DRM leasing: VR for Wayland August 9, 2019 on Drew DeVault's blog

As those who read my status updates have been aware, recently I’ve been working on bringing VR to Wayland (and vice versa). The deepest and most technical part of this work is DRM leasing (Direct Rendering Manager, not Digital Restrictions Management), and I think it’d be good to write in detail about what’s involved in this part of the effort. This work has been sponsored by Status.im, as part of an effort to build a comprehensive Wayland-driven VR workspace. When we got started, most of the plumbing was missing for VR headsets to be useful on Wayland, so this has been my focus for a while. The result of this work is summed up in this crappy handheld video:

Keith Packard, a long time Linux graphics developer, wrote several blog posts documenting his work implementing this feature for X11. My journey was somewhat similar, though thanks to his work I was able to save a lot of time. The rub of this idea is that the Wayland compositor, the DRM (Direct Rendering Manager) master, can “lease” some of its resources to a client so they can drive your display directly. DRM is the kernel subsystem we use for enumerating and setting modes, allocating pixel buffers, and presenting them in sync with the display’s refresh rate. For a number of reasons, minimizing latency being an important one, VR applications prefer to do these tasks directly rather than be routed through the display server like most applications are. The main tasks for implementing this for Wayland were:

  1. Draft a protocol extension for issuing DRM leases
  2. Write implementations for wlroots and sway
  3. Get a simple test client working
  4. Draft a Vulkan extension for leasing via Wayland
  5. Write an implementation for Mesa’s Vulkan WSI implementation
  6. Get a more complex Vulkan test client working
  7. Add support to Xwayland

Let’s break down exactly what was necessary for each of these steps.

Wayland protocol extension

Writing a protocol extension was the first order of business. There was an earlier attempt which petered off in January. I started with this, by cleaning it up based on my prior experience writing protocols, normalizing much of the terminology and style, and cleaning up the state management. After some initial rounds of review, there were some questions to answer. The most important ones were:

The EDID I ended up sending in a side channel (file descriptor to shared memory), and the latter was proven to be a non-issue by writing a malicious client and demonstrating that the kernel rejects its attempts to do evil.

<event name="edid">
  <description summary="edid">
    The compositor may send this event once the connector is created to
    provide a file descriptor which may be memory-mapped to read the
    connector's EDID, to assist in selecting the correct connectors
    for lease. The fd must be mapped with MAP_PRIVATE by the recipient.

    Note that not all displays have an EDID, and this event will not be
    sent in such cases.
  <arg name="edid" type="fd" summary="EDID file descriptor" />
  <arg name="size" type="uint" summary="EDID size, in bytes"/>

A few more changes would happen to this protocol in the following weeks, but this was good enough to move on to…

wlroots & sway implementation

After a chat with Scott Anderson (the maintainer of DRM support in wlroots) and thanks to his timely refactoring efforts, the stage was well set for introducing this feature to wlroots. I had a good idea of how it would take shape. Half of the work - the state machine which maintains the server-side view of the protocol - is well trodden ground and was fairly easy to put together. Despite being a well-understood problem in the wlroots codebase, these state machines are always a bit tedious to implement correctly, and I was still to flushing out bugs well into the remainder of this workstream.

The other half of this work was in the DRM subsystem. We decided that we’d have leased connectors appear “destroyed” to the compositor, and thus the compositor would have an opportunity to clean it up and stop using them, similar to the behavior of when an output is hotplugged. Further changes were necessary to have the DRM internals elegantly carry around some state for the leased connector and avoid using the connector itself, as well as dealing with the termination of the lease (either by the client or by the compositor). With all of this in place, it’s a simple matter to enumerate the DRM object IDs for all of the resources we intend to lease and issue the lease itself.

int nobjects = 0;
for (int i = 0; i < nconns; ++i) {
	struct wlr_drm_connector *conn = conns[i];
	assert(conn->state != WLR_DRM_CONN_LEASED);
	nobjects += 0
		+ 1 /* connector */
		+ 1 /* crtc */
		+ 1 /* primary plane */
		+ (conn->crtc->cursor != NULL ? 1 : 0) /* cursor plane */
		+ conn->crtc->num_overlays; /* overlay planes */
if (nobjects <= 0) {
	wlr_log(WLR_ERROR, "Attempted DRM lease with <= 0 objects");
	return -1;
wlr_log(WLR_DEBUG, "Issuing DRM lease with the %d objects:", nobjects);
uint32_t objects[nobjects + 1];
for (int i = 0, j = 0; i < nconns; ++i) {
	struct wlr_drm_connector *conn = conns[i];
	objects[j++] = conn->id;
	objects[j++] = conn->crtc->id;
	objects[j++] = conn->crtc->primary->id;
	wlr_log(WLR_DEBUG, "connector: %d crtc: %d primary plane: %d",
			conn->id, conn->crtc->id, conn->crtc->primary->id);
	if (conn->crtc->cursor) {
		wlr_log(WLR_DEBUG, "cursor plane: %d", conn->crtc->cursor->id);
		objects[j++] = conn->crtc->cursor->id;
	if (conn->crtc->num_overlays > 0) {
		wlr_log(WLR_DEBUG, "+%zd overlay planes:", conn->crtc->num_overlays);
	for (size_t k = 0; k < conn->crtc->num_overlays; ++k) {
		objects[j++] = conn->crtc->overlays[k];
		wlr_log(WLR_DEBUG, "\toverlay plane: %d", conn->crtc->overlays[k]);
int lease_fd = drmModeCreateLease(backend->fd,
		objects, nobjects, 0, lessee_id);
if (lease_fd < 0) {
	return lease_fd;
wlr_log(WLR_DEBUG, "Issued DRM lease %d", *lessee_id);
for (int i = 0; i < nconns; ++i) {
	struct wlr_drm_connector *conn = conns[i];
	conn->lessee_id = *lessee_id;
	conn->crtc->lessee_id = *lessee_id;
	conn->state = WLR_DRM_CONN_LEASED;
	conn->lease_terminated_cb = lease_terminated_cb;
	conn->lease_terminated_data = lease_terminated_data;
return lease_fd;

The sway implementation is very simple. I added a note in wlroots which exposes whether or not an output is considered “non-desktop” (a property which is set for most VR headsets), then sway just rigs up the lease manager and offers all non-desktop outputs for lease.


Testing all of this required the use of a simple test client. During his earlier work, Keith wrote some patches on top of kmscube, a simple Mesa demo which renders a spinning cube directly via DRM/KMS/GBM. A few simple tweaks was suitable to get this working through my protocol extension, and for the first time I saw something rendered on my headset through sway!


Vulkan has a subsystem called WSI - Window System Integration - which handles the linkage between Vulkan’s rendering process and the underlying window system, such as Wayland, X11, or win32. Keith added an extension to this system called VK_EXT_acquire_xlib_display, which lives on top of VK_EXT_direct_mode_display, a system for driving displays directly with Vulkan. As the name implies, this system is especially X11-specific, so I’ve drafted my own VK extension for Wayland: VK_EXT_acquire_wl_display. This is the crux of it:

<command successcodes="VK_SUCCESS" errorcodes="VK_ERROR_INITIALIZATION_FAILED">
  <proto><type>VkResult</type> <name>vkAcquireWaylandDisplayEXT</name></proto>
  <param><type>VkPhysicalDevice</type> <name>physicalDevice</name></param>
  <param>struct <type>wl_display</type>* <name>display</name></param>
  <param>struct <type>zwp_drm_lease_manager_v1</type>* <name>manager</name></param>
  <param><type>int</type> <name>nConnectors</name></param>
  <param><type>VkWaylandLeaseConnectorEXT</type>* <name>pConnectors</name></param>

I chose to leave it up to the user to enumerate the leasable connectors from the Wayland protocol, then populate these structs with references to the connectors they want to lease:

<type category="struct" name="VkWaylandLeaseConnectorEXT">
  <member>struct <type>zwp_drm_lease_connector_v1</type>* <name>pConnectorIn</name></member>
  <member><type>VkDisplayKHR</type> <name>displayOut</name></member>

Again, this was the result of some iteration and design discussions with other folks knowledgable in these topics. I owe special thanks to Daniel Stone for sitting down with me (figuratively, on IRC) and going over ideas for how to design the Vulkan API. Armed with this specification, I now needed a Vulkan driver which supported it.

Implementing the VK extension in Mesa

Mesa is the premier free software graphics suite powering graphics on Linux and other operating systems. It includes an implementation of OpenGL and Vulkan for several GPU vendors, and is the home of the userspace end of AMDGPU, Intel, nouveau, and other graphics drivers. A specification is nothing without its implementation, so I set out to implementing this extension for Mesa. In the end, it turned out to be much simpler than the corresponding X version. This is the complete code for the WSI part of this feature:

static void drm_lease_handle_lease_fd(
      void *data,
      struct zwp_drm_lease_v1 *zwp_drm_lease_v1,
      int32_t leased_fd)
   struct wsi_display *wsi = data;
   wsi->fd = leased_fd;

static void drm_lease_handle_finished(
      void *data,
      struct zwp_drm_lease_v1 *zwp_drm_lease_v1)
   struct wsi_display *wsi = data;
   if (wsi->fd > 0) {
      wsi->fd = -1;

static const struct zwp_drm_lease_v1_listener drm_lease_listener = {

/* VK_EXT_acquire_wl_display */
wsi_acquire_wl_display(VkPhysicalDevice physical_device,
                       struct wsi_device *wsi_device,
                       struct wl_display *display,
                       struct zwp_drm_lease_manager_v1 *manager,
                       int nConnectors,
                       VkWaylandLeaseConnectorEXT *connectors)
   struct wsi_display *wsi =
      (struct wsi_display *) wsi_device->wsi[VK_ICD_WSI_PLATFORM_DISPLAY];

   /* XXX no support for mulitple leases yet */
   if (wsi->fd >= 0)

   /* XXX no support for mulitple connectors yet */
   /* The solution will eventually involve adding a listener to each
    * connector, round tripping, and matching EDIDs once the lease is
    * granted. */
   if (nConnectors > 1)

   struct zwp_drm_lease_request_v1 *lease_request =
   for (int i = 0; i < nConnectors; ++i) {

   struct zwp_drm_lease_v1 *drm_lease =
   zwp_drm_lease_v1_add_listener(drm_lease, &drm_lease_listener, wsi);

   if (wsi->fd < 0)

   int nconn = 0;
   drmModeResPtr res = drmModeGetResources(wsi->fd);
   drmModeObjectListPtr lease = drmModeGetLease(wsi->fd);
   for (uint32_t i = 0; i < res->count_connectors; ++i) {
      for (uint32_t j = 0; j < lease->count; ++j) {
         if (res->connectors[i] != lease->objects[j]) {
         struct wsi_display_connector *connector =
            wsi_display_get_connector(wsi_device, res->connectors[i]);
         /* TODO: Match EDID with requested connector */
         connectors[nconn].displayOut =

   return VK_SUCCESS;

Rigging it up to each driver’s WSI shim is pretty straightforward from this point. I only did it for radv - AMD’s Vulkan driver (cause that’s the hardware I was using at the time) - but the rest should be trivial to add. Equipped with a driver in hand, it’s time to make a Real VR Application work on Wayland.


xrgears is another simple demo application like kmscube - but designed to render a VR scene. It leverages Vulkan and OpenHMD (Open Head Mounted Display) to display this scene and stick the camera to your head. With the Vulkan extension implemented, it was a fairly simple matter to rig up a Wayland backend. The result:


The final step was to integrate this extension with Xwayland, so that X applications which took advantage of Keith’s work would work via Xwayland. This ended up being more difficult than I expected for one reason in particular: modes. Keith’s Vulkan extension is designed in two steps:

  1. Convert an RandR output into a VkDisplayKHR
  2. Acquire a lease for a set of VkDisplayKHRs

Between these steps, you can query the modes (available resolutions and refresh rates) of the display. However, the Wayland protocol I designed does not let you query modes until after you get the DRM handle, at which point you should query them through DRM, thus reducing the number of sources of truth and simplifying things considerably. This is arguably a design misstep in the original Vulkan extension, but it’s shipped in a lot of software and is beyond fixing. So how do we deal with it?

One way (which was suggested at one point) would be to change the protocol to include the relevant mode information, so that Xwayland could populate the RandR modes from it. I found this distasteful, because it was making the protocol more complex for the sake of a legacy system. Another option would be to make a second protocol which includes this extra information especially for Xwayland, but this also seemed like a compromise that compositors would rather not make. Yet another option would be to have Xwayland request a lease with zero objects and scan connectors itself, but zero-object leases are not possible.

The option I ended up going with is to have Xwayland open the DRM device itself and scan connectors there. This is less palatable because (1) we can’t be sure which DRM device is correct, and (2) we can’t be sure Xwayland will have permission to read it. We’re still not sure how best to solve this in the long term. As it stands, this approach is sufficient to get it working in the common case. The code looks something like this:

static RRModePtr *
xwl_get_rrmodes_from_connector_id(int32_t connector_id, int *nmode, int *npref)
    drmDevicePtr devices[1];
    drmModeConnectorPtr conn;
    drmModeModeInfoPtr kmode;
    RRModePtr *rrmodes;
    int drm;
    int pref, i;

    *nmode = *npref = 0;

    /* TODO: replace with zero-object lease once kernel supports them */
    if (drmGetDevices2(DRM_NODE_PRIMARY, devices, 1) < 1
            || !*devices[0]->nodes[0]) {
        ErrorF("Failed to enumerate DRM devices");
        return NULL;
    drm = open(devices[0]->nodes[0], O_RDONLY);
    drmFreeDevices(devices, 1);

    conn = drmModeGetConnector(drm, connector_id);
    if (!conn) {
        ErrorF("drmModeGetConnector failed");
        return NULL;
    rrmodes = xallocarray(conn->count_modes, sizeof(RRModePtr));
    if (!rrmodes) {
        ErrorF("Failed to allocate connector modes");
        return NULL;

    /* This spaghetti brought to you courtesey of xf86RandrR12.c
     * It adds preferred modes first, then non-preferred modes */
    for (pref = 1; pref >= 0; pref--) {
        for (i = 0; i < conn->count_modes; ++i) {
            kmode = &conn->modes[i];
            if ((pref != 0) == ((kmode->type & DRM_MODE_TYPE_PREFERRED) != 0)) {
                xRRModeInfo modeInfo;
                RRModePtr rrmode;

                modeInfo.nameLength = strlen(kmode->name);

                modeInfo.width = kmode->hdisplay;
                modeInfo.dotClock = kmode->clock * 1000;
                modeInfo.hSyncStart = kmode->hsync_start;
                modeInfo.hSyncEnd = kmode->hsync_end;
                modeInfo.hTotal = kmode->htotal;
                modeInfo.hSkew = kmode->hskew;

                modeInfo.height = kmode->vdisplay;
                modeInfo.vSyncStart = kmode->vsync_start;
                modeInfo.vSyncEnd = kmode->vsync_end;
                modeInfo.vTotal = kmode->vtotal;
                modeInfo.modeFlags = kmode->flags;

                rrmode = RRModeGet(&modeInfo, kmode->name);
                if (rrmode) {
                    rrmodes[*nmode] = rrmode;
                    *nmode = *nmode + 1;
                    *npref = *npref + pref;

    return rrmodes;

A simple update to the Wayland protocol was necessary to add the CONNECTOR_ID atom to the RandR output, which is used by Mesa’s Xlib WSI code for acquiring the display, and was reused here to line up a connector offered by the Wayland compositor with a connector found in the kernel. The rest of the changes were pretty simple, and the result is that SteamVR works, capping everything off nicely:

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