PyOptiX lets you access Nvidia's OptiX Ray Tracing Engine from Python.

PyOptiX wraps OptiX C++ API using an extension that uses Boost.Python library. Python API is similar to C++ API. PyOptiX documentation does not include anything about OptiX, so you should already know OptiX and its C++ API.

Supported Platforms

Only Linux is supported. PyOptiX can work on other platforms but you may need to modify and set Compiler.nvcc_path and Compiler.extra_compile_args parameters manually during run time.

Supported OptiX Versions

PyOptiX was tested with: OptiX 3.9.x, 4.x.x, 5.0.x, and 5.1.0.


Since PyOptiX wraps OptiX C++ API, the API is almost the same. PyOptiX adds couple of new features. Let's talk about them.

Context Stack

PyOptiX implements a Context Stack. Acceleration, Buffer, Geometry, GeometryGroup, GeometryInstance, Group, Material, Program, Selector, TextureSampler, Transform objects are always created in the active Context during their instantiation.

A Context is created during initialization automatically. Whenever a new Context object is instantiated, it is pushed to the stack automatically. pyoptix.current_context() method returns the currently active context (which is on top of the stack). Context.pop() instance method pops the context from the stack, so the next context in the stack becomes active. You can keep the popped context in a variable, then push it to the stack again using Context.push() instance method, making it active. The same Context may occur multiple times in the stack.

Garbage Collection

Lifetime of OptiX objects are tied to lifetime of PyOptiX objects. When Python objects get garbage-collected, OptiX objects are destroyed automatically.

In OptiX, a context is destroyed along with all other types of objects in it, such as buffers and programs. So it's possible in PyOptiX for a wrapper object such as pyoptix.Buffer to become invalid because its underlying object was destroyed, but remain accessible. This situation is tracked by PyOptiX and operations on invalid wrapper objects result in RuntimeError. It is the user's responsibility to use only valid wrapper objects.

Remember that Python implements reference counting and objects are garbage-collected only when reference counts is zero. The Context Stack holds strong references to Contexts. So, a Context would never get garbage-collected when it is in the stack.

All graph nodes hold strong references to their parents and children. Therefore, graph nodes connected to other nodes are not garbage-collected even if no references remain in user's code.

Programs, Buffers and Texture Samplers can be bindless, i.e. there can be accessed using their IDs in device code. Program, Buffer and TextureSampler classes have a property named bindless, which when set to True prevents destruction of the underlying OptiX object even if PyOptiX object gets garbage-collected.

PTX Generation

Programs supplied to the OptiX API must be written in PTX. PyOptiX Program objects are instantiated with a file path and a function name. If the file is a PTX file, PyOptiX does nothing more than calling OptiX functions. If the file is a source file, pyoptix.Compiler class is used to compile the source to PTX, then the Program object is created.

pyoptix.Compiler needs to know some attributes of the system to work correctly. These attributes are collected during PyOptiX installation and saved to (1) etc/pyoptix.conf/pyoptix.conf file and (2) pyoptix.conf file in the same directory with Python executable that was used to execute the setup script. If this process somehow fails, you need to set Compiler flags manually.

Compiler.nvcc_path must be a valid path to nvcc binary.

Compiler.output_path is where PTX files will be saved. Default is /tmp/pyoptix/ptx/. Default path is created automatically if it doesn't exist when module is imported. Custom paths are NOT created automatically, so the user must create it before using.

Compiler.extra_compile_args is a list of arguments passed to nvcc during PTX compilation.

Compiler.use_fast_math is a boolean that adds --use_fast_math flag to compile command if is set to True.

Compiler.add_program_directory(directory) method adds the directory to the list of directories in which the file paths given to Program objects will be searched.

Compiler.remove_program_directory(directory) removes the directory from the list it previously added to.

If the source file given to pyoptix.Compiler was compiled to PTX before, Compiler checks if the source file or the files included in #include "<file>" format changed; recompiles if it detects a change, uses the old PTX otherwise.

Program Cache

Program(file_path, function_name) always creates a new Program object in OptiX. PyOptiX also implements a cache for programs. Program.get_or_create(file_path, function_name) static method returns the cached program if the active Context, file path and function name all match, otherwise creates and returns it.

If Program.dynamic_programs class variable is set to True, the source file is recompiled if it was changed, even if its program was cached, and the program will be recreated using the new PTX. If Program.dynamic_programs is set to False, the cached program is returned without change check.

Variable Assignments

OptiX program objects communicate with the host program through variables. API objects to which program variables can be attached are called Scoped objects in PyOptiX. Scoped objects define a dictionary interface for variable assignment, actual variable declaration and value assignments are handled automatically.

If the value that is being assigned is an API object, the operation is straightforward. For other types of values, PyOptiX transfers the value to the C++ backend using NumPy arrays. Since NumPy is ubiquitous in Python circles, PyOptiX doesn't abstract away the usage of NumPy arrays.

If the variable is being attached to the program object whose device code has the variable's declaration, PyOptiX deduces the type of the variable and casts the value to NumPy array with proper dtype. If it isn't, PyOptiX cannot deduce the type, therefore the user must cast the value to NumPy array with proper dtype. The conversion between NumPy arrays and OptiX vector types are as follows:

Array dtype Array Shape OptiX C++ Type
float32 (1, ) float
float32 (2, ) float2
float32 (3, ) float3
float32 (4, ) float4
int32 (1, ) int
int32 (2, ) int2
int32 (3, ) int3
int32 (4, ) int4
uint32 (1, ) unsigned_int
uint32 (2, ) unsigned_int2
uint32 (3, ) unsigned_int3
uint32 (4, ) unsigned_int4
float32 (2, 2) matrix2x2
float32 (2, 3) matrix2x3
float32 (2, 4) matrix2x4
float32 (3, 2) matrix3x2
float32 (3, 3) matrix3x3
float32 (3, 4) matrix3x4
float32 (4, 2) matrix4x2
float32 (4, 3) matrix4x3
float32 (4, 4) matrix4x4

Buffers using NumPy Arrays

Data is transferred to Buffers using NumPy arrays. Since NumPy is ubiquitous in Python circles, PyOptiX doesn't abstract away the usage of NumPy arrays.

Buffer objects can be created using Buffer.from_array(numpy_array, buffer_type, drop_last_dim) static method. A buffer object without copying data can be created using Buffer.empty(shape, dtype, buffer_type, drop_last_dim) static method.

dtype must be a NumPy dtype.

buffer_type is either one of 'i', 'o', or 'io', corresponding to INPUT, OUTPUT, and INPUT_OUTPUT formats.

drop_last_dim is a boolean that indicates that the array holds or will hold a vector type whose length is the size of the last dimension of the array. For example for a 2D float4 buffer, the NumPy array's shape will be (height, width, 4) and its dtype will be float32. All possible conversions between NumPy arrays and buffers can be found in the following table.

Array dtype Array Shape drop_last_dim Buffer Format Buffer Shape
float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False float (d0, d1, ..., dn)
float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 1) True float (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 2) True float2 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 3) True float3 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 4) True float4 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False int (d0, d1, ..., dn)
int32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 1) True int (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 2) True int2 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 3) True int3 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 4) True int4 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1) float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False float (d0, d1, ..., dn)
uint32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False unsigned_int (d0, d1, ..., dn)
uint32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 1) True unsigned_int (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 2) True unsigned_int2 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 3) True unsigned_int3 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint32 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 4) True unsigned_int4 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1) float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False float (d0, d1, ..., dn)
int16 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False short (d0, d1, ..., dn)
int16 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 1) True short (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int16 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 2) True short2 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int16 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 3) True short3 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int16 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 4) True short4 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1) float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False float (d0, d1, ..., dn)
uint16 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False unsigned_short (d0, d1, ..., dn)
uint16 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 1) True unsigned_short (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint16 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 2) True unsigned_short2 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint16 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 3) True unsigned_short3 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint16 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 4) True unsigned_short4 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1) float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False float (d0, d1, ..., dn)
int8 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False byte (d0, d1, ..., dn)
int8 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 1) True byte (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int8 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 2) True byte2 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int8 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 3) True byte3 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
int8 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 4) True byte4 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1) float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False float (d0, d1, ..., dn)
uint8 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False unsigned_byte (d0, d1, ..., dn)
uint8 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 1) True unsigned_byte (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint8 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 2) True unsigned_byte2 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint8 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 3) True unsigned_byte3 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)
uint8 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, 4) True unsigned_byte4 (d0, d1, ..., dn-1) float32 (d0, d1, ..., dn) False float (d0, d1, ..., dn)
custom (d0, d1, ..., dn-1, x) True user (d0, d1, ..., dn-1)

The content of Buffer object can be converted to/from Numpy array using Buffer.copy_from_array(numpy_array) and Buffer.to_array() instance methods.

Variables or Buffers of Structs

If you have a variable or buffer of C structs in device code, you can still use NumPy arrays in Python host code. Canonical way to do it is to define a Python class corresponding to the C struct. In the class, define a custom dtype and __array__ method. The dtype must match with the memory layout of the C struct. The __array__ method must create a NumPy array with the custom dtype, fill the values according to the contents of the class instance, and return the array. NumPy will use __array__ method to cast an object to NumPy array. When assigning the object to the variable, wrap it with numpy.array function. When creating a Buffer from an array of objects, make it a NumPy array and set drop_last_dim to True since the objects themselves will be NumPy arrays with custom dtypes.

Entry Points

EntryPoint class encapsulates entry point concept in OptiX. EntryPoint objects are created by passing a ray generation program and an optional exception program; and they can be launched later with given sizes. You don't need to set entry point counts or keep track of them to launch them. Just keep EntryPoints in variables and launch them using EntryPoint.launch() instance method.



Using pip

pip install pyoptix

From source

git clone
cd pyoptix
python install

pyoptix.conf file

pyoptix.conf file is explained in Concepts > PTX Generation section. pyoptix.Compiler cannot work out of the box if pyoptix.conf file creation fails during installation.

Please note that pip creates wheel distribution of the package and caches it during installation. Subsequent pip install commands for the same version of the package will use the cached wheel, therefore script won't be executed and pyoptix.conf file won't be created. When you want to prevent this you can use --no-binary flag:

pip install pyoptix --no-binary pyoptix

Using the Docker Image

  1. Check out optix-docker to build an OptiX-enabled Docker image.

  2. Build a PyOptiX image on top of the OptiX image using the Dockerfile provided in the source directory of PyOptiX. You can specify the name of the OptiX-enabled Docker image using --build-args command. The default name is optix.

    cd PyOptiX
    docker build -t pyoptix --build-args OPTIX_IMAGE=optix .
  3. Run an example in a docker container using the image. Use nvidia-docker to be able to use the GPU in the container. Following command will also make the container able to access host machine's X11 server, so you will be able to see the result window.

    docker run --runtime=nvidia -it --rm \
        --volume=/etc/group:/etc/group:ro \
        --volume=/etc/passwd:/etc/passwd:ro \
        --volume=/etc/shadow:/etc/shadow:ro \
        --volume=/etc/sudoers:/etc/sudoers:ro \
        --volume=/etc/sudoers.d:/etc/sudoers.d:ro \
        --volume=/tmp/.X11-unix:/tmp/.X11-unix:rw \
        --user=$(id -u) \
        --env="DISPLAY" \
        pyoptix python3 /usr/src/PyOptiX/examples/hello/