A circle closes…

At Desktop Summit 2011 in Berlin I did my first presentation on Wayland and presented the idea of Wayland to the KDE community and explained to the KDE community how we are going to port to Wayland. This year at QtCon in Berlin I was finally able to tell the KDE community that the port is finished and that our code is ready for testing.

In 2011 I used a half hour slot to mostly present the differences between X11 and Wayland and why we want Wayland. In addition I presented some of the to be expected porting steps and what we will have in the end. This year I only used a 10 min lightning talk slot to give the community an update on the work done the last year.

(Watch video on youtube, my talk starts at 15:04)

Of course the work on Wayland is not yet finished and Wayland is not yet fully ready for use. There are missing features and there must be bugs (new code base, etc.). But we are in a state to start the public beta.

What is interesting is comparing the slides from 2011 to what we have achieved. The plan presented there is to introduce “Window Manager Backends” in KWin. We wanted to identify windowing system independent areas and make our two most important classes Toplevel and Workspace X11 free and add a window manager abstraction. During the port this wasn’t really an aim, nevertheless we got there. We do have a window manager abstraction which would allow to add support for further windowing systems. Toplevel is (at runtime) X free. Workspace, though, is not yet X free, but that moved on my todo list.

Also we thoughts back in 2011 that this might be interesting for other platforms naming Android, WebOS and Microsoft Windows as examples. Android we kind of achieved by having support for Android’s hwcomposer and being able to run Wayland on top of an Android stack. Support for Android’s surfaceflinger is something we do not aim for. The example of WebOS doesn’t really fit any more as WebOS uses Wayland nowadays. And Windows is only in the area of theoretically possible (though with the new Linux support it would be interesting to try to get KWin running on it).

KWin nowadays has a platform abstraction and multiple platform plugins. This allows us to start a Wayland compositor on various software stacks. Currently we support:

  • DRM
  • fbdev
  • hwcomposer (through libhybris)
  • Wayland (nested)
  • X11 (nested)
  • virtual

Adding support for a new platform is quite straight forward and doesn’t need a lot of code. The main tasks of a Platform is to create the OpenGL context for the compositor and to present each frame on the Platform specific output. All platforms together are less than 10000 lines of code (cloc) and a single platform is around 400-3000 lines of code.

In order to add support for a new windowing system more work would be needed. It is very difficult to estimate how much code would be needed as it all depends on how well the concept can be mapped to Wayland. Ideally adding support for a new windowing system would be done by creating an external application which maps the windowing system to Wayland. Just like XWayland maps X11 to Wayland. But as we can see with XWayland this might not be enough. KWin also needs to be an X11 window manager to fully support X11 applications. Given that it really depends on the windowing system how much work is needed.

One could also add a new windowing system the same way as we added support for Wayland. This would require to implement our AbstractClient to have a representation for a managed window of the windowing system and add support for creating a texture from the window content. In addition various places in KWin need to be adjusted to also consider these windows. Not a trivial task and going through a mapping to Wayland is always the better solution. But still it’s possible and this makes KWin future proof for possible other windowing systems. In general KWin doesn’t care any more about the windowing system of a window. We can have X11 windows on Wayland and Wayland windows on X11 (only experimental branch, not yet merged).

This brings me back to my presentation from 2011. Back then we expected to have three phases of development. The first phase adding Wayland support to the existing X11 base. That was what we experimented with back then and as I just wrote still experiment with it. As it turned out that was not the proper approach for development.

As a second phase we expected to remove X and have a Wayland only system. At the moment we still require XWayland to start KWin/Wayland. During the development it showed that this is not something really needed. It was easier to move the existing X11 code to interact through XWayland – we could keep the X code and move faster.


The third and final phase was about adding back XWayland support, so that KWin can support both X11 and Wayland windows. That’s the phase we developed directly. Which is kind of interesting that we went to the final step although we thought we need easier intermediate steps.

2 Replies to “A circle closes…”

  1. Hello Martin,

    I’m very glad that that you increasing unit tests coverage in your products, also as a programmer I know this isn’t easy task, but it is worth effort.
    As I understand from your talk, the quality problem with KDE and Plasma is mostly because Qt?

    I also want tu suggest 2 tings:
    First, very important, you should simplify bug reporting process, because many users when think about registering, confirming account, filling all that fields and thinking about what component they should choice etc, they go away with “probably someone else also have that issue and report that”.
    Maybe introduce bug reporting directly from application?
    Maybe make simple reporting tool that don’t require fields that aren’t meaningful for users, use some volunteers that are familiar with kde structure to help you categorize those report further.
    In this way you for sure get many duplicates, but also you should get many unique problems that won’t be reported in other way.

    Second idea is about hardware specific issues, maybe you can create an live usb system that can be booted on any machine, run all tests and send you reports. This could use real hardware instead of just offscreen rendering. If that process will be simple enough (plug usb, boot, setup network, keep powered on) you will get many machines on with you can test your software.

    Thanks for your work, I’m dreaming about open source system that can compete with mainstream systems like MacOS and Windows.

    Best Regards

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