XInput 2: the big picture, relationship to toolkits

Peter Hutterer peter.hutterer at
Wed Aug 13 18:30:42 PDT 2008

On Wed, Aug 13, 2008 at 05:45:40PM -0400, Owen Taylor wrote:
> Configuration of devices should not be in the scope of an application.
> Once a device is configured by the user globally, it should just work
> in any application. Though in some cases, an application may want to 
> allow it's users to configure how device functionality maps to application
> functionality, see below.
> Moreover, in the case where a device is controlling the core pointer
> the application should not have to choose between "normal events" and 
> "input extension events". If the user moved the pointer somewhere, it's
> a motion event. Then, if the application cares, it should be able to
> look and see "what device does this event come from?" "does this event 
> have pressure information? what was the pressure?"
> So, the question for the XInput extension is: are the APIs correct so that
> a toolkit can seamlessly provide this functionality?

Assuming that we ignore core events I would say yes. Although the APIs can be
improved, as described later below.
The important thing is - forget that core events even exist. Applications
should only use XI. The current events already contain screen coordinates -
much like the core events and sufficient for the majority of apps - and also
valuators if you care about pressure or device coordinates.

> One thing that occurs to me: with the master pointer support in XInput 2, 
> you no longer have to select for input on all devices, you can simply 
> select for the master device ... a definite improvement. However, if there 
> are multiple master pointers, you have to select for events for every 
> pointer, and track the set of master devices, and if that changes, redo 
> the selection.

Correct. The DevicePresenceEvent/DeviceHierarchyChangedEvent notify you if a
master appears/disappears and gives you the ability to re-read the device list
for new master devices. Not perfect, but well...
> I don't have a great suggestion for fixing this problem. What I'd really
> want at the toolkit level is to say "for this client extension send me 
> all extended input events selected by my core event masks along with
> the core events". But that's pretty radically different than how the XInput 
> extension normally works.(Note that this doesn't make sense for floating slave
> devices ... there what you really want to is to select for events
> *without respect to the window hierarchy*). 

The current APIs do not really give you that option due to being slotted onto
XI 1.x events and requests.

The important thing is that there are 3 devices:
- master devices
  These devices should be used for almost all applications to receive events.
- attached slave devices
  You should only ever execute requests on them if you want to change the
  device's setting. Since those settings are copied into the master
  automatically, there's no need for touching the master. There's hardly a
  use-case where you want to listen to events by an attached slave.
- floating slaves
  Basically same thing as non-core extension devices in XI 1.

One of the things I would like to do is to consider ditching XI 1.x
compatibility and hence XI 1.x events. I've been to hesitant to do it while
doing MPX, but after writing all the protocol specs and my thesis it's
becoming more and more obvious that not doing it would probably hurt us more.

There's a fair number of requests that don't need to be deprecated, but the
events do. Mainly, we have XGE now, so lets make use of it. This includes 32
bit keycodes in events, relative + absolute valuators in the same event (if
applicable), 32 bit device identifiers, etc. 
Those XGE events that are already in XI2 allow for a AllDevices event
selection, which arguably could be extended to include AllMasterDevices as
well. Either way, it removes the need for tracking the XEventClass in the
client, making things much saner and closer to core protocol event tracking
from a toolkit/app perspective.

> Currently:
> * The entire space of the device is mapped to the entire space
>   of the screen.
> But:
> * You might want to attach a tablet to a particular monitor. One case
>   of this is a device like the Wacom Cintiq where the tablet *is*
>   the monitor. (This is also the case for many mobile devices, but
>   those are seldom used with multiple monitors so the screen/monitor
>   distinction doesn't matter.)

This bit is missing and should be added. The old input API had xf86SetScreen
or so. With the current one, it's hard to cross screen since device ranges are
scaled. (At least last time I checked)
This only applies for absolute devices of course, relative devices work fine.

> * You might possibly want to attach the tablet to a window. My 
>   experience years ago was that this wasn't actually that useful;
>   it forced you to switch between mouse and tablet a lot, and 
>   tablets are high resolution devices available at decent sizes
>   for reasonable prices ... it's OK if you aren't drawing with the
>   *entire* tablet.

This is what floating slave devices are for. You float the device, grab it and
map the device coordinate range (in the application) to the desired area. I
believe this should cover these use case sufficiently?

> Another thing to consider is aspect ratio ... I think right now
> if you have a 4x3 tablet and a 3x2 screen a circle you draw or
> trace on your tablet will come out squished. Probably the
> attachment API needs to have a flag as to whether to preserve
> aspect ratio or not.

Shouldn't this API be in the toolkit? If you're actually dealing with
valuators, X doesn't touch them much and forwards them as-is. Any scaling,
squishing or otherwise should be done in the toolkit/app.

> Subpixel positioning
> ====================
> An important attribute of a graphics tablet is subpixel positioning; if
> you draw a line at a small angle, you want that line to come out
> smoothly antialiased, not with a step in it as the pen crosses pixel
> boundaries.
> The current code reports:
>  rootX,rootY: integer screen pixel coordinates
>  eventX, eventY: integer window-relative coordinates
>  valuator[0], valuator[1]: device coordinates *quantized
>    to screen pixel coordinates*.

I just checked the code and it looks as if the valuators reported are the
device coordinates - for absolute devices. This should give you subpixel
ranges, especially if you float the device and map it to arbitrary areas. Note
that these valuators are always in absolute device coordinates and not
relative to any window. 

Relative devices however are clipped to screen coordinates. I guess the main
problem here is simply a problem with XInput's axis specification. An axis can
be absolute or relative, but not both. If it is relative, it will not get
scaled by the server and is initialised (usually) with a range of -1/-1 or

If such a device reports a relative axis movement by +10, it is difficult to
scale that into subpixel values without knowing where a pixel ends and a
subpixel starts. We'd have to look at device resolution + screen resolution to
get any decent approximations. That said, I don't feel qualified yet to
comment too much on that, having spent too little time on it. Simon, maybe you
want to chime in here?
> Identifying Axes
> ================
> XListInputDevices() tells you, for each device axis:
>  resolution (counts/meter)
>  min-value
>  max-value
> But what you don't find out is what the axis actually is ...
> is it X/Y position? Pressure? Tilt? Something else?
> This is information that the driver has. Then it's thrown
> away before sending it to X.
> The master/slave setup makes this, if anything, worse, since
> it continually mutates the master device to look like one or
> the other slave device, but there is no actual indication of
> what slave event one of these master events come from that
> I'm aware of.

The DeviceClassesChangedEvent notifies you when the master changes, _before_
the event is porcessed. It includes newSlave, so you know that from now on
until the next DCCE, all events come from this slave.
It includes the same info as XListInputDevices (for this device only), so you
can update your internal state without having to query the server.
> One possible fix here would be to add another type of 
> device information class .. ExtendedValuatorInfo, say that
> contains extra information per axis.

I was toying with the idea of axis labelling through device properties.
If we can come up with a sort-of standard for label names (x, y, z, pressure,
tilt, etc.) that might be the simplest and most flexible approach.

The biggest advantage here: in the end the server doesn't care for anything
but x/y, so let the driver label the axes once to reflect their physical
meaning. Then let the clients argue about how to interpret each axis.

I have not yet found the time to sit down and actually think it through so
there may be flaws in that plan.

(As a side-effect, once we have axis labelling, it would also give us the
ability to post scrollwheel events as buttons *and* as valuators, which
arguably may lead to smoother scrolling.)

> Device Identity
> ===============

See above, DCCE does it :)

Does this address all your questions?


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