Friday, November 10, 2023

PSA: For Xorg GNOME sessions, use the xf86-input-wacom driver for your tablets

TLDR: see the title of this blog post, it's really that trivial.

Now that GodotWayland has been coming for ages and all new development focuses on a pile of software that steams significantly less, we're seeing cracks appear in the old Xorg support. Not intentionally, but there's only so much time that can be spent on testing and things that are more niche fall through. One of these was a bug I just had the pleasure of debugging and was triggered by GNOME on Xorg user using the xf86-input-libinput driver for tablet devices.

On the surface of it, this should be fine because libinput (and thus xf86-input-libinput) handles tablets just fine. But libinput is the new kid on the block. The old kid on said block is the xf86-input-wacom driver, older than libinput by slightly over a decade. And oh man, history has baked things into the driver that are worse than raisins in apple strudel [1].

The xf86-input-libinput driver was written as a wrapper around libinput and makes use of fancy things that (from libinput's POV) have always been around: things like input device hotplugging. Fancy, I know. For tablet devices the driver creates an X device for each new tool as it comes into proximity first. Future events from that tool will go through that device. A second tool, be it a new pen or the eraser on the original pen, will create a second X device and events from that tool will go through that X device. Configuration on any device will thus only affect that particular pen. Almost like the whole thing makes sense.

The wacom driver of course doesn't do this. It pre-creates X devices for some possible types of tools (pen, eraser, and cursor [2] but not airbrush or artpen). When a tool goes into proximity the events are sent through the respective device, i.e. all pens go through the pen tool, all erasers through the eraser tool. To actually track pens there is the "Wacom Serial IDs" property that contains the current tool's serial number. If you want to track multiple tools you need to query the property on proximity in [4]. At the time this was within a reasonable error margin of a good idea.

Of course and because MOAR CONFIGURATION! will save us all from the great filter you can specify the "ToolSerials" xorg.conf option as e.g. "airbrush;12345;artpen" and get some extra X devices pre-created, in this case a airbrush and artpen X device and an X device just for the tool with the serial number 12345. All other tools multiplex through the default devices. Again, at the time this was a great improvement. [5]

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. The above should serve as a good approximation of a reason why the xf86-input-libinput driver does not try to be fullly compatible to the xf86-input-wacom driver. In everyday use these things barely matter [6] but for the desktop environment which needs to configure these devices all these differences mean multiple code paths. Those paths need to be tested but they aren't, so things fall through the cracks.

So quite a while ago, we made the decision that until Xorg goes dodo, the xf86-input-wacom driver is the tablet driver to use in GNOME. So if you're using a GNOME on Xorg session [7], do make sure the xf86-input-wacom driver is installed. It will make both of us happier and that's a good aim to strive for.

[1] It's just a joke. Put the pitchforks down already.
[2] The cursor is the mouse-like thing Wacom sells. Which is called cursor [3] because the English language has a limited vocabulary and we need to re-use words as much as possible lest we run out of them.
[3] It's also called puck. Because [2].
[4] And by "query" I mean "wait for the XI2 event notifying you of a property change". Because of lolz the driver cannot update the property on proximity in but needs to schedule that as idle func so the property update for the serial always arrives at some unspecified time after the proximity in but hopefully before more motion events happen. Or not, and that's how hope dies.
[5] Think about this next time someone says they long for some unspecified good old days.
[6] Except the strip axis which on the wacom driver is actually a bit happily moving left/right as your finger moves up/down on the touch strip and any X client needs to know this. libinput normalizes this to...well, a normal value but now the X client needs to know which driver is running so, oh deary deary.
[7] e.g because your'e stockholmed into it by your graphics hardware


Matěj Cepl said...

> It's just a joke. Put the pitchforks down already.

Too late. Torches are aflame, scythes are turned around, pitchforks are sharepened. Thou shall not blaspheme apple strudel with raisins!

Peter Hutterer said...

@Matěj Cepl: tbf, with all the rum in those raisins you're only going to be a danger to yourself anyway.