Archive for December, 2009

Compiling OpenCL Kernels with Xcode

The talk I’m working on for NSConference 2010 involves a decent amount of OpenCL kernel code. Originally, I thought I would develop the kernel code the same way I develop Core Image kernel code: build the kernel in Quartz Composer and then copy paste the code into Xcode when I got it working.

Unfortunately, I’ve not had much luck with Quartz Composer in way of meaningful compiler errors. Sometimes it returns good errors, sometimes inscrutable ones.

Quartz Composer

Composer: Wait, wait, I remember this… it’s COBOL, right?


However, I’ve found debugging OpenCL kernels to be much easier thanks to the invention of a function I like to call “printf.” If you run your kernel on the CPU, then you can print out values just like in C. With debugging solved, I just needed to figure out how to find compiler errors without having to run my code.

Unlike Core Image, OpenCL actually requires you to compile your kernel code explicitly before using it. The API’s required to do this will return nice compiler error messages and everything. The obvious thing to do would be wrap up these API’s in a command line tool and invoke the tool from Xcode, which is what I did.

The Code

You can download the Xcode project for clc, the OpenCL Compiler here. It requires Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and the associated Xcode tools. To install, just build the project and copy the resulting binary into your path somewhere. I used ~/bin.

Most of the code is self explanatory, with the possible exception of the output. Unlike most compilers, clc doesn’t output object code because the host and runtime CPU/GPU’s could easily be different. It could simply copy the source code as is for the output, but that was a little too obvious for my tastes. Instead clc compresses the source code and stuffs it into a binary plist. It has the slight benefit of potentially being smaller on disk, and making your source code negligibly less accessible to prying eyes, if you’re into that sort of thing.

There are definite possibilities for improvement. For example, there could be an option to encrypt the source code to be more “secure.” Or it could store the binary code generated by the host machine in the output on the chance that the host and runtime machines have the same hardware.

Setting up Xcode

To use clc, you’ll need to set up a build rule in your app’s target settings to run all OpenCL source files through it. Selecting the menu item Project > Edit Active Target, and then selecting the Rules tab, should land you here:


Add another rule, set it to process OpenCL source files using a Custom script. For the custom script enter:

~/bin/clc ${INPUT_FILE_PATH} -o ${TARGET_BUILD_DIR}/${PRODUCT_NAME}.app/Contents/Resources/${INPUT_FILE_BASE}.clar

Finally, you’ll need to tell Xcode where you’re putting the output file, which is:


By default, Xcode won’t put OpenCL source files (.cl) into the target, meaning they won’t get compiled. For each of your OpenCL source files
you’ll need to explicitly add them to your target. There are several ways to do this, but the easiest is probably selecting all of them, and doing a Get Info (File > Get Info). Switch to the Targets tab and check the target they should be compiled into.

Runtime Code

At runtime, it’s pretty easy to retrieve the original OpenCL source code using the + (NSString *) openCLSourceWithData:(NSData *)data error:(NSError **)error; method on ONOpenCLArchive. However, there are a couple of convenience methods on NSBundle that makes retrieving the kernel easier. For example:

#import "ONOpenCLArchive.h"

NSString *kernelSource = [[NSBundle mainBundle] openCLResource:@"MyKernel"];

That’s pretty much all there is to it.


Although not ground breaking, this little tool has certainly been helpful to me by finding compiler errors at compile time instead of runtime. Hopefully it will be useful to other people as well.

NSConference 2010 Quiz

For the uninformed, NSConference is a Mac developer’s conference put on by Scotty “The Scottster” Scott and his faithful sidekick, Tim “The Faithful Sidekick” Isted. They’re kind of the Batman and Robin of the Mac programming conference world, but have a slightly lower probability of bat-gassing you than the real dynamic duo.

This year they aren’t content with bringing conference justice to only the UK, so they’re branching out to the good ‘ole U.S. of A. by way of Atlanta, GA. To help you decide which conference you should attend, US or Europe, I’ve prepared the following quiz:

  1. What is your opinion of Seattle?

    1. It’s nice, but isn’t nearly rainy or dreary enough.
    2. I like their coffee.
    3. The residents have too many teeth.
  2. Describe your driving habits

    1. I like to drive on the left side of the road.
    2. I like to drive on both sides of the road.
    3. I like to merge right six lanes without signaling while going 147 mph on the off ramp and giving the finger with both hands in my black Camaro.
  3. The pinnacle of human achievement is…

    1. Afternoon tea
    2. Sliced bread
    3. Hee Haw

Scoring: Give yourself -1 points for any 1 answer, 0 points for any 2 answer, and 1 point for any 3 answer.

If you scored is less than zero, you should attend NSConference Europe; if greater than zero, NSConference USA. If you scored exactly zero, you are truly a cultured individual and should attend both.

Personally, I’ll be attending both, and not just because of peer pressure and insightful quizzes. I’ll be presenting a talk on how to implement a watercolor brush using Core Image and OpenCL and maybe some duct tape. If you enjoy the graphics articles that I post here, you’ll probably enjoy my presentation. If not, I hear Steve “I’m Batman” Scott does a mean Adam West impression.