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OpenGL, short for "Open Graphics Library," is an application programming interface (API) designed for rendering 2D and 3D graphics. It provides a common set of commands that can be used to manage graphics in different applications and on multiple platforms.

By using OpenGL, a developer can use the same code to render graphics on a Mac, PC, or mobile device. Nearly all modern operating systems and hardware devices support OpenGL, making it an easy choice for graphics development. Additionally, many video cards and integrated GPUs are optimized for OpenGL, allowing them to process OpenGL commands more efficiently than other graphics libraries.

Examples of OpenGL commands include drawing polygons, assigning colors to shapes, applying textures to polygons (texture mapping), zooming in and out, transforming polygons, and rotating objects. OpenGL is also used for managing lighting effects, such as light sources, shading, and shadows. It can also create effects like haze or fog, which can be applied to a single object or an entire scene.

OpenGL is commonly associated with video games because of its widespread use in 3D gaming. It provides developers with an easy way to create crossplatform games or port a game from one platform to another. OpenGL is also used as the graphics library for many CAD applications, such as AutoCAD and Blender. Even Apple uses OpenGL as the foundation of the macOS Core Animation, Core Image, and Quartz Extreme graphics libraries.

NOTE: OpenGL was originally developed and released by Silicon Graphics (SGI) in 1992. The initial version was approved by an architectural review board, which included Microsoft, IBM, DEC and Intel. In 2006, SGI passed development and maintenance of OpenGL to The Khronos Group.

Updated: May 8, 2018

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