Aug 09, 2018

Lean Raspberry Pi UIs with Python and OpenVG

Implementing rather trivial text + chart UI with RPi recently, was surprised that it's somehow still not very straightforward in 2018.

Basic idea is to implement something like this:

RPi ADC UI mockup

Which is basically three text labels and three rectangles, with something like 1/s updates, so nothing that'd require 30fps 3D rendering loop or performance of C or Go, just any most basic 2D API and python should work fine for it.

Plenty of such libs/toolkits on top of X/Wayland and similar stuff, but that's a ton of extra layers of junk and jank instead of few trivial OpenVG calls, with only quirk of being able to render scaled text labels.

There didn't seem to be anything python that looks suitable for the task, notably:

  • ajstarks/openvg - great simple OpenVG wrapper lib, but C/Go only, has somewhat unorthodox unprefixed API, and seem to be abandoned these days.
  • povg - rather raw OpenVG ctypes wrapper, looks ok, but rendering fonts there would be a hassle.
  • libovg - includes py wrapper, but seem to be long-abandoned and have broken text rendering.
  • pi3d - for 3D graphics, so quite a different beast, rather excessive and really hard-to-use for static 2D UIs.
  • Qt5 and cairo/pango - both support OpenVG, but have excessive dependencies, with cathedral-like ecosystems built around them (qt/gtk respectively).
  • mgthomas99/easy-vg - updated fork of ajstarks/openvg, with proper C-style namespacing, some fixes and repackaged as a shared lib.

So with no good python alternative, last option of just wrapping dozen .so easy-vg calls via ctypes seemed to be a good-enough solution, with ~100-line wrapper for all calls there (evg.py in mk-fg/easy-vg).

With that, rendering code for all above UI ends up being as trivial as:

evg.begin()
evg.background(*c.bg.rgb)
evg.scale(x(1), y(1))

# Bars
evg.fill(*c.baseline.rgba)
evg.rect(*pos.baseline, *sz.baseline)
evg.fill(*c[meter_state].rgba)
evg.rect(*pos.meter, sz.meter.x, meter_height)

## Chart
evg.fill(*c.chart_bg.rgba)
evg.rect(*pos.chart, *sz.chart)
if len(chart_points) > 1:
  ...
  arr_sig = evg.vg_float * len(cp)
  evg.polyline(*(arr_sig(*map(
    op.attrgetter(k), chart_points )) for k in 'xy'), len(cp))

## Text
evg.scale(1/x(1), 1/y(1))
text_size = dxy_scaled(sz.bar_text)

evg.fill(*(c.sku.rgba if not text.sku_found else c.sku_found.rgba))
evg.text( x(pos.sku.x), y(pos.sku.y),
  text.sku.encode(), None, dxy_scaled(sz.sku) )
...
(note: "*stuff" are not C pointers, but python's syntax for "explode value list")
See also: hello.py example for evg.py API, similar to easy-vg's hello.c.

That code can start straight-up after local-fs.target with only dependency being easy-vg's libshapes.so to wrap OpenVG calls to RPi's /dev/vc*, and being python, use all the nice stuff like gpiozero, succinct and no-brainer to work with.

Few additional notes on such over-the-console UIs:

  • RPi's VC4/DispmanX has great "layers" feature, where multiple apps can display different stuff at the same time.

    This allows to easily implement e.g. splash screen (via some simple/quick 10-liner binary) always running underneath UI, hiding any noise and providing more graceful start/stop/crash transitions.

    Can even be used to play some dynamic video splash or logos/animations (via OpenMAX API and omxplayer) while main app/UI initializing/running underneath it.

    (wrote a bit more about this in an earlier Raspberry Pi early boot splash / logo screen post here)

  • If keyboard/mouse/whatever input have to be handled, python-evdev + pyudev are great and simple way to do it (also mentioned in an earlier post), and generally easier to use than a11y layers that some GUI toolkits provide.

  • systemctl disable getty@tty1 to not have it spammed with whatever input is intended for the UI, as otherwise it'll still be running under the graphics.

    Should UI app ever need to drop user back to console (e.g. via something like ExecStart=/sbin/agetty --autologin root tty1), it might be necessary to scrub all the input from there first, which can be done by using StandardInput=tty in the app and something like the following snippet:

    if sys.stdin.isatty()
      import termios, atexit
      signal.signal(signal.SIGHUP, signal.SIG_IGN)
      atexit.register(termios.tcflush, sys.stdin.fileno(), termios.TCIOFLUSH)
    

    It'd be outright dangerous to run shell with some random input otherwise.

  • While it's neat single quick-to-start pid on top of bare init, it's probably not suitable for more complex text/data layouts, as positioning and drawing all the "nice" UI boxes for that can be a lot of work and what widget toolkits are there for.

Kinda expected that RPi would have some python "bare UI" toolkit by now, but oh well, it's not that difficult to make one by putting stuff linked above together.

In future, mgthomas99/easy-vg seem to be moving away from simple API it currently has, based more around paths like raw OpenVG or e.g. cairo in "develop" branch already, but there should be my mk-fg/easy-vg fork retaining old API as it is demonstrated here.

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