OpenGL support in Emscripten

Emscripten provides three OpenGL modes:

This topic provides information about the modes, and how they are enabled.


We highly recommend using the WebGL-friendly subset of OpenGL ES for new code, and porting existing code to this subset if possible. The other two modes are less efficient, and should only be considered for codebases that rely heavily on those features.

WebGL-friendly subset of OpenGL ES

By default, Emscripten targets the WebGL-friendly subset of OpenGL ES 2.0. This is the set of GL ES commands that map directly to WebGL, so that each GL command has a roughly direct mapping to WebGL. It includes almost all of OpenGL ES 2.0, with the notable exception of client-side arrays, and some other features that are listed in WebGL 1.0 Specification/Chapter 6.

To program against the WebGL subset of OpenGL ES, one uses the GL ES 2.0 header files and the GL ES 2.0 API, while adhering to the limitations specified in Chapter 6 of the WebGL specification.

This mode is used by default because it best matches the WebGL features brovided by browsers.

OpenGL ES 2.0 emulation

This build mode emulates some features of OpenGL ES 2.0 that are not part of the core WebGL 1 specification.

In particular, this mode emulates client-side arrays that are missing [1] from the WebGL-friendly subset of OpenGL ES.

This allows you to use functions glDrawArrays and glDrawElements etc. without a bound buffer, and Emscripten’s GL bindings will set up the buffer automatically (WebGL requires that a buffer be bound).


This build mode has a limitation that the largest index in client-side index buffer must be smaller than the total number of indices in that buffer. See issue #4214 for more details.

To enable OpenGL ES 2.0 emulation, specify the emcc option -s FULL_ES2=1 when linking the final executable (.js/.html) of the project.

Emulation of older Desktop OpenGL API features

This OpenGL mode enables support for a number of legacy desktop OpenGL 1.x features and commands (for example “immediate mode” and glNormalPointer).

While the emulation is by no means complete, it has been sufficient to port the Sauerbraten 3D game (BananaBread project) and some other real-world codebases using Emscripten.

To enable this mode, specify the emcc option -s LEGACY_GL_EMULATION=1 when linking the final executable (.js/.html) of the project.

Optimization settings

In this mode (-s LEGACY_GL_EMULATION=1), there are a few extra flags that can be used to tune the performance of the GL emulation layer:

  • -s GL_UNSAFE_OPTS=1 attempts to skip redundant GL work and cleanup. This optimization is unsafe, so is not enabled by default.
  • -s GL_FFP_ONLY=1 tells the GL emulation layer that your code will not use the programmable pipeline/shaders at all. This allows the GL emulation code to perform extra optimizations when it knows that it is safe to do so.
  • Add the Module.GL_MAX_TEXTURE_IMAGE_UNITS integer to your shell .html file to signal the maximum number of texture units used by the code. This ensures that the GL emulation layer does not waste clock cycles iterating over unused texture units when examining which Fixed Function Pipeline (FFP) emulation shader to run.

What if my codebase depends on an desktop OpenGL feature that is currently unsupported?

You can consider building the codebase against the Regal Desktop OpenGL emulation library, which aims to support Desktop OpenGL features on top of OpenGL ES 2.0. This may work better or worse than Emscripten’s GL emulation depending on the project.

OpenGL ES extensions

When porting code, it should be noted that desktop OpenGL, OpenGL ES and WebGL each have their own extension registries. This means that neither desktop OpenGL or OpenGL ES extensions are automatically also WebGL extensions, although some amount of parity does exist. See the WebGL 1.0 extension registry for the full list of registered extensions.

Additionally, in WebGL, unlike in desktop or mobile OpenGL, extensions must be activated first before the features they expose take effect. If you use one of the native APIs SDL, EGL, GLUT or GLFW to create your GL context, this will be done automatically for most extensions. If instead you use the HTML5 WebGL context creation API, you must explicitly choose whether to autoenable WebGL extensions. If an extension was not automatically enabled at context creation time, the HTML5 API function emscripten_webgl_enable_extension can be used to activate it. Debugging related extensions, draft extensions and vendor-prefixed extensions (MOZ_*, WEBKIT_*) are never enabled automatically at context creation time, but must always be activated manually.

Test code/examples

The files in tests/glbook provide a number of simple examples that use only the WebGL-friendly subset of OpenGL ES.

The other modes are covered in various tests, including several in tests/ The best way to locate the tests is to search the source code for the appropriate compiler flags: FULL_ES2, LEGACY_GL_EMULATION etc.

Bug Reports

The Emscripten bug tracker has labels specific to OpenGL and OpenGL Emulation for tracking various GL-related issues.


[1]Client-side arrays are missing from WebGL because they are less efficient than properly using GPU-side data.