GUI

Storm includes a GUI library for creating graphical applications. This library uses an additional thread to handle UI events, and another thread to handle repaints. UI elements are based around the Window class. A Window is a rectangle on the screen, maybe obscured by another window. Each window, except for Frames, have a parent window in which they are contained. Frames are special, as they are the top-level windows. These are usually decorated by the operating system with a border so that the user can move and close the window easier.

Repaints are handled by a different thread, named Render. This thread is in charge of re-painting all windows when they need to. Repaints are done either when the operating system requests a repaint, when you call Window.repaint(), or if you want your window to be redrawn at each frame rendered to the display. Actual drawing is handled by a Painter class, which is attached to a window using painter = MyPainter. The draw member of the painter class will then be called whenever the window needs to be redrawn.

DPI awareness (on Windows)

The GUI library is DPI aware on Windows. This means that the contents of windows might be rendered at a different resolution than what was requested by the program according to the user's preferences. This is handled transparently by the GUI library by transforming any coordinates supplied accordingly. This means that programs using the Gui library may assume that coordinates and sizes are always relative to a 96 DPI resolution (the standard size in Windows), and leave the rest to the GUI library. This does, however, have some implications. Programs can not assume that one "coordinate step" represents one pixel, neither when drawing nor when positioning components in a window. Furthermore, as the physical size of fonts do not always scale linearly with the font size, long chunks of text may sometimes appear to take more space, and sometimes less. When using automatic layout, this is generally handled gracefully anyway.

On Linux, Storm relies on the support in Gtk+.

Rendering

Drawing things in the UI library is done using a Painter and the corresponding Graphics object created by the Painter. This system is designed to use hardware acceleration if available, and therefore most things that are possible to draw are represented by objects that cache some resources associated with the rendering state. As such, when drawing in the GUI library, it is a good idea to create resources up front and keep them alive as long as possible to maximize rendering performance (and to minimize the work the GC needs to do).

This system is designed to be pluggable and to support multiple rendering backends at the same time. For example, the package ui.pdf contains an example that renders to a PDF file instead of to the screen. This is accomplished by creating a subclass to the Graphics class and implementing all methods there. This class can then be passed along to the same rendering code that is used for drawing to the screen. If the new backend needs to associate some resources with the classes that represent drawable resources (for example Bitmaps), this is possible by associating the Graphics object with a GraphicsMgr instance. The GraphicsMgr contains a set of functions that are called to create and destroy such resources, and the system will then ensure that they are managed appropriately. These objects are lazily created, and can be retrieved by calling the forGraphics method on a Resource object.

It is worth considering that while a single Resource may be used in different contexts without issue, the system is optimized around the case that a single Resource will only be used with a single backend. This means that a Resource is good at storing a single piece of associated data, but storing multiple pieces incurs a slight overhead. This is normally not a problem, but worth keeping in mind when rendering to many things at the same time.

Rendering backends

The GUI library supports a number of rendering backends for anything that is rendered through a Painter (i.e. not default components, such as buttons). By default, the GUI library attempts to select a good backend for the system in use, but in certain situations the selection might need to be modified. The available backends do depend on the system in use.

Windows

On Windows, the GUI library uses Direct2D for all rendering. There is currently no other backend available. In the current implementation, the backend uses a single rendering context for all rendering, so Resources may be shared freely between different rendering contexts without any extra penalty.

Linux

On Linux, there are a number of different backends available to the GUI library. It attempts to pick a hardware accelerated backend (using OpenGL), but in cases where drivers are missing or buggy, this might not be desirable. Furthermore, the OpenGL-based backends are not always performant when running X11 forwarding from another system.

It is possible to override the backend used by setting the environment variable STORM_RENDER_BACKEND to one of the following values:

When rendering in Linux, there are some things to take into consideration due to how Gtk works. As sub-windows is a construct entirely within Gtk, it typically only creates a single window for each top-level window in the application (with some exceptions). In particular, this means that whenever one part of the window is redrawn (for example, when playing an animation), any overlapping sub-windows also need to be redrawn, which could impact performance. In cases where this is an issue (in the rare case when drawing for example a background to a set of buttons), it is possible to force the GUI library to create "real" windows for all places that are being rendered to by setting the environment variable STORM_RENDER_X_WINDOW. This means that different Painters are not able to share resources at all.

In some cases, the user level threading in Storm triggers some latent bugs in graphics drivers (at least, the user level parts of them). These are typically only visible when using one of the OpenGL backends. If this is an issue, or a suspected issue, it is possible to enable one or more workarounds that make the part of the GUI library that calls OpenGL behave a bit more closely to a "regular" program. This is done automatically by the GUI library where issues are known beforehand, but as not all combinations of hardware and software have been tested there might be situations that the GUI library are unaware of.

The following workarounds are available:

Below is a list of known hardware and software that requires one or more workarounds to function properly. Items in this list are applied automatically.

Hardware Driver Version Workarounds applied
Intel cards IRIS (MESA) < 20.2.5, < 20.3.1 single-stack

In case some other hardware shows issues in Storm, it is possible to use the STORM_RENDER_WORKAROUND environment variable to force using one or more workarounds to be active. The variable is expected to contain a comma-separated list of workaround names if it is present. Note that no workarounds are applied automatically whenever STORM_RENDER_WORKAROUND is present, so if your hardware and software are listed above, and you don't want to enable the workaround, you can set the environment variable to the empty string.

If you find out that you need one or more workarounds for your hardware (or indeed, that the available workarounds do not fix the issue), please contact info@storm-lang.org to let me know.

Layout

The GUI library is integrated with the layout library. The library provides a convenient way of declaring windows with layout in Basic Storm as follows:

window MyWin {
    layout Grid {
        wrapCols: 2;
        expandCol: 0;
        Button a("A") {}
        Button b("B") { rowspan: 2; }
        Button c("C") {}
        nextLine;
        Button d("D") {}
        Button e("E") {}
        Button f("F") { row: 3; col: 2; }
        Button g("G") { row: 4; col: 1; colspan: 2; }
    }

    init() {
        init("My window", Size(200, 200));
        create();
    }
}

When using the window keyword instead of class, it is possible to specify a layout block inside the class. By default these classes inherit from ui.Frame, but this can be overridden using the keyword extends as usual.

The layout language is also extended by the ui library to allow declaring variables inside the layout. These variables will become member variables inside the class itself, and the initialization will be performed inside the constructor. Since the initialization will be performed inside the constructors of the class, it is possible to use any local variables declared before the init block in the constructor inside the initialization, even though this easily gets confusing.

Notes

Below are some things to consider when developing applications with the UI library: