X and 3D

Of course, Linux can display not only two-dimensional windows and structures in its graphical environment, but also three-dimensional graphics. There is a de facto standard for programming three-dimensional graphics, OpenGL , which originally came from big-iron Unix workstations, but which Linux supports just fine on inexpensive boards generally available for PCs. In this section, we look at how to set it up.

OpenGL Setup

As with many other subsystems of a free software operating system, Linux gives us a number of choices of OpenGL. Among those are Mesa, TinyGL, and YGL. The most prominent one, and the de facto standard for OpenGL on Linux, is Mesa.


OpenGL itself is platform neutral, so to “glue” OpenGL to a specific windowing system, an extension is required. For X11 this extension is called GLX. GLX contains X protocol extensions to allow OpenGL to be sent over the X socket to the X server. This is called indirect rendering. X.org has another option that is much faster, but works only on the local display. This option is called direct rendering and is explained in the following section.


X.org from Version 4 and up contains a framework for allowing direct access to the graphics hardware in a safe and efficient manner. This framework is called Direct Rendering Infrastructure (DRI), and accelerated OpenGL implementations sit on top of this framework. DRI consists of several components:

  • A kernel module for multiplexing the graphics hardware so it can be used by multiple ...

Get Running Linux, 5th Edition now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.