Introduction to WebGL

This article assumes that you have an advanced understanding of JavaScript, but assumes no prior knowledge about computer graphics.

Computers represent visual information in discrete units called pixels.

Computers understand all shapes as collections of points, lines, and triangles. Collectively, these are referred to as primitives.

Drawing one or more primitives with pixels is a process referred to as rasterization. Engines that are used to rasterize primitives are called rasterization engines. WebGL is a rasterization engine that is designed to work in the browser. The specification for version 2 of WebGL (WebGL2) can be found here.

WebGL2 is based on another rasterization engine called OpenGL. The specification for OpenGL ES 3.0 (the version that WebGL2 is based on) can be found here.


The WebGL API allows JavaScript to interface with WebGL. It can be accessed through the WebGLRenderingContext class (WebGL2RenderingContext for WebGL2). Objects of either class can only be instantiated with the HTMLCanvasElement.getContext method. For example:

const canvas: HTMLCanvasElement = document.querySelector("canvas");
const gl: WebGL2RenderingContext = canvas.getContext("webgl2");

Documentation for the WebGL API can be found here.

It can be helpful to use a library such as TWGL or μGL for interacting with the WebGL API.

The next article is about shaders.