Choosing a backend

I got drawn into a discussion today and swiftly realized there is no right answer. But there should be!

The question is deceptively simple: Which order should graphics toolkits probe for backends?

My contention is that the answer is: “it depends”.

Suppose that I’m running a traditional X11 based desktop and am testing with a new technology (obviously Mir, but the same applies to Wayland) running as a window on top of it. (I.e. Mir-on-X or Wayland-on-X)

In this case I want any new application to *default* to connecting to the main X11 desktop – I don’t want my test session to “capture” any applications launched normally.

Now suppose I’m running a new technology desktop that provides an X11 socket as a backup (Xmir/Xwayland). In this case I want any new application to *default* to connecting to the main Mir/Wayland desktop – only if the toolkit doesn’t support Mir/Wayland should it connect to the X11 socket.

Now GDK, for example, provides for this with GDK_BACKEND=mir,wayland,x11 or GDK_BACKEND=x11,mir,wayland (as needed). But that is only one toolkit: OTTOMH Qt has QT_QPA_PLATFORM and SDL has SDL_VIDEODRIVER. (I’m sure there are others.)

What is needed is a standard environment variable that all toolkits (and other graphics libs) can use to prioritize backends. One of my colleagues suggested XDG_TOOLKIT_BACKEND (working much the way that GDK_BACKEND does).

That only helps if all the toolkits take notice. Is it worth pursuing?