What Is Wayland and What Does It Means for Linux Users

Fedora 25 is now out. People are buzzing, as the team have decided to make Wayland the default graphical session going forward. For many Linux users Wayland is a new term that has popped up, but one that they do not understand.

In this article we’ll briefly go over what Wayland is, what it does, and why developers are flocking to it in droves! What exactly is Wayland? Let’s find out!

As long as Desktop Linux has been a thing, there has been a display server. This technology is known as X11 and is what works with the video card on your Linux machine to make graphics happen. The display server is what allows Desktop environments, programs and even gaming.

wayland-xorg-xsession

Every Linux distribution uses the X11 display server, a set of tools that is about as old as the inception of Linux (maybe even older). Without getting too technical, it is safe to say that the X11 display server has tons of issues, and the general consensus in the Linux community is that we have outgrown this technology, and it is part of what holds Linux back as a platform.

Talks started about a new display server for Linux, a modern one that doesn’t have the glaring security holes that have plagued X11 over the years and doesn’t have its irritating technical problems either. That new display server is Wayland.

Wayland is a display protocol, and a secure one at that. Each and every single application is a “client,” and your video hardware is a “server.” Unlike X11, each program will be able to use the Wayland protocol on its own. This means performance is better, as the display server isn’t working hard to maintain one big mess and instead only lets things draw that need it.

Along with all of that, the Wayland protocol has something called XWayland. This is a tool that makes it possible to bring X11-based programs into the fold. This means as soon as the new display server is ready, popular programs will continue to work as normal.

wayland-wayland-compositor-session

The protocol is also superior when it comes to security. With X11, it’s possible to do something known as “keylogging” by allowing any program to exist in the background and read what’s happening with other windows open in the X11 area. With Wayland this simply won’t happen (though it’s probably not impossible), as each program works independently.

Making it possible for other programs to listen in and steal information is great for security, but it can also throw a wrench in things. Simple things like “copy and paste” have been re-invented because of it!

As of now, those looking to try out Wayland will need to be running the Nvidia open source driver or the Intel open source driver. Proprietary Nvidia/AMD drivers don’t work with Wayland, and it’s unlikely to change until the companies add support (though it’s assumed that this will happen very soon).

wayland-open-source-nvidia-driver

Most Linux distributions have decided to go with Wayland (except for Ubuntu). The quickest, most painless way to try it out at the moment is to download Fedora 25 and install it. No configuration required, and it’s set as the default.

wayland-gnome-wayland-session

However, if you’re on another Linux distro, a good way to try out Wayland is to install Gnome Shell or KDE Plasma 5. Both projects have been working hard on implementing a great Wayland session. These sessions can be found in the login manager.

X11 is slow and a patchwork of bolted-on code that makes it hard to modernize. What’s worse is that there’s only a small group of X11 developers that even understand the technology. It is because of this that X11 has slowly gotten worse as the years have gone on.

This is why the Linux community as a whole have chosen to move towards Wayland. It’s modern, easier to code for, and will help make displaying graphics on Linux systems more modern.

What are your thoughts on Wayland? Tell us below!

Image credit: wayland.org, linux-ink.ru

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