Thursday, July 27, 2017

libinput and button debouncing

A few days ago, I pushed code for button debouncing into libinput, scheduled for libinput 1.9. What is button debouncing you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked, because otherwise typing this blog post would've been a waste of time :)

Over in Utopia, when you press the button on a device, you get a press event from the hardware. When you release said button, you get a release event from the hardware. Together, they form the button click interaction we have come to learn and love over the last couple of decades. Life is generally merry and the sunshine to rainbow to lollipop ratio is good. Meanwhile, over here in the real world, buttons can be quite dodgy, don't always work like they're supposed to, lollipops are unhealthy and boy, have you seen that sunburn the sunshine gave me? One way how buttons may not work is that they can lose contact for a fraction of a second and send release events even though the button is being held down. The device usually detects that the button is still being down in the next hardware cycle (~8ms on most devices) and thus sends another button press.

For us, there are not a lot of hints that this is bad hardware besides the timestamps. It's not possible for a user to really release and press a button within 8ms, so we can take this as a signal for dodgy hardware. But at least that's someting. All we need to do is ignore the release event (and subsequent button event) and only release when the button is released properly. This requires timeouts and delays of the event, something we generally want to avoid unless absolutely necessary. So the behaviour libinput has now is enabled but inactive button debouncing on all devices. We monitor button release and button press timestamps, but otherwise leave the events as-is, so no delays are introduced. Only if a device sends release/press combos with unfeasably short timeouts, activate button debouncing. Once active, we filter all button release events and instead set a timer. Once the timer expires, we send the button release event. But if at any time before then another button press is detected, the scheduled release is discarded, the button press is filtered and no event is sent. Thus, we paper over the release/press combo the hardware gives us and to anyone using libinput, it will look like the button was held down for the whole time.

There's one downside with this approach - the very first button debounce to happen on a device will still trigger an erroneous button release event. It remains to be seen whether this is a problem in real-world scenarios. That's the cost of having it as an auto-enabling feature rather than an explicit configuration option.

If you do have a mouse that suffers from button bouncing, I recommend you try libinput's master branch and file any issues if the debouncing doesn't work as it should. Might as well get any issues fixed before we have a release.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

libinput and pressure-based palm detection

I (finally!) merged a patchset to detect palms based on pressure into libinput. This should remove a lot of issues that our users have seen with accidental pointer movement. Palm detection in libinput previously used two approaches: disable-while-typing and an edge-based approach. The former simply ignores touchpad events while keyboard events are detected, the latter ignores touches that happen in the edge zones of the touchpad where real interaction is unlikely. Both approaches have the obvious disadvantages: they're timeout- and location-dependent, causing erroneous pointer movements. But their big advantage is that they work even on old touchpads where a lot of other information is unreliable. Touchpads are getting better, so it's time to make use of that.

The new feature is relatively simple: libinput looks at per-touch pressure and if that pressure hits a given threshold, the touch is regarded as palm. Once a palm, that touch will be ignored until touch up. The threshold is intended to be high enough that it cannot easily be hit. At least on the touchpads I have available for testing, I have to go through quite some effort to trigger palm detection with my finger.

Pressure on touchpads is unfortunately hardware-dependent and we can expect most laptops to have different pressure thresholds. For our users this means that the feature won't immediately work perfectly, it will require a lot of hwdb entries. libinput now ships a libinput measure touchpad-pressure tool to experiment with the various pressure thresholds. This makes it easy to figure out the right pressure threshold and submit a bug report (or patch) for libinput to get the pressure threshold updated. The documentation for this tool is available as part of libinput's online documentation.

TLDR: if libinput seems to misdetect touches as palms, figure out the right threshold with libinput measure touchpad-pressure and file a bug report so we can merge this into our hwdb.