Wayland - A New Display Server for Linux

Short Talk
Scheduled: Friday, September 25, 2009 from 2:20 – 2:45pm in Salon E


Over the last few years the graphics stack have been split up and refactored into shared libraries, kernel drivers and other components. The X server provides a lot of legacy functionality that isn't used by the modern, composited Linux desktop. Wayland is a new display server that builds on top of all those components to provide a minimal foundation for a composited destkop. X can run under Wayland with very little overhead for legacy applications.


Over the last 10 years, a lot of functionality have slowly moved out of the X server and into libraries or kernel drivers. It started with freetype and fontconfig providing an alternative to the core X fonts and direct rendering OpenGL as a graphics driver in a client side library. Then cairo came along and provided a modern 2D rendering library independent of X and compositing managers took over control of the rendering of the desktop. Recently with GEM and KMS in the Linux kernel, we can do modesetting outside X and schedule several direct rendering clients. The end result is a highly modular graphics stack.

Wayland is a new display server building on top of all those components. We’re trying to distill out the functionality in the X server that is still used by the modern Linux desktop. This turns out to be not a whole lot. Applications can allocate their own off-screen buffers and render their window contents by themselves. In the end, what’s needed is a way to present the resulting window surface to a compositor and a way to receive input. This is what Wayland provides, by piecing together the components already in the eco-system in a slightly different way.

X will always be relevant, in the same way Fortran compilers and VRML browsers are, but it’s time that we think about moving it out of the critical path and provide it as an optional component for legacy applications.


display server, compositing, DRM, kms, embedded, egl, cairo, shiny


  • Krh

    Kristian Høgsberg

    Red Hat, Inc


    Kristian Høgsberg is working at Red Hat on the Linux graphics stack including drm, mesa, X, cairo and more. The recent couple of years Kristian has been focused on clearing out the roadblocks that prevent us from enabling a composited Linux desktop by default. Towards this goal he has been instrumental in implementing AIGLX, which has allowed compiz and other compositing managers to run on X, and DRI2, which integrates accelerated OpenGL with the COMPOSITE extension. Recent developments in the Linux graphics stack has led Kristian to wonder whether X is our ideal window system.

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