If you have been using OpenGL for a while, you probably have a lot of shader files, maybe one for each programmable stage of the pipeline. At some point during development the directory that contains the shaders becomes a mess, managing and opening shader files in your editor becomes tedious. Luckily there's a way to cram all the programmable shader stages in a single file, reducing the number of files at least by half and calm the neat freak inside.

These are the two things that make this trick possible.

  1. #ifdef - glsl's preprocessor directive
  2. glShaderSource()

The idea is to separate different shader stages inside an #ifdef blocks and setting the corresponding #define directive for the shader stage.

Here's an example of what a shader might look like using this method.


layout(location = 0) in vec3 Vertices;
layout(location = 1) in vec3 Normals;

uniform mat4 Model;
uniform mat4 View;
uniform mat4 Projection;

void main()
    gl_Position = Projection * View * Model * vec4(Vertices, 1.0);



uniform vec3 Color;
out vec4 FragColor;

void main()
   FragColor = vec4(Color, 1.0);


Shader compilation looks something like this:

char *SourceFile = ReadTextFile("MyShader.glsl");

// Compile Vertex Shader
u32 VertexShaderObject = glCreateShader(GL_VERTEX_SHADER);
char *VertexSource[2] = {"#version 330 core\n#define VERTEX_SHADER\n", SourceFile};
glShaderSource(VertexShaderObject, 2, VertexSource, NULL);

// Compile Fragment Shader
u32 FragmentShaderObject = glCreateShader(GL_FRAGMENT_SHADER);
char *FragmentSource[2] = {"#version 330 core\n#define FRAGMENT_SHADER\n", SourceFile};
glShaderSource(FragmentShaderObject, 2, FragmentSource, NULL);

// Compile other shader stages

// Link program
u32 FinalProgram = glCreateProgram();
glAttachShader(FinalProgram, VertexShaderObject);
glAttachShader(FinalProgram, FragmentShaderObject);

Notice that before calling glShaderSource we create an array of two pointers to char, the first one contains glsl's #version preprocessor directive and the token that defines each shader. In the case of the vertex shader the first string looks like this “#version 330 core\n#define VERTEX_SHADER\n”. Sadly the #version directive needs to be the first line in a shader or else compilation fails. Setting the shader version like this is not as pretty or tidy as we may want but it's a tradeoff i'm willing to make. When calling glShaderSource we set the second parameter to “2” indicating 2 strings and set the string to our newly created array.

I hope you find this useful.