GTK 4 got a new macOS backend (now with OpenGL)

I’ve been busy the past few months writing a new GDK backend for macOS when not maintaining my other projects. Historically our macOS performance wasn’t something to rave about. But it’s getting better in GTK 4.

The new backend can do both software rendering with Cairo and hardware-based OpenGL rendering using the same OpenGL renderer as we use on GNU/Linux.

This was a fairly substantial “greenfield” rewrite of the backend because so much of it had bit-rotted during the development of GTK 4. GDK hardly looks the same as it did in previous releases and that is a good thing. It’s much easier to write a new backend these days.

I tried to polish it off a bit too, teaching it to do CSD edge-snapping and more. If you’re unfortunate enough to be using the software renderer, it does have some tricks to make drawing a bit faster than in the past. We dropped our use of the quartz Cairo backend in favor of the image backend because, well, it’s faster. Additionally we get a bit clever with opaque regions to speed up CSD compositing.

It also uses the CVDisplayLink to get presentation timing information from the display server to drive our frame clock.

A screenshot of the macOS backend

Thanks again to my employer, Red Hat, for funding this work so we can all benefit from having our applications reach more users.

GtkSourceView Next

Earlier this year I started a branch to track GTK 4 development which is targeted for release by end-of-year. I just merged it which means that our recently released gtksourceview-4-8 branch is going to be our LTS for GTK 3. As you might remember from the previous maintainer, GtkSourceView 4.x is the continuation of the GtkSourceView 3.x API with all the deprecated API removed and a number of API improvements.

Currently, GtkSourceView.Next is 5.x targeting the GTK 4.x API. It’s a bit of an unfortunate number clash, but it’s been fine for WebKit so we’ll see how it goes.

It’s really important that we start getting solid testing because GtkSourceView is used all over the place and is one of those “must have” dependencies when moving to a new GTK major ABI.

Preparations in GTK 4

Since I also spend time contributing to GTK, I decided to help revamp GtkTextView for GTK 4. My goal was to move various moving parts into GtkTextView directly so that we could make them more resilient.

Undo Support

One feature was undo support. GTK 4 now has native support for undo by implementing text history in a compact form within GTK itself. You can now set the enable-undo properties to TRUE on GtkTextView, GtkEditable widgets like GtkText or GtkEntry, and others.

GPU Rendered Text (sort of)

Matthias Clasen and I sat down one afternoon last year and wrote a new PangoRenderer for GSK using render nodes and the texture atlas provided by the OpenGL and Vulkan renderers. Since then, GtkTextView gained a GtkTextLineDisplay cache so that we can keep these immutable render nodes around across multiple snapshots.

Text is still rendered on the CPU into a texture atlas, which is uploaded to the GPU and re-used when possible. Maybe someday things like pathfinder will provide a suitable future.

GtkTextView and Widgets

Previously, the gutters for GtkTextView were simply a GdkWindow which could be rendered to with Cairo. This didn’t fit well into the “everything should be a widget” direction for GTK 4. So now you can pack a widget into each of the 4 gutters around the edges of a GtkTextView. This means you can handle input better too using GtkGesture and GtkEventControllers. More importantly, though, it means you can improve performance of gutter rendering using snapshots and cached render nodes when it makes sense to do so.

Changes in GtkSourceView Next

Moving to a new major ABI is a great time to do cleanups too as it will cause the least amount of friction. So I took this opportunity to revamp much of the GtkSourceView code. We follow more modern GObject practices and have bumped our compiler requirements to closely match GTK 4 itself. This still means no g_autoptr() usage from within GtkSourceView sadly thanks to MSVC being … well the worse C compiler still in wide use.

GtkSourceGutterRenderer is now a GtkWidget

Now that we have margins which can contain widgets and contribute to the render node tree, both GtkSourceGutter and GtkSourceGutterRenderer are GtkWidget. This will mean you need to change custom gutter renderers a bit, but in practice it means a lot less code than they previously contained. It also makes supporting HiDPI much easier.

GtkSourceCompletion Revamp

I spent a lot of time making completion a pleasing experience in GNOME Builder and that work has finally made it upstream. To improve performance and simplicity of implementation, this has changed the GtkSourceCompletionProvider and GtkSourceCompletionProposal interfaces in significant ways.

GtkSourceCompletionProposal is now a mostly superfluous type used to denote a specialized GObject. It doesn’t have any functions in the vtable nor any properties currently and the goal is to avoid adding them. Simply G_IMPLEMENT_INTERFACE (GTK_SOURCE_TYPE_COMPLETION_PROPOSAL, NULL) when defining your proposal object GType.

This is because all of the completion provider implementation can now be performed from GtkSourceCompletionProvider. This interface focus on using interfaces like GListModel (like the rest of GTK 4) and how to asynchronously generate and refine the results with additional key-presses.

The completion window has been revamped and now allows proposals to fill a number of columns including an icon, return-type (Left Hand Side), Typed Text, and supplementary text. It resizes with content and ensures that we only inflate the number of GObjects necessary to view the current set. A fixed number of widgets are also created to reduce CSS and measurement costs.

Further, proposals may now have “alternates” which allows for providers to keep all of the DoSomething() proposals with 20 overloaded forms for each base type in whatever language of the day is being used from clogging up the suggestions.

The new GtkSourceCompletionCell widget is a generic container used throughout completion for everything from containing icons, text, or even custom widgetry for the completion details popover.

Completion Preview


A new abstraction, GtkSourceGutterLines, was added to help reduce overhead in generation of content in the gutter. The design of gutters lead to an exorbitant amount of measurement work on every frame. This was actually the biggest hurdle in making GTK 3 applications scroll smoothly. The new design allows for all the renderers to collect information about lines in one pass (along with row height measurements) and then snapshot in their second pass. Combined with the ability to cache render nodes, gutter renderers should have what they need to remain fast even in HiDPI environments.

The implementation of this also has a few nice details to further reduce overhead, but I’ll leave that to those interested in reading the code.


GtkSourceBuffer now has a cursor-moved signal. This seemed to be something implemented all over the place so we might as well have it upstream.

Reduce signal emission overhead

A number of places have had signal emission overhead reduced. Especially in property notifications.

Spaces Drawing

The GtkSourceSpaceDrawer now caches render nodes for drawing spaces. This should improve the performance in the vast majority of cases. However, one case still could be improved upon: tabs when the tab width changes (generally when used after text or spaces).

New Features


A new snippet engine has landed based on a much improved version from GNOME Builder. You can provide bundles using an XML snippets file. You can also create them dynamically from your application and insert them into the GtkSourceView. In fact, many completion providers are expected to do this.

The snippet language is robust and shares many features and implementation details from GNOME Builder.


A new subsystem, GtkSourceAssistant is used to provide accessory information in a GtkSourceView. Currently this type is private and an implementation detail. However, GtkSourceCompletion and GtkSourceSnippet build upon it to provide some of their features. In the long term, we expect hover providers to also take advantage of this subsystem.

Sysprof Support

GtkSourceView now uses the Sysprof collector API just like GTK 4 does (among many other GNOME projects). This means you can get profiling information about renderings right in the Sysprof visualizer along other data.

Future Work


With GRegex on the chopping block for deprecation, it’s time to start moving to PCRE2 much like VTE did. Doing so will not only make us more deprecation safe, but ensure that we can actually use the JIT feature of the regex engine. With how much regexes are used by the highligting engine, this should be a fairly sizable improvement.

This has now been implemented.

Hover Providers

In GNOME Builder, we added an abstraction for “Hover Providers”. This is also a thing in the Language Server Protocol realm. Nothing exists upstream in GtkSourceView for this and that should probably change. Otherwise all the trickyness in making transient popovers work is put on application authors.

Style Schemes

I would like to remove or revamp some of our default style schemes. They do not handle the world of dyanmic GTK themes so well and become a constant source of bug reports by applications that want a “one size fits all” style scheme. I’m not sure yet on the complete right answer long term here, but my expectation is that we’d want to move toward a default style scheme that is mostly font changes rather than color changes which eventually fall apart on the more … interesting themes.

Anyway, that’s all for now!

GtkSourceView Snippets

I’m trying to blog about every week now this year, so here we go again.

The past week I’ve been pushing hard on finishing up the snippets work for the GTK 4 port. It’s always quite a bit more work to push something upstream because you have to be so much more complete while being generic at the same time.

I think at this point though I can move on to other features and projects as the branch seems to be in good shape. I’ve fixed a number of bugs in the GTK 4 port along the way and made tests, documentation, robustness fixes, style-scheme integration, a completion provider, file-format and parser, and support for layering snippet files the same way style-schemes and language-specs work.

As part of the GTK 4 work I’ve spent a great deal time modernizing the code-base. Now that we can depend on the same things that GTK 4 will depend on, we can use some more modern compiler features. Additionally, GObject has matured so much since most of the library was written and we can use that to our advantage.

Sysprof Developments

This week I spent a little time fixing up a number of integration points with Sysprof and our tooling.

The libsysprof-capture-3.a static library is now licensed under the BSD 2-clause plus patent to make things easier to consume from all sorts of libraries and applications.

We have a MR for GJS to switch to libsysprof-capture-3.a and improve plumbing so Sysprof can connect automatically.

We also have a number of patches for GLib and GTK that improve the chances we can get useful stack-traces when unwinding from the Linux kernel (which perf_event_open does).

A MR for GNOME Shell automatically connects the GJS profiler which is required as libgjs is being used as a library here. The previous GJS patches only wire things up when the gjs binary is used.

With that stuff in place, you can get quite a bit of data correlated now.

# Logout, Switch to VT2
sysprof-cli -c "gnome-shell --wayland --display-server" --gjs --gnome-shell my-capture.syscap

If you don’t want mixed SpiderMonkey and perf stack-traces, you can use --no-perf. You can’t really rely on sample rates between two systems at the same time anyway.

With that in place, you can start correlating more frame data.

Flatpaking Terminals

One thing Builder has done for a long time is make terminals work seamlessly even if distributed using container technologies. Because pseudo-terminals are steeped in esoteric UNIX history, it can be non-obvious how to make this work.

I’m in a place to help you not have to deal with that pain because I’ve already gone through it. So I created some utility code and a demo application that can be packaged with Flatpak. If it detects it’s running under Flatpak it will use a few techniques to get a user-preferred shell executed on the host with a PTY controlled by application.

Check out the code.

Edit: The flatterm repository has been updated to use the brand new VTE_PTY_NO_CTTY flag that was added in response to this blog post. Users of Vte from git (what will be 0.58) get to enjoy writing even less code.

GtkSourceView moved to Meson

The master branch of GtkSourceView (what will become 4.4) has moved to meson for development. I branched gtksourceview-4-2 for patch releases of 4.2.x which will remain autotools. Today’s release of gtksourceview-4.3.1 contains both autotools and meson. However 4.3.2 will remove autotools entirely.

I also landed some code to speed up line number drawing which was a non-trivial amount of the render cost while kinetic scrolling.

A Better Builder – Part I

As I mentioned in my overview of the upcoming Builder release, a lot of this development cycle focused on improving machinery the user does not see. In the past four years of development, a number of patterns emerged. When I started this project, I had some ideas of how to keep things organized, but Builder quickly grew beyond my ability to keep the whole design in my head at once.

Thankfully, I’ve worked on many large software teams during my tenure at companies like VMware and MongoDB. These company’s products have something in common, in that they’re a number of sub-systems performing specialized tasks that coordinate with each other. Not surprising, I know. But sometimes, knowing where to draw the lines between sub-systems is what differentiates products. (Interestingly, if you want to build a database engine, you better have a good reason to deviate from page 144 of Architecture of a Database System).

Now days, Builder segments the code into a series of static libraries. We have a core library that provides the basic functionality used by all sub-systems. We have a process and threading library. One library deals with representing and manipulating source code. Yet another focuses on building, executing, testing, and packaging software. To enable Language Servers, we have one too. Even the gui and editor are somewhat compartmentalized.

In the end, we link all of these static libraries into the final executable, which is then processed to generate GObject Introspection data; the *.gir and *.typelib. That means that our plugins, written in C, C++, Python, or Vala, do not need to rely on linking against any shared libraries. All symbols come from the executable with -export-dynamic. (One side-effect of this, is that we no longer allow linking our Vala based plugin into the executable, since it relies on *.gir generation).

To keep startup fast, all of our bundled C-based plugins are compiled into the final executable. That reduces the number of link loader work, file-system directory scanning and iops, and allows for more aggressive compiler optimizations. We also avoid loading some plugins in the early initialization phase, instead deferring that work until later.

The biggest change in the refactoring is IdeObject. This object has become somewhat like a multi-threaded version of what GtkObject used to be. It allows us to build a top-down object tree. The root of the tree is a specialized form, IdeContext. Each sub-system mounts itself on this tree. Plugins may have or work with objects that are descendants of the sub-systems. In the end, it makes things much easier for me to debug at runtime because I can get a clearer picture of how things interact and what plugins are active. One interesting feature of IdeObject is that we guarantee they are only ever finalized in the main thread.

The sub-system that I think resulted in the most cleanup was libide-foundry.a. This contains the build manager, pipelines, and extension points for plugins to provide the the abstraction glue. It also contains runtime abstractions, execution management, testing infrastructure, device management (phone, tablet, simulator), and toolchains. Currently, the debugger engine is a separate library, but I may fold it into this library for completeness.

When cleaning up libide-code.a, I simplified the buffer management. This code was a bit temperamental because I put a few too many features into the base class. I think that happened simply because I couldn’t yet foresee many of the ways it would be extended. Seeing how the code evolved over time allowed me to create better abstractions and extract those features.

What kicked off this whole process was an hour hack to add multi-monitor support. That somehow turned into a 2 month project that involved me ripping everything apart and putting it back together because of our initial design. I’m happy to say that I think things turned out quite well and we are poised to keep moving fast for the next few development cycles to come.

We’re getting many more requests to support external plugins in Builder. I’ve always taken the Linux kernel approach here in that I very much want to encourage upstream contributions over external plugins. However, I am starting to loosen up just a bit and we’ve added the X-Builder-ABI=3.31 key to plugin definitions. This allows us to continue to evolve our APIs but promise to not break them in micro releases. My expectation, however, is that this major refactoring will set us down the path towards some amount of ABI stability.

In my next post I’d like to cover how the UI components are abstracted and give you an idea of which plugin interfaces to use and when. In the mean time, I have plenty of documentation to write.

Builder 3.32 Sightings

We just landed the largest refactor to Builder since it’s inception. Somewhere around 100,000 lines of code where touched which is substantial for a single development cycle. I wrote a few tools to help us do that work, because that’s really the only way to do such a large refactor.

Not only does the refactor make things easier for us to maintain but it will make things easier for contributors to write new plugins. In a future blog post I’ll cover some of the new design that makes it possible.

Let’s take a look at some of the changes in Builder for 3.32 as users will see them.

First we have the greeter. It looks similar as before, although with a design refresh. But from a code standpoint, it no longer shares it’s windowing with the project workspace. Taking this approach allowed us to simplify Builder’s code and allows for a new feature you’ll see later.

Builder now gives some feedback about what files were removed when cleaning up old projects.

Builder gained support for more command-line options which can prove useful in simplifying your applications setup procedure. For example, you can run gnome-builder --clone to be taken directly to the clone dialog for a given URL.

The clone activity provides various messaging in case you need to debug some issues during the transfer. I may hide this behind a revealer by default, I haven’t decided yet.

Creating a new project allows specifying an application-id, which is good form for desktop applications.

We also moved the “Continue” button out of the header bar and placed it alongside content since a number of users had difficulty there.

The “omni-bar” (center of header bar) has gained support for moving through notifications when multiple are present. It can also display buttons and operational progress for rich notifications.

Completion hasn’t changed much since last cycle. Still there, still works.

Notifications that support progress can also be viewed from our progress popover similar to Nautilus and Epiphany. Getting that circle-pause-button aligned correctly was far more troublesome than you’d imagine.

The command-bar has been extracted from the bottom of the screen into a more prominent position. I do expect some iteration on design over the next cycle. I’ve also considered merging it into the global search, but I’m still undecided.

Also on display is the new project-less mode. If you open Builder for a specific file via Nautilus or gnome-builder foo.c you’ll get this mode. It doesn’t have access to the foundry, however. (The foundry contains build management and other project-based features).

The refactoring not only allowed for project-less mode but also basic multi-monitor support. You can now open a new workspace window and place it on another monitor. This can be helpful for headers, documentation, or other references.

The project tree has support for unit tests and build targets in addition to files.

Build Preferences has been rebuilt to allow plugins to extend the view. That means we’ll be able to add features like toggle buttons for meson_options.txt or toggling various clang/gcc sanitizers from the Meson plugin.

The debugger has gone through a number of improvements for resilience with modern gdb.

When Builder is full-screen, the header bar slides in more reliably now thanks to a fix I merged in gtk-3-24.

As previewed earlier in the cycle, we have rudimentary glade integration.

Also displayed here, you can select a Build Target from the project tree and run it using a registered IdeRunHandler.

Files with diagnostics registered can have that information displayed in the project tree.

The document preferences have been simplified and extracted from the side panel.

The terminal now can highlight filename:line:column patterns and allow you to ctrl+click to open just like URLs.

In a future post, we’ll cover some of what went into the refactoring. I’d like to discuss how the source tree is organized into a series of static libraries and how internal plugins are used to bridge subsystems to avoid layering violations. We also have a number of simplified interfaces for plugin authors and are beginning to have a story around ABI promises to allow for external plugins.

If you just can’t wait, you can play around with it now (and report bugs).

flatpak install

Until next time, Happy Hacking!

Glade Support for Builder

One of the things we’ve wanted in Builder for a while is a designer. We’ve had various prototypes in the past to see how things would have worked out, and mostly just punted on the idea because it seemed like Glade served users better than we would be able to directly.

Last week, Juan Pablo, Matthias Clasen and I met up in San Francisco to see what we could do in the short term. We discussed a couple of options that we have going forward.

  • Integrate glade 3 into Builder using libgladeui.
  • Integrate glade 3 using the external Glade application and use D-Bus to inter-operate.

Like all projects, we have some constraints.

  • Gtk 4 is in progress, and our hope is that most new application development moves towards that because the benefits are outstanding. That means the value of a Gtk 3 designer is depreciating.
  • Gtk 4 changes many fundamental designs behind the scenes. While much effort has been done to reduce the friction in porting applications, porting an UI designer is no trivial task as they necessarily reach into library internals. It is likely Gtk 4 will require creating a new designer from the ground up. Doing this as part of Gtk itself is probably worthwhile.
  • We want the designer to know about all of your .ui files so that it is easier to see widgets created using composition.
  • Allow generating signal callbacks into your existing code-base in a variety of languages.

With that in mind, I want to get the maximal benefit with the least amount of time to ship. I made a new plugin for Builder last week that gets us moving in that direction. It still needs more work to integrate with signal editing, templates, and other more advanced Glade features.

Hopefully that happens soon because I know we’ve all been waiting for it. Get it now with the Builder Nightly flatpak.

flatpak install --from

Screenshot of Builder with Glade Integration