A New User's Blog

[The following are the author's opinions and are not official OpenTK documentation.]

Why Are You Here?

OpenTK is all about C# and OpenGL. If you are doing C++ or Java you may want to try elsewhere. C# is a managed language and OpenTK works with the other managed languages too. But this is mainly about C#.

You want OpenGL for 3d graphics. You want the software to be

If I'm not mistaken, your only choice is OpenGL.

There could be other libraries that bind OpenGL to C# (actually there are). OpenTK is attractive because it is pretty well integrated into the managed programming language paradigm. It is also very nice that it includes OpenAL giving you access to the sound buffers. (Apparently DirectSound is deprecated, making OpenAL an even better choice.)

OK, let's get going.

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To get started with OpenTK you are probably going to need an IDE (Intergrated Development Environment) which serves as an editor and keeps track of include files (or assemblies as they're called). Essentially this will be MonoDevelop or Visual Studio. There is more information in the official documentation. I am using Visual Studio and doing cross platform testing with Ubuntu.

To make sure things are working right, try this

using System;
using System.IO;
class Program
  static void Main(string[] args)
    Console.WriteLine("Hello World!");
    Console.WriteLine("This is a C# console application.");

On Windows the executable HelloWorld.exe runs immediately by double clicking on the file. On Ubuntu you must execute using

mono HelloWorld.exe

This program should run without recompilation on any platform equipped with Mono or .NET.

You are also probably going to need a GUI. Both Microsoft and Mono offer more than one set of libraries. I am partial to Windows Forms because I'm windows-centric, but GTK is very good and I like it too. Here is a GUI sample

using System;
using System.Windows.Forms;
public class HelloWorld : Form
  static public void Main()
    Application.Run(new HelloWorld());
  public HelloWorld()
    Text = "Hello World";

This one ran immediately on Windows. I had to tell Ubuntu to download the Windows Forms package from the Mono depository, then the example worked perfectly.

Now that your IDE is working, you need to install OpenTK. I downloaded a file called opentk-0.9.9-3.zip and expanded it to C:\. Installation very easy. Just tell Visual Studio to use the assembly


This is explained in detail in the official documentation.

Now we want to see whether this works at all. Here's the sample code:

using System;
using System.IO;
using OpenTK;
namespace ConsoleApplication2
  class Program
    static void Main(string[] args)
      var devices = OpenTK.DisplayDevice.AvailableDisplays;
      foreach (var device in OpenTK.DisplayDevice.AvailableDisplays)

Yes. It gives the correct output

Primary: {X=0,Y=0,Width=1920,Height=1200}x32@60Hz (41 modes available)
Press any key to continue . . .

You will notice that the official documentation is completely messed up on these function calls. [Fixed now, see note below.] In general the best way to sort these things out is to take a look at the source code which is quite well organized and easy to read. You can find that here


I was lucky and noticed the DisplayDevice class immediately.

Now I will pause here to check this on Ubuntu.

I copied the executable and OpenTK.dll to my Ubuntu system. It worked perfectly. My laptop actually has more video modes than my desktop.

Next step is setting up an OpenGL sample window.

OpenGL Windows

OpenGL is basically a procedural language in an event-driven universe. The old plotter had instructions like move pen, pen down, draw line, and pen up. You would run a computation, draw a picture, then end the program. OpenGL is structured in much the same way, though it is vastly more powerful. A standard instruction might be to draw a colored triangle in proper 3d perspective with some lighting on it. Since OpenGL has this simple structure it is widely portable.

The problem with OpenGL is the implementation details which are generally lumped into the question "How do I create an OpenGL window?" The details include creating a graphics context, handling OS level events like window resizing and resolution and aspect ratio adjustments to the monitors, and providing some sort of clock events for animations. It is the job of OpenTK to hide the dirty implementation details so that any code you write will work the same on all flavors of OS X, Windows and Linux. [As an example of just how difficult this is, the current OpenGL SuperBible 4th edition devotes 4 out of 22 chapters to setting up OpenGL on various platforms.]

Here are the types of OpenGL windows (or graphics contexts) that I would like to be able to create.

  1. A full screen area in which graphics instructions are sent directly to the graphics card for maximum speed.
  2. A rectangular black window (with no frame, title bar, or menus) somewhere on the screen. Using this I could cover the screen with a set of graphics windows all doing different things. Of course I would like to get some rendering speed benefit for the user interface concessions.
  3. A graphics window with standard frame allowing menus, resizing, minimization and so on. The client area would generate OpenGL graphics according to user instructions, for example, like Photoshop.
  4. An OpenGL graphics context inside any Windows control. For example, different OpenGL graphics sequences simultaneously animating on multiple buttons. This is not so exotic and it is likely that OpenTK can already do this beyond your wildest dreams.

I found two basic ways to make windows using OpenTK.

First, you can utilize the Windows Forms libraries to create a window, then insert a graphics context in that window using GLControl. You should also be able to insert the GLControl into basically any control in Windows Forms. This approach is most promising for cases 3 and 4 above.

Second, you can create a window with none of the overhead of Windows Forms (or any other GUI) using GameWindow. GameWindow essentially uses the native window capability of the operating system which is encapsulated in its parent class NativeWindow. To this is added a graphics context using the GraphicsContext class which makes OpenGL calls possible. The GameWindow is quite elaborate and may be more powerful than what you need, but it appears to be simple to use. Using a GameWindow is the best approach to cases 1 and 2 above.

Code for these window types follows.

Full Screen OpenGL Window

Here is the code for a full screen OpenGL window. It uses the powerful GameWindow class. I think the most significant feature is that it does not use Windows Forms. This means you do not need to include the Windows.Forms assembly. It also means that you are responsible for creating everything that appears inside the window using OpenGL.

using System;
using OpenTK;
using OpenTK.Graphics;
using OpenTK.Graphics.OpenGL;
class Program
  static void Main(string[] args)
    using(MyWindow N = new MyWindow())
// This class is a powerful window that can be created without using any GUI library.
public class MyWindow : GameWindow
  public MyWindow()
    : base()
    Console.WriteLine("Press any key to exit.");
    KeyPress += HandleKeyPressEvent;
    Load += HandleOnLoadEvent;
    RenderFrame += HandleRenderEvent;
  public void HandleKeyPressEvent(object sender, KeyPressEventArgs e)
  public void HandleOnLoadEvent(object sender, EventArgs e)
    WindowBorder = WindowBorder.Hidden;
    WindowState = WindowState.Fullscreen;
    GL.ClearColor(new Color4(0.1, 0, 0, 1));
  public void HandleRenderEvent(object sender, FrameEventArgs e)
    GL.Clear(ClearBufferMask.DepthBufferBit | 
                     ClearBufferMask.ColorBufferBit | 
                     ClearBufferMask.AccumBufferBit | 

Since I am coding my projects as console applications in Visual Studio, I had to explicitly include the System.Drawing assembly to get this to compile. It is needed to support the Color4 class (see C:\opentk-0.9.9-3\Source\OpenTK\Graphics\Color4.cs). [see Comment below on this issue]

The main program creates a GameWindow, starts the rendering loop, then finally disposes of any system-dependent (non-managed) baggage before closing.

I used the NativeWindow properties to get rid of the window border and make the window full screen. You'll find the WindowBorder and WindowState classes in C:\opentk-0.9.9-3\Source\OpenTK.

A lot of this code depends on event handling which is a basic, but difficult, feature of C#. You can find out about the available events by looking in C:\opentk-0.9.9-3\Source\OpenTK\GameWindow.cs (Load and RenderFrame) and C:\opentk-0.9.9-3\Source\OpenTK\NativeWindow.cs (KeyPress). Particular attention should be paid to the UpdateFrame event which I didn't need for this example.

The SwapBuffers call is necessary because double buffering is built into the GameWindow class. (BTW, that's a good thing.)

When I ran this on Windows Xp SP3 it worked mostly OK. The background shows up as a dark red. A minor issue was the cursor which seemed to want to remain as an hourglass, not an arrow. I am quite happy that the Winkey is ignored.

This code does not work on Ubuntu. At the moment I'm trying to determine whether the problem resides with the code or with the user.

Why Apps Developers and Users Need to Care About APIs

As a potential buyer of a SaaS application, one of the first considerations that come to mind is integration. How will it integrate with existing apps? How will it integrate with new apps? How can it integrate with social media? How can I import existing data? How painful will the integration be?

These issues are often undervalued by SaaS vendors and they don't realize that these can be a major roadblock to the adoption of their applications.

Some businesses prefer to buy a fully integrated suite of apps, such as NetSuite or Zoho, but many of us just want to choose and buy application by application. This is where having an open API and demonstrating integration capabilities can make or break a sale.

In simple terms, an API is a technology that enables a set of apps (or websites) to integrate with each other. In a heterogeneous application environment, APIs make things work together. As a business owner you probably don't care about APIs, but then think about the flow between CRM, billing, invoicing, tax reporting... it should be straightforward. Not always!

There are many reasons why clients want APIs and many reasons why vendors should offer them. Whether it's for enabling channel partners and integrators to glue a set of apps to respond to their clients' specific needs or for making it easier for clients to integrate a new SaaS app with their legacy applications, APIs are a must have.

APIs can also be important in case a vendor goes bust or if you simply want to change providers, as they can ensure the data export capabilities to take the data out.

As APIs facilitate the work of channel partners it can also cut the cost of acquiring new customers for SaaS vendors.

After thinking about the needs and benefits of APIs, it is amazing that many SaaS companies still don't have an open API as part of their development roadmap. Saas vendors should offer open APIs to integrate with other products and make the life of their clients easier and safer. As John Musser, founder of ProgrammableWeb.com, recently said: "Not having an API in 2010 is like not having a web site in 2001."

Vendors who already have a solid API strategy in place should seriously consider the advantages of API management tools in order to get the most out of these services.

Avid users of cloud computing are familiar with the idea of moving data and functionality from private, closed systems to shared infrastructures. Tomorrow, your apps and services will be leveraged even further by additional cloud components, social and mobile apps, in innovative ways that can add exponential value to your apps and brand. This will create new opportunities for your clients to use your services, and APIs will be the core of the next generation of SaaS businesses.

Guillaume Balas, CMO of 3scale, explains that "APIs are the glue of cloud computing. They provide new channels for SaaS businesses to empower existing and new partnerships, drive innovation, reach customers and grow new revenue opportunities".

In a fast moving and competitive market of business software, vendors must make sure that their technology is indispensable in the value chain of interconnected business apps. Otherwise someone else will "eat their lunch."

There are a handful of companies that understand the power of well-managed APIs and have developed technologies to help others launch, manage and grow their API businesses. 3scale has anticipated this market very well and has responded with an offering that helps companies such as Skype and Wine.com, as well as SaaS vendors to manage entirely their API infrastructure. Through a well-thought API strategy, they add magic sauce to APIs and provide the exposure, control and scale API needs to truly help companies grow revenue.

So if you are a business looking to buy a new SaaS solution, please do ask the vendor about their API strategy. It must be part of your evaluation list. If, as a SaaS vendor, you are lacking behind, you should add this as a top priority on your development roadmap. However, if you're already in the API game, you can greatly benefit from getting it managed more efficiently.