Driver source code is not what you may think

# Driver source code is not what you may think

Dec 2017

AMD just released Open Source Driver for Vulkan, with source code available on GitHub under MIT license. That’s a good opportunity to explain how drivers source look like. When I was developing graphics driver (I no longer do - I now have quite different position), people kept asking me "How is it like to code in C?" or "How is it like to code in kernel space?", unaware that none of it was true in my case.

Many developers think that coding a driver is some hardcore, low-level stuff. Maybe it is true for some small drivers in embedded systems world. What they may not know is that a modern PC graphics driver (and I bet other kinds of drivers as well) is a very complex beast, with only a small portion of it working in kernel mode and only a small portion (if any) written in plain old C or assembly. Majority of the code is just normal C++ with classes, virtual functions and everything. It is compiled into normal user-mode DLL libraries that get loaded into address space of a game. Sure the code may be a little bit different than standard desktop apps. It may be optimized for performance, as well as memory usage. It may not use exceptions, Boost or STL. It may have to handle out-of-memory errors gracefully. But it’s still a modern, object-oriented code that uses (relatively) new language features like constexpr or enum class.

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