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Introducing Four: It’s WebGL, but Easier

WebGL has been around for a few years now and we have watched it mature into the reliable and widely supported graphics technology it is today. With big companies like Google, Mozilla, and Microsoft advocating for its use, it’s hard not being curious about it.

Since its specifications were finalized in 2011, it has gained a lot of attraction. With the help of frameworks like ThreeJS, BabylonJS and Play Canvas, this area has become less daunting. Thanks to them it’s much easier to pick up, but it still requires a good learning effort as it is a different discipline altogether.

This article will briefly introduce you to what WebGL is and then I’ll cover Four, a framework I created to help developers delve quickly into the WebGL world. In case you want to see what Four and WebGL can do for you, take a look at this simple demo I built.

What is WebGL?

WebGL is a graphics API based on the Open Graphics Library for Embedded Systems (OpenGL ES 2.0). This allows browsers that support it to render three dimensional elements in the HTML canvas element. OpenGL ES 2.0 was chosen because it was a reputable open-standard for computer graphics and, more importantly, it was designed to perform optimally on embedded devices, such as mobiles and tablets. This was crucial given the broad device accessibility of modern browsers.

The API itself is exposed through JavaScript. The API is low level, so its use can result in a lot of repetitive and complex code. In addition, the nature of typical OpenGL-based applications imposed programming design paradigms and data structures this language was not prepared for, such as object-oriented programming and unary operators that enabled fast matrix manipulation. This can be problematic for physical simulations dependent on the manipulation of large matrix structures. This is where Four comes in.

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