Thursday, September 23, 2021

What's new in XI 2.4 - touchpad gestures

After a nine year hiatus, a new version of the X Input Protocol is out. Credit for the work goes to Povilas Kanapickas, who also implemented support for XI 2.4 in the various pieces of the stack [0]. So let's have a look.

X has had touch events since XI 2.2 (2012) but those were only really useful for direct touch devices (read: touchscreens). There were accommodations for indirect touch devices like touchpads but they were never used. The synaptics driver set the required bits for a while but it was dropped in 2015 because ... it was complicated to make use of and no-one seemed to actually use it anyway. Meanwhile, the rest of the world moved on and touchpad gestures are now prevalent. They've been standard in MacOS for ages, in Windows for almost ages and - with recent GNOME releases - now feature prominently on the Linux desktop as well. They have been part of libinput and the Wayland protocol for years (and even recently gained a new set of "hold" gestures). Meanwhile, X was left behind in the dust or mud, depending on your local climate.

XI 2.4 fixes this, it adds pinch and swipe gestures to the XI2 protocol and makes those available to supporting clients [2]. Notably here is that the interpretation of gestures is left to the driver [1]. The server takes the gestures and does the required state handling but otherwise has no decision into what constitutes a gesture. This is of course no different to e.g. 2-finger scrolling on a touchpad where the server just receives scroll events and passes them on accordingly.

XI 2.4 gesture events are quite similar to touch events in that they are processed as a sequence of begin/update/end with both types having their own event types. So the events you will receive are e.g. XIGesturePinchBegin or XIGestureSwipeUpdate. As with touch events, a client must select for all three (begin/update/end) on a window. Only one gesture can exist at any time, so if you are a multi-tasking octopus prepare to be disappointed.

Because gestures are tied to an indirect-touch device, the location they apply at is wherever the cursor is currently positioned. In that, they work similar to button presses, and passive grabs apply as expected too. So long-term the window manager will likely want a passive grab on the root window for swipe gestures while applications will implement pinch-to-zoom as you'd expect.

In terms of API there are no suprises. libXi 1.8 is the version to implement the new features and there we have a new XIGestureClassInfo returned by XIQueryDevice and of course the two events: XIGesturePinchEvent and XIGestureSwipeEvent. Grabbing is done via e.g. XIGrabSwipeGestureBegin, so for those of you with XI2 experience this will all look familiar. For those of you without - it's probably no longer worth investing time into becoming an XI2 expert.

Overall, it's a nice addition to the protocol and it will help getting the X server slightly closer to Wayland for a widely-used feature. Once GTK, mutter and all the other pieces in the stack are in place, it will just work for any (GTK) application that supports gestures under Wayland already. The same will be true for Qt I expect.

X server 21.1 will be out in a few weeks, xf86-input-libinput 1.2.0 is already out and so are xorgproto 2021.5 and libXi 1.8.

[0] In addition to taking on the Xorg release, so clearly there are no limits here
[1] More specifically: it's done by libinput since neither xf86-input-evdev nor xf86-input-synaptics will ever see gestures being implemented
[2] Hold gestures missed out on the various deadlines

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

An Xorg release without Xwayland

Xorg is about to released.

And it's a release without Xwayland.

And... wait, what?

Let's unwind this a bit, and ideally you should come away with a better understanding of Xorg vs Xwayland, and possibly even Wayland itself.

Heads up: if you are familiar with X, the below is simplified to the point it hurts. Sorry about that, but as an X developer you're probably good at coping with pain.

Let's go back to the 1980s, when fashion was weird and there were still reasons to be optimistic about the future. Because this is a thought exercise, we go back with full hindsight 20/20 vision and, ideally, the winning Lotto numbers in case we have some time for some self-indulgence.

If we were to implement an X server from scratch, we'd come away with a set of components. libxprotocol that handles the actual protocol wire format parsing and provides a C api to access that (quite like libxcb, actually). That one will just be the protocol-to-code conversion layer.

We'd have a libxserver component which handles all the state management required for an X server to actually behave like an X server (nothing in the X protocol require an X server to display anything). That library has a few entry points for abstract input events (pointer and keyboard, because this is the 80s after all) and a few exit points for rendered output.

libxserver uses libxprotocol but that's an implementation detail, we can ignore the protocol for the rest of the post.

Let's create a github organisation and host those two libraries. We now have: and [1].

Now, to actually implement a working functional X server, our new project would link against libxserver hook into this library's API points. For input, you'd use libinput and pass those events through, for output you'd use the modesetting driver that knows how to scream at the hardware until something finally shows up. This is somewhere between outrageously simplified and unacceptably wrong but it'll do for this post.

Your X server has to handle a lot of the hardware-specifics but other than that it's a wrapper around libxserver which does the work of ... well, being an X server.

Our stack looks like this:

|  xserver   [libxserver]|--------[ X client ]
|                        |
|[libinput] [modesetting]|
|       kernel           |
Hooray, we have re-implemented Xorg. Or rather, XFree86 because we're 20 years from all the pent-up frustratrion that caused the Xorg fork. Let's host this project on

Now, let's say instead of physical display devices, we want to render into an framebuffer, and we have no input devices.

|  xserver   [libxserver]|--------[ X client ]
|                        |
|            [write()]   |
|       some buffer      |
This is basically Xvfb or, if you are writing out PostScript, Xprint. Let's host those on github too, we're accumulating quite a set of projects here.

Now, let's say those buffers are allocated elsewhere and we're just rendering to them. And those buffer are passed to us via an IPC protocol, like... Wayland!

|  xserver   [libxserver]|--------[ X client ]
|                        |
|input events    [render]|
      |            |
|   Wayland compositor   |
And voila, we have Xwayland. If you swap out the protocol you can have Xquartz (X on Macos) or Xwin (X on Windows) or Xnext/Xephyr (X on X) or Xvnc (X over VNC). The principle is always the same.

Fun fact: the Wayland compositor doesn't need to run on the hardware, you can play display server matryoshka until you run out of turtles.

In our glorious revisioned past all these are distinct projects, re-using libxserver and some external libraries where needed. Depending on the projects things may be very simple or get very complex, it depends on how we render things.

But in the end, we have several independent projects all providing us with an X server process - the specific X bits are done in libxserver though. We can release Xwayland without having to release Xorg or Xvfb.

libxserver won't need a lot of releases, the behaviour is largely specified by the protocol requirements and once you're done implementing it, it'll be quite a slow-moving project.

Ok, now, fast forward to 2021, lose some hindsight, hope, and attitude and - oh, we have exactly the above structure. Except that it's not spread across multiple independent repos on github, it's all sitting in the same git directory: our Xorg, Xwayland, Xvfb, etc. are all sitting in hw/$name, and libxserver is basically the rest of the repo.

A traditional X server release was a tag in that git directory. An XWayland-only release is basically an rm -rf hw/*-but-not-xwayland followed by a tag, an Xorg-only release is basically an rm -rf hw/*-but-not-xfree86 [2].

In theory, we could've moved all these out into separate projects a while ago but the benefits are small and no-one has the time for that anyway.

So there you have it - you can have Xorg-only or XWayland-only releases without the world coming to an end.

Now, for the "Xorg is dead" claims - it's very likely that the current release will be the last Xorg release. [3] There is little interest in an X server that runs on hardware, or rather: there's little interest in the effort required to push out releases. Povilas did a great job in getting this one out but again, it's likely this is the last release. [4]

Xwayland - very different, it'll hang around for a long time because it's "just" a protocol translation layer. And of course the interest is there, so we have volunteers to do the releases.

So basically: expecting Xwayland releases, be surprised (but not confused) by Xorg releases.

[1] Github of course doesn't exist yet because we're in the 80s. Time-travelling is complicated.
[2] Historical directory name, just accept it.
[3] Just like the previous release...
[4] At least until the next volunteer steps ups. Turns out the problem "no-one wants to work on this" is easily fixed by "me! me! I want to work on this". A concept that is apparently quite hard to understand in the peanut gallery.