The Geometry Conversion Library


The Geometry Conversion Library (GCV or libgcv) provides a unified API for geometry conversion capabilities under a plugin-based architecture.

The GCV public API is declared in C headers located within include/gcv/. The single include/gcv.h header includes the entire GCV public API.


The Geometry Conversion Library consists of a stream-based API for geometry conversion and associated operations. Input and output are provided by "reader" and "writer" converters (provided by plugins). Intermediate operations are provided by "filters". Readers and writers are types of filters that provide input and output support for model formats, while basic filters apply transformations to models and geometry.

Geometry is stored in an in-memory BRL-CAD database (struct db_i in include/rt/db_instance.h) during the intermediate steps of conversion. For writer filters, this database is marked read-only and its geometry should not be modified. All names within a BRL-CAD database must be unique.

gcv architecture
Figure 1. GCV architecture

Building GCV

GCV can be built in a similar manner as other BRL-CAD libraries. After configuring with CMake, building the libgcv target will produce a dynamic library. For Unix-based systems, the procedure should be similar to the following:

$ cd brlcad
$ mkdir build
$ cd build
$ cmake ..
$ make libgcv

Plugins can be built under gcv_plugin_name targets, or collectively under the gcv_plugins target.

The command-line utility can be built under the gcv target. At this time, the gcv program is not installed automatically; the binary will be placed into build/src/conv/gcv/.

Example: Using GCV in an application

The following code illustrates a basic use of GCV from within an application. Note that there may be multiple filters providing import/export capabilities for a given format; the below code simply selects the first matching filter encountered.

Example 1. gcv_app.c
TODO: embedded code

GCV Public API

The public API for interacting with GCV filter plugins is summarized below.

Table 1. GCV public filter API

struct gcv_context

Stores the conversion state. Plugins may store messages in the bu_avs_t member messages.


Initialize a struct gcv_context. Creates an in-memory struct db_i for conversion data.


Frees memory associated with a struct gcv_context.

struct gcv_filter

Stores characteristics of a filter.

struct gcv_opts

Store generic options applying to all filters.


Initialize a struct gcv_opts with default values.


Returns a pointer to a const struct bu_ptbl containing all registered filters as const struct gcv_filter pointers.


Perform a filter operation on a struct gcv_context. Returns 1 on success and 0 on failure. If gcv_options is NULL, the defaults will be used as set by gcv_opts_default(). The parameters argc and argv are used for option parsing as specified by the struct gcv_filter.

The Internal Plugin API

The GCV plugin API is declared in include/gcv/api.h. Plugins provide an externally-visible const struct gcv_plugin defining their filters, which are described by struct gcv_filter.

Table 2. The gcv_filter struct


Specifies a unique name for the filter, allowing it to be identified by application code.


Specifies the type of filter.


Optional pointer to a function that allocates and initializes struct bu_opt_desc data and an opaque pointer for storing the option data. If non-NULL, free_opts_fn must also be specified. This member is private for use by libgcv and the associated plugin.


Optional pointer to a function that frees any opaque pointer allocated by create_opts_fn. This member is private for use by libgcv and the associated plugin.


Pointer to a function which performs the filter operation. The db_i passed to a writer function within a gcv_context is marked read-only (the pointer is to a non-const struct due to in-memory data that may be modified). Filters of type GCV_FILTER_FILTER receive a NULL value for target. Must return 1 on success and 0 on failure. This member is private for use by libgcv and the associated plugin.

As shown in the above table, filters may initialize data structures for processing command-line style option strings via bu_opt. Please refer to include/bu/opt.h for full documentation on the bu_opt API.

Utility Functions

In addition to availability of the rest of the BRL-CAD API, the Geometry Conversion Library provides a number of utility functions that may be useful during plugin development.

Table 3. GCV utility functions

gcv_bot_is_solid(), gcv_bot_is_closed(), gcv_bot_is_orientable()

Performs topological tests for determining whether a given triangular mesh is a manifold, orientable, closed fan satisfying requisite conditions for object solidity. gcv_bot_is_solid() is equivalent to gcv_bot_is_closed && gcv_bot_is_orientable()


Produces a triangular mesh tessellation of the object at the given database path using the specified tolerances. Note that if the object at the given path is a combination, a single mesh will be produced from all objects within its tree, and so calling gcv_facetize() on a tree unnecessarily high in the hierarchy and containing many objects is more likely to fail during Boolean evaluation.

There are also many relevant functions provided by the BRL-CAD API, including a new mesh decimation function.

Table 4. BRL-CAD mesh decimation API


Fast implementation of an iterative mesh decimation algorithm.

Developing a Minimal Plugin

Basic Code

The following steps will implement a minimal plugin providing a reader filter.

  1. Add the following line to misc/mime_cad.types. This file is used to generate include/bu/mime.h:

    model/foo               bar

    This will associate the file extension .bar with a new BU_MIME_MODEL_FOO value of bu_mime_model_t.

  2. Create the following file at src/libgcv/plugins/foo/CMakeLists.txt:

    Example 2. CMakeLists.txt
    LIBGCV_ADD_PLUGIN(foo "foo_read.c" "librt;libbu")
  3. Create the following file at src/libgcv/plugins/foo/foo_read.c:

    Example 3. foo_read.c
    TODO: embedded code

Traversing the Database

BRL-CAD provides the db_walk_tree() function for traversing the database in hierarchical order. You can specify your own visitor callbacks as documented in include/rt/tree.h, or use the region-end functions provided by GCV `include/gcv/util.h) to tessellate geometry at the region level.

Table 5. GCV region-end tessellation callbacks


Apply Boolean evaluation to region-level tessellated meshes using the default NMG Boolean evaluator, replacing each region-level node and its subtree of tessellated leaf meshes with a single BoT structure that is then passed to the specified callback. The client_data pointer should point to a struct gcv_region_end_data. The individual leaf nodes must already be tessellated into BoTs. This can be done by specifying a leaf_func such as nmg_booltree_leaf_tess(). In the case of failure, an error message is emitted via bu_log() and the callback is not invoked. Any use of bu_bomb() produced by the callback is trapped and an error message is displayed while continuing the tree walk.


Boolean evaluator roughly based on UnBBoolean’s j3dbool (and associated papers). Does not take a callback.


Experimental variant of gcv_region_end() based on the marching-cubes algorithm. Tessellates leaves internally and does not require a leaf_func.

The following example implements a filter that tessellates all geometry into BoT mesh objects and counts the total number of faces.

Example 4. tessellation_statistics.c
TODO: embedded code

Converting Unsupported Entities

Although BRL-CAD supports a wide array of common geometric primitives, you may encounter objects that can’t be directly imported or exported into an analogous entity. In these cases, conversion filters usually tessellate the incompatible geometry (typically during export) or convert it into an approximation or a composite of several other primitives (often during import).

gcv unsupported tessellation
Figure 2. Tessellation of incompatible entities

Comparing Geometry

When developing a filter, it is often useful to be able to compare different models during testing. This capability is provided by the gdiff tool. There are two versions of gdiff: the standalone command-line version and the gdiff provided within the MGED interface.

The command-line gdiff quickly produces a textual summary for a two- or three- way diff of several BRL-CAD databases. Documentation for this utility is available under brlman gdiff.

The gdiff command available within the MGED interface provides a different capability. It uses BRL-CAD’s ray tracer to produce a visual display of the differences between two objects within the same database. To compare geometry from separate databases, you can first merge the databases using the dbconcat command from within MGED. See brlman dbconcat for full documentation.

Table 6. Usage of MGED’s gdiff utility

Usage: gdiff [OPTION]…​ obj1 obj2

--tol=, -t

Tolerance in millimeters.

--ray-diff, -R

Test for differences with raytracing.

--view-left, -l

Visualize volumes added only by left object.

--view-both, -b

Visualize volumes common to both objects.

--view-right, -r

Visualize volumes added only by right object.

--grazing, -G

Report differences in grazing hits (raytracing mode).

gcv using gdiff
Figure 3. Using MGED’s gdiff utility

Creating Unit Tests

BRL-CAD provides a library of standard models that may be used for unit tests, located under $BRLCAD_ROOT/share/db/ (note that these files are generated during the build process). Unit tests can be integrated into the build system using the add_test CMake command.

Example: Extending an Application

The following example will leverage the filter in the above plugin example, tessellation_statistics.c, to implement a function that counts the number of faces in a model after tessellation.

Example 5. gcv_embedded.c
TODO: embedded code

The GCV Frontend

GCV includes a command-line front-end utility, gcv, implemented in src/conv/gcv/gcv.c. Full documentation is available under brlman gcv and gcv --help.

Example 6. Basic usage of the gcv utility
$ gcv --input=a.stl --output=b.fg4
Input file format: BU_MIME_MODEL_STL
Output file format: BU_MIME_MODEL_VND_FASTGEN
Input file path: a.stl
Output file path: b.fg4
    Converting Part: all_cpu_cpw6_cw_cpubox_cpubox.a
    Using solid name: s.all_cpu_cpw6_cw_cpubox_cpubox.a
    Making region (all_cpu_cpw6_cw_cpubox_cpubox.a)
Example 7. Generic options
$ gcv --input=a.fg4 --output=b.vrml \
      --input-and-output-opts --verbosity=1 \
      --output-only-opts --objects=comp_0001.r
Example 8. Filter-specific options
$ gcv --input=a.fg4 --output=b.obj \
      --input-only-opts --colors=a.fg4.colors \
      --output-only-opts --vertex-normals
Example 9. Specifying conversion formats
$ gcv --input=infile.txt --output=outfile.obj --input-format=stl

Conversion Filters

GCV currently contains support for import and export into five model formats, detailed below.

Table 7. Conversion formats supported by GCV
Format File Extension





WaveFront Object




Virtual Reality Modeling Language


Common Conversion Options

The gcv_opts struct stores generic options applying to many filters, detailed below. Not all options may be applicable to or respected by every filter.

Table 8. Conversion formats supported by GCV


Print debugging info if set to 1. Default is 0.


Verbosity level. The default, level 0, is "quiet" (only error messages are produced).


Specify the scale factor to be applied during import or export, as units per mm. Default is 1.0.


Calculational tolerance. Defaults to the RT defaults. If you use a non-default value, you should set the ray tracer tolerance to match it when using the resulting model.


Tessellation tolerance. The default value is:

abs = 0.0

rel = 1.0e-2

norm = 0.0


Specify use of either the default, marching-cubes, or bottess-based tessellation algorithm.


Maximum number of processors to utilize where possible. Default is 0, specifying the maximum available during execution.


Number of objects to convert. If 0 (the default), all top-level objects will be converted.


Names of objects to convert (must have num_objects elements). Default is NULL.


Name assigned to objects without names. Defaults to “unnamed”.


Debug flag for libbu (see include/bu/debug.h), applied via bitwise-OR with the original value. The original debug flag will be restored after conversion. Defaults to 0.


Debug flag for librt (see include/rt/debug.h), applied via bitwise-OR with the original value. The original debug flag will be restored after conversion. Defaults to 0.


Debug flag for libnmg (see include/nmg.h), applied via bitwise-OR with the original value. The original debug flag will be restored after conversion. Defaults to 0.

Example 10. Using struct gcv_opts
static int
apply_filter_with_options(struct gcv_context *context,
                          const struct gcv_filter *filter,
			  const char *target)
    struct gcv_opts options;
    const char *argv[] = { "--colors=colors.dat", "--continue" };
    const size_t argc = sizeof(argv) / sizeof(argv[0]);

    options->debug_mode = 1;

    return gcv_execute(context, filter, &options, argc, argv, target);


Table 9. FASTGEN4 reader options


Path to a file specifying component colors.


Create a MUVES input file containing any CHGCOMP and CBACKING components.


Create a libplot3 plot file of all CTRI and CQUAD elements processed.


Process only a list (3001, 4082, 5347) or a range (2315 - 3527) of section IDs.


At this time, the FASTGEN4 writer plugin does not make use of any filter-specific options.

OBJ Reader

Table 10. OBJ reader options


Continue processing on nmg-bomb. Conversion will fall back to native BoT mode if a fatal error occurs when using the nmg or BoT-via-nmg modes.


Fuse vertices that are near enough to be considered identical. Can make the solidity detection more reliable, but may significantly increase processing time during the conversion.


Select which OBJ face grouping is used to create BRL-CAD primitives.

group = group (default)

material = material

none = none

object = object

texture = texture


Select the conversion mode.

bot = native BoT (default)

nmg = NMG

nmgbot = BoT via NMG


Thickness (mm) used when a BoT is not a closed volume and it’s converted as a plate or plate-nocos BoT.


Ignore the normals defined in the input file when using native BoT conversion mode.


Select the type used for BoTs that aren’t closed volumes.

surface = surface (default)

plate = plate

nocos = plate-nocos


Creates a plot/overlay (.plot3) file of open edges for BoTs that aren’t closed volumes. bot_name.plot3 will be created in the current directory and will overwrite any existing file with the same name.


Select the BoT orientation mode.

unoriented = unoriented (default)

ccw = counterclockwise

cw = clockwise

OBJ Writer

Table 11. OBJ writer options


Output vertex normals.


Place usemtl statements in the output file. These statements are fictional (they do not refer to any material database). The materials named provide information about the material codes assigned to the objects in the BRL-CAD database. The material names will be of the form aircode_los_material, where aircode is the code number for the air represented by that region, if it does represent air; otherwise, this will be 0. The los is the Line Of Sight thickness (0 to 100) assigned to the region, and material is the material code number assigned.

STL Reader

Table 12. STL reader options


Specify that the input file is in binary STL format (the default assumes ASCII).


Specify the starting ident for the regions created. The default is 1000. This number will be incremented for each region, unless --constant-ident is specified.


Specify that the starting ident should remain constant.


Specify the material code that will be assigned to all created regions (the default is 1).

STL Writer

Table 13. STL writer options


Write output as a binary STL file. The default is ASCII. In the case of ASCII output, the region name is specified on the "solid" line of the STL file. In the case of binary output, all the regions are output as a single STL part.


Specify that the output path should be a directory. Each region converted is written to a separate file. File names are constructed from the full path names of each region (the path from the specified object to the region). Any “/” characters in the path name are replaced by “@” characters and “.” and white space are replaced by “_” characters.

VRML Reader

At this time, the VRML reader plugin does not make use of any filter-specific options.

VRML Writer

Table 14. VRML writer options


BoT dump. Mutually exclusive with --evaluate-all.


Evaluate all, CSG and BoTs. Mutually exclusive with --bot-dump.