Sunday, 20 April 2014

Correct some Wayland misconceptions

Wayland seems to have a lot of hype, and among the comments, I see some misconceptions about Wayland. This blog post has for purpose to correct some misconceptions and help match better the expectations with what Wayland has to offer.

Some common Misconceptions


  • X applications and Games will be faster under Wayland

A fast explanation of how XWayland works:

The Wayland compositor handles inputs (mouse, etc) and outputs (display, etc). It redirects X apps inputs to XWayland, which then tells the client the inputs. When a client has to draw an output, it does as it would do under plain X, and XWayland shares the result with the Wayland compositor.

Thus there is no way that optimised XWayland can beat optimized plain X on performance. However due to compositing, you can have something tear free.

To do efficient compositing, you need a buffer_age extension to be supported. It indicates to the compositor when the buffer it'll render to was rendered for the last time, which helps the compositor to determine the part of the screen which it doesn't need to repaint, since it wasn't updated. Under X DRI2, this extension isn't supported, thus either the compositor has to do fullscreen repaint, or it guesses which parts must be redrawn. None is optimal.

X DRI3+PRESENT should solve this. For Wayland, the buffer_age extension is already supported.

As for fullscreen games, for which you likely want compositing to be bypassed, the cpu overhead of using XWayland+Wayland compared to just X (similar for X vs native Wayland game) should have negligible impact on your fps.

  • Boot time will be faster

Try to launch X alone in a tty. You'll find that it starts pretty fast (~1 second for me). The boot time difference with the move to Wayland should be negligible. (Also you'll have to launch XWayland if you use X apps. XWayland launches faster however.)


You are wondering now what will bring you Wayland then?
Lets investigate this:

What you could expect


  • Better security

I'm not a security expert, thus I won't explain much the topic. Inputs are more secure, and due to the wide use of dma-buf sharing, your outputs should be secure.

  • Better Battery life

This point will highly depend on the compositor. With Wayland, the compositor has a lot of power in its hands. Most Wayland applications listen to the frame callback, which is a Wayland event to indicate the client it's a good time to redraw if it wants to update something. The compositor could use that to reduce consumption to send this event less often in clever situations. It could also reduce the cost of compositing with some tricks, etc. I don't expect very optimized behaviors to appear soon, but in long term I expect a Wayland environment to have better Battery life than an X environment.

  • Performance corner cases better handled

Some operations are known to be faster on CPU, some others faster on GPU.

X has a rendering API which abstracts what you are rendering on. Some of these rendering operations are faster on a GPU, while some are better on CPU (and it highly depends on how the DDX was written). This can lead to strange situations.

Lets take OpenTTD, one of my favorite games. It renders the whole game with the cpu. Then it lets SDL (1.2) put the result on the screen. It indicates which parts of the screen were updated.

If your DDX is using the GPU to render, you would be much better if you upload the whole buffer, instead of each small updated parts. however if it uses the CPU, you want only the small updated parts to be uploaded.

SDL2 has some detection code to detect on what you are, and upload the whole part on some systems for which it would be better. SDL 1.2 doesn't make that difference. SDL 1.2 will use XShmPutImage on each damaged part to upload the result.

 An XShmPutImage operation consist in: create a pixmap. upload the result to it. Copy the pixmap into a subpart of the destination. For Glamor it is really really slow. For each XShmPutImage it converts the whole buffer into a gl texture. At next XShmPutImage, it cannot know if never this CPU buffer was updated, so it has to convert again the whole buffer into texture. That makes OpenTTD unplayable with Glamor. When using something else than Glamor, XShmPutImage is much faster. It illustrates the problem: writing an efficient DDX is very complex since you have to support operations which are not very fast for your device.

The same situation on Wayland is simpler: you differentiate buffers on GPU (you can use EGL to get/send them, or vaapi will create one, etc) and buffers on CPU (shm buffers). They are abstracted into a wl_buffer, which is a buffer that the compositor is aware of. The API handles wl_buffers.

Since you have rendered everything on CPU, you use a shm buffer to send the result to wayland (and you indicate to Wayland the updated parts). Whatever the Wayland compositor uses (CPU or GPU), it'll choose the best way to get the result on screen.

Also on Wayland you have a subsurface mechanism, which enables you to mix different wl_buffers for your app: you can have video content accelerated with GL, while having the GUI rendered with CPU.

  • Fewer glitches

Have you ever experienced problems with some applications causing problems or glitches to the whole desktop ? Like for example an application setting itself fullscreen at a low resolution, then crashing ? Hopefully this should go away with Wayland, since the applications do not control resolution, and just ask kindly to the compositor that they are better with a specific resolution. If the client dies, the compositor can go back to the previous resolution automatically. This is one among other examples.

  • Better user experience

This depends a lot on what DE do, but potentially user experience can be improved with more user control, better visuals, etc.


There are many other topics that could be discussed.
Similarly, I do not detain the truth and do not see the future.
I hope this discussion has helped you understand better what Wayland can improve for you, and wish the best success to Wayland.

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