Understanding why 'root window' X under Wayland may matter

June 30, 2019

In a comment on my entry on how the X death watch has probably started, Christopher Barts said:

There is XWayland, and apparently it will support handling the root window, not just application windows: <link>

The missing piece of the puzzle is Xweston, which apparently allows you to run window managers for X on Wayland: <link>

When I read this, at first I was puzzled about how this could work and why this was interesting, because I couldn't imagine that an X window manager could manage Wayland windows (a view I've had for some time). Then I actually read the Xweston README and a little light turned on in my head. The important bit from it is this:

[...] Xweston should allow one to run Xwayland as a bare X server (i.e. taking over the root window) hosted by Weston.

What this would allow you to do is to use Wayland as the graphics driver for the X server. Provided that the Wayland protocol and API stay sufficiently static, this would mean that people wouldn't have to write or update graphics drivers for X, and that changes in the Linux (or Unix) graphics environment wouldn't require changes in X. Both of these would be handled purely by updates to Wayland compositors.

(Wayland would also serve as the input driver for X, and hopefully that side of things would also require fewer or no updates.)

At one level this is not too much different than how X sometimes works today. For instance, for Intel's graphics hardware the X server normally outsources most of this to OpenGL via glamour and modesetting (as I found out). However, specific X drivers can still be better than glamour and this still leaves the modesetting driver to keep up with any changes in kernel modesetting, DRM setup, and so on. Outsourcing all of that to Wayland gets X a stable interface that hopefully performs well in general, which obviously matters a bunch if there's no one really left to keep updating X's graphics and modesetting drivers (which seems to be part of the problem).

This doesn't deal with the other half of the problem of the X death watch, which is the quality of support for X in toolkits like GTK and programs like Firefox. Also, you'd (still) be restricted to X programs only; as far as I can see, you wouldn't want to try to run Wayland programs in this environment because they wouldn't integrate into your X session (and there might be other problems). If there start to be Wayland-only programs and toolkits, that could be a problem.

PS: Xweston hasn't seen any development for a long time, so I suspect that the project is dead. Probably a modern version would be built on top of wlroots in some way, since that seems to have become the Wayland compositor starting point of choice.

(A really energetic person could of course skip trying to turn wlroots into an X server backend and simply implement their favorite X window manager for Wayland using wlroots and then manage individual windows from X programs in parallel with windows from Wayland programs. Note that I don't know if all of the things that X window managers can do are possible in Wayland.)

(This is one of the entries that I write because I finally worked something out in my own head and I don't want to forget it later. Hopefully I worked it out correctly and I'm not missing something.)

Written on 30 June 2019.
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Last modified: Sun Jun 30 22:23:32 2019
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