Xfce’s Path to Wayland Compatibility: A Slow but Steady March

Unfortunately, the recently updated Xfce roadmap doesn't give much hope that the desktop environment will soon be ready for Wayland.

The transition to the Wayland display protocol has been a hot topic of discussion in the past years among leading desktop environments. Touted as the future of Linux graphics, Wayland promises smoother and more secure graphical experiences.

At the same time, its widespread adoption across various desktop environments has been slow, and in many ways, it is still being prepared for prime time.

However, GNOME already provides excellent compatibility with Wayland, and the upcoming KDE Plasma 6 intends to make it the default choice. Unfortunately, Xfce, a beloved lightweight desktop environment, lags far behind this trend.

Xfce 4.18 Desktop Environment
Xfce 4.18 Desktop Environment

Xfce’s Roadmap to Wayland

Recently, the Xfce development team updated their roadmap, providing insights into their plans for the future. While many Xfce enthusiasts eagerly hoped for news about Wayland’s support, the roadmap doesn’t offer much solace.

The developers’ consensus on the following few objectives is noteworthy. The first and most significant point is that Xfce’s reliance on XWayland – an X server that runs under Wayland, providing compatibility for native X11 apps that do not yet support Wayland – should be dropped.

The choice of betting on wlroots over libmutter in Xfce as a modular library for Wayland compositors also makes a strong impression.

In this light, some core components of the desktop environment, such as xfce4-panel and xfdesktop, have already been ported to Wayland using wlroots.

However, this imposes some limitations on the current functionality. For example, the Xfce4’s panel on Wayland can no longer use GtkSocket/GtkPlug to run plugins as separate processes. Additionally, there is still much work on the tray icon support.

Some core Xfce components such as xfce4-terminal, mousepad, xfce4-taskmanager, and many Thunar and Xfce4 plugins have also received Wayland compatibility and will be tested for reliability.

Regarding Xfwm4, Xfce’s compositing window manager, at the moment, there is an unofficial port to Wayland in progress.

Furthermore, the developers have also agreed to keep the possibility of xfdesktop and xfce4-panel running as separate components.

When to Expect a Production-Ready Wayland Support in Xfce?

I’ll put it this way – it is a million-dollar question that even the Xfce developers don’t bother to answer. Currently, efforts are being directed at providing an acceptable one in the latest 4.18 version of the desktop environment.

Looking at the long-term goals, I will quote the official position at the moment:

It is not clear yet which Xfce release will target a complete Xfce Wayland transition (or if such a transition will happen at all).

Yes, that doesn’t sound encouraging, but it is all we have now. In other words, there will be one when it is ready.

In any case, though, the fact that GNOME is practically ready to run smoothly on Wayland and that the KDE Plasma 6 desktop, slated for release in February 2024, will also be entirely Wayland-centric, will noticeably widen the gap between them and Xfce.

Of course, there are reasonable explanations for this, the most important of which is the number of developers each of these desktop environments has compared to Xfce.

On the other hand, many Xfce users are in no hurry to jump on the Wayland train, betting that despite slow development, Xfce is a rock-solid environment worth waiting for for reliability and stability.

Finally, if you decide to get involved in testing the current state of the Xfce dev branch for Wayland compatibility and you are an NVIDIA user, be sure to use the Nouveau driver since the proprietary NVIDIA one, unfortunately, does not provide Wayland support.

Bobby Borisov

Bobby Borisov

Bobby, an editor-in-chief at Linuxiac, is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, he has worked as a Senior Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

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