Friday, February 6, 2015

libinput device groups

I just pushed a patchset into libinput to introduce the concept of device groups. This post will explain what they are in this context and why they are needed.

libinput exposes kernel devices as an opaque struct libinput_device. It only recognises evdev devices at this point, this may change in the future if we see a need for it. libinput also exposes a few bits of information about the device such as the name, PID/VID and a handle to the struct udev_device that matches this device. The latter enables callers to get more information from the device. libinput also provides a bunch of configuration settings for each device. Pointer devices get acceleration settings, absolute devices have calibration, etc. For most devices this works just fine.

Some devices like Wacom tablets are represented as multiple event nodes. On a 3.19 kernel you'd get three event nodes for an Intuos 5 touch - the pad (i.e. the tablet itself), a touch node and one node for all the tools (stylus, eraser, etc. multiplexed). libinput exposes each of these nodes as separate device, but that is problematic when applying certain configuration settings. For example, applying a left-handed configuration to the tablet means it's rotated by 180 degrees so we need to rotate the coordinates accordingly. Of course, such a rotation would have to apply to both the touch and the stylus devices but now the caller is left with having to figure out which other devices to set.

The original idea was to present such devices as a single, merged struct libinput_device with multiple capabilities, i.e. a single physical device that can do touch, tablet and pad buttons. A configuration setting like left-handed-ness would then apply to all devices transparently. The API is clean, usage is simple, everybody is happy. Except when they aren't - this doesn't actually work particularly well. First, having such merged devices means we require devices to change at runtime, adding/removing capabilities on-the-fly which puts a burden on the callers to handle this correctly. Second, not all configuration options apply to all subdevices. If the Intuos is used as a touchpad you may want natural scrolling enabled on the touchpad but the wheel on the Wacom mouse should probably still work normally. Third, the subdevices may have different PID/VIDs and certainly have different udev devices. So now libinput needs a way to get to those. In short, a merged device looks nice in theory but the implementation of it would make the libinput API cumbersome to use for little benefit.

The solution to this are device groups: each device in libinput is now part of a struct libinput_device_group. This is just an opaque object that doesn't do anything but sit there but it's enough to identify how devices are grouped together. If two devices return the same device group, they logically belong together. The caller can then decide what to do with it, e.g. loop through all devices of a group to apply a certain configuration setting to all devices. The basic approach is thus:

new_device = libinput_event_get_device(event);
new_group = libinput_device_get_device_group(new_device);

for each (device, group) in previously_stored_devices {
   if (group == new_group)
      printf("This device shares a group with %s", device);
The device groups' lifetime is as you'd expect: it is created for the first device in the group and ceases once the last device in a group is removed. It's not deleted until the last reference was deleted but it won't get recycled. In other words, if you keep unplugging and re-plugging that Intuos tablet, the device group will be new after every plug.

Note that we're intentionally not providing ways to get the devices from a device group, or counting the devices within a group, etc. This avoids race conditions (the view libinput has of the devices isn't the same as the caller has while going through the event queue) but it also makes the API simpler. libinput's callers are mainly compositors which use toolkits with advanced datastructures (glib, Qt, etc.). Using a pointer as key into a hashmap is simpler and less buggy than using whatever hand-crafted hashmap/list implementation we can provide through the libinput API.

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