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6 Best WebGL Libraries for Perfect 3D Web Graphics by@Slava-Podmurnyi

6 Best WebGL Libraries for Perfect 3D Web Graphics

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Slava Podmurnyi Hacker Noon profile picture

Slava Podmurnyi

Entrepreneur, CEO of Visartech Inc, a software development agency. 3D, VR/AR, AI @ www.visartech.com

Modern frontend, game, and web development are the very things that WebGL can transform into digital masterpieces. Drawing vector elements generated on the browser screen using the GPU, WebGL creates interactive web graphics and hence user experience. The quality and the complexity of visual elements make this tool stand out among other methods such as HTML or CSS. 

There’s strong growth and increasing interest in WebGL; however, a shortage of detailed information about this technology is often observed. Let’s just reveal all its basics and the variety of frameworks and libraries it can provide. 

WebGL Fundamentals

Contrary to a common misconception, WebGL is not a graphic suite. Instead, it leverages code to draw geometric objects and a client’s GPU engine to rasterize graphic objects on an HTML canvas.

In order to understand WebGL basics, it helps to get a grasp of the basic 3D graphics theory and the rendering workflow. In a 3D scene, every point is a vertex identified by its x,y,z coordinates. The vertices are then connected to form a group of triangular shapes, known as primitives. The light source is applied to create the appearance of shadows and depth. The primitives are then rasterized to create a 3D vector graphic into a projection of a 2D pixel, which tricks the brain into seeing a 3D object on a 2D computer screen.

There are two types of functions in a WebGL code:

  • vertex shaders,
  • fragment shaders.

They are applied to tell the computer how to draw pixels on the screen. Although the main program code is written in JavaScript, shaders use GL Shader Language, which closely resembles C/C++.

A vertex shader calculates the coordinates of vertices, and the fragment shader is responsible for computing the pixel colors. The shading process requires the computer to perform tons of calculations to render images smoothly. It is often too much workload for the CPU to process. For this reason, WebGL leverages GPUs to distribute the calculations more efficiently.

In essence, WebGL API is all about customizing shader states to control what is being drawn on the client’s screens.

Fortunately, there’s no need to create programs manually to start adding 3D graphics to your website. You can use resources like three.js, PlayCanvas, or Unity WebGL build option to quickly design 3D experiences without much underlying knowledge of WebGL.

Additional Libraries for WebGL

There is a great variety of WebGL frameworks and libraries that web developers can use to build web products. Instead of reinventing the wheel, applying prewritten elements can substantially boost the speed of web development.

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Let’s now make a quick overview of some of the popular additional libraries used for developing applications with WebGL.

Read also: How Much Does It Cost to Make an App for Business in 2021? [Bonus Inside]

Unity WebGL

This is probably the first library you will come across if you’re looking for resources for WebGL development. When creating content within the web page, Unity WebGL allows web developers to directly interface with the browser’s JavaScript engine.

This way, all the elements on the web page can communicate with each other. Unity WebGL provides different methods to do it: calling Javascript or C functions from Unity scripts, or even sending some data to the Unity script from the browser’s JavaScript.

Currently, Unity WebGL content is supported by most major desktop browsers. However, it doesn’t provide support for mobile devices yet.

Three.js

Three.js is a library of prewritten JavaScript elements intended specifically for WebGL. The library features a plethora of effects, objects, cameras, scenes, materials, shaders, and other utilities. The manuals are still in the works, but a vast developer community on the web runs forums and discussions.

You can find its open-source repository on Github.

Babylon.js

Another open-source library available on Github, Babylon.js often described as an engine for displaying 3D graphics in a browser. Its original language is Typescript, but its code is natively interpreted by all browsers supporting WebGL and HTML5. Babylon.js has an extensive range of applications, including gaming, crime data visualization, fashion, healthcare education, and military training.

PlayCanvas

Dedicated specifically to gaming, PlayCanvas is a 3D engine backed by a proprietary cloud-based development platform, which allows web development teams to edit web projects from multiple computers in real-time. The features include 3D animation, rigid-body physics simulations, and sound design. Open-sourced in 2014, the engine also has a free repository on Github.

AFrame

This framework is meant for XR development (AR/VR and mixed reality experiences) and for displaying 3D and VR elements in a browser. AFrame is, essentially, a VR plugin, which features a range of components like animations, geometries, cursors, controls, etc.

The code generated by AFrame can run on most of the popular VR headsets, and can also display graphics on desktop and mobile devices. This makes AFrame a perfect library for making browser games capable of running on any device. The free repository is also available on Github.

Deck.gl

Used mainly for the visualizations of geospatial data, Deck.gl is perfect for processing large data sets with WebGL and creating complex visualizations based on the analytics data. It integrates well with React and delivers excellent results when used in combination with MapboxGL, creating compelling 2D or 3D graphics overlay on top of the Mapbox maps. You can use the Deck.gl Github repository to create WebGL geospatial visualizations.

The total number of additional WebGL libraries exceeds 80, and describing all of them falls beyond the scope of this article. However, you can use an extensive list of libraries featured on Openbase to find the one that would perfectly suit your business purposes.

Final Thoughts 

Utilized in 3D web design, interactive apps, games, physics simulations, data visualization, and artwork, WebGL is considered to be one of the innovative technologies that create engaging and interactive user experiences. Created by KhronosGroup, this technology is a direct descendant of OpenGL ES, used for 3D visualizations in games and VR. 

WebGL is, surely, the way to go if you’re looking for cross-platform and cross-browser compatibility, integration with HTML, and seamless interaction with all of its elements.

Also Published At: https://www.visartech.com/blog/interactive-3d-graphics-with-webgl/

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