What is OpenGL&Reg;?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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OpenGL is an application program interface that is used to define 2D and 3D computer graphics. This cross-platform API is generally considered to set the standard in the computer industry when it comes to this type of interaction with 2D computer graphics and has also become the usual tool for use with 3D graphics as well. Short for Open Graphics Library, OpenGL eliminated the need for programmers to rewrite the graphics section of an operating system each time a business would upgrade to a new version of the system.

The basic function of OpenGL is to issue a specific collection of executables or commands to the operating system. In doing so, the program works with the existing graphics hardware that resides on the hard drive or other specified source. Each command in the set is designed to engage a certain drawing action, or launch a specific special effect associated with the graphics.

Creating commands in OpenGL can take place in two different ways. First, it is possible for the programmer to create and save a list of commands that can engage on a recurring basis. This is one of the more routine ways that the program interface is used. Along with establishing groups of more or less permanent commands, it is also possible to create and execute one time commands within the perimeters of the computer graphics as well.


Along with the ability to interface with the operating system and make good use of the resident graphics hardware, OpenGL also provides a number of built-in protocols that may be of use to the end user. Among these features are such tools as alpha blending, texture mapping, atmospheric effects, and surface removal. These tools can be engaged with any operating system currently in use.

Originally developed by Silicon Graphics, OpenGL is now considered the standard for the industry. The application program interface is actively supported by Microsoft, which offers free downloads of OpenGL libraries for use on Windows systems. OpenGL also works very well with Open Inventor, an object-oriented programming tool also created by Silicon Graphics.


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