Media in GTK 4

Showing moving pictures is ever more important. GTK 4 will make it easier for GTK apps to show animations; be that a programmatic animation, a webm file or a live stream.

Everything is paintable

Before looking at animations, it is worth spending a little bit of time on the underlying abstractions that GTK uses for content that can be drawn. In GTK 2 and 3, that was mainly GdkPixbuf: you load a file, and you get a block of pixel data (more or less in a single format).  If you wanted to animate it, there is GdkPixbufAnimation, but it is fair to say that it was not a very successful API.

GTK 4 brings a new API called GdkPaintable that was inspired by the CSS Houdini effort. It is very flexible—anything that you can plausibly draw can be a GdkPaintable. The content can be resizable (like svg), or change over time (like webm).

Widgets that typically show image content, like GtkImage or GtkPicture know how to use paintables. And many things that in the past would have produced pixel data in some form can now be represented as paintables: textures, icons, and even widgets.

If you have more specialized needs, anything that can be captured in a GtkSnapshot can be turned into a paintable with gtk_snapshot_to_paintable(). If you make a custom widget that wants to draw a paintable, that is very straightforward. Just call gdk_paintable_snapshot().

Getting animated

As I’ve said earlier, paintables can change their content over time. All it takes is for them to emit the ::contents-changed signal, and widgets like GtkPicture will do the right thing and update their display.

So, where do we get a GdkPaintable that changes its content? We can load it from a file, using GTK 4’s builtin GtkMediaFile api. This is a high-level api, comparable to GstPlayer: you stuff in a uri, and you get an object that has a play() function and a pause() function, and works as a paintable.

GTK ships with two implementations of GtkMediaFile, one using gstreamer and another one using ffmpeg. Since we don’t want to make either of these a hard dependency of GTK,  they are loadable modules.

You can open the GTK inspector to find out which one is in use:

Keeping control

The GtkMediaFile API is what gtk4-widget-factory demos with the animated GTK logo on its frontpage:

As you can see, it is not just a moving picture, there are media controls there too – you get these for free by using the GtkVideo widget.

Beyond the basics

Loading animations from files is maybe not that exciting, so here is another example that goes a little further. It is a little weekend project that combines GtkVideo, libportal and pipewire to demonstrate how to show a video stream in a GTK application.

The bad news is that we haven’t found a permanent home for the supporting glue code yet (a GstSink, a GdkPaintable and a GtkMediaStream). It doesn’t fit into GTK since, as mentioned, we don’t want to depend on gstreamer, and it doesn’t fit into gstreamer since GTK 4 isn’t released yet. We will certainly work that out before too long, since it is very convenient to turn a gstreamer pipeline into a paintable with a few lines of code.

The good news is that the core of the code is just a few lines:

fd = xdp_portal_open_pipewire_remote_for_camera (portal);
stream = gtk_gst_media_stream_new_for_pipewire_fd (fd, NULL);
gtk_video_set_media_stream (video, stream);

 

Custom widgets in GTK 4 – Actions

(This is the fifth part of a series about custom widgets in GTK 4. Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4).

Activate all the things

Many things in GTK can be activated: buttons, check boxes, switches, menu items, and so on. Often, the same task can be achieved in multiple ways, for example copying the selection to the clipboard is available both via the Control-C shortcut and an item in the context menu.

Inside  GTK, there are many ways things can proceed: a signal may be emitted (::activate, or ::mnemonic-activate, or a keybinding signal), a callback may be called, or a GAction may be activated. None of this is entirely new in GTK 4, but we are moving towards using GActions as the primary mechanism for connecting actions.

Actions

Actions can appear in various forms in a GTK application.

First, there are global application actions, added to GtkApplication or GtkApplicationWindow (both of these implement the GActionGroup interface). This is where actions first appeared in GTK 3, mainly for the purpose of exporting them on the session bus for use with the app menu.

We also allow to associate actions with widgets by calling gtk_widget_insert_action_group(). Actions that are added in this way are only considered for activation when it originates in below the widget in the hierarchy.

A new way to create actions in GTK 4 is to declare actions in the class_init function, via gtk_widget_class_install_action(), similar to how properties are declared with g_object_class_install_property(). Actions created in this way are available for every instance of the widget.

Here is an example from GtkColorSwatch:

gtk_widget_class_install_action (widget_class,
                                 "color.customize", "(dddd)",
                                 customize_color);

The customize_color function is called when the color.customize action is activated. As you can see, actions can declare that they expect parameters. This is using GVariant syntax; you need to provide four double values.

A convenient shorthand allows you to create a stateful action to  set a property of your widget class:

gtk_widget_class_install_property_action (widget_class,
                                         "misc.toggle-visibility",
                                         "visibility");

This declares an action with the name misc.toggle-visibility, which toggles the value of the boolean visibility property.

Actionables and Menus

Declaring actions only goes so far, you also need to connect your actions to the UI in some form. For widgets like buttons or switches that implement the actionable interface, this is as easy as setting the action-name property:

gtk_actionable_set_action_name (GTK_ACTIONABLE (button),
                                "misc.toggle-visibility");

Of course, you can also do this in a ui file.

If you want to activate your actions from a menu, you will likely use a menu model that is constructed from XML, such as this:

<menu id="menu">
  <section>
    <item>
      <attribute name="label">Show text</attribute>
      <attribute name="action">misc.toggle-visibility</attribute>
    </item>
  </section>
</menu>

In GTK 3, you would connect to the ::populate-popup signal to add items to the context menus of labels or entries. In GTK 4, this is done by adding a menu model to the widget:

gtk_entry_set_extra_menu (entry, menu_model);

Going deeper

To learn more about actions in GTK 4, you can read the action overview in the GTK documentation.

Custom widgets in GTK 4 – Input

(This is the fourth part of a series about custom widgets in GTK 4. Part 1, part 2, part 3).

Event handlers take over

In the previous parts, we’ve seen a few examples where handling GtkWidget signals was replaced by some auxiliary objects. This trend is even stronger in the input area, where we’ve traditionally had a number of signals to handle: ::button-press-event, ::key-press-event,  ::touch-event, and so on. All of these signals are gone in GTK 4, and instead you are expected to add event controllers to your widget, and listen to their signals. For example, there are GtkGestureClick, GtkEventControllerKey, GtkGestureLongPress, and many more.

Event controllers can be created in ui files, but it is more common to do that in the init() function:

static void click_cb (GtkGestureClick *gesture,
                      int              n_press,
                      double           x,
                      double           y)
{
  GtkEventController *controller = GTK_EVENT_CONTROLLER (gesture);
  GtkWidget *widget = gtk_event_controller_get_widget (controller);

  if (x < gtk_widget_get_width (widget) / 2.0 &&
      y < gtk_widget_get_height (widget) / 2.0)
     g_print ("Red!\n");
}

...

  controller = gtk_gesture_click_new ();
  g_signal_handler_connect (controller, "pressed",
                            G_CALLBACK (click_cb), NULL);
  gtk_widget_add_controller (widget, controller);

gtk_widget_add_controller() takes ownership of the controller and GTK cleans controllers up automatically when the widget is finalized, so there is nothing more to do.

Complex event handlers

The examples of event handlers in the previous sections are simple and handle only individual events, one at a time. Gestures are a bit more involved, since they handle sequences of related events, and generally keep state.

Examples of much more complex event handlers include things like DND, and keyboard shortcuts.   We may cover some of these in a later article.

Going deeper

The unifying  principle behind all the different event handlers is that GTK propagates the events it receives from the windowing system from the root of the widget tree to a target widget, and back up again, in a pattern commonly referred to as capture-bubble.

In the case of keyboard events, the target widget is the current focus. For pointer events, it is the hovered widget under the pointer.

To read more about input handling in GTK, visit the input handling overview in the GTK documentation.

Outlook

We’ve reached the end of the prepared material for this series. It may continue at some point in the future, if there is interest. Possible topics include: shortcuts, actions and activation, drag-and-drop, focus handling, or accessibility.

Custom widgets in GTK 4 – Layout

(This is the third part of a series about custom widgets in GTK 4. Part 1, part 2).

Widgets are recommended

As we said earlier, “everything is a widget.” For example, we recommend that you use a GtkLabel instead of manually rendering a pango layout, or a GtkImage instead of manually loading and rendering a pixbuf.  Using a ready-made widget ensures that you get all of the expected behaviors, such as selection handling, context menus or hi-dpi support. And it is much easier than doing it all yourself.

Delegating Layout

The default implementations of the snapshot() and measure() functions are handling child widgets automatically. The main responsibility for a custom widget is to arrange the child widgets as required. In GTK 3, this would have been done by implementing the size_allocate() function. You can still do that. But in  GTK 4, a more convenient alternative is to use a layout manager. GTK comes with a number of predefined layout managers, such as GtkBoxLayout, GtkCenterLayout, GtkGridLayout, to name just a few.

A layout manager can be set up in various ways, the easiest is to set a layout manager type in your class_init function:

gtk_widget_class_set_layout_manager_type (widget_class, 
                                          GTK_TYPE_GRID_LAYOUT);

GTK will then automatically instantiate and use a layout manager of this type.

Layout managers wrap your child widgets in their own “layout child” objects, which can have properties that affect the layout. This is a replacement for child properties. And just like child properties, you can set these  “layout properties” in ui files:

<child>
  <object class="GtkLabel">
    <property name="label">Image:</property>
    <layout>
      <property name="left-attach">0</property>
    </layout>
  </object>
</child>

Adding children

Using templates is the most convenient way to add children to a widget. In GTK 4 that works for any widget, not just for containers. If for some reason, you need to create your child widgets manually, this is best done in your init() function:

void
demo_init (DemoWidget *demo)
{
  demo->label = gtk_label_new ("Image:");
  gtk_widget_set_parent (demo->label, GTK_WIDGET (demo));
}

When doing that, it is important to set up the correct parent-child relationships to make your child widgets part of the overall widget heirarchy. And this setup needs to be undone  in your dispose() function:

void
demo_dispose (GObject *object)
{
  DemoWidget *demo = DEMO_WIDGET (object);

  g_clear_pointer (&demo->label, gtk_widget_unparent);

  GTK_WIDGET_CLASS (demo_widget_parent_class)->dispose (object);
}

New possibilities

Layout managers nicely isolate the layout tasks from the rest of the widget machinery, which makes it easier to experiment with new layouts.

For example, GTK 4 includes GtkConstraintLayout, which uses a constraint solver to create layouts according to a set of constraints on widget sizes and positions.

To learn more about constraints in GTK 4, read the documentation for GtkConstraintLayout.

Outlook

In the next post, we’ll look how widgets in GTK 4 handle input.

Custom widgets in GTK 4 – Drawing

(This is the second part of a series about custom widgets in GTK 4. Part 1).

Drawing the old-fashioned way

Before looking at how widgets do their own drawing, it is worth pointing out that GtkDrawingArea is still a valid option if all you need is some self-contained cairo drawing.

The only difference between GTK 3 and GTK 4 is that you call gtk_drawing_area_set_draw_func() to provide your drawing function instead of connecting a signal handler to the the ::draw signal. Everything else is the same: GTK provides you with a cairo context, and you can just draw to it.

void
draw_func (GtkDrawingArea *da,
           cairo_t        *cr,
           int             width,
           int             height,
           gpointer        data)
{
  GdkRGBA red, green, yellow, blue;
  double w, h;

  w = width / 2.0;
  h = height / 2.0;

  gdk_rgba_parse (&red, "red");
  gdk_rgba_parse (&green, "green");
  gdk_rgba_parse (&yellow, "yellow");
  gdk_rgba_parse (&blue, "blue");

  gdk_cairo_set_source_rgba (cr, &red);
  cairo_rectangle (cr, 0, 0, w, h);
  cairo_fill (cr);

  gdk_cairo_set_source_rgba (cr, &green);
  cairo_rectangle (cr, w, 0, w, h);
  cairo_fill (cr);

  gdk_cairo_set_source_rgba (cr, &yellow);
  cairo_rectangle (cr, 0, h, w, h);
  cairo_fill (cr);

  gdk_cairo_set_source_rgba (cr, &blue);
  cairo_rectangle (cr, w, h, w, h);
  cairo_fill (cr);
}

...

gtk_drawing_area_set_draw_func (area, draw, NULL, NULL);

The rendering model

One of the major differences between GTK 3 and GTK 4 is that we are now targeting GL / Vulkan instead of cairo. As part of this switch, we have moved from an immediate mode rendering model to a retained mode one. In GTK 3, we were using cairo commands to render onto a surface. In GTK 4, we create a scene graph that contains render nodes, and those render nodes can be passed to renderer, or processed in some other way, or saved to a file.

In the widget API, this change is reflected in the difference between

gboolean (* draw) (GtkWidget *widget, cairo_t *cr)

and

 void (* snapshot) (GtkWidget *widget, GtkSnapshot *snapshot)

GtkSnapshot is an auxiliary object that turns your drawing commands into render nodes and adds them to the scene graph.

The CSS style information for a widget describes how to render its background, border, and so on. GTK translates this a series of function calls that add suitable render nodes to the scene graph, before and after the render nodes for the widgets’ content. So your widget automatically complies with the CSS drawing model, without any extra work.

Providing the render nodes for the content is the reponsibility of the widgets snapshot() implementation. GtkSnapshot has convenience API to make it easy.  For example, use gtk_snapshot_append_texture() to render a texture. Use gtk_snapshot_append_layout() to render text. If you want to use custom cairo drawing, gtk_snapshot_append_cairo() lets you do so.

A drawing widget

To implement a  widget that does some custom drawing, you need to implement the snapshot() function that creates the render nodes for your drawing:

void
demo_snapshot (GtkWidget *widget, GtkSnapshot *snapshot)
{
  GdkRGBA red, green, yellow, blue;
  float w, h;

  gdk_rgba_parse (&red, "red");
  gdk_rgba_parse (&green, "green");
  gdk_rgba_parse (&yellow, "yellow");
  gdk_rgba_parse (&blue, "blue");

  w = gtk_widget_get_width (widget) / 2.0;
  h = gtk_widget_get_height (widget) / 2.0;

  gtk_snapshot_append_color (snapshot, &red,
                             &GRAPHENE_RECT_INIT(0, 0, w, h));
  gtk_snapshot_append_color (snapshot, &green,
                             &GRAPHENE_RECT_INIT(w, 0, w, h));
  gtk_snapshot_append_color (snapshot, &yellow,
                             &GRAPHENE_RECT_INIT(0, h, w, h));
  gtk_snapshot_append_color (snapshot, &blue,
                             &GRAPHENE_RECT_INIT(w, h, w, h));
}

...

widget_class->snapshot = demo_snapshot;

This example produces four color nodes:

If your drawing needs a certain size, you should implement the measure() function too:

void
demo_measure (GtkWidget      *widget,
              GtkOrientation  orientation,
              int             for_size,
              int            *minimum_size,
              int            *natural_size,
              int            *minimum_baseline,
              int            *natural_baseline)
{
  *minimum_size = 100;
  *natural_size = 200;
}

...

widget_class->measure = demo_measure;

GTK keeps the render nodes produced by your snapshot() function and reuses them until you tell it that your widget needs to be drawn again by calling gdk_widget_queue_draw().

Going deeper

The GTK documentation has an overview of the GTK drawing model, if you are interested in reading more about this topic.

Outlook

In the next post, we’ll look how widgets in GTK 4 handle child widgets.

Custom widgets in GTK 4 – Introduction

With GTK 4 getting closer to completion, now is a good time to provide an overview of how custom widgets will look in GTK 4.

This series of posts will look at the major aspects of writing a widget, and how they changed compared to GTK 3. The articles will provide a high-level overview; for a detailed checklist for porting an application to GTK 4, look at the  migration guide.

Introduction

The general direction of our API changes has been to emphasize delegation over subclassing. One of the motivations for this is to make writing your own widgets easier and less error-prone. As a consequence, you will see a lot more auxiliary objects that take over aspects of functionality from core widget classes. And many widgets are now final classes – deriving directly from GtkWidget is expected.

Another general trend in our API is that “everything is a widget.” In GTK 3, we slowly broke up complex widgets into their constituent parts, first with CSS nodes and then with gadgets. In GTK 4, for example the trough and the slider of a GtkScale are fully formed sub-widgets which can maintain their own state and receive input like any other widget.

A big loser in the GTK 4 transition is the GtkContainer base class. It has become much less important. Any widget can have child widgets now. Child properties have been replaced by layout children and their properties. And all focus handling has been moved from GtkContainer to GtkWidget.

Another big loser is GtkWindow. In GTK 3, all the “popups”  (entry completion, menus, tooltips, etc) were using a GtkWindow underneath. In GTK 4, most of them have been converted to popovers, and the GtkPopover implementation has been untangled from GtkWindow. In addition, many pieces of toplevel-specific functionality have been broken out in separate interfaces called GtkRoot and GtkNative.

Outlook

In the next post, we’ll look how widgets in GTK 4 do their own drawing with render nodes.

GTK 3.98.2

When we released 3.98.0, we promised more frequent snapshots, as the remaining GTK 4 features are landing. Here we are a few weeks later, and 3.98.1 and 3.98.2 snapshots have quietly made it out.

So, what is new ?

Features

There is still work left to do, but a few more big features have landed.

The first is that we have completed the reimplementation of GtkPopovers as xdg-popup surfaces, and split up the GdkSurface API into separate GdkToplevel and GdkPopup interfaces (there’s a GdkDragSurface interface too), which reflect the different roles of surfaces:

  • Toplevels are sovereign windows that are placed by the user and can be maximized, fullscreened, etc.
  • Popups are positioned relative to a parent surface and often grab input, e.g. when used for menus.

In GTK, popovers have lost their :relative-to property, since they are now part of the regular hierarchy like any other widget, and GtkWindow has lost its :window-type property, since all instances of GTK_WINDOW_POPUP have been converted to popovers, and windows are just used for proper toplevels.

Another major feature is the new infrastructure for keyboard shortcuts. In the past, GTK has had a plethora of APIs to implement key bindings, mnemonics and accelerators. In GTK 4, all of this is handled by event controllers. GtkShortcutController is a bit more complex than typical event controllers, since it handles all the different kinds of shortcuts with a unified API.

Thankfully, most of the complexity is hidden. For widget implementors, the important APIs are the variants of gtk_widget_class_add_shortcut(), which are used to add key bindings. For applications, mnemonics and global accels (with gtk_application_set_accels_for_action()) work the same as before. Additionally, it is possible to create shortcut controllers and shortcuts in ui files.

A set of smaller features has landed in the form of a few GtkTextTag properties that expose new pango features such as overlines, visible rendering of spaces and control over hyphenation. These can now be controlled in a GtkTextView via tags. In entries, they can already be controlled by directly adding pango attributes.

Completions

When I wrote about 3.98, I said that the Drag-and-Drop refactoring was complete. That turned out to be not quite correct, and another round of DND work has landed since. These changes were informed by developer feedback on the Drag-and-Drop API. Yay for user testing!

We introduced separate GtkDropTarget and GtkDropTargetAsync event controllers, with the former being simplified to avoid all async API, which makes it very easy to handle local cases.

We also cleaned up internals of the DND implementation to group DND events into event sequences, handle them in just the same way as normal motion events,  and introduced GtkDropControllerMotion, which is an event controller that is designed to handle things like tab switching during a DND operation.

Finally, we could remove the remnants of X11-style property and selection APIs; GtkSelectionData and GdkAtom are gone.

Cleanups and fixes

As always, there’s a large number of smaller cleanups and fixes that have happened.

The biggest group of cleanups happened in the file chooser, where a number of marginally useful APIs (extra widgets, overwrite confirmation, :local-only, GTK_FILE_CHOOSER_ACTION_CREATE_FOLDER, etc) have been dropped. To make up for it, the portal implementation of the native file chooser supports selecting folders now.

Another big cleanup was that GdkEvent is now an immutable boxed type. This was mainly an internal cleanup; the effect on application-level APIs is small, since event controllers have replaced direct event handling for the most part.

One new such event controller is GdkEventControllerFocus, which was split of from the key event controller to provide just focus handling.

GtkMenuButton lost its ability to have mnemonics when it was turned from a GtkButton subclass into a plain widget. This functionality has been reinstated, with a :use-underline property.

The HighContrast and HighContrastInverse themes that are included in GTK are now derived from Adwaita, for a much reduced maintainance burden and improved quality. Trying these themes out in gtk4-widget-factory is now easier, since we added a style menu.

The new HighContrast theme has also been backported to GTK 3.

Whats ahead

We will continue our snapshots and hope to get more developer feedback on the new APIs and features described above.

Here are things that we still want to integrate before GTK 4:

  • Row-recycling list and grid views
  • Revamped accessibility infrastructure
  • Animation API

If you want to follow the GTK 4 work, go here.

GTK 3.98

A few days ago, I’ve released a GTK 3.98 tarball. This is another step towards GTK 4. It is a little bit behind schedule, and does not quite include all the things we wanted to get into it, but it gets a lot closer to what we want to ship in GTK 4.

Almost 9 months have passed since the 3.96 snapshot, so there are quite a few new things to look at. Too many to cover them all, but here are some highlights:

Performance

The GL renderer has seen a steady flow of optimizations and performance improvements.

After the Westcoast hackfest last year, the GtkTextView scrolling performance has been greatly improved by making it cache render nodes for the visible range. At the same hackfest, the text caret blinking was changed to be smoothly animated, which is not relevant for performance at all, but looks cool.

Since the new year, a big focus has been on improving the performance of the CSS machinery. The CSS value implementation has been optimized to avoid computing values whenever possible. CSS lookups are using a Bloom filter now. And the IO for icon loading has been moved to a thread.

Most of the recent work was made possible by the sysprof profiling support that was added after the performance hackfest, and has recently been enhanced to report more information. To use it, simply start a GTK application with GTK_TRACE=1 in the environment, and load the resulting syscap file with sysprof.

DND

The DND refactoring has been completed. The GTK API for DND has been turned into event controllers: GtkDragSource and GtkDropTarget. Support for file transfers via file transfer portal has been added for both DND and the clipboard.  The underlying new infrastructure for data transfers has been covered in detail before.

GDK

The move of GDK towards Wayland concepts is continuing. This cleanup is not 100% complete yet.

Child surfaces have been removed. GDK only supports toplevel and popup surfaces now. The client-side window implementation has been removed too. Global positions and related APIs such as gdk_surface_move() are no longer available.

Grabs are no longer exposed as API. As a replacement, popup surfaces can be configured to hide on outside clicks.

XI2 is now mandatory when building the X11 backend, and support for the xim input method has been removed in favor of IBus.

The Wayland backend no longer relies on libwayland-cursor to load cursor themes, and loads individual cursors on demand.

GTK removals

Many classes have been made explicitly non-subclassable, and the widget hierarchy has been simplified, by making widgets derive directly from GtkWidget where possible.

GtkMenu, GtkMenuBar, GtkToolbar and related classes have been removed. They are being replaced by GMenu and popover-based variants. Popover menus can now do traditional, nested menus, and also show accelerators.

Context menus are no longer created with ::populate-popup signals, but also use menu models and actions. Creating those actions has been made easier with APIs like gtk_widget_class_install_action(), to create them in class_init.

GtkGestureMultiPress has been renamed to GtkGestureClick, to make it more obvious what this event controller is for.

GTK additions

We did not just remove things. Some new things have been added too.

The GtkNative interface has been introduced for widgets that have their own surface. This has been split off from the GtkRoot interface, which is exclusively for toplevel widgets without a parent.

A constraint-based layout manager has been added. It would be great to see people try this out. Please give us feedback if you do.

GtkTextView and other text widgets have gained a simple undo stack that can be used with Ctrl-Z.

The Emoji chooser widget has been made public.

Whats ahead

After 3.98, I’m planning to do more frequent snapshots, as the remaining outstanding items are landing. What are those items, you are asking ?

Here are the things that we still want to integrate before GTK 4:

– Event controllers for keyboard shortcuts
– Movable popovers
– Row-recycling list and grid views
– Revamped accessibility infrastructure
– Animation API

 

 

Data transfer in GTK4

The traditional methods for user-initiated data transfers between desktop apps are the clipboard or Drag-and-Drop. GTK+ has supported these methods since the beginning of time, but up until GTK3, the APIs we had for this kind of data transfer were thinly disguised copies of the corresponding X11 apis: selections, and properties and atoms. This is not too surprising, since the entire GDK api was modeled on X11. Unfortunately, the implementation includes horrors such as incremental transfers and string format conversions.

For GTK4, we’re leaving these things behind as we are moving things in GDK around to be closer to the Wayland API. Data transfer is one the areas in most urgent need of this modernization. Thankfully, it is almost complete at this point, so it is worth taking a look at what has changed, and how things will work in the future.

Concepts

If the data your application wants to send is not a string, it is probably some object, such as GFile, a GdkTexture, or a GdkRGBA. The app on the receiving side may be not use GTK or GLib, and thus won’t know these types. And even if it does, there’s no way to get the objects from one process to the other in one piece.

At the core, the data transfer works be sending a file descriptor from the source app, and the target app reading a stream of bytes from it. The protocols for clipboard and DND use mime types such as text/uri-list, image/png or application/x-color to identify the format of the byte stream.

Sending an object involves negotiating a data format that both sides support, serializing the object on the source side into a byte stream of that format, transferring the data, and deserializing the object on the target side.

The local case

Before moving on to concrete APIs, it is worth pausing a moment to consider another common case of data transfer: inside a single application. It is quite common to use the same clipboard and DND mechanisms to send data from the one side of the application to the other. Since we are not crossing process boundaries in this case, we can avoid the byte stream and the associated serialization and deserialization overhead, and transfer the data by just passing a reference to the object.

APIs

The objects we’ve alluded to in the previous section are described by GTypes such as G_TYPE_FILE or GDK_TYPE_TEXTURE, while, as mentioned, the data exchange formats in Wayland and X11 protocols are described by mime types.

The first API we have introduced to deal with these types is the GdkContentFormats object. It can contain a list of formats, which may be GTypes or mime types. We use GdkContentFormats objects to describe the formats that an application can offer data in, as well as the formats that an application can receive data it.

You may wonder why we are mixing GTypes and mime types in the same object. The answer is that we want to handle both the cross-process and the local case with the same APIs. And while we need to match mime types for the cross-process case, we need the GTypes for the local case.

Conversion

We still need a way to associate GTypes and mime types that we can convert into each other. This is handled by the GdkContentSerializer and GdkContentDeserializer APIs. These are essentially registries of conversion functions: GdkContentSerializer knows how to convert GTypes into mime types, and GdkContentDeserializer handles the other direction.

GDK has predefined conversions for common types, but the system is extensible using gdk_content_register_serializer and gdk_content_register_deserializer.

Content

Now we know how to describe formats and convert between them, but to  put this all together, we still need a convenient api that takes an object on the one side, and provides a bytes stream on the other.  For this, we added the GdkContentProvider API.

A GdkContentProvider lets you combine an object with a format description on the input side, and provides an async writer API on the output side that can be connected to the file descriptor that we want to send the data over.

Typical content providers are created like this:

gdk_content_provider_new_for_value (gvalue)
gdk_content_provider_new_for_bytes (gbytes, mimetype)

The GValue that it takes contains both an object and information about its type, so we don’t need extra type information, if we provide the object as  a GBytes (essentially a just a bit of memory), we need to provide the type information separately.

The Clipboard

GTK3 has a GtkClipboard object, which provides the implemention for copy/paste operations. Having this object in GTK is not ideal, since it needs different implementations on the platforms that are supported by GTK. Therefore, GTK4 moves the object to GDK, and consequently renames it to GdkClipboard. It has also been ported to the new data transfer apis that are described above. To put data on the clipboard in GTK4, you use one of the ‘set’ apis:

gdk_clipboard_set_content()
gdk_clipboard_set_value()
gdk_clipboard_set_text()

Ultimately, all of these functions end up associating a GdkContentProvider with the clipboard.

To read data from the clipboard in GTK4, you use one of the async ‘read’ apis:

gdk_clipboard_read_async()
gdk_clipboard_read_value_async()
gdk_clipboard_read_text_async()

Drag-and-Drop

The GTK3 Drag-and-Drop api involves listening to a number of signals on GtkWidget, and calling a few special setup functions for drag sources and destinations. It is flexible, but generally considered confusing, and we won’t describe it in detail here.

In GTK4,  the Drag-and-Drop api has been reorganized around the concepts of content providers and event controllers. To initiate a Drag-and-Drop operation, you create a GtkDragSource event controller that reacts to drag gestures (you can also start ‘one-off’ Drag-and-Drop operations by just calling gdk_drag_begin yourself), and you give it a GdkContentProvider for the data that you want to transfer. To receive Drag-and-Drop operations, you create a GtkDropTarget event controller and call an async read method when it emits the ::drop-done signal:

gdk_drop_read_value_async()
gdk_drop_read_text_async()

GTK BoF at Guadec

As every year, we had a GTK BoF at Guadec in Thessaloniki. This year, we had a pretty good turnout — everybody was interested in GTK4 plans.

But since Emmanuele was busy in the morning, we started the discussion with some other topics.

GLib

We collected a few suggestions for useful GLib additions from the room.

  • API for OS information (basically, the data that is in /etc/os-release). This seemed uncontrolversial; Robert is going to implement it
  • An ordered map. This is implemented ad-hoc in many places by combining a hash table with a list or array.  There seemed to be agreement that it would be worthwhile to provide this in GLib, if somebody does the work to propose an API

The discussion of ordered maps also touched on generic container interfaces; Philipp described how that could be done, see details here.

Still on the topic of containers, Alex described a problem with transfer annotations. We discussed various ideas, but there may not be a perfect solution.

Matthias pointed out that there is still some Unicode data in Pango. We briefly discussed how nice it would be to have an agreed-on, mmappable binary format for Unicode data, so that everybody could share it. Short of that, moving the last bits of data to GLib was uncontroversial.

Dark mode

Since the “dark mode” BoF joined us, we switched to discussing dark mode next. There was a more discussion of this topic in the vendor theme BoF the next day; the GTK discussion focused on technical details of how to implement dark mode.

There are various options:

  • Add extra metadata to theme index files to mark themes as dark
  • Add a “dark-theme-name” setting and treat dark and light themes as independent
  • Keep the existing convention of appending “-dark” to theme names to find the dark variant of a theme

The pragmatic solution of keeping the existing convention seemed to have support in the room. Matthias started exploring some application support APIs here.

GTK

Eventually we swiched to talking about the state of and progress towards GTK4. The high-level summary is that there is still a list of  features that need to be completed for GTK4:

  • A scalable list view that recycles row widgets. This includes a broader switch to using list models in more places. To make it complete, it should also include a grid view using the technologies. Benjamin is working on this
  • Infrastructure and APIs for animations. This will be similar to the way animations work in CSS, and part of the work is to port not just our existing CSS animation support, but also stack switching animations, the revealer, progress bars and spinners to the new framework. Emmanuele is working on this.
  • Complete the menu/popover rework. Some people tried the new popover menubar. The feedback was that we should probably go back to nesting submenus, at least for menubars, and push forward with dropping menus, since some of the ways in which menus are special (such as keep-up triangles, scrolling) are hard to keep working (or keep working well). Matthias is getting back to working on this after Guadec.
  • Shortcuts – replace mnemonics, accelerators, and key bindings with event controllers. There is a fairly complete branch with code and APIs that several people have worked on; help with reviewing and testing it would be appreciated.
  • The new Drag-and-Drop API needs to be completed.

The good news is that this list is fairly short and has names next to most items. The bad news is that each item is a considerable amount of work. Therefore, it is not a good idea to promise a tight timeline towards the 4.0 release before we have all of them merged. Thus, the following is tentative, but (we hope) somewhat realistic:

  • another GTK 3.9x snapshot before the end of this year
  • a feature-complete 3.99 release around the same time as GNOME 3.36 in spring 2020
  • a 4.0 release around the same time as GNOME 3.38 in fall  2020

Inevitably, we also discussed other things that would be nice to have. None of these are on the GTK4 roadmap; but if somebody shows up to do the work, they can happen:

  • A “widget repository” or “hig” library in order to not overload GTK with too specific or experimental widgets
  • A “UI designer” widget. This could live in a separate library as well
  • Better support for split headerbars and state transitions

We also discussed things outside GTK proper that will keep applications from porting to GTK4. This includes commonly used libraries such as GtkSourceView, vte and webkitgtk, which all will need GTK4 ports before applications that depend on them can be ported. Some of this work is already underway; but any help in this area is appreciated!

Another potential blocker for GTK4 porting is platform support. The GL renderer works well on Linux; the Vulkan renderer needs some fixups. On Windows we currently use cairo fallback, which may be good enough for 4.0. Alternatively, we could merge existing work for using the GL renderer with ANGLE. The situation is less pleasant on OS X, where we don’t have a working backend; if you want to help us here, the first still would be to adapt the GDK backend to changes in GDK.

Hacking time

In the afternoon, the room drifted from discussion to hacking, and various GTK-related works-in-progress could be spotted on peoples laptops: work to speed up GtkBuilder template loading, nested popover menus, a half-finished GtkSourceView port.

You will hopefully see these (and others) in GTK master soon.