Cùran's life
A Debian Developer's observations

5th September 2011 10:43 (GMT)
What wasn't said about the Linux graphics stack

This post is a small follow-up on yesterday's post about the Linux graphics stack. I'm still keeping to high level stuff and won't dig too deep, but a few questions arose (others reached me by e-mail), so, here we go.

Gallium3D is a framework, initially developed by Tungsten Graphics, which were bought by VMware. The idea behind Gallium3D is, that many functions can be shared between drivers for different GPUs and that the effort to support a new platform/system is – for classic drivers – pretty high. With Gallium3D you just need a state tracker and a target. The state tracker is code, that gives the pipeline of Gallium3D drivers access to a platform/system, like OpenGL or X on various operating systems. A target is the required as glue between a state tracker and the actual driver. For example: there is a state tracker for video playback acceleration (the recently added g3dvl). The state tracker itself offers the interface and common functions (with some help from the auxilliary stuff) between the Gallium3D pipeline and the userland libraries like libvdpau1. Targets like vdpau-[DRIVER] glue the driver and the state tracker together.

The winsys part of Gallium3D is a similar concept but it abstracts the windowing system on the target platform away (e.g. Wayland, X or GDI).

I didn't write about the proprietary drivers yesterday, as I don't consider them a real part of the Linux graphics stack, more like parasites, and didn't want to encourage anyone to use them (yes, I know, there are some cases in which you might be better off with them, but generally I'd avoid them). Anyway, I got some questions about those (some by e-mail, the other I'm aware off, can be found behind the link at the beginning of this entry). So, where do the proprietary drivers come in? They are basically the entire stack in a closed form, plugging into the public interfaces of the Kernel (whether that's legal is disputed), some other parts like X (by building a DDX) and building their own libGL. Especially the last part can be a cause for a lot of pain, when you don't use the proprietary driver packages offered by the distribution (e.g. Debian's fglrx packages divert the libGL and restore the default one on unistallation, with the vendor build scripts and tools this is not really guaranteed, which might leave you with a broken OpenGL setup).

Another question was, why Mesa was lacking support for a recent OpenGL version (i.e. 4.x). In my opinion there are a few reasons, though I don't really feal like the best person to answer this. The first are design issues by some internal representations (e.g. missing integer support in the intermediate representations). The second is the available number of developers being able to implement new OpenGL functions. Apart from a not all too clear specification the Mesa code base is huge (even if you ignore most of the drivers), which makes it difficult for new developers to start coding away. Then you need an understanding of how modern GPUs operate to find good solutions for the problems faced. If you want to get an idea for this, take a look at Zack Rusin's or Alex Deucher's blog. Then, there is a sad split of developers, on the one hand we've got the Gallium3D-using developers on the other we've got the ones staying with the classic driver model. This means, that you have to implement e.g. GLSL extensions for TGSI and Mesa's IR respectivly. There might be other reasons, I'm totally missing, but this should give you some insight into why it takes so long, to get current OpenGL versions supported.

I hope this clears some of the remaining questions, if not, feel free to write me an e-mail, but please remember, that this is not an in-depth analysis.

Permalink | debian, mesa.

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