Graphics hardware might need to be shared by the compositor and applications.

Compositor is in charge of display controller as a final arbiter of what goes to screen (except leasing, see below), but applications need access to rendering functionality. Several compositors need to share hardware too.

Giving application access to the rendering

Application (actually, usually Mesa on behalf of application) opens rendering device node, uses it for rendering. Easy1.

Sharing a display controller between compositors

There is a concept of “DRM master”: an application that owns the display controller functionality in DRM. First process that opens DRM card device becomes master automatically.

Whenever a compositor needs to yield access to display controller to another compositor, it issues DRM_IOCTL_DROP_MASTER. Whenever it needs to become a master again, it issues DRM_IOCTL_SET_MASTER.

This dance is typically performed in VT switch sequence.

Handing over the display controller to the application

Sometimes an application needs full control over a display controller. Typically it happens when a display controller is a part of specialized device, such as VR hardware. In this case compositor may lease a DRM device to an application.

Compositor calls DRM_IOCTL_MODE_CREATE_LEASE with a set of DRM objects it wants to lease, gets back a new DRM file descriptor and passes it to the application.

Compositor may list the active leases with DRM_IOCTL_LIST_LESSEES, leased objects using DRM_IOCTL_GET_LEASE and yank control back at any time using DRM_IOCTL_REVOKE_LEASE.

Application can use new file descriptor as if it is a real DRM master.



  1. This used to be much more complicated. Before rendering devices were introduced, applications opened card devices, used DRM_IOCTL_GET_MAGIC to obtain a magic cookie, passed it to the compositor that used DRM_IOCTL_AUTH_MAGIC to allow applications to render. ↩︎