Friday, October 18, 2019

libinput and tablet pad keys

Upcoming in libinput 1.15 is a small feature to support Wacom tablets a tiny bit better. If you look at the higher-end devices in Wacom's range, e.g. the Cintiq 27QHD you'll notice that at the top right of the device are three hardware-buttons with icons. Those buttons are intended to open the config panel, the on-screen display or the virtual keyboard. They've been around for a few years and supported in the kernel for a few releases. But in userspace, they events from those keys were ignored, casted out in the wild before eventually running out of electrons and succumbing to misery. Well, that's all changing now with a new interface being added to libinput to forward those events.

Step back a second and let's look at the tablet interfaces. We have one for tablet tools (styli) and one for tablet pads. In the latter, we have events for rings, strips and buttons. The latter are simply numerically ordered, so button 1 is simply button 1 with no special meaning. Anything more specific needs to be handled by the compositor/client side which is responsible for assigning e.g. keyboard shortcuts to those buttons.

The special keys however are different, they have a specific function indicated by the icon on the key itself. So libinput 1.15 adds a new event type for tablet pad keys. The events look quite similar to the button events but they have a linux/input-event-codes.h specific button code that indicates what they are. So the compositor can start the OSD, or control panel, or whatever directly without any further configuration required.

This interface hasn't been merged yet, it's waiting for the linux kernel 5.4 release which has a few kernel-level fixes for those keys.

libinput and button scrolling locks

For a few years now, libinput has provided button scrolling. Holding a designated button down and moving the device up/down or left/right creates the matching scroll events. We enable this behaviour by default on some devices (e.g. trackpoints) but it's available on mice and some other devices. Users can change the button that triggers it, e.g. assign it to the right button. There are of course a couple of special corner cases to make sure you can still click that button normally but as I said, all this has been available for quite some time now.

New in libinput 1.15 is the button lock feature. The button lock removes the need to hold the button down while scrolling. When the button lock is enabled, a single button click (i.e. press and release) of that button holds that button logically down for scrolling and any subsequent movement by the device is translated to scroll events. A second button click releases that button lock and the device goes back to normal movement. That's basically it, though there are some extra checks to make sure the button can still be used for normal clicking (you will need to double-click for a single logical click now though).

This is primarily an accessibility feature and is likely to find it's way into the GUI tools under the accessibility headers.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

libinput's bus factor is 1

A few weeks back, I was at XDC and gave a talk about various current and past input stack developments (well, a subset thereof anyway). One of the slides pointed out libinput's bus factor and I'll use this blog to make this a bit more widely known.

If you don't know what the bus factor is, Wikipedia defines it as:

The "bus factor" is the minimum number of team members that have to suddenly disappear from a project before the project stalls due to lack of knowledgeable or competent personnel.
libinput has a bus factor of 1.

Let's arbitrarily pick the 1.9.0 release (roughly 2 years ago) and look at the numbers: of the ~1200 commits since 1.9.0, just under 990 were done by me. In those 2 years we had 76 contributors in total, but only 24 of which have more than one commit and only 6 contributors have more than 5 commits. The numbers don't really change much even if we go all the way back to 1.0.0 in 2015. These numbers do not include the non-development work: release maintenance for new releases and point releases, reviewing CI failures [1], writing documentation (including the stuff on this blog), testing and bug triage. Right now, this is effectively all done by one person.

This is... less than ideal. At this point libinput is more-or-less the only input stack we have [2] and all major distributions rely on it. It drives mice, touchpads, tablets, keyboards, touchscreens, trackballs, etc. so basically everything except joysticks.

Anyway, I'm largely writing this blog post in the hope that someone gets motivated enough to dive into this. Right now, if you get 50 patches into libinput you get the coveted second-from-the-top spot, with all the fame and fortune that entails (i.e. little to none, but hey, underdogs are big in popular culture). Short of that, any help with building an actual community would be appreciated too.

Either way, lest it be said that no-one saw it coming, let's ring the alarm bells now before it's too late. Ding ding!

[1] Only as of a few days ago can we run the test suite as part of the CI infrastructure, thanks to Benjamin Tissoires. Previously it was run on my laptop and virtually nowhere else.
[2] fyi, xf86-input-evdev: 5 patches in the same timeframe, xf86-input-synaptics: 6 patches (but only 3 actual changes) so let's not pretend those drivers are well-maintained.