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Display server

display server info on desktop, display server
A display server or window server is a program whose primary task is to coordinate the input and output of its clients to and from the rest of the operating system, the hardware, and each other The display server communicates with its clients over the display server protocol, a communications protocol, which can be network-transparent or simply network-capable

The display server is a key component in any graphical user interface, specifically the windowing system


  • 1 Available display server communications protocols
    • 11 X11
    • 12 Wayland
    • 13 Mir
    • 14 SurfaceFlinger
    • 15 Quartz Compositor
  • 2 References
  • 3 See also

Available display server communications protocolsedit


Main articles:X Window System core protocol and X Window SystemThe XOrg Server communicates with its clients, eg Amarok, over the X11 protocol

One example of a display server is the XOrg Server, which runs on top of the kernel usually a Unix-based kernel, such as Linux or BSD It receives data from evdev and passes it to one of its clients The display server also receives data from its clients; it processes the data, it does the compositing and passes the data to one of three kernel components – DRM, gem or KMS driver The component writes the data into the framebuffer and content of the framebuffer is transmitted to the connected screen and displayed X relies on GLX

One of the implementations of display server concept is X Window System, in particular its actually used version – XOrg Server and Xlib and XCB client libraries The XOrg Server is a display server, but in its current implementation it relies on a second program, the compositing window manager, to do the compositing Examples are Mutter or KWin

Notable examples of display servers implementing the X11 display server protocol are XOrg Server, XFree86, XQuartz and Cygwin/X, while client libraries implementing the X11 display server protocol are Xlib and XCB

One tool called xev is a Unix command which creates a window and then asks the display server to send information of events every time something happens to the window like if it's resized, if any keys are pushed, if it's clicked it etc to the console


Main article:Wayland display server protocolThe Wayland display server protocol

Display servers that implement the Wayland display server protocol, are called Wayland compositors Like any display server, a Wayland compositor is responsible for handling input and output for its clients and – in contrast to X11 – additionally for the compositing Examples are Weston, Mutter, KWin or Enlightenment

Wayland compositors communicate with Wayland clients over the Wayland display server protocol This protocol defines that clients can directly write data into the framebuffer using the EGL rendering API The display server still gets to decide which window is on top and thus visible to the user and also still is responsible for passing data regarding to input devices from evdev to its clients

Wayland is used to a certain degree in some Linux desktop distributions, such as Fedora1 It is also well suited for mobile computing and has been adopted, for example, by the smartphone- and tablet-focused projects Tizen and Sailfish OS

An implementation of Wayland is available under the MIT License, the libwayland-client and libwayland-server libraries


Main article:Mir display server

The Mir display server comes with its own Mir display server protocol different from the protocols X11 or Wayland Mir will additionally support the X11 and maybe the Wayland protocol It is developed by Canonical and is intended to be the display server of choice for Ubuntu

There is an implementation of the Mir display server available under the GPLv3, the libmir-server and the libmir-client libraries


For Android another Linux kernel-based operating system primarily for mobile devices Google developed a display server called SurfaceFlinger:2

Everything in Android is rendered to a "surface"; "surfaces" are produced by applications and placed into a queue that is managed by SurfaceFlinger34

Yet another Android-specific solution is "Gralloc" Gralloc handles device memory ie it does allocation, arbitration, it handles synchronization via Android/Linux fence file descriptors FDs Gralloc competes with other solutions like eg Mesa's Generic Buffer Management GBM or Nvidia's EGLStreams The gralloc hardware abstraction layer HAL is used to allocate the buffers that underly "surfaces"

For compositing in Android, Surfaces are sent to SurfaceFlinger, which uses OpenGL|ES to do the compositing

Hardware Composer HAL HWC was introduced in Android 30 and has evolved steadily over the years Its primary purpose is to determine the most efficient way to composite buffers with the available hardware As a HAL, its implementation is device-specific and usually done by the display hardware OEM

Quartz Compositoredit

Quartz Compositor is the name of the component that is fulfilling the tasks of a display server and of a window manager in the windowing system It is being natively used by the macOS family of operating systems


  1. ^ "Why Wayland Anyway" Goings On Matthias Clasen Retrieved 2016-06-17 
  2. ^ "Android system architecture" PDF Archived from the original PDF on 2016-04-08 
  3. ^ "Android Developer:Surface" 
  4. ^ "Android Developer:SurfaceFlinger and Hardware Composer" 

See alsoedit

  • Information technology portal
  • Windowing system
  • List of display servers
  • Linux on the desktop

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