3.1 Visual Types

On some display hardware, it may be possible to deal with color resources in more than one way. For example, you may be able to deal with a screen of either 12-bit depth with arbitrary mapping of pixel to color (pseudo-color) or 24-bit depth with 8 bits of the pixel dedicated to each of red, green, and blue. These different ways of dealing with the visual aspects of the screen are called visuals. For each screen of the display, there may be a list of valid visual types supported at different depths of the screen. Because default windows and visual types are defined for each screen, most simple applications need not deal with this complexity. Xlib provides macros and functions that return the default root window, the default depth of the default root window, and the default visual type (see "Display Macros" and "Determining the Appropriate Visual Type").

Xlib uses an opaque Visual structure that contains information about the possible color mapping. The visual utility functions (see "Determining the Appropriate Visual Type") use an XVisualInfo structure to return this information to an application. The members of this structure pertinent to this discussion are class, red_mask, green_mask, blue_mask, bits_per_rgb, and colormap_size. The class member specifies one of the possible visual classes of the screen and can be StaticGray, StaticColor, TrueColor, GrayScale, PseudoColor, or DirectColor.

The following concepts may serve to make the explanation of visual types clearer. The screen can be color or grayscale, can have a colormap that is writable or read-only, and can also have a colormap whose indices are decomposed into separate RGB pieces, provided one is not on a grayscale screen. This leads to the following diagram:

Color Gray-scale
Undecomposed Colormap Static Color Pseudo Color Static Gray Gray Scale
Decomposed Colormap True Color Direct Color

Conceptually, as each pixel is read out of video memory for display on the screen, it goes through a look-up stage by indexing into a colormap. Colormaps can be manipulated arbitrarily on some hardware, in limited ways on other hardware, and not at all on other hardware. The visual types affect the colormap and the RGB values in the following ways:

The red_mask, green_mask, and blue_mask members are only defined for DirectColor and TrueColor. Each has one contiguous set of bits with no intersections. The bits_per_rgb member specifies the log base 2 of the number of distinct color values (individually) of red, green, and blue. Actual RGB values are unsigned 16-bit numbers. The colormap_size member defines the number of available colormap entries in a newly created colormap. For DirectColor and TrueColor, this is the size of an individual pixel subfield.

To obtain the visual ID from a Visual , use XVisualIDFromVisual().

Next: Window Attributes

Christophe Tronche, ch@tronche.com