Friday, December 5, 2014

pointer acceleration in libinput - building a DPI database for mice

click here to jump to the instructions

Mice have an optical sensor that tells them how far they moved in "mickeys". Depending on the sensor, a mickey is anywhere between 1/100 to 1/8200 of an inch or less. The current "standard" resolution is 1000 DPI, but older mice will have 800 DPI, 400 DPI etc. Resolutions above 1200 DPI are generally reserved for gaming mice with (usually) switchable resolution and it's an arms race between manufacturers in who can advertise higher numbers.

HW manufacturers are cheap bastards so of course the mice don't advertise the sensor resolution. Which means that for the purpose of pointer acceleration there is no physical reference. That delta of 10 could be a millimeter of mouse movement or a nanometer, you just can't know. And if pointer acceleration works on input without reference, it becomes useless and unpredictable. That is partially intended, HW manufacturers advertise that a lower resolution will provide more precision while sniping and a higher resolution means faster turns while running around doing rocket jumps. I personally don't think that there's much difference between 5000 and 8000 DPI anymore, the mouse is so sensitive that if you sneeze your pointer ends up next to Philae. But then again, who am I to argue with marketing types.

For us, useless and unpredictable is bad, especially in the use-case of everyday desktops. To work around that, libinput 0.7 now incorporates the physical resolution into pointer acceleration. And to do that we need a database, which will be provided by udev as of systemd 218 (unreleased at the time of writing). This database incorporates the various devices and their physical resolution, together with their sampling rate. udev sets the resolution as the MOUSE_DPI property that we can read in libinput and use as reference point in the pointer accel code. In the simplest case, the entry lists a single resolution with a single frequency (e.g. "MOUSE_DPI=1000@125"), for switchable gaming mice it lists a list of resolutions with frequencies and marks the default with an asterisk ("MOUSE_DPI=400@50 800@50 *1000@125 1200@125"). And you can and should help us populate the database so it gets useful really quickly.

How to add your device to the database

We use udev's hwdb for the database list. The upstream file is in /usr/lib/udev/hwdb.d/70-mouse.hwdb, the ruleset to trigger a match is in /usr/lib/udev/rules.d/70-mouse.rules. The easiest way to add a match is with the libevdev mouse-dpi-tool (version 1.3.2). Run it and follow the instructions. The output looks like this:

$ sudo ./tools/mouse-dpi-tool  /dev/input/event8
Mouse Lenovo Optical USB Mouse on /dev/input/event8
Move the device along the x-axis.
Pause 3 seconds before movement to reset, Ctrl+C to exit.
Covered distance in device units:      264 at frequency 125.0Hz |       |^C
Estimated sampling frequency: 125Hz
To calculate resolution, measure physical distance covered
and look up the matching resolution in the table below
      16mm     0.66in      400dpi
      11mm     0.44in      600dpi
       8mm     0.33in      800dpi
       6mm     0.26in     1000dpi
       5mm     0.22in     1200dpi
       4mm     0.19in     1400dpi
       4mm     0.17in     1600dpi
       3mm     0.15in     1800dpi
       3mm     0.13in     2000dpi
       3mm     0.12in     2200dpi
       2mm     0.11in     2400dpi

Entry for hwdb match (replace XXX with the resolution in DPI):
mouse:usb:v17efp6019:name:Lenovo Optical USB Mouse:
Take those last two lines, add them to a local new file /etc/udev/hwdb.d/71-mouse.hwdb. Rebuild the hwdb, trigger it, and done:
$ sudo udevadm hwdb --update
$ sudo udevadm trigger /dev/input/event8
Leave out the device path if you're not on systemd 218 yet. Check if the property is set:
$ udevadm info /dev/input/event8 | grep MOUSE_DPI
E: MOUSE_DPI=1000@125
And that shows everything worked. Restart X/Wayland/whatever uses libinput and you're good to go. If it works, double-check the upstream instructions, then file a bug against systemd with those two lines and assign it to me.

Trackballs are a bit hard to measure like this, my suggestion is to check the manufacturer's website first for any resolution data.

Update 2014/12/06: trackball comment added, udevadm trigger comment for pre 218
Update 2015/08/26: udpated link to systemd bugzilla (now on github)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why the 255 keycode limit in X is a real problem

A long-standing and unfixable problem in X is that we cannot send a number of keys to clients because their keycode is too high. This doesn't affect any of the normal keys for typing, but a lot of multimedia keys, especially "newly" introduced ones.

X has a maximum keycode 255, and "Keycodes lie in the inclusive range [8,255]". The reason for the offset 8 keeps escaping me but it doesn't matter anyway. Effectively, it means that we are limited to 247 keys per keyboard. Now, you may think that this would be enough and thus the limit shouldn't really affect us. And you're right. This post explains why it is a problem nonetheless.

Let's discard any ideas about actually increasing the limit from 8 bit to 32 bit. It's hardwired into too many open-coded structs that this is simply not an option. You'd be breaking every X client out there, so at this point you might as well rewrite the display server and aim for replacing X altogether. Oh wait...

So why aren't 247 keycodes enough? The reason is that large chunks of that range are unused and wasted.

In X, the keymap is an array in the form keysyms[keycode] = some keysym (that's a rather simplified view, look at the output from "xkbcomp -xkb $DISPLAY -" for details). The actual value of the keycode doesn't matter in theory, it's just an index. Of course, that theory only applies when you're looking at one keyboard at a time. We need to ship keymaps that are useful everywhere (see xkeyboard-config) and for that we need some sort of standard. In the olden days this meant every vendor had their own keycodes (see /usr/share/X11/xkb/keycodes) but these days Linux normalizes it to evdev keycodes. So we know that KEY_VOLUMEUP is always 115 and we can hook it up thus to just work out of the box. That however leaves us with huge ranges of unused keycodes because every device is different. My keyboard does not have a CD eject key, but it has volume control keys. I have a key to start a web browser but I don't have a key to start a calculator. Others' keyboards do have those keys though, and they expect those keys to work. So the default keymap needs to map the possible keycodes to the matching keysyms and suddenly our 247 keycodes per keyboard becomes 247 for all keyboards ever made. And that is simply not enough.

To work around this, we'd need locally hardware-adjusted keymaps generated at runtime. After loading the driver we can look at the keys that exist, remap higher keycodes into an unused range and then communicate that to move the keysyms into the newly mapped keycodes. This is...complicated. evdev doesn't know about keymaps. When gnome-settings-daemon applied your user-specific layout, evdev didn't get told about this. GNOME on the other hand has no idea that evdev previously re-mapped higher keycodes. So when g-s-d applies your setting, it may overwrite the remapped keysym with the one from the default keymaps (and evdev won't notice).

As usual, none of this is technically unfixable. You could figure out a protocol extension that drivers can talk to the servers and the clients to notify them of remapped keycodes. This of course needs to be added to evdev, the server, libX11, probably xkbcomp and libxkbcommon and of course to all desktop environments that set they layout. To write the patches you need a deep understanding of XKB which would definitely make your skillset a rare one, probably make you quite employable and possibly put you on the fast track for your nearest mental institution. XKB and happiness don't usually go together, but at least the jackets will keep you warm.

Because of the above, we go with the simple answer: "X can't handle keycodes over 255"