Open Inventor Release 2024.1.1
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What is Open Inventor?

Open Inventor is an object-oriented toolkit that simplifies and abstracts the task of writing graphics programming into a set of easy to use objects. These objects range from low level data-centered objects such as Sphere, Camera, Material, Light, and Group, to high level objects for Mesh visualization and Volume Rendering. The foundation concept in Open Inventor is the "scene database" which defines the objects to be used in an application. When using Open Inventor, a programmer creates, edits, and composes these objects into hierarchical 3D scene graphs (i.e., database). A variety of fundamental application tasks such as rendering, picking, event handling, and file reading/writing are built-in operations of all objects in the database and thus are simple to invoke.

Since Open Inventor is object-oriented (written in C++), it encourages programmers to extend the system by writing new objects. Open Inventor users have created a variety of new objects that are not included in the product, such as: Bezier surfaces, CSG objects, animation objects, special viewers, and many more.

The release number version is used to define the product version in terms of date. For example : For example 2023.2.7 for the second version of OIV in 2023 and the 7th patch version.


The rendering mechanism inside Open Inventor objects employs OpenGL. During rendering, each object automatically makes the proper, efficient calls to OpenGL. Since Open Inventor was designed specifically to use OpenGL for graphics rendering, it is highly optimized to take advantage of all OpenGL accelerators. Its optimized scene graph pipeline also allows the developer to target PC and low-end systems without hardware acceleration.

Furthermore, Open Inventor rendering supports a caching scheme which automatically generates very fast renderings of the database without additional traversal overhead.


Picking is the computer graphics term for selecting shapes in a 3D scene. Picking can select shapes intersected by a ray (SoRayPickAction) or shapes partially or completely inside a screen region like a "lasso" (SoExtSelection). Ray picking is typically used to detect what shape(s) are currently underneath the cursor. Open Inventor picking is very efficient and automatically uses cached bounding boxes to avoid traversing portions of the scene graph (culling). In some cases, Open Inventor uses the GPU to accelerate picking. Picking returns a variety of 3D information and detail about what objects were picked. A sorted list of picked objects and corresponding information is returned to the programmer. Picking is fast enough that programs can perform 3D locate highlighting as the mouse moves across a 3D window.

Interaction, Events, and Devices

Inventor defines an event model for writing 3D interaction. This model is window system independent. It is quite easy to use and makes 3D direct manipulation programming possible. Open Inventor includes a variety of interactive 3D objects and tools for writing interactive objects, such as: Manipulators, Draggers, and Projectors. The flexible event model encourages programmers to extend the system to support new devices and event types. Events include keyboard events, mouse events, touch events and gestures, and even tracked input device events for virtual/augmented reality applications.

File Formats

The Open Inventor 3D File Format is a de-facto standard for 3D data. The format supports both an ASCII and a compact binary format. The binary format is network-neutral and thus can be exported across machine boundaries. Data files can be compressed to further reduce their size.

Extender/internal methods and classes

  • SoEXTENDER: Many Inventor classes and member functions are labeled as EXTENDER in the C++ header files, which means they are available to programmers who wish to extend the toolkit. We strongly suggest to use this type of api only in the cases described in the Toolmaker guide such as creating a new class inherited from SoShape. See Open Inventor Toolmaker.

    The extender api are located in a SoEXTENDER public section in the header files and are not visible in the reference manual although they can be used and seen with a public visibility from any C++ compiler. Some of extender methods are also marked by a custom tag EXTENDER_API. This has exactly the same meaning but that makes the api visible from the reference manual.

  • SoINTERNAL: Member functions and classes that are listed in the Open Inventor header files under "SoINTERNAL public" are not intended for public use. They are subject to change without notice and are not recommended for use in Open Inventor applications.
  • Note: The words SoEXTENDER public, SoINTERNAL public, and protected do not appear in the header files when viewed using this documention. To see the exact contents of the header files, view the header files directly.

Preview Features

Preview Features are special features that may not be fully implemented, but already provide useful services.

Preview Features are fully supported and can be used in Open Inventor applications. Being tagged as a Preview Feature just means that the implementation is still subject to API changes and adjustments based on feedback from early adopters. Please be also aware that source compatibility might be broken regardless of the Open Inventor compatibility changes policy due to our commitment to bring needed changes to be sure the specifications of these Preview Features match the expectations of our customers.

Icon Reference

Open Inventor extension
MeshViz XLM extension
VolumeViz extension
RemoteViz extension
HardCopy extension

Other Sources of Information

  • On-line documentation (accessible from It covers Open Inventor as well as its extensions – MeshViz, HardCopy, VolumeViz, etc. It contains system requirements and installation instructions; release notes and lists of fixed bugs; a reference manual, a user's guide, and FAQs; as well as information about a variety of other topics including performance, redistribution packaging, and more.
  • ReadMe files (clear text files accessible from OIVHOME/ReadMe/ *.txt)
  • which is the first file to read.
  • Printed materials (out of print, but useful)
    • The Inventor Mentor, published by Addison-Wesley. This book describes how to write applications using the Open Inventor toolkit. This is an excellent book for new users of Open Inventor.
    • The Inventor Toolmaker, published by Addison-Wesley. For advanced programmers, this book describes how to create new Open Inventor classes, and how to customize existing classes.
    • Open Inventor C++ Reference Manual, published by Addison-Wesley. It is obsolete and should no longer be used as the reference documentation of Open Inventor API as it is too far from the existing version. The updated documentation of the API is available online at and offline in the installed package ($OIVHOME/doc/ReferenceManual.html)
  • Other
    • Open Inventor technical support (if your license has technical support)
    • Sample programs and sample Open Inventor data files (*.iv) - These are an excellent source of information about using Open Inventor. Example programs are provided to demonstrate almost every signficant feature of Open Inventor.
    • Open Inventor web site ( - May provide additional helpful information.

Third Party Software

Open Inventor uses libraries from a number of third party software providers, including some open source libraries. To the best of our knowledge, all third party libraries are used in accordance with the terms of their appropriate license agreement (if any). See the topic 3RD PARTY SOFT. on-line documentation (accessible from $OIVHOME/doc/index.htm) for information on the version numbers as well as copyright notices, licenses, etc., as requested by the various third parties.

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This documentation is automatically generated from the public header files using doxygen: (