Porting Qt applications to Wayland

During Akademy I hold a session about porting applications to Wayland. I collected some of the general problems I saw in various KDE projects and want to highlight them in this blog post, too.

Starting Wayland

First the basics: how to start a Wayland compositor? Assuming one is using Plasma 5.4 (aka master) the way to start a nested KWin is:

kwin_wayland --xwayland

Important: ensure that you have Xwayland installed!

If you run nested this will open a window, if it turns black, everything works. If it doesn’t turn black: contact me (please check whether you use free drivers first).

As an alternative you can also start Weston:


If you run into issues with your application running under Wayland, please always test whether the problem is also visible on Weston before blaming me 😛

Starting applications on Wayland

Now we have our black KWin window and we want to get a window to it. There are several ways to start it. As an example I’ll use kate.

Environment variable

Maybe the easiest way is to just use an environment variable to switch the QPA platform to Wayland:

export QT_QPA_PLATFORM=wayland

And a Kate window will open on the nested KWin.

The environment variable is set to wayland in our startplasmacompositor script to start a full Plasma on Wayland session on tty.

Command line switch

Every Qt application also has a command line switch to select the windowing system:

kate --platform wayland

Starting applications together with KWin

KWin supports starting applications once the Wayland and Xwayland servers are started. You can add the programs to start to the command which starts KWin:

kwin_wayland --xwayland "kate --platform wayland"

Or to simplify with environment variables:

export QT_QPA_PLATFORM=wayland
kwin_wayland --xwayland kate

Of course it’s also possible to just start a Konsole and then launch applications from inside the Konsole. Please note that any key combination with ctrl-key is unfortunately broken when running Konsole as a Wayland application.

X11 Specific code

Many applications have X11 specific code. Being it implicitly or explicitly. So we need to move away from it and in most cases it means also improving the situation on X11 because the solution is wrong.

Opening X connection

A common mistake I saw in Qt applications is to open a connection to the X server. E.g. like that:

Display *dpy = XOpenDisplay(NULL);

Now this code is already wrong on X11 as it opens another connection which is not the Qt display connection. It might be on the wrong head, it might be on the wrong X server. From an integration point of view it’s broken.

So the solution is to always use QX11Info from QtX11Extras to integrate with the Display:

Display *dpy = QX11Info::display();

Runtime checks in addition to compile time checks

Before Qt5 the way to support multiple windowing systems was to use compile time switches, like:

#if HAVE_X11
#include <QX11Info>

void doSomethingWithX11()

Now this will crash on Wayland. It will be compiled in, but crashes when running on Wayland. So you need to improve. Let’s try:

#if HAVE_X11
#include <QX11Info>

void doSomethingWithX11()
    Display *dpy = QX11Info::display();
    if (!dpy) {

Now this code will also crash! The problem is that QX11Info::display() goes through Qt’s native interface and uses the key “display”. QtWayland also provides the key “display” and returns a wl_display for it, which gets casted into a void in the native interface and then to Display* in QX11Info and boom at interesting places.

The proper way is to check the platform name:

#if HAVE_X11
#include <QX11Info>

void doSomethingWithX11()
    if (!QX11Info::isPlatformX11()) {

My recommendation is to keep the check in a local variable if the check is needed multiple times as in the end it’s a string comparison each time. Ideally you should restructure your code to have platform specific subclasses or similar refactored solutions.

General Changes with Wayland

Now here it becomes interesting: runtime changes. The most important information for application developers is probably that there are no more global window ids.

No global window ids

This has quite some implications for your application. E.g. QWindow::winId() returns an internal incremented number. Neither the compositor nor any other application knows anything about your internal window id counter. Similarly QWindow::fromWinId is not able to map a window id to a QWindow any more. This of course affects use cases like sending a window id through DBus to another process to use it for setting the transient hint. Also it means that KWindowSystem API has a hard time to support the calls on Wayland and in most cases it will just print a warning (this might improve, though).

Setting window icon

On X11 the applications exported the window icon as pixmap data. This is no longer possible on Wayland. Instead the compositor maps the window icon from the desktop file and the application announces the desktop file for a window. In Qt this is done by using the reverse domain name combined with the binary name. The domain name is set with KAboutData and defaults to “kde.org”. So for example in the case of kate the desktop file should be called “org.kde.kate.desktop”. So please fix the naming of your desktop files. If you want to test please be aware that this requires Qt 5.5 to work properly.

No longer working API

Quite some of the API calls of QWindow cannot be supported by Wayland on default (some of them might work on KWin, but please don’t implement against KWin!).
A short list of those API calls I know that they cannot work:

  • QWindow::setPosition
  • QWindow::setMouseGrabEnabled
  • QWindow::setKeyboardGrabEnabled
  • QWindow::alert
  • QWindow::lower
  • QWindow::raise
  • QWindow::requestActivate

In addition it’s no longer possible to grab the image of the screen using e.g. QScreen::grabWindow (most obvious for the case of “root” window). Also warping the pointer using QCursor::setPos is no longer supported. Please note that warping the pointer is also a bad idea on X11 and you shouldn’t do that.

In case your application set the Qt::BypassWindowManagerHint on your QWindow/QWidget you need to do some porting as QtWayland doesn’t show such windows. Unfortunately that needs a case by case evaluation of the use case and the solution I presented during my Akademy talk should not be applied for applications.

Porting to Wayland

Don’t port

The solution to port to Wayland is: DON’T PORT! Mostly your X11 specific code or behavior is wrong and could be solved in better ways. Instead of porting you might want to rethink your problem or change to existing abstracted API in e.g. Qt or KWindowSystem. I have seen many cases where X11 API was used as a workaround by e.g. raising windows, force activating them and so on. If one things about it one realizes that there seems to be an obvious problem. So don’t try to port that but rethink your problem and improve not just on Wayland, but also on X11.

But I really need platform specific code

Ok, ok, I get it! Now let’s start with the obvious: your code needs to be compile time and runtime checked. Let’s start with how to not do it:

#if HAVE_X11
    if (!QX11Info::isPlatformX11()) {
    // here goes the X11 specific code
    // here goes the Wayland specific code

The problem with this code snippet is that X11 support is probably also available when you use Wayland. Also the else part is not just Wayland, but also any other platform.

As I said the proper solution is to make it compile and runtime checked:

#if HAVE_X11
    if (QX11Info::isPlatformX11()) {
    if (QGuiApplication::platformName().startsWith(
            QLatin1String("wayland"), Qt::CaseInsensitive)) {

Be aware that your code might also run on other platforms on Wayland, e.g. eglfs or other custom windowing systems. So don’t crash if you don’t hit any of the code paths 😉

Plasma Phone and KWin

As you are probably aware by now we announced the Plasma Phone project during Akademy this weekend. In this blog post I want to discuss the role of KWin in Plasma Phone.

Plasma Phone uses Wayland as the windowing system with KWin being the Wayland compositor. This is our first product which uses Wayland by default and also the first product which uses KWin as the Wayland compositor. The phone project pushed the Wayland efforts in Plasma a lot and is the only reason why we are able to make Wayland a technological preview with the upcoming Plasma 5.4 release.

The phone project gave KWin/Wayland into the hands of many developers who started to actively use it and to develop with it. This obviously helped to find lots of small and larger issues which then could be fixed. It triggered a stabilization process which reached a stage that I can use a Plasma Wayland session on my notebook with enough confidence that I won’t lose data due to crashes. So thanks to the whole team for pushing the system to the limits.

An area which saw lots of work thanks to the Phone is the interaction between Plasma as the desktop shell and KWin as the Wayland compositor. With Wayland we keep the architecture of having a dedicated shell process which is not inside the compositor. This architecture has served us well in the past and we don’t see a reason why we should change this. It means that KWin can serve as a compositor for other desktop projects, but it also means that Plasma can be used with other compositors. Now unlike X11, Wayland’s protocols are secure by default. This means that Plasma as the desktop shell does not know anything about windows from other processes. To solve this problem we designed a special window management protocol which exports the required information. The protocols are still under development, but we hope that they can be also useful for other projects with a similar architecture (LXQt being an obvious candidate). Of course such protocols should only be used by the “blessed” desktop shell process – this is something we still need to implement and one of the reasons why at the moment Plasma/Wayland is only a technological preview.

Window management is not the only area where the shell process needs to be “blessed”. Also for announcing information about its own windows, we need some more information. We need to know whether a window is a “panel” or the “desktop” view. So on the phone the shell background is just a desktop window, the panel on the bottom is just a normal dock. This allows us to share the general layering code with the X11 implementation of KWin. Even more having the panels marked as panels allows us to properly define the maximized area. And the windows on the phone open maximized by using the “Maximizing” placement strategy in KWin.

Working on the phone project also had some surprises. For example the virtual keyboard just didn’t want to show. It turned out that the reason for this was that Qt(Wayland) only requests the virtual keyboard if it has keyboard focus. Keyboard focus inside KWin is bound to the “active” window. So we had to implement activating Wayland clients. But the initial implementation didn’t really solve it, we still had areas where the keyboard didn’t come up. E.g. on the desktop in the KRunner search field we couldn’t get it to show. The reason was related to the described problem: we did not yet support activating Wayland clients when clicking on them. This got solved by implementing mouse action (and touch action) support inside KWin. So thanks to this change (done for the phone) we can properly switch between Wayland windows on the desktop with a mouse driven setup.

Another nice touch is that KWin requires a running Xwayland server. This gives us support for all “legacy” X11 applications such as Qt 4 or GTK2 on the phone. Just we hit a problem with them: they did not react on touch events. The reason for this is quite simple: touch support is not yet implemented in Xwayland. As a solution we implemented simulating pointer events in case a connected Wayland window does not bind the touch interface. Thus all Wayland and X11 applications can now be used with a touch screen – be it on the phone or on a notebook with a touch screen.

So far I have only spoken about progress made in KWin which is relevant for the desktop. So what about the phone specific adjustments? Well there are hardly any. In the core of KWin there is no phone specific code. The only phone specific code is the hwcomposer backend. This is a plugin used for creating an OpenGL context using libhybris and for reading input events (unfortunately libinput cannot read events on a libhybris enabled system). According to cloc this plugin is just about 800 lines of code and about 200 are just very straight forward mapping of Android key codes to “normal” Linux key codes. For comparison: KWin + kwayland/server currently have about 120,000 lines of code. And even this hwcomposer backend is not phone specific. It could also be used to run a normal KWin/Plasma session on any libhybris enabled device. There is one important difference of the plugin to the rest of KWin which is worth to mention: it is GPLv3+ licensed, while everything else is GPLv2+. The reason for this change is the fact that libhybris is Apache 2 licensed and this license requires a change to GPLv3.

Plugins, plugins, plugins – or how KDE Frameworks learned to Wayland

Several of KDE’s frameworks have windowing system specific code. This means that they need adjustments if they should be run on more than just X11. The frameworks were already adjusted to only call into X11 specific code if they are used on the X11 platform, but a proper Wayland port was still missing.

Over the last weeks I prepared several frameworks to support Wayland in a proper way. Especially I looked at KGlobalAccel, KIdleTime and KWindowSystem. For all three frameworks there is no “generic” Wayland solution available. That is there is no official interface available which could be used. So in order to add support we need to restrict the usage to KWin for the moment. This is especially the case for KGlobalAccel where the aim is to integrate directly into KWin as described in a previous blog post.

For KWindowSystem I wanted to reuse some Plasma-specific interfaces which we had been developing for the Plasma 5.4 release anyway. As those interfaces are part of the KWayland repository it was an obvious idea to reuse KWayland instead of duplicating the code. But using KWayland from a framework – especially a tier 1 framework is not trivial. KWayland is part of Workspace, thus depending on KWayland would create circular project dependencies. Turning KWayland into a framework would adjust the tier for pretty much all frameworks. Clearly neither a good idea.

Thinking about the problem one realizes there is another project with similar problems and they solved it: Qt. QtWayland provides plugins for Qt and by that qtbase itself does not need to depend on Wayland. So for our frameworks plugins can also be a good solution. We can provide plugins which depend on the respective frameworks and KWayland. As KWin would (for the time being) the only compositor to provide the interfaces anyway, it’s not a problem to depend on the KWayland libraries which are part of Workspace.

So as a first step the frameworks got restructured to have their platform dependent code provided by plugins which get loaded at runtime depending on the platform they are run in. In a second step the header files for the plugin interface needed to be installed. This is a requirement for the integration plugins to provide a plugin.

Now as a third step the development of the interfaces was required. This happened in a new repository called kwayland-integration which will see the initial release with Plasma 5.4. So far this repository provides two plugins: one for KIdleTime, one for KWindowSystem.

For KIdleTime I designed a specific Wayland protocol which allows us to get notified when a seat went idle for a specified interval. This is an important feature for many applications, like screen brightness, setting chat to away, etc. Given that I think it’s an interface which might be in general useful and I think it could be a candidate for inclusion in Wayland. This is something I will look into after Akademy when I have more time for it.

KWindowSystem is a little bit more Plasma/KWin specific, so I doubt that we can have anything which is in general useful for all Wayland compositors. KWindowSystem is also on X11 a little bit KWin/Plasma specific, so there is no general difference.

Nevertheless platforms should provide plugins for these frameworks if they want to support frameworks based applications properly. That’s especially a hint to all those distributions who decided to create their own windowing system.

For the long term I think the way to go is to make KWayland part of frameworks (targeting tier 1) and then KWayland-Integration also a framework (current dependencies would aim for tier 2, but also tier 4 could be a reasonable target). This would be especially important if the idle time interface becomes a proper Wayland interface and would be provided by more compositors than just KWin.

More information about the bigger picture of KWayland-Integration and Plasma on Wayland at Akademy next weekend 🙂 We have great Wayland things to show.