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USENIX 2004 Annual Technical Conference, FREENIX Track — Abstract

Pp. 51–61 of the Proceedings

How Xlib Is Implemented (and What We're Doing About It)

Jamey Sharp, Portland State University


The X Window System is the de facto standard graphical environment for Linux and Unix hosts, and is usable on nearly any class of computer one could find today. Its success is partially due to its flexible, extensible design.

Unfortunately, as research proceeds on cutting-edge window system functionality, the brittleness of the underlying software is a critical impediment to progress. Xlib, the client-side implementation of the network protocol that underlies X, is one source of these issues. Many developers working on new features in the X protocol are discovering that Xlib requires changes to support these features, but Xlib makes those changes difficult. For more than 15 years, new features have been added to Xlib by accretion, rather than with careful design.

We discuss the implementation of Xlib and analyze some specific difficulties in it that cause problems in understanding and maintaining this code base. We also present our current work on migrating the X Window System to a more maintainable, carefully designed architecture.

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