Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What's new in libinput 1.12

libinput 1.12 was a massive development effort (over 300 patchsets) with a bunch of new features being merged. It'll be released next week or so, so it's worth taking a step back and looking at what actually changed.

The device quirks files replace the previously used hwdb-based udev properties. I've written about this in more detail here but the gist is: we have our own .ini style file format that can match on devices and apply the various quirks devices need. This simplifies debugging a lot, we can now reliably tell users why a quirks file applies or doesn't apply, historically a problem with the hwdb.

The sphinx-based documentation was merged, fixed and added to. We switched to sphinx for the docs and the result is much more user-friendly. Which was the point, it was a switch from a developer-oriented documentation to a user-oriented one. Not that documentation is ever finished.

The usual set of touchpad improvements went in, e.g. the slight motion on finger up is now ignored. We have size-based thumb detection now (useful for Apple touchpads!). And of course various quirks for better pressure ranges, etc. Tripletap on some synaptics touchpads had a tendency to cause multiple taps because of some weird event sequence. Movement in the software button now generates events, the buttons are not just a dead zone anymore. Pointer jump detection is more adaptive now and catches and discards smaller jumps that previously slipped through the cracks. A particularly quirky behaviour was seen on Dell XPS i2c touchpads that exhibit a huge pointer jump, courtesy of the trackpoint controller going to sleep and taking its time to wake up. The delay is still there but the pointer at least lands in the correct location.

We now have improved direction-locking for two-finger scrolling on touchpads. Scrolling up/down should not generate horizontal scroll events anymore as long as the movement is close enough to vertical. This feature is transparent, a diagonal or horizontal movement will immediately disable the direction lock and produce horizontal scroll events as expected.

The trackpoint acceleration has been re-done, see this post for more details and links to the background articles. I've only received one bug report for the new acceleration so it seems to work quite well now. Trackpoints that send events in bursts (e.g. bluetooth ones) are smoothened now to avoid jerky movement.

Velocity averaging was dropped to increase pointer accuracy. Previously we averaged the velocity across multiple events which makes the motion smoother on jittery devices but less accurate on good devices.

We build on FreeBSD now. Presumably this also means it works on FreeBSD :)

libinput now supports palm detection on touchscreens, at least where the ABS_MT_TOOL_TYPE evdev bit is provided.

I think that's about it. Busy days...

Thursday, August 16, 2018

libinput's "new" trackpoint acceleration method

This is mostly a request for testing, because I've received zero feedback on the patches that I merged a month ago and libinput 1.12 is due to be out. No comments so far on the RC1 and RC2 either, so... well, maybe this gets a bit broader attention so we can address some things before the release. One can hope.

Required reading for this article: Observations on trackpoint input data and X server pointer acceleration analysis - part 5.

As the blog posts linked above explain, the trackpoint input data is difficult and largely arbitrary between different devices. The previous pointer acceleration libinput had relied on a fixed reporting rate which isn't true at low speeds, so the new acceleration method switches back to velocity-based acceleration. i.e. we convert the input deltas to a speed, then apply the acceleration curve on that. It's not speed, it's pressure, but it doesn't really matter unless you're a stickler for technicalities.

Because basically every trackpoint has different random data ranges not linked to anything easily measurable, libinput's device quirks now support a magic multiplier to scale the trackpoint range into something resembling a sane range. This is basically what we did before with the systemd POINTINGSTICK_CONST_ACCEL property except that we're handling this in libinput now (which is where acceleration is handled, so it kinda makes sense to move it here). There is no good conversion from the previous trackpoint range property to the new multiplier because the range didn't really have any relation to the physical input users expected.

So what does this mean for you? Test the libinput RCs or, better, libinput from master (because it's stable anyway), or from the Fedora COPR and check if the trackpoint works. If not, check the Trackpoint Configuration page and follow the instructions there.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

How the 60-evdev.hwdb works

libinput made a design decision early on to use physical reference points wherever possible. So your virtual buttons are X mm high/across, the pointer movement is calculated in mm, etc. Unfortunately this exposed us to a large range of devices that don't bother to provide that information or just give us the wrong information to begin with. Patching the kernel for every device is not feasible so in 2015 the 60-evdev.hwdb was born and it has seen steady updates since. Plenty a libinput bug was fixed by just correcting the device's axis ranges or resolution. To take the magic out of the 60-evdev.hwdb, here's a blog post for your perusal, appreciation or, failing that, shaking a fist at. Note that the below is caller-agnostic, it doesn't matter what userspace stack you use to process your input events.

There are four parts that come together to fix devices: a kernel ioctl and a trifecta of udev rules hwdb entries and a udev builtin.

The kernel's EVIOCSABS ioctl

It all starts with the kernel's struct input_absinfo.

struct input_absinfo {
 __s32 value;
 __s32 minimum;
 __s32 maximum;
 __s32 fuzz;
 __s32 flat;
 __s32 resolution;
};
The three values that matter right now: minimum, maximum and resolution. The "value" is just the most recent value on this axis, ignore fuzz/flat for now. The min/max values simply specify the range of values the device will give you, the resolution how many values per mm you get. Simple example: an x axis given at min 0, max 1000 at a resolution of 10 means your devices is 100mm wide. There is no requirement for min to be 0, btw, and there's no clipping in the kernel so you may get values outside min/max. Anyway, your average touchpad looks like this in evemu-record:
#   Event type 3 (EV_ABS)
#     Event code 0 (ABS_X)
#       Value     2572
#       Min       1024
#       Max       5112
#       Fuzz         0
#       Flat         0
#       Resolution  41
#     Event code 1 (ABS_Y)
#       Value     4697
#       Min       2024
#       Max       4832
#       Fuzz         0
#       Flat         0
#       Resolution  37
This is the information returned by the EVIOCGABS ioctl (EVdev IOCtl Get ABS). It is usually run once on device init by any process handling evdev device nodes.

Because plenty of devices don't announce the correct ranges or resolution, the kernel provides the EVIOCSABS ioctl (EVdev IOCtl Set ABS). This allows overwriting the in-kernel struct with new values for min/max/fuzz/flat/resolution, processes that query the device later will get the updated ranges.

udev rules, hwdb and builtins

The kernel has no notification mechanism for updated axis ranges so the ioctl must be applied before any process opens the device. This effectively means it must be applied by a udev rule. udev rules are a bit limited in what they can do, so if we need to call an ioctl, we need to run a program. And while udev rules can do matching, the hwdb is easier to edit and maintain. So the pieces we have is: a hwdb that knows when to change (and the values), a udev program to apply the values and a udev rule to tie those two together.

In our case the rule is 60-evdev.rules. It checks the 60-evdev.hwdb for matching entries [1], then invokes the udev-builtin-keyboard if any matching entries are found. That builtin parses the udev properties assigned by the hwdb and converts them into EVIOCSABS ioctl calls. These three pieces need to agree on each other's formats - the udev rule and hwdb agree on the matches and the hwdb and the builtin agree on the property names and value format.

By itself, the hwdb itself has no specific format beyond this:

some-match-that-identifies-a-device
 PROPERTY_NAME=value
 OTHER_NAME=othervalue
But since we want to match for specific use-cases, our udev rule assembles several specific match lines. Have a look at 60-evdev.rules again, the last rule in there assembles a string in the form of "evdev:name:the device name:content of /sys/class/dmi/id/modalias". So your hwdb entry could look like this:
evdev:name:My Touchpad Name:dmi:*svnDellInc*
 EVDEV_ABS_00=0:1:3
If the name matches and you're on a Dell system, the device gets the EVDEV_ABS_00 property assigned. The "evdev:" prefix in the match line is merely to distinguish from other match rules to avoid false positives. It can be anything, libinput unsurprisingly used "libinput:" for its properties.

The last part now is understanding what EVDEV_ABS_00 means. It's a fixed string with the axis number as hex number - 0x00 is ABS_X. And the values afterwards are simply min, max, resolution, fuzz, flat, in that order. So the above example would set min/max to 0:1 and resolution to 3 (not very useful, I admit).

Trailing bits can be skipped altogether and bits that don't need overriding can be skipped as well provided the colons are in place. So the common use-case of overriding a touchpad's x/y resolution looks like this:

evdev:name:My Touchpad Name:dmi:*svnDellInc*
 EVDEV_ABS_00=::30
 EVDEV_ABS_01=::20
 EVDEV_ABS_35=::30
 EVDEV_ABS_36=::20 
0x00 and 0x01 are ABS_X and ABS_Y, so we're setting those to 30 units/mm and 20 units/mm, respectively. And if the device is multitouch capable we also need to set ABS_MT_POSITION_X and ABS_MT_POSITION_Y to the same resolution values. The min/max ranges for all axes are left as-is.

The most confusing part is usually: the hwdb uses a binary database that needs updating whenever the hwdb entries change. A call to systemd-hwdb update does that job.

So with all the pieces in place, let's see what happens when the kernel tells udev about the device:

  • The udev rule assembles a match and calls out to the hwdb,
  • The hwdb applies udev properties where applicable and returns success,
  • The udev rule calls the udev keyboard-builtin
  • The keyboard builtin parses the EVDEV_ABS_xx properties and issues an EVIOCSABS ioctl for each axis,
  • The kernel updates the in-kernel description of the device accordingly
  • The udev rule finishes and udev sends out the "device added" notification
  • The userspace process sees the "device added" and opens the device which now has corrected values
  • Celebratory champagne corks are popping everywhere, hands are shaken, shoulders are patted in congratulations of another device saved from the tyranny of wrong axis ranges/resolutions

Once you understand how the various bits fit together it should be quite easy to understand what happens. Then the remainder is just adding hwdb entries where necessary but the touchpad-edge-detector tool is useful for figuring those out.

[1] Not technically correct, the udev rule merely calls the hwdb builtin which searches through all hwdb entries. It doesn't matter which file the entries are in.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Fedora COPR for libinput git master

To make testing libinput git master easier, I set up a whot/libinput-git Fedora COPR yesterday. This repo gets the push triggers directly from GitLab so it will rebuild with whatever is currently on git master.

To use the COPR, simply run:

sudo dnf copr enable whot/libinput-git
sudo dnf upgrade libinput
This will give you the libinput package from git. It'll have a date/time/git sha based NVR, e.g. libinput-1.11.901-201807310551git22faa97.fc28.x86_64. Easy to spot at least.

To revert back to the regular Fedora package run:

sudo dnf copr disable whot/libinput-git
sudo dnf distro-sync "libinput-*" 

Disclaimer: This is an automated build so not every package is tested. I'm running git master exclusively (from a a ninja install) and I don't push to master unless the test suite succeeds. So the risk for ending up with a broken system is low.

On that note: if you are maintaining a similar repo for other distributions and would like me to add a push trigger in GitLab for automatic rebuilds, let me know.

Monday, July 30, 2018

libinput now has ReadTheDocs-style documentation

libinput's documentation started out as doxygen of the developer API - they were the main target 4 years ago. Over time, more and more extra documentation was added and now most of it is aimed at users (for self-debugging and troubleshooting or just to explain concepts and features). Unfortunately, with doxygen this all ends up in the "Related Pages". The developer API documentation itself became a less important part, by now all the major compositors have libinput support and it doesn't change much. So while it needs to be there, most of the traffic goes to the user documentation (I think, it's not like I'm running stats).

Something more suited for prose-style docs was needed. I prefer the RTD look so last week I converted most of the libinput documentation into RST format and it's now built with sphinx and the RTD theme. Same URL as before: http://wayland.freedesktop.org/libinput/doc/latest/.

The biggest difference is that the Developer API Documentation (still doxygen) is now at http://wayland.freedesktop.org/libinput/doc/latest/api/, (i.e. add /api/ to the link). If you're programming against libinput's API (e.g. because you're writing a compositor), that's where you need to go.

It's still basically the same content as before, I'll be tidying things up and adding to it over the next few weeks. Hopefully without breaking existing links. There is probably detritus from the doxygen → rst change floating around, I'll be fixing that too. If you want to help out please don't hesitate, I'll do my best to be quick to review any merge requests.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Why it's not a good idea to handle evdev directly

Gather round children, it's story time. Especially for you children who lurk on /r/linux and think you may learn something there. Today, I'll tell you a horror story. The one where we convert kernel input events into touchpad events, with the subtle subtitle of "friends don't let friends handle evdev events".

The question put forward is "why do we need libinput at all", when, as frequently suggested on the usual websites, it's sufficient to just read evdev data and there's really no need for libinput. That is of course true. You can use evdev events from the kernel directly. Did you know that the events the kernel gives you are absolute coordinates? And that not all touchpads have buttons? Or that some touchpads have specific event sequences that need to be filtered? No? Well, boy, are you in for a few surprises! Anyway, let's go and handle evdev events ourselves and write our own libmyinput.

How do we know something is a touchpad? Well, we look at the exposed evdev bits. We need ABS_X, ABS_Y and BTN_TOOL_FINGER but don't want INPUT_PROP_DIRECT. If the latter bit is set then we have a touchscreen (probably). We don't actually care about buttons here, that comes later. ABS_X and ABS_Y give us device-absolute coordinates. On touch down you get the evdev frame of "a finger is down at x/y device units from the top-left". As you move around, you get the x/y coordinate updates. The data itself is exactly the same as you would get from a touchscreen, but we know it's a touchpad because we queried the other bits at startup. So your first job is to convert the absolute x/y coordinates to deltas by subtracting the previous position.

Touchpads have different resolutions for x and y so a delta of 10/10 does not mean it's a 45-degree movement. Better check with the resolution to convert this to physical distances to be on the safe side. Oh, btw, the axes aren't reliable. The min/max ranges and the resolutions are wrong on a large number of touchpads. Luckily systemd fixes this for you with the 60-evdev.hwdb. But I should probably note that hwdb only exists because of libinput... Either way, you don't have to care about it because the road's already paved. You're welcome.

Oh wait, you do have to care a little because there are touchpads (e.g. HP Stream 11, ZBook Studio G3, ...) where bits are missing or wrong. So you better write a device database that tells you when you have correct the evdev bits. You could implement this as config option but that's just saying "I know what's wrong here, I know how to fix it but I'm still going to make you google for it and edit a local configuration file to make it work". You could treat your users this way, but you really shouldn't.

As you're happily processing your deltas, you notice that on some touchpads you get motion before you touch the touchpad. Ooops, we need a way to tell whether a finger is down. Luckily the kernel gives you BTN_TOUCH for that event, so you switch your implementation to only calculate deltas when BTN_TOUCH is set. But then you realise that is effectively a hardcoded threshold in the kernel and does not match a lot of devices. Some devices require too-hard finger pressure to trigger BTN_TOUCH, others send it on super-light pressure or even while hovering. After grinding some enamel away you find that many touchpads give you ABS_PRESSURE. Awesome, let's make touches pressure-based instead. Let's use a threshold, no, I mean a device-specific threshold (because if two touchpads would be the same the universe will stop doing whatever a universe does, I clearly haven't thought this through). Luckily we already have the device database so we just add the thresholds there.

Oh, if you want this to run on a Apple touchpad better implement touch size handling (ABS_MT_TOUCH_MAJOR/ABS_MT_TOUCH_MINOR). These axes give you the size of the touching ellipse which is great. Except that the value is just an arbitrary number range that have no reflection to physical properties, so better update your database so you can add those thresholds.

Ok, now we have single-finger handling in our libnotinput. Let's add some sophisticated touchpad features like button clicks. Buttons are easy, the kernel gives us BTN_LEFT and BTN_RIGHT and, if you're lucky, BTN_MIDDLE. Unless you have a clickpad of course in which case you only ever get BTN_LEFT because the whole touchpad can be depressed (much like you, if you continue writing your own evdev handling). Those clickpads are in the majority of laptops these days, so we have to deal with them. The two approaches we have are "software button areas" and "clickfinger". The former detects where your finger is when you push the touchpad down - if it's in the bottom right corner we convert the kernel's BTN_LEFT to a BTN_RIGHT and pass that on. Decide how big the buttons will be (note: some touchpads that need software buttons are only 50mm high, others exceed 100mm height). Whatever size you choose, it's an invisible line on the touchpad. Do you know yet how you will handle a finger that moves from outside the button are into the button area before the click? Or the other way round? Maybe add this to your todo list for fixing later.

Maybe "clickfinger" is easier? It counts how many fingers are on the touchpad when clicking (1 finger == left click, 2 fingers == right click, 3 fingers == middle click). Much easier, except that so far we only handle one finger. The easy fix is to use BTN_TOOL_DOUBLETAP and BTN_TOOL_TRIPLETAP which are bitflags that tell you when a second/third finger are down. Add that to your libthisisnotlibinput. Coincidentally, users often click with their thumb while moving. So you have one finger moving the pointer, then a thumb click. Two fingers down but the user doesn't perceive it as such, this should be a left click. Oops, we don't actually know where the second finger is.

Let's switch our libstillnotlibinput to use ABS_MT_POSITION_X and ABS_MT_POSITION_Y because that gives us per-finger position information (once you understand how the kernel's MT protocol slots work). And when I say "switch" of course I meant "add" because there are still touchpads in use that don't support multitouch so you get to keep both implementations. There are also a bunch of touchpads that can give you the position of two fingers but not of the third. Wipe that tear away and pencil that into your todo list. I haven't mentioned semi-mt devices yet that will give you multitouch position data for two fingers but it won't track them correctly - the first touch position is always the top/left of the bounding box, the second touch is always the bottom/right of the bounding box. Do the right thing for our libwhathaveidone and just pretend semi-mt devices are single-touch touchpads. libinput (the real one) does the same because my sanity is something to be cherished.

Oh, on another note, some touchpads don't have any buttons (some Wacom tablets are large touchpads). Add that to your todo list. You wanted middle buttons to work? Few touchpads have a middle button (clickpads never do anyway). Better write a middle button emulation system that generates BTN_MIDDLE when both buttons are pressed. Or when a finger is on the left and another finger is on the right software button. Or when a finger is in a virtual middle button area. All these need to be present because if not, you get dissed by users for not implementing their favourite interaction method.

So we're several paragraphs in and so far we have: finger tracking and some button handling. And a bunch of things on the todo list. We haven't even started with other fancy features like edge scrolling, two-finger scrolling, pinch/swipe gestures or thumb and palm detection. Oh, and you're not yet handling any other devices like graphics tablets which are a world of their own. If you think all the other features and devices are any less of a mess... well, an Austrian comedian once said (paraphrased): "optimism is just a fancy word for ignorance".

All this is just handling features that users have come to expect. Examples for non-features that you'll have to implement: on some Lenovo series (*50 and newer) you will get a pointer jump after a series of of events that only have pressure information. You'll have to detect and discard that jump. The HP Pavilion DM4 touchpad has random jumps in the slot data. Synaptics PS/2 touchpads may 'randomly' end touches and restart them on the next event frame 10ms later. If you don't handle that you'll get ghost taps. And so on and so forth.

So as you, happily or less so, continue writing your libthisismoreworkthanexpected you'll eventually come to realise that you're just reimplementing libinput. Congratulations or condolences, whichever applies.

libinput's raison d'etre is that it deals with all the mess above so that compositor authors can be blissfully unaware of all this. That's the reason why all the major/general-purpose compositors have switched to libinput. That's the reason most distributions now use libinput with the X server (through the xf86-input-libinput driver). libinput has made some design decisions that you may disagree with but honestly, that's life. Deal with it. It doesn't even do all I want and I wrote >90% of it. Suggesting that you can just handle evdev directly is like suggesting you can use GPS coordinates directly to navigate. Sure you can, but there's a reason why people instead use a Tom Tom or Google Maps.

Monday, July 9, 2018

meson fails with "ERROR: Native dependency 'foo' not found" - and how to fix it

A common error when building from source is something like the error below:

meson.build:50:0: ERROR: Native dependency 'foo' not found
or a similar warning
meson.build:63:0: ERROR:  Invalid version of dependency, need 'foo' ['>= 1.1.0'] found '1.0.0'.
Seeing that can be quite discouraging, but luckily, in many cases it's not too difficult to fix. As usual, there are many ways to get to a successful result, I'll describe what I consider the simplest.

What does it mean? Dependencies are simply libraries or tools that meson needs to build the project. Usually these are declared like this in meson.build:

dep_foo = dependency('foo', version: '>= 1.1.0')
In human words: "we need the development headers for library foo (or 'libfoo') of version 1.1.0 or later". meson uses the pkg-config tool in the background to resolve that request. If we require package foo, pkg-config searches for a file foo.pc in the following directories:
  • /usr/lib/pkgconfig,
  • /usr/lib64/pkgconfig,
  • /usr/share/pkgconfig,
  • /usr/local/lib/pkgconfig,
  • /usr/local/share/pkgconfig
The error message simply means pkg-config couldn't find the file and you need to install the matching package from your distribution or from source.

And important note here: in most cases, we need the development headers of said library, installing just the library itself is not sufficient. After all, we're trying to build against it, not merely run against it.

What package provides the foo.pc file?

In many cases the package is the development version of the package name. Try foo-devel (Fedora, RHEL, SuSE, ...) or foo-dev (Debian, Ubuntu, ...). yum and dnf provide a great shortcut to install any pkg-config dependency:

$> dnf install "pkgconfig(foo)"
$> yum install "pkgconfig(foo)"
will automatically search and install the right package, including its dependencies.
apt-get requires a bit more effort:
$> apt-get install apt-file
$> apt-file update
$> apt-file search --package-only foo.pc
foo-dev
$> apt-get install foo-dev
For those running Arch and pacman, the sequence is:
$> pacman -S pkgfile
$> pkgfile -u
$> pkgfile foo.pc
extra/foo
$> pacman -S extra/foo
Once that's done you can re-run meson and see if all dependencies have been met. If more packages are missing, follow the same process for the next file.

Any users of other distributions - let me know how to do this on yours and I'll update the post

My version is wrong!

It's not uncommon to see the following error after installing the right package:

meson.build:63:0: ERROR:  Invalid version of dependency, need 'foo' ['>= 1.1.0'] found '1.0.0'.
Now you're stuck and you have a problem. What this means is that the package version your distribution provides is not new enough to build your software. This is where the simple solutions and and it all gets a bit more complicated - with more potential errors. Unless you are willing to go into the deep end, I recommend moving on and accepting that you can't have the newest bits on an older distribution. Because now you have to build the dependencies from source and that may then require to build their dependencies from source and before you know you've built 30 packages. If you're willing read on, otherwise - sorry, you won't be able to run your software today.

Manually installing dependencies

Now you're in the deep end, so be aware that you may see more complicated errors in the process. First of all you need to figure out where to get the source from. I'll now use cairo as example instead of foo so you see actual data. On rpm-based distributions like Fedora run dnf or yum:

$> dnf info cairo-devel    # or yum info cairo-devel
Loaded plugins: auto-update-debuginfo, langpacks
Installed Packages
Name        : cairo-devel
Arch        : x86_64
Version     : 1.13.1
Release     : 0.1.git337ab1f.fc20
Size        : 2.4 M
Repo        : installed
From repo   : fedora
Summary     : Development files for cairo
URL         : http://cairographics.org
License     : LGPLv2 or MPLv1.1
Description : Cairo is a 2D graphics library designed to provide high-quality
            : display and print output.
            : 
            : This package contains libraries, header files and developer
            : documentation needed for developing software which uses the cairo
            : graphics library.
The important field here is the URL line - got to that and you'll find the source tarballs. That should be true for most projects but you may need to google for the package name and hope. Search for the tarball with the right version number and download it. On Debian and related distributions, cairo is provided by the libcairo2-dev package. Run apt-cache show on that package:
$> apt-cache show libcairo2-dev
Package: libcairo2-dev
Source: cairo
Version: 1.12.2-3
Installed-Size: 2766
Maintainer: Dave Beckett 
Architecture: amd64
Provides: libcairo-dev
Depends: libcairo2 (= 1.12.2-3), libcairo-gobject2 (= 1.12.2-3),[...]
Suggests: libcairo2-doc
Description-en: Development files for the Cairo 2D graphics library
 Cairo is a multi-platform library providing anti-aliased
 vector-based rendering for multiple target backends.
 .
 This package contains the development libraries, header files needed by
 programs that want to compile with Cairo.
Homepage: http://cairographics.org/
Description-md5: 07fe86d11452aa2efc887db335b46f58
Tag: devel::library, role::devel-lib, uitoolkit::gtk
Section: libdevel
Priority: optional
Filename: pool/main/c/cairo/libcairo2-dev_1.12.2-3_amd64.deb
Size: 1160286
MD5sum: e29852ae8e8e5510b00b13dbc201ce66
SHA1: 2ed3534d02c01b8d10b13748c3a02820d10962cf
SHA256: a6099cfbcc6bd891e347dd9abc57b7f137e0fd619deaff39606fd58f0cc60d27
In this case it's the Homepage line that matters, but the process of downloading tarballs is the same as above. For Arch users, the interesting line is URL as well:
$> pacman -Si cairo | grep URL
Repository      : extra
Name            : cairo
Version         : 1.12.16-1
Description     : Cairo vector graphics library
Architecture    : x86_64
URL             : http://cairographics.org/
Licenses        : LGPL MPL
....

Now to the complicated bit: In most cases, you shouldn't install the new version over the system version because you may break other things. You're better off installing the dependency into a custom folder ("prefix") and point pkg-config to it. So let's say you downloaded the cairo tarball, now you need to run:

$> mkdir $HOME/dependencies/
$> tar xf cairo-someversion.tar.xz
$> cd cairo-someversion
$> autoreconf -ivf
$> ./configure --prefix=$HOME/dependencies
$> make && make install
$> export PKG_CONFIG_PATH=$HOME/dependencies/lib/pkgconfig:$HOME/dependencies/share/pkgconfig
# now go back to original project and run meson again
So you create a directory called dependencies and install cairo there. This will install cairo.pc as $HOME/dependencies/lib/cairo.pc. Now all you need to do is tell pkg-config that you want it to look there as well - so you set PKG_CONFIG_PATH. If you re-run meson in the original project, pkg-config will find the new version and meson should succeed. If you have multiple packages that all require a newer version, install them into the same path and you only need to set PKG_CONFIG_PATH once. Remember you need to set PKG_CONFIG_PATH in the same shell as you are running configure from.

In the case of dependencies that use meson, you replace autotools and make with meson and ninja:

$> mkdir $HOME/dependencies/
$> tar xf foo-someversion.tar.xz
$> cd foo-someversion
$> meson builddir -Dprefix=$HOME/dependencies
$> ninja -C builddir install
$> export PKG_CONFIG_PATH=$HOME/dependencies/lib/pkgconfig:$HOME/dependencies/share/pkgconfig
# now go back to original project and run meson again

If you keep seeing the version error the most common problem is that PKG_CONFIG_PATH isn't set in your shell, or doesn't point to the new cairo.pc file. A simple way to check is:

$> pkg-config --modversion cairo
1.13.1
Is the version number the one you installed or the system one? If it is the system one, you have a typo in PKG_CONFIG_PATH, just re-set it. If it still doesn't work do this:
$> cat $HOME/dependencies/lib/pkgconfig/cairo.pc
prefix=/usr
exec_prefix=/usr
libdir=/usr/lib64
includedir=/usr/include

Name: cairo
Description: Multi-platform 2D graphics library
Version: 1.13.1

Requires.private:   gobject-2.0 glib-2.0 >= 2.14 [...]
Libs: -L${libdir} -lcairo
Libs.private:            -lz -lz    -lGL        
Cflags: -I${includedir}/cairo
If the Version field matches what pkg-config returns, then you're set. If not, keep adjusting PKG_CONFIG_PATH until it works. There is a rare case where the Version field in the installed library doesn't match what the tarball said. That's a defective tarball and you should report this to the project, but don't worry, this hardly ever happens. In almost all cases, the cause is simply PKG_CONFIG_PATH not being set correctly. Keep trying :)

Let's assume you've managed to build the dependencies and want to run the newly built project. The only problem is: because you built against a newer library than the one on your system, you need to point it to use the new libraries.

$> export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=$HOME/dependencies/lib
and now you can, in the same shell, run your project.

Good luck!