Jan Grulich

WebRTC: journey to make wayland screen sharing enabled by default

While we have pretty good support for screen sharing on Wayland in WebRTC, which is included in browsers like Chromium or Firefox, it is still not enabled by default in Chromium and it is kept behind a flag. Not only you have to remember to always enable it for new configurations, but for many users it is not even something they are aware of. This has been my main focus recently and I would like to share with you steps that has been done and what are the plans for the future.

What are the changes to expect in Chromium soon?

DMA-BUF improvements/fixes:

Last year I landed proper DMA-BUF support in WebRTC, which made things way faster. It was working, but it was not perfect and there were some corner cases where it might not be working at all. Here are changes I made recently:

  • Advertise DMA-BUF support when it is really supported. Older versions of PipeWire don’t handle the new way of DMA-BUF negotiation and therefore it shouldn’t be used in such cases. Also using DMA-BUF modifiers requires some recent versions of PipeWire on both sides.
  • Implemented stream renegotiation. In situation when we fail to import a DMA-BUF with given modifier, we will drop this modifier and try to renegotiate stream parameters and go with a different modifier or fallback to shared memory buffers in case we fail completely.
  • Make sure to import DMA-BUF with correct render node. In case of multi-gpu setups, we always picked the first render node to import DMA-BUFs, but it can happen that they were actually produced by a different render node and for that reason we might fail to import them. We now try to get default EGLDisplay, which should be the same one used by the wayland compositor and we should be using same render node.

Better mouse cursor support:

Until now we had mouse cursor as part of the screen content. This means that everytime you moved with your mouse cursor, we had to update whole image and that is very inefficient. The API in WebRTC allows you to implement MouseCursorMonitor which can be used to track mouse changes only and each platform can have both MouseCursorMonitor and DesktopCapturer implementations combined in DesktopAndCursorComposer to get complete image and this all works automatically like a magic. Unlike X11 implementation, our only option is to get everything from one PipeWire stream we connect to and there was no way how to make it shared from DesktopCapturer implementation so it can be used by MouseCursorMonitor implementation. I had to split DesktopCapturer to have xdg-desktop-portal and PipeWire separate implementations. Code for PipeWire is now a SharedScreenCastStream class which is being shared through DesktopCaptureOptions. This is set of parameters associated with each capturer instance and luckily this is also passed to MouseCursorMonitor so we can have access to already initialized PipeWire stream and get the cursor data from there. Implement MouseCursorMonitor with SharedScreenCastStream was then piece of cake.

List of merge requests:

This should again significantly improve performance of screen sharing, because moving with a mouse over a static screen content doesn’t need full screen content update.

Misc:

Last but not least, I’m now in touch with Google developers who help me to review all my changes and discuss with me the current state, issues I have, etc. on monthly meetings we have. The plan is to make this finally enabled by default, hopefully in the first half of this year. There are still some things that need to be solved before this is enabled and there is lot of work ahead, but things look promising.

Plans for the future:

  • Implement stream restoration
    • this will allow us to skip the second portal dialog and I already have plan in my head how to do this in WebRTC. This is currently only supported by xdg-desktop-portal-gnome and xdg-desktop-portal-kde lacks this functionality.
  • Improve UX of the Chromium screen sharing dialog
  • Write tests for all PipeWire/portal code in WebRTC

Even though WebRTC is used in Firefox, I mostly talk about Chromium, because Firefox doesn’t use most recent WebRTC and will need to pick all the changes I did or rebase to newer WebRTC in order to have them. Firefox also has PipeWire/Wayland screen sharing enabled by default and doesn’t have UX issues as there is no internal screen sharing dialog like in Chromium.

I hope all these changes will make your experience better and next time when you read a new blog post I will be informing you about end of this journey.

DMA-BUF support in WebRTC

It will be almost three years since we landed initial support for screensharing on Wayland with the use of PipeWire in the WebRTC project. This enabled screensharing support in both major Linux browsers. Last year I implemented support for window sharing, added support for PipeWire 0.3 and added support for DMA-BUF and MemFD buffer types. Problem was, as it turned out, the DMA-BUF support was not implemented in a correct way.

The original implementation was using mmap() to get the buffer content. This worked correctly for current Intel GPUs, but was terrifically slow on e.g. AMD GPUs. Proper solution is to use OpenGL context to get the content from buffer. However, there were many implementations using mmap() already, including WebRTC and we needed a way how to properly communicate between the server and the client that when the client advertises DMA-BUF support, it means it doesn’t use mmap() and goes through OpenGL context instead.

Here are some issues if you want to read about the details:

This all resulted into a completely different way how the communication between the consumer and the producer should happen in order to use DMA buffers for way faster and smoother screensharing support. Both sides are now required to query the list of all supported modifiers and add this as a new stream parameter, including flags that the modifiers are mandatory parameter, rest of stream parameters are kept as before so we can keep using other types in case DMA-BUFs are not supported by the producer. Once both sides matches their expectations, we can query whether the stream includes modifiers, based on that we know we can use DMA buffers, which we now properly open using OpenGL context, while we kept mmap() for MemFd buffer types as fallback. This will result into faster screensharing support in your web browsers.

Last but not least, I made screensharing even faster, regardless of buffer type we use. Originally when we received buffer from PipeWire, we copied it to a local variable so we can apply cropping and adjust the position and only after that we copied this adjusted content into a DesktopFrame, which each DesktopCapturer (a class representing screensharing implementation) is supposed to return and let it be displayed by the browser. That means we performed two copy operations for each frame. I improved this implementation and now we copy the PW buffer content directly to a desktop frame which we can return directly so one copy operation less than before. I didn’t do some exact measures, but simply running htop and comparing usage of top 5 processes when sharing a 4k screen I got:

  • Original result: 66%, 64%, 26% 23%, 10%
  • Updated result: 41%, 39%, 19%, 17%, 12%

I also have some other improvements on my TODO list, all of them should bring some additional optimizations and improvements. I will keep you informed once I have news to share with you.

Both changes have been merged into WebRTC, that means it should be in Chrome/Chromium 96 (released during November 2021).

Tutorial: Screen Sharing and Remote Desktop on Fedora Workstation 30 (Wayland)

I recently got an email from a user asking me how to make all this work on Fedora. Problem is that unlike in old XServer sessions, there are certain things which need to be enabled first. There are also dependencies which need to be installed and services which need to be running. While most of the dependencies are automatically installed and services automatically activated, there still might be situations when this is not true, for example when switching from another desktop so it’s better to cover it all. This tutorial targets Fedora, but it can be probably used by any other distribution.

Dependencies

Both screen sharing and remote desktop work almost identically on Wayland, they both use portals as a communication tool between applications and compositor (in this case Mutter) to start the process of sharing and setup PipeWire stream (see below). While portals were primarily meant to be used by sandboxed applications (e.g. Flatpak) to get access to system (like files or printing) outside the sandbox, their design perfectly fits for Wayland usage too. In Fedora you should have portals automatically installed, they are represented by two separate packages, first is xdg-desktop-portal, which is the portal service communicating with sandboxed applications and with a backend implementation of portals, and the second package is the backend implementation, in our case xdg-desktop-portal-gtk. Both are DBus activatable, which means they are automatically started whenever application calls them. The reason why portals consist from two services is that there can be multiple backends, each one providing native dialogs for your desktop. For example you don’t get a gtk dialog to open a file in KDE Plasma session or you want a backend communicating with specific compositor (like in our case with Mutter).

The second important dependency is PipeWire. PipeWire is the core technology used for screen content delivery from the compositor to applications. This is done throught a PipeWire stream shared between the compositor and application. PipeWire should be automatically installed on your system, the package name is pipewire and it provides socket-based activation so you shouldn’t need to worry if it’s running or not.

Enabling screen sharing and remote desktop in Gnome

You don’t seem to do any additional step in order to make screen sharing work. However, you need to enable remote desktop (if you want to). Go and open gnome-control-center (Settings) and there go to Sharing section. There you should see this window when you click on Screen Sharing:

If you don’t have such option, make sure you have installed gnome-remote-desktop, because I’m not sure whether it’s installed by default. Allowing screen sharing will start a server instance which you can connect to from another computer, using vnc://linux.local or your_computer_ip:5900. You will most likely need to open a hole to your firewall, but the same you need to do for any other VNC server. I tried to connect with Vinagre and Krdc (KDE VNC viewer) and both worked for me, but I was unable to connect with Tigervnc (vncviewer) due to not maching security type.

Screen sharing in Firefox

Firefox in Fedora already comes with PipeWire support enabled and you don’t need to do anything special. You can test it for example with this testing page. The PipeWire support in Firefox unfortunately needs to be enabled during build by handmade changes, which is most likely not happening in other distributions, but from what I now there is an ongoing effort to make this configurable with a build option.

Screen sharing in Chromium/Chrome

Similar situation is with Chromium, where PipeWire needs to be also enabled during build, but it’s already configurable via a build option. In Fedora we have this enabled by default. Official Chrome builds are build with PipeWire support enabled as well. I should maybe mention that PipeWire support is in Chromium starting with version 74.

Unlike with Firefox, this support needs to be also enabled in runtime. You can do that with following chrome flag:

chrome://flags/#enable-webrtc-pipewire-capturer

Then you should be all set to be able to share a screen or a window from your Chromium or Chrome.

Issues

Don’t get scared by higher number of dialogs for screen/windows selection you will get when sharing screen in your browser. We are aware of this annoying usability issue and hopefully we will manage to solve it one day. The reason why this happens is that every browser provide their dialog for screen/window selection and in both browsers these dialogs show previews of your selection. You need to select screen/window first in the portal dialog for the preview dialog and once you accept the preview dialog in your browser, you again need to select screen/window in the portal dialog to get the content into the web page itself.

Support in other applications

There is a KDE application called Krfb, which in the next release (19.08) will have similar support for remote desktop on Wayland as you have in Gnome. Otherwise there are probably no other applications which would allow you to share a screen or control your desktop remotely on Gnome Wayland sessions. You will not be able to use TeamViewer, Tigervnc or any other application you are used to use. If you want to use these applications, you will have to switch to X session for now.

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