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Removing old OpenGL layers

by on October 28, 2013

This post is only interesting for advanced Firefox users on Linux who manually activated OpenGL compositing.

On more and more platforms we perform compositing in a separate thread from content rendering. This is awesome for smooth panning and zooming, as well as smooth video playback and CSS animations. We refer to this as “off-main-thread compositing” (OMTC).

Currently, we use OMTC on android, Firefox OS, Mac, and very soon on (some flavors of) Windows. On Linux, it can be activated but it is turned off by default as there are some bugs to fix (just like hardware accelerated compositing).

Main-thread compositing and off-main-thread compositing have a different infrastructure and as we move toward using OMTC, the main-thread compositing code becomes more and more obsolete, and today we don’t ship main-thread OpenGL compositing on any platform by default.

Very soon we will remove the main-thread OpenGL compositing code. This will feel great because that’s a few thousand lines of code that we won’t have to support anymore. This will not affect any user running the default configuration. However, for adventurous users that manually opted in OpenGL compositing on Linux, compositing will suddenly fallback to the CPU.

Don’t panic.

OpenGL compositing will not be gone. It will be gone for main-thread compositing only. If you opted in for OpenGL compositing on Linux, then you will still be able to activate OMTC and enjoy OpenGL compositing there.

At the moment the only place where OpenGL layers on linux is really useful is WebGL, because compositing on the CPU forces reading back the output of the WebGL canvas, which is slow. For other use cases, OpenGL compositing trades faster blitting with slower texture uploads (as we are not yet using a good solution for direct texturing on Linux such as texture from pixmap).

So, if you decide that you want GPU compositing on Linux, here is how to activate OMTC on this platform:

In about:config, set the following prefs to “true”

  • layers.offmainthreadcomposition.enabled
  • layers.acceleration.force-enabled
  • layers.async-video.enabled (this is optional)

Also set this pref to “false”

  • layers.use-deprecated-textures

As I write this post, we have not yet removed main-thread OpenGL layers. Power users don’t need to jump on OMTC yet, unless they want to report lots of bugs! I will write another blog post when we actually make the change in nightly (soon-ish) and when the change hits the stable version of Firefox.

Again, this does not affect the vast majority of our users.

Edit: We recently removed the need for an environment variable.

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