Friday, January 16, 2015

Providing the physical movement of wheel events in libinput

libinput 0.8 was released yesterday. One feature I'd like to talk about here: the change to provide mouse wheel events as physical distances.

Mouse wheels are clicks. In the evdev protocol they're sent via the REL_WHEEL and REL_HWHEEL axes, with a value of 1 per click. Spinning the wheel fast enough will give you a higher value per event but it's still just a multiple of the physical clicks. This is a conundrum for libinput.

libinput exports scroll events as "axis" events, the value returned by libinput_event_pointer_get_axis_value() for touchpads and button scrolling is in "pixels". libinput doesn't have a concept of pixels of course but the compositor will likely take the relative motion and apply it to the cursor. Scroll events are in the same coordinate space, i.e. the scrolling for two-finger scrolling has the same feel as moving the pointer. This continuous coordinate space is at odds with the discrete values coming from a wheel. We added axis sources to the API so you can now tell whether an event was generated by the wheel or some other scroll methods. But still, the discrete values from a wheel are at odds with the other sources.

For libinput 0.8, we changed the default reporting mode of the wheel. For the click count, a new call libinput_event_pointer_get_axis_value_discrete() provides that number (positive and negative for both direction). The libinput_event_pointer_get_axis_value() on a wheel now returns the movement of the wheel in degrees. That gives us a continuous coordinate space that also opens up new possibilities: if you know the rotation of a mouse wheel in degrees, you know things like "has the wheel been turned a full rotation". I don't quite know how, but I'm sure there are interesting interfaces you can make from that :)

Of course, the physical properties don't change, the degrees are always a multiple of the click count, and on most mice one click count is a 15 degree movement. The Logitech M325 is a notable exception here with a 20 degree angle. This isn't advertised by the hardware of course so we rely on the udev hwdb to set it where it differs from the default. The patch for this has been pushed to systemd and will soon arrive at a distribution near you.

And to answer a question I'm sure will come up: those mice that support a free spinning scrollwheel don't change the reporting mode. The G500s for example merely moves a physical bit that provides friction and the click feel/noise. The device still reports in 15 degree angle counts. I strongly suspect that other mice with this feature are the same (if not, we can now work this continuous motion into libinput and handle it propertly).

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