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Original author(s)Bart Massey
Developer(s)Jamey Sharp, Josh Triplett, Bart Massey
Initial release2001 (2001)
Stable release1.17.0 Edit this on Wikidata / 15 April 2024 (15 April 2024)
Written inC
Operating systemPOSIX
TypeX11 client library
LicenseMIT License
X11-clients use XCB to communicate with the X server. A more complete view of the Linux graphics stack Programs often use GTK or FLTK or Qt for their GUI widgets. A more complete view of the components of an operating system for home computers.

XCB (X protocol C-language Binding) is a library implementing the client-side of the X11 display server protocol. XCB is written in the C programming language and distributed under the MIT License. The project was started in 2001 by Bart Massey and aims to replace Xlib.


XCB was designed as a smaller, modernized replacement for Xlib, previously the primary C library for communicating with the X window system, coinciding with a more complete overhaul of the X implementation that took place during the early 2000s. The main goals of XCB are to:

The required size reduction is achieved primarily by restricting XCB's scope to handling the X protocol and omitting Xlib functionality such as its extensive utility library, much of which saw little use by applications. This results in a factor thirty reduction of the compiled library size (as of 2004). Secondary goals include making the C interface asynchronous, facilitating better multithreading and making it easier to implement extensions (via XML protocol descriptions).

The core and extension protocol descriptions are in XML, with a program written in Python creating the C bindings. (Previous versions used XSLT and M4.)

A further goal is to be able to use these protocol descriptions to create protocol documentation, more language bindings, and server-side stubs.

Massey and others have worked to prove key portions of XCB formally correct using Z notation. (Xlib has long been known to contain errors.)

Xlib compatibility

Xlib/XCB provides application binary interface compatibility with both Xlib and XCB, providing an incremental porting path. Xlib/XCB uses the protocol layer of Xlib, but replaces the Xlib transport layer with XCB, and provides access to the underlying XCB connection for direct use of XCB. Xlib/XCB allows an application to open a single connection to the X display server and use both XCB and Xlib, possibly through a mixture of libraries designed for one or the other.


// Simple XCB application for opening a window and drawing a box in it // To compile it using GNU, use: // gcc x.c -lxcb #include <stdio.h> #include <stdlib.h> #include <xcb/xcb.h> int main(void) { xcb_connection_t *c; xcb_screen_t *s; xcb_window_t w; xcb_gcontext_t g; xcb_generic_event_t *e; uint32_t mask; uint32_t values; int done = 0; xcb_rectangle_t r = { 20, 20, 60, 60 }; // open connection to the server c = xcb_connect(NULL, NULL); if (xcb_connection_has_error(c)) { printf("Cannot open display\n"); exit(EXIT_FAILURE); } // get the first screen s = xcb_setup_roots_iterator( xcb_get_setup(c) ).data; // create black graphics context g = xcb_generate_id(c); w = s->root; mask = XCB_GC_FOREGROUND | XCB_GC_GRAPHICS_EXPOSURES; values = s->black_pixel; values = 0; xcb_create_gc(c, g, w, mask, values); // create window w = xcb_generate_id(c); mask = XCB_CW_BACK_PIXEL | XCB_CW_EVENT_MASK; values = s->white_pixel; values = XCB_EVENT_MASK_EXPOSURE | XCB_EVENT_MASK_KEY_PRESS; xcb_create_window(c, s->root_depth, w, s->root, 10, 10, 100, 100, 1, XCB_WINDOW_CLASS_INPUT_OUTPUT, s->root_visual, mask, values); // map (show) the window xcb_map_window(c, w); xcb_flush(c); // event loop while (!done && (e = xcb_wait_for_event(c))) { switch (e->response_type & ~0x80) { case XCB_EXPOSE: // draw or redraw the window xcb_poly_fill_rectangle(c, w, g, 1, &r); xcb_flush(c); break; case XCB_KEY_PRESS: // exit on key press done = 1; break; } free(e); } // close connection to server xcb_disconnect(c); exit(EXIT_SUCCESS); }

The bitwise and operation a->response_type & ~0x80 removes a bit that indicates where the event came from.

XCB has a comparable, but slightly lower-level API than Xlib, as can be seen with this example.

Creators of XCB have invented a specialized interface description language to model X11 protocol in language-neutral way and facilitate generation of bindings to other programming languages. libxcb itself is implemented as a code generator and a tiny C stub of utility functions.

An example:

<xcb header="bigreq" extension-xname="BIG-REQUESTS" extension-name="BigRequests" extension-multiword="true" major-version="0" minor-version="0"> <request name="Enable" opcode="0"> <reply> <pad bytes="1" /> <field type="CARD32" name="maximum_request_length" /> </reply> </request> </xcb>

The XCB logo was produced by Gearóid Molloy, author of the web comic Neko the Kitty, and donated to the project.

Other language bindings


  1. ^ "libxcb-1.17.0".
  2. ^ Gettys, James; Packard, Keith (2004). The (Re) Architecture of the X Window System (PDF). Proc. Linux Symposium. Vol. 1.
  3. ^ Sharp, Jamey (2004). How Xlib is Implemented (And What We're Doing About It) (PDF). Proc. Usenix Annual Techn. Conf., Freenix Track.
  4. ^ Massey and Bauer, 2002.
  5. ^ Sharp and Massey, 2002, §2.4. "While Xlib was designed to support threaded applications, and while that support is not unusable, there are known race conditions that cannot be eliminated without changing the Xlib interface."
  6. ^ Maloney, Ross J. (31 March 2018). Low Level X Window Programming: An Introduction by Examples. Springer. pp. 225–244. ISBN 978-3-319-74250-2. Retrieved 17 May 2022.
  7. ^ "Xlib/XCB: Xlib with XCB transport". 2008-01-11. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  8. ^ Jamey Sharp and Josh Triplett (2006-11-26). "libx11 with Xlib/XCB now in experimental; please test with your packages". debian-devel-announce (Mailing list). Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  9. ^ "X Window System Protocol". X.Org. Chapter 1. Protocol Formats. Retrieved 22 March 2024. Every event contains an 8-bit type code. The most significant bit in this code is set if the event was generated from a SendEvent request.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  10. ^ Jamey Sharp; Bart Massey (2002), XCL : An Xlib Compatibility Layer For XCB, USENIX 2002 Annual Technical Conference, Freenix Track
  11. ^ KittyLogo (xcb.freedesktop.org)