Tuesday, December 20, 2016

xf86-input-synaptics is not a Synaptics, Inc. driver

This is a common source of confusion: the legacy X.Org driver for touchpads is called xf86-input-synaptics but it is not a driver written by Synaptics, Inc. (the company).

The repository goes back to 2002 and for the first couple of years it Peter Osterlund was the sole contributor. Back then it was called "synaptics" and really was a "synaptics device" driver, i.e. it handled PS/2 protocol requests to initialise Synaptics, Inc. touchpads. Evdev support was added in 2003, punting the initialisation work to the kernel instead. This was the groundwork for a generic touchpad driver. In 2008 the driver was renamed to xf86-input-synaptics and relicensed from GPL to MIT to take it under the X.Org umbrella. I've been involved with it since 2008 and the official maintainer since 2011.

For many years now, the driver has been a generic touchpad driver that handles any device that the Linux kernel can handle. In fact, most bugs attributed to the synaptics driver not finding the touchpad are caused by the kernel not initialising the touchpad correctly. The synaptics driver reads the same evdev events that are also handled by libinput and the xf86-input-evdev driver, any differences in behaviour are driver-specific and not related to the hardware. The driver handles devices from Synaptics, Inc., ALPS, Elantech, Cypress, Apple and even some Wacom touch tablets. We don't care about what touchpad it is as long as the evdev events are sane.

Synaptics, Inc.'s developers are active in kernel development to help get new touchpads up and running. Once the kernel handles them, the xorg drivers and libinput will handle them too. I can't remember any significant contribution by Synaptics, Inc. to the X.org synaptics driver, so they are simply neither to credit nor to blame for the current state of the driver. The top 10 contributors since August 2008 when the first renamed version of xf86-input-synaptics was released are:

     8 Simon Thum
    10 Hans de Goede
    10 Magnus Kessler
    13 Alexandr Shadchin
    15 Christoph Brill
    18 Daniel Stone
    18 Henrik Rydberg
    39 Gaetan Nadon
    50 Chase Douglas
   396 Peter Hutterer
There's a long tail of other contributors but the top ten illustrate that it wasn't Synaptics, Inc. that wrote the driver. Any complaints about Synaptics, Inc. not maintaining/writing/fixing the driver are missing the point, because this driver was never a Synaptics, Inc. driver. That's not a criticism of Synaptics, Inc. btw, that's just how things are. We should have renamed the driver to just xf86-input-touchpad back in 2008 but that ship has sailed now. And synaptics is about to be superseded by libinput anyway, so it's simply not worth the effort now.

The other reason I included the commit count in the above: I'm also the main author of libinput. So "the synaptics developers" and "the libinput developers" are effectively the same person, i.e. me. Keep that in mind when you read random comments on the interwebs, it makes it easier to identify people just talking out of their behind.

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