textures and paintables

With GTK4, we’ve been trying to find better solution for image data. In GTK3 the objects we used for this were pixbufs and Cairo surfaces. But they don’t fit the bill anymore, so now we have GdkTexture and GdkPaintable.


GdkTexture is the replacement for GdkPixbuf. Why is it better?
For a start, it is a lot simpler. The API looks like this:

int gdk_texture_get_width (GdkTexture *texture);
int gdk_texture_get_height (GdkTexture *texture);

void gdk_texture_download (GdkTexture *texture,
                           guchar     *data,
                           gsize       stride);

So it is a 2D pixel array and if you want to, you can download the pixels. It is also guaranteed immutable, so the pixels will never change. Lots of constructors exist to create textures from files, resources, data or pixbufs.

But the biggest difference between textures and pixbufs is that they don’t expose the memory that they use to store the pixels. In fact, before gdk_texture_download() is called, that data doesn’t even need to exist.
And this is used in the GL texture. The GtkGLArea widget for example uses this method to pass data around. GStreamer is expected to pass video in the form of GL textures, too.


But sometimes, you have something more complex than an immutable bunch of pixels. For example you could have an animated GIF or a scalable SVG. That’s where GdkPaintable comes in.
In abstract terms, GdkPaintable is an interface for objects that know how to render themselves at any size. Inspired by CSS images, they can optionally provide intrinsic sizing information that GTK widgets can use to place them.
So the core of the GdkPaintable interface are the function make the paintable render itself and the 3 functions that provide sizing information:

void gdk_paintable_snapshot (GdkPaintable *paintable,
                             GdkSnapshot  *snapshot,
                             double        width,
                             double        height);

int gdk_paintable_get_intrinsic_width (GdkPaintable *paintable);
int gdk_paintable_get_intrinsic_height (GdkPaintable *paintable);
int gdk_paintable_get_intrinsic_aspect_ratio (GdkPaintable *paintable);

On top of that, the paintable can emit the “invalidate-contents” and “invalidate-size” signals when its contents or size changes.

To make this more concrete, let’s take a scalable SVG as an example: The paintable implementation would return no intrinsic size (the return value 0 for those sizing function achieves that) and whenever it is drawn, it would draw itself pixel-exact at the given size.
Or take the example of the animated GIF: It would provide its pixel size as its intrinsic size and draw the current frame of the animation scaled to the given size. And whenever the next frame of the animation should be displayed, it would emit the “invalidate-size” signal.
And last but not least, GdkTexture implements this interface.

We’re currently in the process of changing all the code that in GTK3 accepted GdkPixbuf to now accept GdkPaintable. The GtkImage widget of course has been changed already, as have the drag’n’drop icons or GtkAboutDialog. Experimental patches exist to let applications provide paintables to the GTK CSS engine.

And if you now put all this information together about GStreamer potentially providing textures backed by GL images and creating paintables that do animations that can then be uploaded to CSS, you can maybe see where this is going

Input methods in GTK+ 4

GTK’s support for loadable modules dates back to the beginning of time, which is why GTK has a lot of code to deal with GTypeModules and with search paths, etc. Much later on, Alex revisited this topic for GVfs, and came up with the concept of extension points and GIO modules, which implement them.  This is a much nicer framework, and GTK 4 is the perfect opportunity for us to switch to using it.

Changes in GTK+ 4

Therefore, I’ve recently spent some time on the module support in GTK. The major changes here are the following:

  • We no longer support general-purpose loadable modules. One of the few remaining users of this facility is libcanberra, and we will look at implementing ‘event sound’ functionality directly in GTK+ instead of relying on a module for it. If you rely on loading GTK+ modules, please come and talk to us about other ways to achieve what you are doing.
  • Print backends are now defined using an extension point named “gtk-print-backend”, which requires the type GtkPrintBackend.  The existing print backends have been converted to GIO modules implementing this extension point. Since we have never supported out-of-tree print backends, this should not affect anybody else.
  • Input methods are also defined using an extension point, named “gtk-im-module”, which requires the GtkIMContext type.  We have dropped all the non-platform IM modules, and moved the platform IM modules into GTK+ proper, while also implementing the extension point.

Adapting existing input methods

Since we still support out-of-tree IM modules, I want to use the rest of this post to give a quick sketch of how an out-of-tree IM module for GTK+ 4 has to look.

There are a few steps to convert a traditional GTypeModule-based IM module to the new extension point. The example code below is taken from the Broadway input method.


We are going to load a type from a module, and G_DEFINE_DYNAMIC_TYPE is the proper way to define such types:


Note that this macro defines a gtk_im_context_broadway_register_type() function, which we will use in the next step.

Note that dynamic types are expected to have a class_finalize function in addition to the more common class_init, which can be trivial:

static void
               (GtkIMContextBroadwayClass *class)

Implement the GIO module API

In order to be usable as a GIOModule, a module must implement three functions: g_io_module_load(), g_io_module_unload() and g_io_module_query() (strictly speaking, the last one is optional, but we’ll implement it here anyway).

g_io_module_load (GIOModule *module)
  g_type_module_use (G_TYPE_MODULE (module));
                        (G_TYPE_MODULE (module));
g_io_module_unload (GIOModule *module)
char **
g_io_module_query (void)
  char *eps[] = {
  return g_strdupv (eps);

Install your module properly

GTK+ will still look in $LIBDIR/gtk-4.0/immodules/ for input methods to load, but GIO only looks at shared objects whose name starts with “lib”, so make sure you follow that convention.


And thats it!

Now GTK+ 4 should load your input method, and if you run a GTK+ 4 application with GTK_DEBUG=modules, you should see your module show up in the debug output.