Wednesday, June 3, 2015

libinput and the lack of device types

libinput uses udev tags to determine what a device is. This is a significant difference to the X.Org stack which determines how to deal with a device based on an elaborate set of rules, rules grown over time, matured, but with a slight layer of mould on top by now. In evdev's case that is understandable, it stems from a design where you could just point it at a device in your xorg.conf and it'd automagically work, well before we had even input hotplugging in X. What it leads to now though is that the server uses slightly different rules to decide what a device is (to implement MatchIsTouchscreen for example) than evdev does. So you may have, in theory, a device that responds to MatchIsTouchscreen only to set itself up as keyboard.

libinput does away with this in two ways: it punts most of the decisions on what a device is to udev and its ID_INPUT_... properties. A device marked as ID_INPUT_KEYBOARD will initialize a keyboard interface, an ID_INPUT_TOUCHPAD device will initialize a touchpad backend. The obvious advantage of this is that we only have one place where we have generic device type rules. The second advantage is that where this one place isn't precise enough, it's simple to override with custom rule sets. For example, Wacom tablets are hard to categorise just by looking at the device alone. libwacom generates a udev rule containing the VID/PID of each known device with the right ID_INPUT_TABLET etc. properties.

This is a libinput-internal behaviour. Externally, we are a lot more vague. In fact, we don't tell you at all what a device is, other than what events it will send (pointer, keyboard, or touch). We have thought about implementing some sort of device identifier and the conclusion is that we won't implement this as part of libinput's API because it will simply be wrong some of the time. And if it's wrong, it requires the caller to re-implement something on top of it. At which point the caller may as well implement all of it instead. Why do we expect it to be wrong? Because libinput doesn't know the exact context that requires a device to be labelled as a specific type.

Take a keyboard for example. There are a great many devices that send key events. To the client a keyboard may be any device that can get an XKB layout and is used for typing. But to the compositor, a keyboard may be anything that can send a few specific keycodes. A device with nothing but KEY_POWER? That's enough for the compositor to decide to shut down but that device may not otherwise work as a keyboard. libinput can't know this context. But what libinput provides is the API to query information. libinput_device_pointer_has_button() and libinput_device_keyboard_has_key() are the two candidates here to query about a specific set of buttons and/or keys.

Touchpads, trackpoints and mice all look send pointer events and there is no flag that tells you the device type and that is intentional. libinput doesn't have any intrinsic knowledge about what is a touchpad, we take the ID_INPUT_TOUCHPAD tag. At best, we refuse some devices that were clearly mislabelled but we don't init devices as touchpads that aren't labelled as such. Any device type identification would likely be wrong - for example some Wacom tablets are touchpads internally but would be considered tablets in other contexts.

So in summary, callers are encouraged to rely on the udev information and other bits they can pull from the device to group it into the semantically correct device type. libinput_device_get_udev_device() provides a udev handle for a libinput device and all configurable features are query-able (e.g. "does this device support tapping?"). libinput will not provide a device type because it would likely be wrong in the current context anyway.


Luya Tshimbalanga said...

What about so-called Hotkeys found on many laptops? Does libinput come in handy at supporting them?

Peter Hutterer said...

hotkeys are just keys to libinput, they don't do anything special at this point so we just forward them on and it's up to the caller what to do with it. this won't improve the X situation much because the key code cutoff is still there. so really, nothing changes here, sorry.