Programming the Lumberyard AZCore Runtime Asset System - Lumberyard User Guide

Programming the Lumberyard AZCore Runtime Asset System

The Lumberyard Editor and Lumberyard runtime code use the AZCore runtime asset system to asynchronously stream and activate assets. This topic describes the workflow of the classes in the asset system and shows how to load already-built assets into a running instance of the engine.


For information on compiling and building assets, see Working with the Asset Pipeline and asset files.

Asset System Classes

The Lumberyard asset system includes the following classes and class families:

The following sections describe these classes in detail. For the source code, see the lumberyard_version\dev\Code\Framework\AzCore\AzCore\Asset directory.

AZ::Data::AssetData Derived Classes

An AssetData class represents the data of an asset that is loaded in memory. To describe a particular kind of asset, derive from the AssetData base class. The base class provides an AssetID and a reference count member variable for the asset.

The following Lumberyard classes derive from AssetData:

AssetData Class Source Code Location
ScriptAsset lumberyard_version\dev\Code\FrameworkNoteBeg\AzCore\AzCore\Script\ScriptAsset.h
SliceAsset lumberyard_version\dev\Code\Framework\AzCore\AzCore\Slice\SliceAsset.h
MeshAsset lumberyard_version\dev\Gems\LmbrCentral\Code\include\LmbrCentral\Rendering\MeshAsset.h
ParticleAsset lumberyard_version\dev\Gems\LmbrCentral\Code\include\LmbrCentral\Rendering\ParticleAsset.h

Adding your own asset type to Lumberyard includes the following high-level steps:

  1. Derive your type from AssetData.

  2. Declare an AZ_RTTI type for the asset to ensure that it has a UUID.

  3. Add the member fields or structs that store your data in memory at run time.

For more information, see Adding an Asset Type to Lumberyard.

AZ::Data::Asset<T> Templated Class

Typically, components which use assets directly or indirectly do not have a pointer to your AssetData-derived class; instead, they have a member of type Asset<T>. The AZ::Data::Asset<T> templated class is a wrapper that is similar to a smart pointer, and the T templated type is an AssetData-derived class.

The use of Asset<T> provides the following benefits:

  • Automatic dependency tracking for components that are part of slices.

  • Automatic reference counting.

  • Automatic reloading of asset data when the asset changes on disk.

  • Explicit lifecycle management functions like IsLoaded() and QueueLoad().

  • Reference count tracking to ensure correct behavior for copy operators.

  • The ability to control how the Asset<T> class loads data. To specify how the asset loads, you pass flags to the constructor of the Asset<T> member variable.

The following options are possible:

  • The class automatically starts loading its data. The class waits for the data to be ready before it activates the component for which the data is intended.

  • The class queues the load of your asset data.

  • The class waits for you to load the data explicitly.


A loaded asset remains loaded as long as an active Asset<T> points to it. The asset manager does not reference count the asset. The asset is unloaded when the last system with a reference to the Asset<T> drops its reference and the reference count on the asset goes to 0.

Integration with UI Property Grids

The Asset<T> member fields of your component can appear in UI property grids like those in the Entity Inspector. To make a component's field available in Lumberyard Editor, make the Asset<T> field a member variable and reflect it into the editor. When you do so, game developers can drag an asset from the Asset Browser onto the property field to assign the asset to the component.

Note the following points:

  • Reflect the Asset<T> member variable just as you reflect other member variables of your component.

  • Lumberyard handles asset IDs for you automatically. You do not have to handle them explicitly.

  • Asset<T> fields serialize the AssetId and other information such as the last known name of that AssetId.

  • After an AssetId is assigned to a component, the AssetId is saved when the component is saved. The next time the component loads, the asset is automatically loaded if you specified the appropriate flag in the Asset<T> constructor.


AZ::Data::AssetManager is the central hub for retrieving assets. If you configure the Asset<T> fields of a component to load their assets automatically, you do not need to communicate directly with the asset manager. The AssetManager class performs the following tasks:

  • Maintains a hash table that maps asset IDs to the instances of Asset<T> that are currently loaded.

  • Calls FindAsset to see if an asset is already loaded. If the asset is not currently loaded, FindAsset returns a null reference.

  • Automatically reloads assets as they change on disk.

  • Notifies listeners about asset lifecycle changes. Events like asset loading or unloading are signalled on the AssetBus. The callback-based adapter for this bus is called AssetBusCallbacks. For more information, see the AssetCommon.h file.

    To get an asset, call GetAsset. If the reference count is greater than zero, GetAsset returns an Asset<T> that is already loaded. If no Asset<T> is currently loaded, GetAsset starts loading a new instance of Asset<T>.

Example: Loading an Asset Using Asset Manager

The following code example uses AssetManager to load a script asset.

m_scriptAsset = AZ::Data::AssetManager::Instance().GetAsset<AZ::ScriptAsset>(assetIdToLoad); AZ::Data::AssetBus::Handler::BusConnect(m_scriptAsset.GetId());

In the example, m_scriptAsset is a field of type Asset<ScriptAsset>.

For related code, see lumberyard_version\dev\Code\Framework\AzToolsFramework\AzToolsFramework\ToolsComponents\ScriptEditorComponent.cpp.

Note the following points:

  • GetAsset loads the asset asynchronously. By assigning the asset to the member m_scriptAsset, you ensure that the reference count is at least 1.

  • The code connects to the AssetBus to receive notifications when the script asset is loaded or becomes ready.

  • If the asset is already loaded, the AssetBus delivers the OnAssetReady event as soon as the connection is made to the bus. Because the connection to the bus triggers a callback about the asset's state, you do not have to write code to check the state.

More About Automatic Reloading

An asset can change on disk after the asset has been loaded (and therefore has a reference count greater than zero). When this occurs, the asset manager creates an instance of the updated asset and loads it in the background. When the updated asset is finished loading, two Asset<T>'s temporarily exist. One Asset<T> points to the old AssetData instance in memory, and one to the new. Both instances have the same AssetId. However, now when you request the asset by AssetId, the asset manager returns the new instance and increases the reference count of the new instance. The asset manager also sends the OnAssetReloaded(Asset<T>) event to the AssetBus. This notifies other systems to reload the asset by replacing their current member Asset<T> with the new instance. It also keeps the reference count from reaching zero for the duration of the callback.

The following code shows a component that has a member variable of type Asset<T> that handles live reloading. First, the component connects to the bus to monitor for asset reloading events.

// Connect to the asset bus at the address of my currently assigned asset. // This notifies me when the script reloads. Data::AssetBus::Handler::BusConnect(m_script.GetId());

When the AssetManager notifies that a new script has been reloaded, the code for the OnAssetReloaded method cleans up old pointers. The code also assigns the asset, which updates the reference count for the new and old versions of the asset.

void ScriptComponent::OnAssetReloaded(AZ::Data::Asset<AZ::Data::AssetData> asset) { // Clean up any pointers to the old AssetData. UnloadScript(); m_script = asset; // This assignment increments the reference count of the new asset. // The old asset reference count decrements. // Re-establish state into the new AssetData. LoadScript(); }

Because m_script is of type Asset<ScriptAsset>, it can simply use Asset<T>'s operator= to drop the reference count on the old Asset<T> and replace it with the new Asset<T>.

This way of handling automatic reloading gives components the flexibility to decide how to deal with changes to assets. For example, components might choose among the following options:

  1. Save the new Asset<T> on a queue and for later processing.

  2. Discard the new Asset<T> and keep the old data.

  3. Swap the references to the old and new versions immediately, as the script component does.

Note the following points:

  • Because Asset<T> instances are reference counted, the internal AssetData object that they wrap is not deleted until all classes that have a reference to it clear that reference.

  • If OnAssetReloaded is called and the code does not store the new Asset<T>, the reference count becomes zero and the asset is unloaded. Existing Asset<T> instances that point at the old data remain valid until they are dropped.

  • Because messages like OnAssetReloaded are always delivered in the main thread, mutexes are not required.


The asset catalog is a set of lookup tables that notifies the Lumberyard asset system when assets on the file system change. The asset manager monitors the AssetCatalogEventBus. When the bus delivers the OnCatalogAssetChanged event, the asset manager starts upgrading assets. This is how live reloading is implemented.

To receive notifications about assets that change on disk, connect to the AssetCatalogEventBus. Then use the AssetCatalogRequestBus to make requests to the AssetCatalog to resolve assets by ID. For details, see the AssetManagerBus.h file.

The AssetCatalogRequestBus contains other functions that look up asset dependencies, enumerate assets, and perform other low-level tasks. In most cases you do not have to use these functions directly.


You do not have to use the asset catalog directly unless you write low-level code that performs custom file processing. If you use the higher level systems like Asset<T>, AssetData, and AssetManager, these classes communicate with the catalog for you.

To look up asset file information manually, you can pass an AssetId to the AssetCatalog. AssetCatalog returns a struct that contains the file's type, size, canonical name, and location.

AZ::Data::AssetHandler Derived Classes

When you create a new type of asset, you also create an AssetHandler for the new asset type. The role of the asset handler is to create, load, save, and destroy assets when the asset manager requests it. After your asset handler creates an empty instance of your asset type, it loads serialized data into the in-memory representation of AssetData.

To create a handler for a specific asset type, derive from the AssetHandler class and register an instance of the handler with the asset manager. Because asset handling functions can be called from multiple threads, the handlers must be thread-safe. The handler can block the calling thread while the asset is loading.

Asset System Workflow

Lumberyard loads assets in the following two ways:

  • Implicit – When classes and structs contain Asset<T> members. When a structure deserializes, the serialization system checks whether the structure contains a member of type Asset<T>. If so, the serialization system calls GetAsset() to retrieve the asset from AssetManager.

  • Explicit – When AssetManager::GetAsset() or Asset<T>::QueueLoad is called explicitly.

The following steps summarize the workflow of the asset system.

  1. GetAsset(assetId) calls AssetManager implicitly (through the serialization system) or explicitly.

  2. AssetManager calls GetAssetInfoById to retrieve the information about the asset file.

  3. If the asset is already loaded in the m_assets asset map, AssetManager returns a new Asset<T> instance of the existing asset and increments the reference count.

  4. If the asset is not already loaded, AssetManager uses the information returned by GetAssetInfoById to look up the AssetHandler for the asset type.

    1. AssetManager calls the asset handler's CreateAsset function to create a new empty instance for the data.

    2. AssetManager inserts the asset into the empty instance.

    3. AssetManager creates a loading job in a job worker thread pool. To load the asset data, the thread pool calls the loadAssetdata function on the handler in the worker pool.

    4. If the AssetManager was told to block while the asset loads, it stops processing until the asset is loaded.

    5. AssetManager returns the Asset<T> member.


While AssetCatalog, AssetHandler, and AssetData are part of the asset system, consumers of an asset deal only with Asset<T> and AssetManager.