Wednesday, October 28, 2009

X11R7.5 released - but what is it?

Thanks to Alan Coopersmith's efforts, X11R7.5 was released a few days ago. Except - what does that mean?

This post is intends to shed some light onto the components of the X11R7.5 release and where the version number comes from.

X Window System

If you're running a desktop system other than Windows or OS X, you're most likely running some instance of the X Window System, also referred to as "X11" or simply "X". X consists of several components that all make up the "X Window System", yet some of them are more visible than others.

X Protocol

The core component of X is the X Protocol. This is what defines X, it is essentially the API.
The X Protocol consists of the core protocol, dating back to the 1980s and a number of protocol extensions, essentially additions to the core protocol. If you hear terms like X Input, XRandR, RENDER, etc., all of these are protocol extensions.

X Server and the drivers

The X Server is the process that talks to the hardware drivers and listens to requests from applications to draw things. It also handles input events and passes them on to the right application. Depending on your hardware, you have a number of drivers. These days many setups have evdev and synaptics for input, and intel, ATI or nvidia for graphics.

The X Server supports the core protocol and most protocol extensions, but different X servers may support different versions. Generally, the most recent X Server supports the latest version of the protocol.

Xlib and friends

Xlib (or libX11) is the library that allows applications to talk X Protocol to the server. It wraps the low-level protocol into a slightly higher-level API. These days, most applications that display a GUI use Xlib at some point - though Xlib is usually abstracted away by a saner toolkit such as GTK or Qt.

Xlib has been the single toolkit to talk X Protocol for ages, but in recent years XCB is gaining some traction (and in fact recent versions of Xlib use XCB at the lowest level).

X applications

A number of applications are traditionally part of the X Window System. One of the well known ones is xeyes, but other, crucial tools such as setxkbmap and xkbcomp are part of these applications as well.

Misc other stuff

There are a number of other packages that include fonts, misc utils, data packages etc. I'll skip the details, it's just important to know they're there.


Back a few years ago, all the above component were part of one repository. To build one of the components, you also had to build the others. To release one, you'd have to release the whole lot. Over time, the version numbers crept up to 6.9 for this so-called monolithic tree.

X11R6.9 (X11 Release 6.9) was the last monolithic release. Around 2005, the monolithic tree was split up into separate repositories for each component. This also reset the version numbers for most of the components - those that inherited the 6.9 version numbers (or even 7.0) were reset to 1.0.

Since then, the X11R7.x releases (referred to as "katamari") are quite like distributions. They cherry-pick a bunch of module versions known to work together and combine them into one set. The modules themselves move mostly independent of the katamaris and thus their version numbers may skip between katamaris. For example, X11R7.4 had the X Server 1.5, X11R7.5 has X Server 1.7.

This is where much confusion comes from. Many users don't know whether they're running 1.7, 7.5, 1.0 or 6.8. The intent of a katamari is simply to provide a set of modules that are sufficient to get a basic GUI running. That's why over time modules get added or removed from the katamari as well. A module that was part of X11R7.5 may not be part of X11R7.6 and of course the other way round (a full list of which versions are included is at the top of the X11R7.5 Changelog).

Which version actually matters?

Katamaris matter mostly for distributors. They represent a set of versions known working together and make for easy picking. A distribution is free to start out with a katamari and then update to newer modules as they are released. The katamari is merely a starting point, not more.

For this reason, it rarely matters to an individual user whether a module they're running is part of a katamari. For bug reporting, developers need to know the versions of the individual modules affected so they can narrow down which bug may be triggered.

To get the versions for the X Server and the drivers, look at the /var/log/Xorg.0.log. The first line states the version of the X server. Drivers are loaded dynamically, so you need to search for them in the log. For example, my log says:

X.Org X Server 1.7.0


(II) Module intel: vendor="X.Org Foundation"
compiled for, module version = 2.9.0
Module class: X.Org Video Driver
ABI class: X.Org Video Driver, version 6.0


(II) Module evdev: vendor="X.Org Foundation"
compiled for 1.7.0, module version = 2.3.0
Module class: X.Org XInput Driver
ABI class: X.Org XInput driver, version 7.0


(II) Loading /usr/lib/xorg/modules/input/
(II) Module synaptics: vendor="X.Org Foundation"
compiled for, module version = 1.1.99
Module class: X.Org XInput Driver
ABI class: X.Org XInput driver, version 7.0

So right now I'm running X Server 1.7.0, with evdev 2.3.0, intel 2.9.0 and synaptics 1.1.99. Whether these versions are part of a katamari doesn't matter.

X apps usually have some -version switch. For libraries, it's best to use the distribution's packaging system (e.g. rpm -q libX11) to get the version number.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bugzilla in Firefox

Something interesting I found last week: you can add the bugzilla to the firefox search engines.

You may laugh now that I didn't know that already.

Anyway, since I know at least two more persons who didn't know that either there's bound to be others out there that don't know either:
  • Go to
  • Click on the google logo in the searchbar
  • Select "Add FreeDesktop Bugzilla"
  • Go to Manage Search Engines
  • Enter a keyword (e.g. "fdo") for the new engine.
Voila, now you can just type "fdo 20500" in the address bar and it'll take you straight to the bug number. Alternatively, you can type in a searchword too.

Same works for a number of bugzilla instances. Useful.

Friday, October 2, 2009

XI2 and MPX released!

It finally happened! After nearly 4 years of development, MPX has been released as part of XI2 in the new X Server 1.7.

The whole thing started when I started my PhD in late 2004. The problem I found was that there was no support for collaboration on a single shared display. All the solutions at the time were hacks at the toolkit or application level. I found that the only way we can get truly collaborative interfaces is by adding it into the windowing system itself. So started hacking on X in late 2005. I went from scratching my head and wondering how some of the stuff could compile (I had never heard of K&R function declarations) to rewriting large parts of the input subsystem and even ended up as release manager. Not in a single day though.

Now we're done. MPX is out, and we have generic low-level support for multiple input devices. You know the whole one keyboard-one mouse paradigm we've had since Doug Engelbart invented the mouse? It's over, you don't have to restrict yourself anymore when writing an app.

Of course, this is a low-level change and when you wake up tomorrow, not a lot will have actually changed. We still need the toolkits to support it, we need apps to pick it up, we need the desktop environments to start thinking about what can be made useful. Nonetheless, basic collaboration features are already there and it can only get better from here.

Let's see what will happen.