate output region width and height
    outputWidth = outputWidth / 2;

    // perform computation and ping-pong output textures

In the next sections, the actual kernels used for two different ways to implement this will be discussed in detail.

Solution 1: Precomputed texcoords

Recall that we need to adjust the texture coordinates used to sample the input texture to read in 2x2 blocks. One way to do this is to pass them in using the texcoord interpolants the GL provides: With the glMultiTexCoord() routines, we can assign several sets of texture coordinates to the vertices of the rendered quad and have them automatically interpolated across the quad. So we simply pass the coordinates of the locations we want to sample in our reduction shader later on. The generic function drawQuad(w,h) is therefore adjusted as follows:

 * Renders w x h quad in top left corner of the viewport.
void drawQuad(int w, int h) {
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE0, -0.5, -0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE1,  0.5, -0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE2, -0.5,  0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE3,  0.5,  0.5);
    glVertex2f(0.0, 0.0);

    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE0, 2*w-0.5, -0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE1, 2*w+0.5, -0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE2, 2*w-0.5,  0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE3, 2*w+0.5,  0.5);
    glVertex2f(w, 0.0);

    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE0, 2*w-0.5, 2*h-0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE1, 2*w+0.5, 2*h-0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE2, 2*w-0.5, 2*h+0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE3, 2*w+0.5, 2*h+0.5);
    glVertex2f(w, h);

    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE0, -0.5, 2*h-0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE1,  0.5, 2*h-0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE2, -0.5, 2*h+0.5);
    glMultiTexCoord2f(GL_TEXTURE3,  0.5, 2*h+0.5);
    glVertex2f(0.0, h);


Note that the quad covers a region of size w by h, whereas the texture coordinates cover 2w by 2h. The admittedly unfamiliar-looking modifications of the actual coordinates by plus/minus 0.5 is required to define the input coordinates for texture rectangles correctly. It is highly recommended to modify the implementation to perform just one reduction pass and print out the generated texture coordinates for a deeper insight. As texture coordinates are defined per vertex, the rasterizer will interpolate them across the quad. In the kernel, we therefore just input the interpolated coordinates and use them to sample the input texture four times. The resulting values are then fed into the max() function of Cg, and the maximum of the four values is returned.

float maximum (float2 left: TEXCOORD0,
               float2 right: TEXCOORD1,
               float2 top: TEXCOORD2,
               float2 bottom: TEXCOORD3,
               uniform samplerRECT texture) : COLOR { 
    float val1 = texRECT(texture, left);
    float val2 = texRECT(texture, right);
    float val3 = texRECT(texture, top);
    float val4 = texRECT(texture, bottom);
    return max(val1,max(val2,max(val3,val4)));

Note that we read in the coordinates using the register binding to the predefined TEXCOORDi identifiers, which correspond to the values we passed in per vertex using glMultiTexCoord().

A sample implementation of this solution is available for download.

Solution 2: On-the-fly texcoord manipulation

Alternatively, we can compute the offsets on-the-fly based on the output index directly in the shader. The generic function drawQuad(w,h) is in fact very simple in this approach:

void drawQuad(int w, int h) {
    glVertex2f(0.0, 0.0);
    glVertex2f(w, 0.0);
    glVertex2f(w, h);
    glVertex2f(0.0, h);

The actual computation is quite easy: First, we need to subtract 0.5 from the incoming output position to move away from the texel center to its origin. Then, we double the value and add 0.5 again to move back to the texel center. The resulting shader is:

float maximum (float2 coords: WPOS, 
               uniform samplerRECT texture) : COLOR { 
    float2 topleft = ((coords-0.5)*2.0)+0.5;
    float val1 = texRECT(texture, topleft);
    float val2 = texRECT(texture, topleft+float2(1,0));
    float val3 = texRECT(texture, topleft+float2(1,1));
    float val4 = texRECT(texture, topleft+float2(0,1));
    return max(val1,max(val2,max(val3,val4)));

A sample implementation of this solution is available for download. Additionally, a sample implementation using RGBA textures is provided. Except for the obvious changes regarding the texture format, the shader is modified to compute the maximum of each RGBA value into an RGBA result. The final maximum of the resulting RGBA "scalar" is calculated on the CPU. This version runs fine on ATI hardware which does not support LUMINANCE render targets as used throughout the tutorial. Please note that this modification is straight-forward on the code level and completely independent of the technique conveyed by this tutorial. Download the source file here.

Suggestions for Improvements

The implementation allows for a multitude of improvements beyond the scope of this introductory tutorial:

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I would like to thank Thomas Rohkämper for creating the images used in this tutorial. Andrew Burnett-Thompson helped with beta-testing and proofreading. Additionally, the forums at always deserve proper credit.

Disclaimer and Copyright

(c) 2005-2007 Dominik Göddeke, University of Dortmund, Germany.

The example code for this tutorial is released under a weakened version of the zlib/libPNG licence:

This software is provided 'as-is', without any express or implied
warranty.  In no event will the author be held liable for any 
damages arising from the use of this software. 
Permission is granted to anyone to use this software for any purpose, including commercial applications, and to alter it and redistribute it freely.

Feedback (preferably by e-mail) is appreciated!