X Window System


History of X
The X Window System (www.x.org) was created in 1984 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by researchers working on a distributed computing project and a campuswide distributed environment, called Project Athena. This system was not the first windowing software to run on a UNIX system, but it was the first to become widely available and accepted. In 1985, MIT released X (version 9) to the public, for use without a license. Three years later, a group of vendors formed the X Consortium to support the continued development of X, under the leadership of MIT. By 1998, the X Consortium had become part of the Open Group. In 2001, the Open Group released X version 11, release 6.6 (X11R6.6).

The X Window System was inspired by the ideas and features found in earlier proprietary window systems but is written to be portable and flexible. X is designed to run on a workstation, typically attached to a LAN. The designers built X with the network in mind. If you can communicate with a remote computer over a network, running an X application on that computer and sending the results to a local display is straightforward.

Although the X protocol has remained stable for a long time, additions to it in the form of extensions are quite common. One of the most interesting—albeit one that has not yet made its way into production—is the Media Application Server, which aims to provide the same level of network transparency for sound and video that X does for simple windowing applications.

XFree86 and X.org
Many distributions of Linux used the XFree86 X server, which inherited its license from the original MIT X server, through release 4.3. In early 2004, just before the release of XFree86 4.4, the XFree86 license was changed to one that is more restrictive and not compatible with the GPL (page 4). In the wake of this change, a number of distributions abandoned XFree86 and replaced it with an X.org X server that is based on a pre-release version of XFree86 4.4, which predates the change in the XFree86 license. Fedora/RHEL use the X.org X server, named Xorg; it is functionally equivalent to the one distributed by XFree86 because most of the code is the same. Thus modules designed to work with one server work with the other.

The X stack
The Linux GUI is built in layers (Figure 8-1). The bottom layer is the kernel, which provides the basic interfaces to the hardware. On top of the kernel is the X server, which is responsible for managing windows and drawing basic graphical primitives such as lines and bitmaps. Rather than directly generating X commands, most programs use Xlib, the next layer, which is a standard library for interfacing with an X server. Xlib is complicated and does not provide high-level abstractions, such as buttons and text boxes. Rather than using Xlib directly, most programs rely on a toolkit that provides high-level abstractions. Using a library not only makes programming easier, but also brings consistency to applications.

In recent years, the popularity of X has grown outside the UNIX community and extended beyond the workstation class of computers it was originally conceived for. Today X is available for Macintosh computers as well as for PCs running Windows.

Client/server environment
Computer networks are central to the design of X. It is possible to run an application on one computer and display the results on a screen attached to a different computer; the ease with which this can be done distinguishes X from other window systems available today. Thanks to this capability, a scientist can run and manipulate a program on a powerful supercomputer in another building or another country and view the results on a personal workstation or laptop computer.

When you start an X Window System session, you set up a client/server environment.
One process, called the X server, displays a desktop and windows under X. Each application program and utility that makes a request of the X server is a client of that server. Examples of X clients include xterm, Compiz, gnome-calculator, and such general applications as word processing and spreadsheet programs. A typical request from a client is to display an image or open a window.

The server also monitors keyboard and mouse actions (events) and passes them to the appropriate clients. For example, when you click the border of a window, the server sends this event to the window manager (client). Characters you type into a terminal emulation window are sent to that terminal emulator (client). The client takes appropriate action when it receives an event—for example, making a window active or displaying the typed character on the server.

Separating the physical control of the display (the server) from the processes needing access to the display (the client) makes it possible to run the server on one computer and the client on another computer. Most of the time, this book discusses running the X server and client applications on a single system. “Remote Computing and Local Displays” describes using X in a distributed environment.

The roles of X client and server may be counterintuitive
The terms client and server, when referring to X, have the opposite meanings of how you might think of them intuitively: The server runs the mouse, keyboard, and display; the application program is the client. This disparity becomes even more apparent when you run an application program on a remote system. You might think of the system running the program as the server and the system providing the display as the client, but in fact it is the other way around. With X, the system providing the display is the server, and the system running the program is the client.

You can run xev (X event) by giving the command xev from a terminal emulator window and then watch the information flow from the client to the server and back again. This utility opens the Event Tester window, which has a box in it, and asks the X server to send it events each time anything happens, such as moving the mouse pointer, clicking a mouse button, moving the mouse pointer into the box, typing, or resizing the window. The xev utility displays information about each event in the window you opened it from. You can use xev as an educational tool: Start it and see how much information is processed each time you move the mouse. Close the Event Tester window to exit from xev.

Source of Information : Prentice Hall A Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5th Edition


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