Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The definitive guide to synclient

This post describes the synclient tool, part of the xf86-input-synaptics package. It does not describe the various options, that's what the synclient(1) and synaptics(4) man pages are for. This post describes what synclient is, where it came from and how it works on a high level. Think of it as a anti-bus-factor post.

Maintenance status

The most important thing first: synclient is part of the synaptics X.Org driver which is in maintenance mode, and superseded by libinput and the xf86-input-libinput driver. In general, you should not be using synaptics anymore anyway, switch to libinput instead (and report bugs where the behaviour is not correct). It is unlikely that significant additional features will be added to synclient or synaptics and bugfixes are rare too.

The interface

synclient's interface is extremely simple: it's a list of key/value pairs that would all be set at the same time. For example, the following command sets two options, TapButton1 and TapButton2:

synclient TapButton1=1 TapButton2=2
The -l switch lists the current values in one big list:
$ synclient -l
Parameter settings:
    LeftEdge                = 1310
    RightEdge               = 4826
    TopEdge                 = 2220
    BottomEdge              = 4636
    FingerLow               = 25
    FingerHigh              = 30
    MaxTapTime              = 180
    ...
The commandline interface is effectively a mapping of the various xorg.conf options. As said above, look at the synaptics(4) man page for details to each option.

History

A decade ago, the X server had no capabilities to change driver settings at runtime. Changing a device's configuration required rewriting an xorg.conf file and restarting the server. To avoid this, the synaptics X.Org touchpad driver exposed a shared memory (SHM) segment. Anyone with knowledge of the memory layout (an internal struct) and permission to write to that segment could change driver options at runtime. This is how synclient came to be, it was the tool that knew that memory layout. A synclient command would thus set the correct bits in the SHM segment and the driver would use the newly updated options. For obvious reasons, synclient and synaptics had to be the same version to work.

Atoms are 32-bit unsigned integers and created for each property name at runtime. They represent a unique string (the property name) and can be created by applications too. Property name to Atom mappings are global. Once any driver initialises a property by its name (e.g. "Synaptics Tap Actions"), that property and the corresponding Atom will exist globally until the server resets. Atoms unknown to a driver are simply ignored.

8 or so years ago, the X server got support for input device properties, a generic key/value store attached to each input device. The keys are the properties, identified by an "Atom" (see box on the side). The values are driver-specific. All drivers make use of this now, being able to change a property at runtime is the result of changing a property that the driver knows of.

synclient was converted to use properties instead of the SHM segment and eventually the SHM support was removed from both synclient and the driver itself. The backend to synclient is thus identical to the one used by the xinput tool or tools used by other drivers (e.g. the xsetwacom tool). synclient's killer feature was that it was the only tool that knew how to configure the driver, these days it's merely a commandline argument to property mapping tool. xinput, GNOME, KDE, they all do the same thing in the backend.

How synclient works

The driver has properties of a specific name, format and value range. For example, the "Synaptics Tap Action" property contains 7 8-bit values, each representing a button mapping for a specific tap action. If you change the fifth value of that property, you change the button mapping for a single-finger tap. Another property "Synaptics Off" is a single 8-bit value with an allowed range of 0, 1 or 2. The properties are described in the synaptics(4) man page. There is no functional difference between this synclient command:

synclient SynapticsOff=1
and this xinput command
xinput set-prop "SynPS/2 Synaptics TouchPad" "Synaptics Off" 1
Both set the same property with the same calls. synclient uses XI 1.x's XChangeDeviceProperty() and xinput uses XI 2.x's XIChangeProperty() if available but that doesn't really matter. They both fetch the property, overwrite the respective value and send it back to the server.

Pitfalls and quirks

synclient is a simple tool. If multiple touchpads are present it will simply pick the first one. This is a common issue for users with a i2c touchpad and will be even more common once the RMI4/SMBus support is in a released kernel. In both cases, the kernel creates the i2c/SMBus device and an additional PS/2 touchpad device that never sends events. So if synclient picks that device, all the settings are changed on a device that doesn't actually send events. This depends on the order the devices were added to the X server and can vary between reboots. You can work around that by disabling or ignoring the PS/2 device.

synclient is a one-shot tool, it does not monitor devices. If a device is added at runtime, the user must run the command to change settings. If a device is disabled and re-enabled (VT-switch, suspend/resume, ...), the user must run synclient to change settings. This is a major reason we recommend against using synclient, the desktop environment should take care of this. synclient will also conflict with the desktop environment in that it isn't aware when something else changes things. If synclient runs before the DE's init scripts (e.g. through xinitrc), its settings may be overwritten by the DE. If it runs later, it overwrites the DE's settings.

synclient exclusively supports synaptics driver properties. It cannot change any other driver's properties and it cannot change the properties created by the X server on each device. That's another reason we recommend against it, because you have to mix multiple tools to configure all devices instead of using e.g. the xinput tool for all property changes. Or, as above, letting the desktop environment take care of it.

The interface of synclient is IMO not significantly more obvious than setting the input properties directly. One has to look up what TapButton1 does anyway, so looking up how to set the property with the more generic xinput is the same amount of effort. A wrong value won't give the user anything more useful than the equivalent of a "this didn't work".

TL;DR

If you're TL;DR'ing an article labelled "the definitive guide to" you're kinda missing the point...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

xf86-input-synaptics is not a Synaptics, Inc. driver

This is a common source of confusion: the legacy X.Org driver for touchpads is called xf86-input-synaptics but it is not a driver written by Synaptics, Inc. (the company).

The repository goes back to 2002 and for the first couple of years it Peter Osterlund was the sole contributor. Back then it was called "synaptics" and really was a "synaptics device" driver, i.e. it handled PS/2 protocol requests to initialise Synaptics, Inc. touchpads. Evdev support was added in 2003, punting the initialisation work to the kernel instead. This was the groundwork for a generic touchpad driver. In 2008 the driver was renamed to xf86-input-synaptics and relicensed from GPL to MIT to take it under the X.Org umbrella. I've been involved with it since 2008 and the official maintainer since 2011.

For many years now, the driver has been a generic touchpad driver that handles any device that the Linux kernel can handle. In fact, most bugs attributed to the synaptics driver not finding the touchpad are caused by the kernel not initialising the touchpad correctly. The synaptics driver reads the same evdev events that are also handled by libinput and the xf86-input-evdev driver, any differences in behaviour are driver-specific and not related to the hardware. The driver handles devices from Synaptics, Inc., ALPS, Elantech, Cypress, Apple and even some Wacom touch tablets. We don't care about what touchpad it is as long as the evdev events are sane.

Synaptics, Inc.'s developers are active in kernel development to help get new touchpads up and running. Once the kernel handles them, the xorg drivers and libinput will handle them too. I can't remember any significant contribution by Synaptics, Inc. to the X.org synaptics driver, so they are simply neither to credit nor to blame for the current state of the driver. The top 10 contributors since August 2008 when the first renamed version of xf86-input-synaptics was released are:

     8 Simon Thum
    10 Hans de Goede
    10 Magnus Kessler
    13 Alexandr Shadchin
    15 Christoph Brill
    18 Daniel Stone
    18 Henrik Rydberg
    39 Gaetan Nadon
    50 Chase Douglas
   396 Peter Hutterer
There's a long tail of other contributors but the top ten illustrate that it wasn't Synaptics, Inc. that wrote the driver. Any complaints about Synaptics, Inc. not maintaining/writing/fixing the driver are missing the point, because this driver was never a Synaptics, Inc. driver. That's not a criticism of Synaptics, Inc. btw, that's just how things are. We should have renamed the driver to just xf86-input-touchpad back in 2008 but that ship has sailed now. And synaptics is about to be superseded by libinput anyway, so it's simply not worth the effort now.

The other reason I included the commit count in the above: I'm also the main author of libinput. So "the synaptics developers" and "the libinput developers" are effectively the same person, i.e. me. Keep that in mind when you read random comments on the interwebs, it makes it easier to identify people just talking out of their behind.

Monday, December 19, 2016

libinput touchpad pointer acceleration analysis

A long-standing criticism of libinput is its touchpad acceleration code, oscillating somewhere between "terrible", "this is bad and you should feel bad" and "I can't complain because I keep missing the bloody send button". I finally found the time and some more laptops to sit down and figure out what's going on.

I recorded touch sequences of the following movements:

  • super-slow: a very slow movement as you would do when pixel-precision is required. I recorded this by effectively slowly rolling my finger. This is an unusual but sometimes required interaction.
  • slow: a slow movement as you would do when you need to hit a target several pixels across from a short distance away, e.g. the Firefox tab close button
  • medium: a medium-speed movement though probably closer to the slow side. This would be similar to the movement when you move 5cm across the screen.
  • medium-fast: a medium-to-fast speed movement. This would be similar to the movement when you move 5cm across the screen onto a large target, e.g. when moving between icons in the file manager.
  • fast: a fast movement. This would be similar to the movement when you move between windows some distance apart.
  • flick: a flick movement. This would be similar to the movement when you move to a corner of the screen.
Note that all these are by definition subjective and somewhat dependent on the hardware. Either way, I tried to get something of a reasonable subset.

Next, I ran this through a libinput 1.5.3 augmented with printfs in the pointer acceleration code and a script to post-process that output. Unfortunately, libinput's pointer acceleration internally uses units equivalent to a 1000dpi mouse and that's not something easy to understand. Either way, the numbers themselves don't matter too much for analysis right now and I've now switched everything to mm/s anyway.

A note ahead: the analysis relies on libinput recording an evemu replay. That relies on uinput and event timestamps are subject to a little bit of drift across recordings. Some differences in the before/after of the same recording can likely be blamed on that.

The graph I'll present for each recording is relatively simple, it shows the velocity and the matching factor.The x axis is simply the events in sequence, the y axes are the factor and the velocity (note: two different scales in one graph). And it colours in the bits that see some type of acceleration. Green means "maximum factor applied", yellow means "decelerated". The purple "adaptive" means per-velocity acceleration is applied. Anything that remains white is used as-is (aside from the constant deceleration). This isn't really different to the first graph, it just shows roughly the same data in different colours.

Interesting numbers for the factor are 0.4 and 0.8. We have a constant acceleration of 0.4 on touchpads, i.e. a factor of 0.4 "don't apply acceleration", the latter is "maximum factor". The maximum factor is twice as big as the normal factor, so the pointer moves twice as fast. Anything below 0.4 means we decelerate the pointer, i.e. the pointer moves slower than the finger.

The super-slow movement shows that the factor is, aside from the beginning always below 0.4, i.e. the sequence sees deceleration applied. The takeaway here is that acceleration appears to be doing the right thing, slow motion is decelerated and while there may or may not be some tweaking to do, there is no smoking gun.


Super slow motion is decelerated.

The slow movement shows that the factor is almost always 0.4, aside from a few extremely slow events. This indicates that for the slow speed, the pointer movement maps exactly to the finger movement save for our constant deceleration. As above, there is no indicator that we're doing something seriously wrong.


Slow motion is largely used as-is with a few decelerations.

The medium movement gets interesting. If we look at the factor applied, it changes wildly with the velocity across the whole range between 0.4 and the maximum 0.8. There is a short spike at the beginning where it maxes out but the rest is accelerated on-demand, i.e. different finger speeds will produce different acceleration. This shows the crux of what a lot of users have been complaining about - what is a fairly slow motion still results in an accelerated pointer. And because the acceleration changes with the speed the pointer behaviour is unpredictable.


In medium-speed motion acceleration changes with the speed and even maxes out.

The medium-fast movement shows almost the whole movement maxing out on the maximum acceleration factor, i.e. the pointer moves at twice the speed to the finger. This is a problem because this is roughly the speed you'd use to hit a "mentally preselected" target, i.e. you know exactly where the pointer should end up and you're just intuitively moving it there. If the pointer moves twice as fast, you're going to overshoot and indeed that's what I've observed during the touchpad tap analysis userstudy.


Medium-fast motion easily maxes out on acceleration.

The fast movement shows basically the same thing, almost the whole sequence maxes out on the acceleration factor so the pointer will move twice as far as intuitively guessed.


Fast motion maxes out acceleration.

So does the flick movement, but in that case we want it to go as far as possible and note that the speeds between fast and flick are virtually identical here. I'm not sure if that's me just being equally fast or the touchpad not quite picking up on the short motion.


Flick motion also maxes out acceleration.

Either way, the takeaway is simple: we accelerate too soon and there's a fairly narrow window where we have adaptive acceleration, it's very easy to top out. The simplest fix to get most touchpad movements working well is to increase the current threshold on when acceleration applies. Beyond that it's a bit harder to quantify, but a good idea seems to be to stretch out the acceleration function so that the factor changes at a slower rate as the velocity increases. And up the acceleration factor so we don't top out and we keep going as the finger goes faster. This would be the intuitive expectation since it resembles physics (more or less).

There's a set of patches on the list now that does exactly that. So let's see what the result of this is. Note ahead: I also switched everything from mm/s which causes some numbers to shift slightly.

The super-slow motion is largely unchanged though the velocity scale changes quite a bit. Part of that is that the new code has a different unit which, on my T440s, isn't exactly 1000dpi. So the numbers shift and the result of that is that deceleration applies a bit more often than before.


Super-slow motion largely remains the same.

The slow motions are largely unchanged but more deceleration is now applied. Tbh, I'm not sure if that's an artefact of the evemu replay, the new accel code or the result of the not-quite-1000dpi of my touchpad.


Slow motion largely remains the same.

The medium motion is the first interesting one because that's where we had the first observable issues. In the new code, the motion is almost entirely unaccelerated, i.e. the pointer will move as the finger does. Success!


Medium-speed motion now matches the finger speed.

The same is true of the medium-fast motion. In the recording the first few events were past the new thresholds so some acceleration is applied, the rest of the motion matches finger motion.


Medium-fast motion now matches the finger speed except at the beginning where some acceleration was applied.

The fast and flick motion are largely identical in having the acceleration factor applied to almost the whole motion but the big change is that the factor now goes up to 2.3 for the fast motion and 2.5 for the flick motion, i.e. both movements would go a lot faster than before. In the graphics below you still see the blue area marked as "previously max acceleration factor" though it does not actually max out in either recording now.


Fast motion increases acceleration as speed increases.

Flick motion increases acceleration as speed increases.

In summary, what this means is that the new code accelerates later but when it does accelerate, it goes faster. I tested this on a T440s, a T450p and an Asus VivoBook with an Elantech touchpad (which is almost unusable with current libinput). They don't quite feel the same yet and I'm not happy with the actual acceleration, but for 90% of 'normal' movements the touchpad now behaves very well. So at least we go from "this is terrible" to "this needs tweaking". I'll go check if there's any champagne left.

Monday, December 12, 2016

libinput touchpad tap analysis

A short while ago, I asked a bunch of people for long-term touchpad usage data (specifically: evemu recordings). I currently have 25 sets of data, the shortest of which has 9422 events, the longest of which has 987746 events. I requested that evemu-record was to be run in the background while people use their touchpad normally. Thus the data is quite messy, it contains taps, two-finger scrolling, edge scrolling, palm touches, etc. It's also raw data from the touchpad, not processed by libinput. Some care has to be taken with analysis, especially since it is weighted towards long recordings. In other words, the user with 987k events has a higher influence than the user with 9k events. So the data is useful for looking for patterns that can be independently verified with other data later. But it's also useful for disproving hypothesis, i.e. "we cannot do $foo because some users' events show $bla".

One of the things I've looked into was tapping. In libinput, a tap has two properties: a time threshold and a movement threshold. If the finger is held down longer than 180ms or it moves more than 3mm it is not a tap. These numbers are either taken from synaptics or just guesswork (both, probably). The need for a time-based threshold is obvious: we don't know whether the user is tapping until we see the finger up event. Only if that doesn't happen within a given time we know the user simply put the finger down. The movement threshold is required because small movements occur while tapping, caused by the finger really moving (e.g. when tapping shortly before/after a pointer motion) or by the finger center moving (as the finger flattens under pressure, the center may move a bit). Either way, these thresholds delay real pointer movement, making the pointer less reactive than it could be. So it's in our interest to have these thresholds low to get reactive pointer movement but as high as necessary to have reliable tap detection.

General data analysis

Let's look at the (messy) data. I wrote a script to calculate the time delta and movement distance for every single-touch sequence, i.e. anything with two or more fingers down was ignored. The script used a range of 250ms and 6mm of movement, discarding any sequences outside those thresholds. I also ignored anything in the left-most or right-most 10% because it's likely that anything that looks like a tap is a palm interaction [1]. I ran the script against those files where the users reported that they use tapping (10 users) which gave me 6800 tap sequences. Note that the ranges are purposely larger than libinput's to detect if there was a significant amount of attempted taps that exceed the current thresholds and would be misdetected as non-taps.

Let's have a look at the results. First, a simple picture that merely prints the start location of each tap, normalised to the width/height of the touchpad. As you can see, taps are primarily clustered around the center but can really occur anywhere on the touchpad. This means any attempt at detecting taps by location would be unreliable.


Normalized distribution of touch sequence start points (relative to touchpad width/height)

You can easily see the empty areas in the left-most and right-most 10%, that is an artefact of the filtering.

The analysis of time is more interesting: There are spikes around the 50ms mark with quite a few outliers going towards 100ms forming what looks like a narrow normal distribution curve. The data points are overlaid with markers for the mean [2], the 50 percentile, the 90 percentile and the 95 percentile [3]. And the data says: 95% of events fall below 116ms. That's something to go on.


Times between touch down and touch up for a possible tap event.
Note that we're using a 250ms timeout here and thus even look at touches that would not have been detected as tap by libinput. If we reduce to the 180ms libinput uses, we get a 95% percentile of 98ms, i.e. "of all taps currently detected as taps, 95% are 98ms or shorter".

The analysis of distance is similar: Most of the tap sequences have little to no movement, with 50% falling below 0.2mm of movement. Again the data points are overlaid with markers for the mean, the 50 percentile, the 90 percentile and the 95 percentile. And the data says: 95% of events fall below 1.8mm. Again, something to go on.


Movement between the touch down and the touch up event for a possible tap (10 == 1mm)
Note that we're using a 6mm threshold here and thus even look at touches that would not have been detected as tap by libinput. If we reduce to the 3mm libinput uses, we get a 95% percentile of 1.2mm, i.e. "of all taps currently detected as taps, 95% move 1.2mm or less".

Now let's combine the two. Below is a graph mapping times and distances from touch sequences. In general, the longer the time, the longer the more movement we get but most of the data is in the bottom left. Since doing percentiles is tricky on 2 axes, I mapped the respective axes individually. The biggest rectangle is the 95th percentile for time and distance, the number below shows how many data points actually fall into this rectangle. Looks promising, we still have a vast majority of touchpoints fall into the respective 95 percentiles though the numbers are slightly lower than the individual axes suggest.


Time to distance map for all possible taps
Again, this is for the 250ms by 6mm movement. About 3.3% of the events fall into the area between 180ms/3mm and 250ms/6mm. There is a chance that some of the touches have have been short, small movements, we just can't know by from data.

So based on the above, we learned one thing: it would not be reliable to detect taps based on their location. But we also suspect two things now: we can reduce the timeout and movement threshold without sacrificing a lot of reliability.

Verification of findings

Based on the above, our hypothesis is: we can reduce the timeout to 116ms and the threshold to 1.8mm while still having a 93% detection reliability. This is the most conservative reading, based on the extended thresholds.

To verify this, we needed to collect tap data from multiple users in a standardised and reproducible way. We wrote a basic website that displays 5 circles (see the screenshot below) on a canvas and asked a bunch of co-workers in two different offices [4] to tap them. While doing so, evemu-record was running in the background to capture the touchpad interactions. The touchpad was the one from a Lenovo T450 in both cases.


Screenshot of the <canvas> that users were asked to perform the taps on.
Some users ended up clicking instead of tapping and we had to discard those recordings. The total number of useful recordings was 15 from the Paris office and 27 from the Brisbane office. In total we had 245 taps (some users missed the circle on the first go, others double-tapped).

We asked each user three questions: "do you know what tapping/tap-to-click is?", "do you have tapping enabled" and "do you use it?". The answers are listed below:

  • Do you know what tapping is? 33 yes, 12 no
  • Do you have tapping enabled? 19 yes, 26 no
  • Do you use tapping? 10 yes, 35 no

I admit I kinda screwed up the data collection here because it includes those users whose recordings we had to discard. And the questions could've been better. So I'm not going to go into too much detail. The only useful thing here though is: the majority of users had tapping disabled and/or don't use it which should make any potential learning effect disappear[5]

Ok, let's look at the data sets, same scripts as above:


Times between touch down and touch up for tap events

Movement between the touch down and the touch up events of a tap (10 == 1mm)
95th percentile for time is 87ms. 95th percentile for distance is 1.09mm. Both are well within the numbers we expected we saw above. The combined diagram shows that 87% of events fall within the 87ms/10.9mm box.

Time to distance map for all taps
The few outliers here are close enough to the edge that expanding the box to to 100ms/1.3mm we get more than 95%. So it appears that our hypothesis is correct, reducing the timeout to 116ms and 1.8mm will have a 95% detection reliability. Furthermore, using the clean data it looks like we can use a lower threshold than previously assumed and still get a good detection ratio. Specifically, data collected in a controlled environment across 42 different users of varying familiarity with touchpad tapping shows that 100ms and 1.3mm gets us a 95% detection rate of taps.

What does this mean for users?

Based on the above, the libinput thresholds will be reduced to 100ms and 1.3mm. Let's see how we go with this and then we can increase it in the future if misdetection is higher than expected. Patches will on the wayland-devel list shortly.

For users that don't have tapping enabled, this will not change anything. All users who have tapping enabled will see a more responsive cursor on small movements as the time and distance thresholds have been significantly reduced. Some users may see a drop in tap detection rate. This is hopefully a subconscious enough effect that those users learn to tap faster or with less movement. If not, we have to look at it separately and see how we can deal with that.

If you find any issues with the analysis above, please let me know.

[1] These scripts analyse raw touchpad data, they don't benefit from libinput's palm detection
[2] Note: mean != average, the mean is less affected by strong outliers. look it up, it's worth knowing
[3] X percentile means X% of events fall below this value
[4] The Brisbane and Paris offices. No separate analysis was done, so it is unknown whether close proximity to baguettes has an effect to tap behaviour
[5] i.e. the effect of users learning how to use a system that doesn't work well out-of-the-box. This may result in e.g. quicker taps from those that are familiar with the system vs those that don't.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

xinput is not a configuration UI

xinput is a tool to query and modify X input device properties (amongst other things). Every so-often someone-complains about it's non-intuitive interface, but this is where users are mistaken: xinput is a not a configuration UI. It is a DUI - a developer user interface [1] - intended to test things without having to write custom (more user-friendly) for each new property. It is nothing but a tool to access what is effectively a key-value store. To use it you need to know not only the key name(s) but also the allowed formats, some of which are only documented in header files. It is intended to be run under user supervision, anything it does won't survive device hotplugging. Relying on xinput for configuration is the same as relying on 'echo' to toggle parameters in /sys for kernel configuration. It kinda possibly maybe works most of the time but it's not pretty. And it's not intended to be, so please don't complain to me about the arcane user interface.

[1] don't do it, things will be a bit confusing, you may not do the right thing, you can easily do damage, etc. A lot of similarities... ;)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New udev property: XKB_FIXED_LAYOUT for keyboards that must not change layouts

This post mostly affects developers of desktop environments/Wayland compositors. A systemd pull request was merged to add two new properties to some keyboards: XKB_FIXED_LAYOUT and XKB_FIXED_VARIANT. If set, the device must not be switched to a user-configured layout but rather the one set in the properties. This is required to make fake keyboard devices work correctly out-of-the-box. For example, Yubikeys emulate a keyboard and send the configured passwords as key codes matching a US keyboard layout. If a different layout is applied, then the password may get mangled by the client.

Since udev and libinput are sitting below the keyboard layout there isn't much we can do in this layer. This is a job for those parts that handle keyboard layouts and layout configurations, i.e. GNOME, KDE, etc. I've filed a bug for gnome here, please do so for your desktop environment.

If you have a device that falls into this category, please submit a systemd patch/file a bug and cc me on it (@whot).

Monday, December 5, 2016

The future of xinput, xmodmap, setxkbmap, xsetwacom and other tools under Wayland

This post applies to most tools that interface with the X server and change settings in the server, including xinput, xmodmap, setxkbmap, xkbcomp, xrandr, xsetwacom and other tools that start with x. The one word to sum up the future for these tools under Wayland is: "non-functional".

An X window manager is little more than an innocent bystander when it comes to anything input-related. Short of handling global shortcuts and intercepting some mouse button presses (to bring the clicked window to the front) there is very little a window manager can do. It's a separate process to the X server and does not receive most input events and it cannot affect what events are being generated. When it comes to input device configuration, any X client can tell the server to change it - that's why general debugging tools like xinput work.

A Wayland compositor is much more, it is a window manager and the display server merged into one process. This gives the compositor a lot more power and responsibility. It handles all input events as they come out of libinput and also manages device's configuration. Oh, and instead of the X protocol it speaks Wayland protocol.

The difference becomes more obvious when you consider what happens when you toggle a setting in the GNOME control center. In both Wayland and X, the control center toggles a gsettings key and waits for some other process to pick it up. In both cases, mutter gets notified about the change but what happens then is quite different. In GNOME(X), mutter tells the X server to change a device property, the server passes that on to the xf86-input-libinput driver and from there the setting is toggled in libinput. In GNOME(Wayland), mutter toggles the setting directly in libinput.

Since there is no X server in the stack, the various tools can't talk to it. So to get the tools to work they would have to talk to the compositor instead. But they only know how to speak X protocol, and no Wayland protocol extension exists for input device configuration. Such a Wayland protocol extension would most likely have to be a private one since the various compositors expose device configuration in different ways. Whether this extension will be written and added to compositors is uncertain, I'm not aware of any plans or even intentions to do so (it's a very messy problem). But either way, until it exists, the tools will merely shout into the void, without even an echo to keep them entertained. Non-functional is thus a good summary.