Vulkan Memory Allocator
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Memory mapping

To "map memory" in Vulkan means to obtain a CPU pointer to VkDeviceMemory, to be able to read from it or write to it in CPU code. Mapping is possible only of memory allocated from a memory type that has VK_MEMORY_PROPERTY_HOST_VISIBLE_BIT flag. Functions vkMapMemory(), vkUnmapMemory() are designed for this purpose. You can use them directly with memory allocated by this library, but it is not recommended because of following issue: Mapping the same VkDeviceMemory block multiple times is illegal - only one mapping at a time is allowed. This includes mapping disjoint regions. Mapping is not reference-counted internally by Vulkan. Because of this, Vulkan Memory Allocator provides following facilities:

If you want to be able to map an allocation, you need to specify one of the flags VMA_ALLOCATION_CREATE_HOST_ACCESS_SEQUENTIAL_WRITE_BIT or VMA_ALLOCATION_CREATE_HOST_ACCESS_RANDOM_BIT in VmaAllocationCreateInfo::flags. These flags are required for an allocation to be mappable when using VMA_MEMORY_USAGE_AUTO or other VMA_MEMORY_USAGE_AUTO* enum values. For other usage values they are ignored and every such allocation made in HOST_VISIBLE memory type is mappable, but they can still be used for consistency.

Mapping functions

The library provides following functions for mapping of a specific VmaAllocation: vmaMapMemory(), vmaUnmapMemory(). They are safer and more convenient to use than standard Vulkan functions. You can map an allocation multiple times simultaneously - mapping is reference-counted internally. You can also map different allocations simultaneously regardless of whether they use the same VkDeviceMemory block. The way it is implemented is that the library always maps entire memory block, not just region of the allocation. For further details, see description of vmaMapMemory() function. Example:

// Having these objects initialized:
struct ConstantBuffer
ConstantBuffer constantBufferData = ...
VmaAllocator allocator = ...
VkBuffer constantBuffer = ...
VmaAllocation constantBufferAllocation = ...
// You can map and fill your buffer using following code:
void* mappedData;
vmaMapMemory(allocator, constantBufferAllocation, &mappedData);
memcpy(mappedData, &constantBufferData, sizeof(constantBufferData));
vmaUnmapMemory(allocator, constantBufferAllocation);
void vmaUnmapMemory(VmaAllocator allocator, VmaAllocation allocation)
Unmaps memory represented by given allocation, mapped previously using vmaMapMemory().
VkResult vmaMapMemory(VmaAllocator allocator, VmaAllocation allocation, void **ppData)
Maps memory represented by given allocation and returns pointer to it.

When mapping, you may see a warning from Vulkan validation layer similar to this one:

Mapping an image with layout VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_DEPTH_STENCIL_ATTACHMENT_OPTIMAL can result in undefined behavior if this memory is used by the device. Only GENERAL or PREINITIALIZED should be used.

It happens because the library maps entire VkDeviceMemory block, where different types of images and buffers may end up together, especially on GPUs with unified memory like Intel. You can safely ignore it if you are sure you access only memory of the intended object that you wanted to map.

Persistently mapped memory

Keeping your memory persistently mapped is generally OK in Vulkan. You don't need to unmap it before using its data on the GPU. The library provides a special feature designed for that: Allocations made with VMA_ALLOCATION_CREATE_MAPPED_BIT flag set in VmaAllocationCreateInfo::flags stay mapped all the time, so you can just access CPU pointer to it any time without a need to call any "map" or "unmap" function. Example:

VkBufferCreateInfo bufCreateInfo = { VK_STRUCTURE_TYPE_BUFFER_CREATE_INFO };
bufCreateInfo.size = sizeof(ConstantBuffer);
VmaAllocationCreateInfo allocCreateInfo = {};
allocCreateInfo.usage = VMA_MEMORY_USAGE_AUTO;
VkBuffer buf;
vmaCreateBuffer(allocator, &bufCreateInfo, &allocCreateInfo, &buf, &alloc, &allocInfo);
// Buffer is already mapped. You can access its memory.
memcpy(allocInfo.pMappedData, &constantBufferData, sizeof(constantBufferData));
VkResult vmaCreateBuffer(VmaAllocator allocator, const VkBufferCreateInfo *pBufferCreateInfo, const VmaAllocationCreateInfo *pAllocationCreateInfo, VkBuffer *pBuffer, VmaAllocation *pAllocation, VmaAllocationInfo *pAllocationInfo)
Creates a new VkBuffer, allocates and binds memory for it.
Definition: vk_mem_alloc.h:489
Set this flag to use a memory that will be persistently mapped and retrieve pointer to it.
Definition: vk_mem_alloc.h:546
Definition: vk_mem_alloc.h:595
Parameters of new VmaAllocation.
Definition: vk_mem_alloc.h:1219
VmaMemoryUsage usage
Intended usage of memory.
Definition: vk_mem_alloc.h:1227
VmaAllocationCreateFlags flags
Use VmaAllocationCreateFlagBits enum.
Definition: vk_mem_alloc.h:1221
Represents single memory allocation.
Parameters of VmaAllocation objects, that can be retrieved using function vmaGetAllocationInfo().
Definition: vk_mem_alloc.h:1334
void * pMappedData
Pointer to the beginning of this allocation as mapped data.
Definition: vk_mem_alloc.h:1376
VMA_ALLOCATION_CREATE_MAPPED_BIT by itself doesn't guarantee that the allocation will end up in a mappable memory type. For this, you need to also specify VMA_ALLOCATION_CREATE_HOST_ACCESS_SEQUENTIAL_WRITE_BIT or VMA_ALLOCATION_CREATE_HOST_ACCESS_RANDOM_BIT. VMA_ALLOCATION_CREATE_MAPPED_BIT only guarantees that if the memory is HOST_VISIBLE, the allocation will be mapped on creation. For an example of how to make use of this fact, see section Advanced data uploading.

Cache flush and invalidate

Memory in Vulkan doesn't need to be unmapped before using it on GPU, but unless a memory types has VK_MEMORY_PROPERTY_HOST_COHERENT_BIT flag set, you need to manually invalidate cache before reading of mapped pointer and flush cache after writing to mapped pointer. Map/unmap operations don't do that automatically. Vulkan provides following functions for this purpose vkFlushMappedMemoryRanges(), vkInvalidateMappedMemoryRanges(), but this library provides more convenient functions that refer to given allocation object: vmaFlushAllocation(), vmaInvalidateAllocation(), or multiple objects at once: vmaFlushAllocations(), vmaInvalidateAllocations().

Regions of memory specified for flush/invalidate must be aligned to VkPhysicalDeviceLimits::nonCoherentAtomSize. This is automatically ensured by the library. In any memory type that is HOST_VISIBLE but not HOST_COHERENT, all allocations within blocks are aligned to this value, so their offsets are always multiply of nonCoherentAtomSize and two different allocations never share same "line" of this size.

Also, Windows drivers from all 3 PC GPU vendors (AMD, Intel, NVIDIA) currently provide HOST_COHERENT flag on all memory types that are HOST_VISIBLE, so on PC you may not need to bother.