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<h2>In this document</h2>
<ol id="auto-toc">
<p><em>What every developer should know about Surface, SurfaceHolder, EGLSurface,
SurfaceView, GLSurfaceView, SurfaceTexture, TextureView, and SurfaceFlinger</em>
<p>This document describes the essential elements of Android's "system-level"
graphics architecture, and how it is used by the application framework and
multimedia system. The focus is on how buffers of graphical data move through
the system. If you've ever wondered why SurfaceView and TextureView behave the
way they do, or how Surface and EGLSurface interact, you've come to the right
<p>Some familiarity with Android devices and application development is assumed.
You don't need detailed knowledge of the app framework, and very few API calls
will be mentioned, but the material herein doesn't overlap much with other
public documentation. The goal here is to provide a sense for the significant
events involved in rendering a frame for output, so that you can make informed
choices when designing an application. To achieve this, we work from the bottom
up, describing how the UI classes work rather than how they can be used.</p>
<p>Early sections contain background material used in later sections, so it's a
good idea to read straight through rather than skipping to a section that sounds
interesting. We start with an explanation of Android's graphics buffers,
describe the composition and display mechanism, and then proceed to the
higher-level mechanisms that supply the compositor with data.</p>
<p>This document is chiefly concerned with the system as it exists in Android 4.4
("KitKat"). Earlier versions of the system worked differently, and future
versions will likely be different as well. Version-specific features are called
out in a few places.</p>
<p>At various points I will refer to source code from the AOSP sources or from
Grafika. Grafika is a Google open-source project for testing; it can be found at
It's more "quick hack" than solid example code, but it will suffice.</p>
<h2 id="BufferQueue">BufferQueue and gralloc</h2>
<p>To understand how Android's graphics system works, we have to start behind the
scenes. At the heart of everything graphical in Android is a class called
BufferQueue. Its role is simple enough: connect something that generates
buffers of graphical data (the "producer") to something that accepts the data
for display or further processing (the "consumer"). The producer and consumer
can live in different processes. Nearly everything that moves buffers of
graphical data through the system relies on BufferQueue.</p>
<p>The basic usage is straightforward. The producer requests a free buffer
(<code>dequeueBuffer()</code>), specifying a set of characteristics including width,
height, pixel format, and usage flags. The producer populates the buffer and
returns it to the queue (<code>queueBuffer()</code>). Some time later, the consumer
acquires the buffer (<code>acquireBuffer()</code>) and makes use of the buffer contents.
When the consumer is done, it returns the buffer to the queue
<p>Most recent Android devices support the "sync framework". This allows the
system to do some nifty thing when combined with hardware components that can
manipulate graphics data asynchronously. For example, a producer can submit a
series of OpenGL ES drawing commands and then enqueue the output buffer before
rendering completes. The buffer is accompanied by a fence that signals when the
contents are ready. A second fence accompanies the buffer when it is returned
to the free list, so that the consumer can release the buffer while the contents
are still in use. This approach improves latency and throughput as the buffers
move through the system.</p>
<p>Some characteristics of the queue, such as the maximum number of buffers it can
hold, are determined jointly by the producer and the consumer.</p>
<p>The BufferQueue is responsible for allocating buffers as it needs them. Buffers
are retained unless the characteristics change; for example, if the producer
starts requesting buffers with a different size, the old buffers will be freed
and new buffers will be allocated on demand.</p>
<p>The data structure is currently always created and "owned" by the consumer. In
Android 4.3 only the producer side was "binderized", i.e. the producer could be
in a remote process but the consumer had to live in the process where the queue
was created. This evolved a bit in 4.4, moving toward a more general
<p>Buffer contents are never copied by BufferQueue. Moving that much data around
would be very inefficient. Instead, buffers are always passed by handle.</p>
<h3 id="gralloc_HAL">gralloc HAL</h3>
<p>The actual buffer allocations are performed through a memory allocator called
"gralloc", which is implemented through a vendor-specific HAL interface (see
The <code>alloc()</code> function takes the arguments you'd expect -- width,
height, pixel format -- as well as a set of usage flags. Those flags merit
closer attention.</p>
<p>The gralloc allocator is not just another way to allocate memory on the native
heap. In some situations, the allocated memory may not be cache-coherent, or
could be totally inaccessible from user space. The nature of the allocation is
determined by the usage flags, which include attributes like:</p>
<li>how often the memory will be accessed from software (CPU)</li>
<li>how often the memory will be accessed from hardware (GPU)</li>
<li>whether the memory will be used as an OpenGL ES ("GLES") texture</li>
<li>whether the memory will be used by a video encoder</li>
<p>For example, if your format specifies RGBA 8888 pixels, and you indicate
the buffer will be accessed from software -- meaning your application will touch
pixels directly -- then the allocator needs to create a buffer with 4 bytes per
pixel in R-G-B-A order. If instead you say the buffer will only be
accessed from hardware and as a GLES texture, the allocator can do anything the
GLES driver wants -- BGRA ordering, non-linear "swizzled" layouts, alternative
color formats, etc. Allowing the hardware to use its preferred format can
improve performance.</p>
<p>Some values cannot be combined on certain platforms. For example, the "video
encoder" flag may require YUV pixels, so adding "software access" and specifying
RGBA 8888 would fail.</p>
<p>The handle returned by the gralloc allocator can be passed between processes
through Binder.</p>
<h2 id="SurfaceFlinger">SurfaceFlinger and Hardware Composer</h2>
<p>Having buffers of graphical data is wonderful, but life is even better when you
get to see them on your device's screen. That's where SurfaceFlinger and the
Hardware Composer HAL come in.</p>
<p>SurfaceFlinger's role is to accept buffers of data from multiple sources,
composite them, and send them to the display. Once upon a time this was done
with software blitting to a hardware framebuffer (e.g.
<code>/dev/graphics/fb0</code>), but those days are long gone.</p>
<p>When an app comes to the foreground, the WindowManager service asks
SurfaceFlinger for a drawing surface. SurfaceFlinger creates a "layer" - the
primary component of which is a BufferQueue - for which SurfaceFlinger acts as
the consumer. A Binder object for the producer side is passed through the
WindowManager to the app, which can then start sending frames directly to
SurfaceFlinger. (Note: The WindowManager uses the term "window" instead of
"layer" for this and uses "layer" to mean something else. We're going to use the
SurfaceFlinger terminology. It can be argued that SurfaceFlinger should really
be called LayerFlinger.)</p>
<p>For most apps, there will be three layers on screen at any time: the "status
bar" at the top of the screen, the "navigation bar" at the bottom or side, and
the application's UI. Some apps will have more or less, e.g. the default home app has a
separate layer for the wallpaper, while a full-screen game might hide the status
bar. Each layer can be updated independently. The status and navigation bars
are rendered by a system process, while the app layers are rendered by the app,
with no coordination between the two.</p>
<p>Device displays refresh at a certain rate, typically 60 frames per second on
phones and tablets. If the display contents are updated mid-refresh, "tearing"
will be visible; so it's important to update the contents only between cycles.
The system receives a signal from the display when it's safe to update the
contents. For historical reasons we'll call this the VSYNC signal.</p>
<p>The refresh rate may vary over time, e.g. some mobile devices will range from 58
to 62fps depending on current conditions. For an HDMI-attached television, this
could theoretically dip to 24 or 48Hz to match a video. Because we can update
the screen only once per refresh cycle, submitting buffers for display at
200fps would be a waste of effort as most of the frames would never be seen.
Instead of taking action whenever an app submits a buffer, SurfaceFlinger wakes
up when the display is ready for something new.</p>
<p>When the VSYNC signal arrives, SurfaceFlinger walks through its list of layers
looking for new buffers. If it finds a new one, it acquires it; if not, it
continues to use the previously-acquired buffer. SurfaceFlinger always wants to
have something to display, so it will hang on to one buffer. If no buffers have
ever been submitted on a layer, the layer is ignored.</p>
<p>Once SurfaceFlinger has collected all of the buffers for visible layers, it
asks the Hardware Composer how composition should be performed.</p>
<h3 id="hwcomposer">Hardware Composer</h3>
<p>The Hardware Composer HAL ("HWC") was first introduced in Android 3.0
("Honeycomb") and has evolved steadily over the years. Its primary purpose is
to determine the most efficient way to composite buffers with the available
hardware. As a HAL, its implementation is device-specific and usually
implemented by the display hardware OEM.</p>
<p>The value of this approach is easy to recognize when you consider "overlay
planes." The purpose of overlay planes is to composite multiple buffers
together, but in the display hardware rather than the GPU. For example, suppose
you have a typical Android phone in portrait orientation, with the status bar on
top and navigation bar at the bottom, and app content everywhere else. The contents
for each layer are in separate buffers. You could handle composition by
rendering the app content into a scratch buffer, then rendering the status bar
over it, then rendering the navigation bar on top of that, and finally passing the
scratch buffer to the display hardware. Or, you could pass all three buffers to
the display hardware, and tell it to read data from different buffers for
different parts of the screen. The latter approach can be significantly more
<p>As you might expect, the capabilities of different display processors vary
significantly. The number of overlays, whether layers can be rotated or
blended, and restrictions on positioning and overlap can be difficult to express
through an API. So, the HWC works like this:</p>
<li>SurfaceFlinger provides the HWC with a full list of layers, and asks, "how do
you want to handle this?"</li>
<li>The HWC responds by marking each layer as "overlay" or "GLES composition."</li>
<li>SurfaceFlinger takes care of any GLES composition, passing the output buffer
to HWC, and lets HWC handle the rest.</li>
<p>Since the decision-making code can be custom tailored by the hardware vendor,
it's possible to get the best performance out of every device.</p>
<p>Overlay planes may be less efficient than GL composition when nothing on the
screen is changing. This is particularly true when the overlay contents have
transparent pixels, and overlapping layers are being blended together. In such
cases, the HWC can choose to request GLES composition for some or all layers
and retain the composited buffer. If SurfaceFlinger comes back again asking to
composite the same set of buffers, the HWC can just continue to show the
previously-composited scratch buffer. This can improve the battery life of an
idle device.</p>
<p>Devices shipping with Android 4.4 ("KitKat") typically support four overlay
planes. Attempting to composite more layers than there are overlays will cause
the system to use GLES composition for some of them; so the number of layers
used by an application can have a measurable impact on power consumption and
<p>You can see exactly what SurfaceFlinger is up to with the command <code>adb shell
dumpsys SurfaceFlinger</code>. The output is verbose. The part most relevant to our
current discussion is the HWC summary that appears near the bottom of the
type | source crop | frame name
HWC | [ 0.0, 0.0, 320.0, 240.0] | [ 48, 411, 1032, 1149] SurfaceView
HWC | [ 0.0, 75.0, 1080.0, 1776.0] | [ 0, 75, 1080, 1776]
HWC | [ 0.0, 0.0, 1080.0, 75.0] | [ 0, 0, 1080, 75] StatusBar
HWC | [ 0.0, 0.0, 1080.0, 144.0] | [ 0, 1776, 1080, 1920] NavigationBar
FB TARGET | [ 0.0, 0.0, 1080.0, 1920.0] | [ 0, 0, 1080, 1920] HWC_FRAMEBUFFER_TARGET
<p>This tells you what layers are on screen, whether they're being handled with
overlays ("HWC") or OpenGL ES composition ("GLES"), and gives you a bunch of
other facts you probably won't care about ("handle" and "hints" and "flags" and
other stuff that we've trimmed out of the snippet above). The "source crop" and
"frame" values will be examined more closely later on.</p>
<p>The FB_TARGET layer is where GLES composition output goes. Since all layers
shown above are using overlays, FB_TARGET isn’t being used for this frame. The
layer's name is indicative of its original role: On a device with
<code>/dev/graphics/fb0</code> and no overlays, all composition would be done
with GLES, and the output would be written to the framebuffer. On recent devices there
generally is no simple framebuffer, so the FB_TARGET layer is a scratch buffer.
(Note: This is why screen grabbers written for old versions of Android no
longer work: They're trying to read from The Framebuffer, but there is no such
<p>The overlay planes have another important role: they're the only way to display
DRM content. DRM-protected buffers cannot be accessed by SurfaceFlinger or the
GLES driver, which means that your video will disappear if HWC switches to GLES
<h3 id="triple-buffering">The Need for Triple-Buffering</h3>
<p>To avoid tearing on the display, the system needs to be double-buffered: the
front buffer is displayed while the back buffer is being prepared. At VSYNC, if
the back buffer is ready, you quickly switch them. This works reasonably well
in a system where you're drawing directly into the framebuffer, but there's a
hitch in the flow when a composition step is added. Because of the way
SurfaceFlinger is triggered, our double-buffered pipeline will have a bubble.</p>
<p>Suppose frame N is being displayed, and frame N+1 has been acquired by
SurfaceFlinger for display on the next VSYNC. (Assume frame N is composited
with an overlay, so we can't alter the buffer contents until the display is done
with it.) When VSYNC arrives, HWC flips the buffers. While the app is starting
to render frame N+2 into the buffer that used to hold frame N, SurfaceFlinger is
scanning the layer list, looking for updates. SurfaceFlinger won't find any new
buffers, so it prepares to show frame N+1 again after the next VSYNC. A little
while later, the app finishes rendering frame N+2 and queues it for
SurfaceFlinger, but it's too late. This has effectively cut our maximum frame
rate in half.</p>
<p>We can fix this with triple-buffering. Just before VSYNC, frame N is being
displayed, frame N+1 has been composited (or scheduled for an overlay) and is
ready to be displayed, and frame N+2 is queued up and ready to be acquired by
SurfaceFlinger. When the screen flips, the buffers rotate through the stages
with no bubble. The app has just less than a full VSYNC period (16.7ms at 60fps) to
do its rendering and queue the buffer. And SurfaceFlinger / HWC has a full VSYNC
period to figure out the composition before the next flip. The downside is
that it takes at least two VSYNC periods for anything that the app does to
appear on the screen. As the latency increases, the device feels less
responsive to touch input.</p>
<img src="images/surfaceflinger_bufferqueue.png" alt="SurfaceFlinger with BufferQueue" />
<p class="img-caption">
<strong>Figure 1.</strong> SurfaceFlinger + BufferQueue
<p>The diagram above depicts the flow of SurfaceFlinger and BufferQueue. During
<li>red buffer fills up, then slides into BufferQueue</li>
<li>after red buffer leaves app, blue buffer slides in, replacing it</li>
<li>green buffer and systemUI* shadow-slide into HWC (showing that SurfaceFlinger
still has the buffers, but now HWC has prepared them for display via overlay on
the next VSYNC).</li>
<p>The blue buffer is referenced by both the display and the BufferQueue. The
app is not allowed to render to it until the associated sync fence signals.</p>
<p>On VSYNC, all of these happen at once:</p>
<li>red buffer leaps into SurfaceFlinger, replacing green buffer</li>
<li>green buffer leaps into Display, replacing blue buffer, and a dotted-line
green twin appears in the BufferQueue</li>
<li>the blue buffer’s fence is signaled, and the blue buffer in App empties**</li>
<li>display rect changes from &lt;blue + SystemUI&gt; to &lt;green +
<p><strong>*</strong> - The System UI process is providing the status and nav
bars, which for our purposes here aren’t changing, so SurfaceFlinger keeps using
the previously-acquired buffer. In practice there would be two separate
buffers, one for the status bar at the top, one for the navigation bar at the
bottom, and they would be sized to fit their contents. Each would arrive on its
own BufferQueue.</p>
<p><strong>**</strong> - The buffer doesn’t actually “empty”; if you submit it
without drawing on it you’ll get that same blue again. The emptying is the
result of clearing the buffer contents, which the app should do before it starts
<p>We can reduce the latency by noting layer composition should not require a
full VSYNC period. If composition is performed by overlays, it takes essentially
zero CPU and GPU time. But we can't count on that, so we need to allow a little
time. If the app starts rendering halfway between VSYNC signals, and
SurfaceFlinger defers the HWC setup until a few milliseconds before the signal
is due to arrive, we can cut the latency from 2 frames to perhaps 1.5. In
theory you could render and composite in a single period, allowing a return to
double-buffering; but getting it down that far is difficult on current devices.
Minor fluctuations in rendering and composition time, and switching from
overlays to GLES composition, can cause us to miss a swap deadline and repeat
the previous frame.</p>
<p>SurfaceFlinger's buffer handling demonstrates the fence-based buffer
management mentioned earlier. If we're animating at full speed, we need to
have an acquired buffer for the display ("front") and an acquired buffer for
the next flip ("back"). If we're showing the buffer on an overlay, the
contents are being accessed directly by the display and must not be touched.
But if you look at an active layer's BufferQueue state in the <code>dumpsys
SurfaceFlinger</code> output, you'll see one acquired buffer, one queued buffer, and
one free buffer. That's because, when SurfaceFlinger acquires the new "back"
buffer, it releases the current "front" buffer to the queue. The "front"
buffer is still in use by the display, so anything that dequeues it must wait
for the fence to signal before drawing on it. So long as everybody follows
the fencing rules, all of the queue-management IPC requests can happen in
parallel with the display.</p>
<h3 id="virtual-displays">Virtual Displays</h3>
<p>SurfaceFlinger supports a "primary" display, i.e. what's built into your phone
or tablet, and an "external" display, such as a television connected through
HDMI. It also supports a number of "virtual" displays, which make composited
output available within the system. Virtual displays can be used to record the
screen or send it over a network.</p>
<p>Virtual displays may share the same set of layers as the main display
(the "layer stack") or have its own set. There is no VSYNC for a virtual
display, so the VSYNC for the primary display is used to trigger composition for
all displays.</p>
<p>In the past, virtual displays were always composited with GLES. The Hardware
Composer managed composition for only the primary display. In Android 4.4, the
Hardware Composer gained the ability to participate in virtual display
<p>As you might expect, the frames generated for a virtual display are written to a
<h3 id="screenrecord">Case study: screenrecord</h3>
<p>Now that we've established some background on BufferQueue and SurfaceFlinger,
it's useful to examine a practical use case.</p>
<p>The <a href="">screenrecord
introduced in Android 4.4, allows you to record everything that appears on the
screen as an .mp4 file on disk. To implement this, we have to receive composited
frames from SurfaceFlinger, write them to the video encoder, and then write the
encoded video data to a file. The video codecs are managed by a separate
process - called "mediaserver" - so we have to move large graphics buffers around
the system. To make it more challenging, we're trying to record 60fps video at
full resolution. The key to making this work efficiently is BufferQueue.</p>
<p>The MediaCodec class allows an app to provide data as raw bytes in buffers, or
through a Surface. We'll discuss Surface in more detail later, but for now just
think of it as a wrapper around the producer end of a BufferQueue. When
screenrecord requests access to a video encoder, mediaserver creates a
BufferQueue and connects itself to the consumer side, and then passes the
producer side back to screenrecord as a Surface.</p>
<p>The screenrecord command then asks SurfaceFlinger to create a virtual display
that mirrors the main display (i.e. it has all of the same layers), and directs
it to send output to the Surface that came from mediaserver. Note that, in this
case, SurfaceFlinger is the producer of buffers rather than the consumer.</p>
<p>Once the configuration is complete, screenrecord can just sit and wait for
encoded data to appear. As apps draw, their buffers travel to SurfaceFlinger,
which composites them into a single buffer that gets sent directly to the video
encoder in mediaserver. The full frames are never even seen by the screenrecord
process. Internally, mediaserver has its own way of moving buffers around that
also passes data by handle, minimizing overhead.</p>
<h3 id="simulate-secondary">Case study: Simulate Secondary Displays</h3>
<p>The WindowManager can ask SurfaceFlinger to create a visible layer for which
SurfaceFlinger will act as the BufferQueue consumer. It's also possible to ask
SurfaceFlinger to create a virtual display, for which SurfaceFlinger will act as
the BufferQueue producer. What happens if you connect them, configuring a
virtual display that renders to a visible layer?</p>
<p>You create a closed loop, where the composited screen appears in a window. Of
course, that window is now part of the composited output, so on the next refresh
the composited image inside the window will show the window contents as well.
It's turtles all the way down. You can see this in action by enabling
"<a href="">Developer options</a>" in
settings, selecting "Simulate secondary displays", and enabling a window. For
bonus points, use screenrecord to capture the act of enabling the display, then
play it back frame-by-frame.</p>
<h2 id="surface">Surface and SurfaceHolder</h2>
<p>The <a
class has been part of the public API since 1.0. Its description simply says,
"Handle onto a raw buffer that is being managed by the screen compositor." The
statement was accurate when initially written but falls well short of the mark
on a modern system.</p>
<p>The Surface represents the producer side of a buffer queue that is often (but
not always!) consumed by SurfaceFlinger. When you render onto a Surface, the
result ends up in a buffer that gets shipped to the consumer. A Surface is not
simply a raw chunk of memory you can scribble on.</p>
<p>The BufferQueue for a display Surface is typically configured for
triple-buffering; but buffers are allocated on demand. So if the producer
generates buffers slowly enough -- maybe it's animating at 30fps on a 60fps
display -- there might only be two allocated buffers in the queue. This helps
minimize memory consumption. You can see a summary of the buffers associated
with every layer in the <code>dumpsys SurfaceFlinger</code> output.</p>
<h3 id="canvas">Canvas Rendering</h3>
<p>Once upon a time, all rendering was done in software, and you can still do this
today. The low-level implementation is provided by the Skia graphics library.
If you want to draw a rectangle, you make a library call, and it sets bytes in a
buffer appropriately. To ensure that a buffer isn't updated by two clients at
once, or written to while being displayed, you have to lock the buffer to access
it. <code>lockCanvas()</code> locks the buffer and returns a Canvas to use for drawing,
and <code>unlockCanvasAndPost()</code> unlocks the buffer and sends it to the compositor.</p>
<p>As time went on, and devices with general-purpose 3D engines appeared, Android
reoriented itself around OpenGL ES. However, it was important to keep the old
API working, for apps as well as app framework code, so an effort was made to
hardware-accelerate the Canvas API. As you can see from the charts on the
<a href="">Hardware
page, this was a bit of a bumpy ride. Note in particular that while the Canvas
provided to a View's <code>onDraw()</code> method may be hardware-accelerated, the Canvas
obtained when an app locks a Surface directly with <code>lockCanvas()</code> never is.</p>
<p>When you lock a Surface for Canvas access, the "CPU renderer" connects to the
producer side of the BufferQueue and does not disconnect until the Surface is
destroyed. Most other producers (like GLES) can be disconnected and reconnected
to a Surface, but the Canvas-based "CPU renderer" cannot. This means you can't
draw on a surface with GLES or send it frames from a video decoder if you've
ever locked it for a Canvas.</p>
<p>The first time the producer requests a buffer from a BufferQueue, it is
allocated and initialized to zeroes. Initialization is necessary to avoid
inadvertently sharing data between processes. When you re-use a buffer,
however, the previous contents will still be present. If you repeatedly call
<code>lockCanvas()</code> and <code>unlockCanvasAndPost()</code> without
drawing anything, you'll cycle between previously-rendered frames.</p>
<p>The Surface lock/unlock code keeps a reference to the previously-rendered
buffer. If you specify a dirty region when locking the Surface, it will copy
the non-dirty pixels from the previous buffer. There's a fair chance the buffer
will be handled by SurfaceFlinger or HWC; but since we need to only read from
it, there's no need to wait for exclusive access.</p>
<p>The main non-Canvas way for an application to draw directly on a Surface is
through OpenGL ES. That's described in the <a href="#eglsurface">EGLSurface and
OpenGL ES</a> section.</p>
<h3 id="surfaceholder">SurfaceHolder</h3>
<p>Some things that work with Surfaces want a SurfaceHolder, notably SurfaceView.
The original idea was that Surface represented the raw compositor-managed
buffer, while SurfaceHolder was managed by the app and kept track of
higher-level information like the dimensions and format. The Java-language
definition mirrors the underlying native implementation. It's arguably no
longer useful to split it this way, but it has long been part of the public API.</p>
<p>Generally speaking, anything having to do with a View will involve a
SurfaceHolder. Some other APIs, such as MediaCodec, will operate on the Surface
itself. You can easily get the Surface from the SurfaceHolder, so hang on to
the latter when you have it.</p>
<p>APIs to get and set Surface parameters, such as the size and format, are
implemented through SurfaceHolder.</p>
<h2 id="eglsurface">EGLSurface and OpenGL ES</h2>
<p>OpenGL ES defines an API for rendering graphics. It does not define a windowing
system. To allow GLES to work on a variety of platforms, it is designed to be
combined with a library that knows how to create and access windows through the
operating system. The library used for Android is called EGL. If you want to
draw textured polygons, you use GLES calls; if you want to put your rendering on
the screen, you use EGL calls.</p>
<p>Before you can do anything with GLES, you need to create a GL context. In EGL,
this means creating an EGLContext and an EGLSurface. GLES operations apply to
the current context, which is accessed through thread-local storage rather than
passed around as an argument. This means you have to be careful about which
thread your rendering code executes on, and which context is current on that
<p>The EGLSurface can be an off-screen buffer allocated by EGL (called a "pbuffer")
or a window allocated by the operating system. EGL window surfaces are created
with the <code>eglCreateWindowSurface()</code> call. It takes a "window object" as an
argument, which on Android can be a SurfaceView, a SurfaceTexture, a
SurfaceHolder, or a Surface -- all of which have a BufferQueue underneath. When
you make this call, EGL creates a new EGLSurface object, and connects it to the
producer interface of the window object's BufferQueue. From that point onward,
rendering to that EGLSurface results in a buffer being dequeued, rendered into,
and queued for use by the consumer. (The term "window" is indicative of the
expected use, but bear in mind the output might not be destined to appear
on the display.)</p>
<p>EGL does not provide lock/unlock calls. Instead, you issue drawing commands and
then call <code>eglSwapBuffers()</code> to submit the current frame. The
method name comes from the traditional swap of front and back buffers, but the actual
implementation may be very different.</p>
<p>Only one EGLSurface can be associated with a Surface at a time -- you can have
only one producer connected to a BufferQueue -- but if you destroy the
EGLSurface it will disconnect from the BufferQueue and allow something else to
<p>A given thread can switch between multiple EGLSurfaces by changing what's
"current." An EGLSurface must be current on only one thread at a time.</p>
<p>The most common mistake when thinking about EGLSurface is assuming that it is
just another aspect of Surface (like SurfaceHolder). It's a related but
independent concept. You can draw on an EGLSurface that isn't backed by a
Surface, and you can use a Surface without EGL. EGLSurface just gives GLES a
place to draw.</p>
<h3 id="anativewindow">ANativeWindow</h3>
<p>The public Surface class is implemented in the Java programming language. The
equivalent in C/C++ is the ANativeWindow class, semi-exposed by the <a
href="">Android NDK</a>. You
can get the ANativeWindow from a Surface with the <code>ANativeWindow_fromSurface()</code>
call. Just like its Java-language cousin, you can lock it, render in software,
and unlock-and-post.</p>
<p>To create an EGL window surface from native code, you pass an instance of
EGLNativeWindowType to <code>eglCreateWindowSurface()</code>. EGLNativeWindowType is just
a synonym for ANativeWindow, so you can freely cast one to the other.</p>
<p>The fact that the basic "native window" type just wraps the producer side of a
BufferQueue should not come as a surprise.</p>
<h2 id="surfaceview">SurfaceView and GLSurfaceView</h2>
<p>Now that we've explored the lower-level components, it's time to see how they
fit into the higher-level components that apps are built from.</p>
<p>The Android app framework UI is based on a hierarchy of objects that start with
View. Most of the details don't matter for this discussion, but it's helpful to
understand that UI elements go through a complicated measurement and layout
process that fits them into a rectangular area. All visible View objects are
rendered to a SurfaceFlinger-created Surface that was set up by the
WindowManager when the app was brought to the foreground. The layout and
rendering is performed on the app's UI thread.</p>
<p>Regardless of how many Layouts and Views you have, everything gets rendered into
a single buffer. This is true whether or not the Views are hardware-accelerated.</p>
<p>A SurfaceView takes the same sorts of parameters as other views, so you can give
it a position and size, and fit other elements around it. When it comes time to
render, however, the contents are completely transparent. The View part of a
SurfaceView is just a see-through placeholder.</p>
<p>When the SurfaceView's View component is about to become visible, the framework
asks the WindowManager to ask SurfaceFlinger to create a new Surface. (This
doesn't happen synchronously, which is why you should provide a callback that
notifies you when the Surface creation finishes.) By default, the new Surface
is placed behind the app UI Surface, but the default "Z-ordering" can be
overridden to put the Surface on top.</p>
<p>Whatever you render onto this Surface will be composited by SurfaceFlinger, not
by the app. This is the real power of SurfaceView: the Surface you get can be
rendered by a separate thread or a separate process, isolated from any rendering
performed by the app UI, and the buffers go directly to SurfaceFlinger. You
can't totally ignore the UI thread -- you still have to coordinate with the
Activity lifecycle, and you may need to adjust something if the size or position
of the View changes -- but you have a whole Surface all to yourself, and
blending with the app UI and other layers is handled by the Hardware Composer.</p>
<p>It's worth taking a moment to note that this new Surface is the producer side of
a BufferQueue whose consumer is a SurfaceFlinger layer. You can update the
Surface with any mechanism that can feed a BufferQueue. You can: use the
Surface-supplied Canvas functions, attach an EGLSurface and draw on it
with GLES, and configure a MediaCodec video decoder to write to it.</p>
<h3 id="composition">Composition and the Hardware Scaler</h3>
<p>Now that we have a bit more context, it's useful to go back and look at a couple
of fields from <code>dumpsys SurfaceFlinger</code> that we skipped over earlier
on. Back in the <a href="#hwcomposer">Hardware Composer</a> discussion, we
looked at some output like this:</p>
type | source crop | frame name
HWC | [ 0.0, 0.0, 320.0, 240.0] | [ 48, 411, 1032, 1149] SurfaceView
HWC | [ 0.0, 75.0, 1080.0, 1776.0] | [ 0, 75, 1080, 1776]
HWC | [ 0.0, 0.0, 1080.0, 75.0] | [ 0, 0, 1080, 75] StatusBar
HWC | [ 0.0, 0.0, 1080.0, 144.0] | [ 0, 1776, 1080, 1920] NavigationBar
FB TARGET | [ 0.0, 0.0, 1080.0, 1920.0] | [ 0, 0, 1080, 1920] HWC_FRAMEBUFFER_TARGET
<p>This was taken while playing a movie in Grafika's "Play video (SurfaceView)"
activity, on a Nexus 5 in portrait orientation. Note that the list is ordered
from back to front: the SurfaceView's Surface is in the back, the app UI layer
sits on top of that, followed by the status and navigation bars that are above
everything else. The video is QVGA (320x240).</p>
<p>The "source crop" indicates the portion of the Surface's buffer that
SurfaceFlinger is going to display. The app UI was given a Surface equal to the
full size of the display (1080x1920), but there's no point rendering and
compositing pixels that will be obscured by the status and navigation bars, so
the source is cropped to a rectangle that starts 75 pixels from the top, and
ends 144 pixels from the bottom. The status and navigation bars have smaller
Surfaces, and the source crop describes a rectangle that begins at the the top
left (0,0) and spans their content.</p>
<p>The "frame" is the rectangle where the pixels end up on the display. For the
app UI layer, the frame matches the source crop, because we're copying (or
overlaying) a portion of a display-sized layer to the same location in another
display-sized layer. For the status and navigation bars, the size of the frame
rectangle is the same, but the position is adjusted so that the navigation bar
appears at the bottom of the screen.</p>
<p>Now consider the layer labeled "SurfaceView", which holds our video content.
The source crop matches the video size, which SurfaceFlinger knows because the
MediaCodec decoder (the buffer producer) is dequeuing buffers that size. The
frame rectangle has a completely different size -- 984x738.</p>
<p>SurfaceFlinger handles size differences by scaling the buffer contents to fill
the frame rectangle, upscaling or downscaling as needed. This particular size
was chosen because it has the same aspect ratio as the video (4:3), and is as
wide as possible given the constraints of the View layout (which includes some
padding at the edges of the screen for aesthetic reasons).</p>
<p>If you started playing a different video on the same Surface, the underlying
BufferQueue would reallocate buffers to the new size automatically, and
SurfaceFlinger would adjust the source crop. If the aspect ratio of the new
video is different, the app would need to force a re-layout of the View to match
it, which causes the WindowManager to tell SurfaceFlinger to update the frame
<p>If you're rendering on the Surface through some other means, perhaps GLES, you
can set the Surface size using the <code>SurfaceHolder#setFixedSize()</code>
call. You could, for example, configure a game to always render at 1280x720,
which would significantly reduce the number of pixels that must be touched to
fill the screen on a 2560x1440 tablet or 4K television. The display processor
handles the scaling. If you don't want to letter- or pillar-box your game, you
could adjust the game's aspect ratio by setting the size so that the narrow
dimension is 720 pixels, but the long dimension is set to maintain the aspect
ratio of the physical display (e.g. 1152x720 to match a 2560x1600 display).
You can see an example of this approach in Grafika's "Hardware scaler
exerciser" activity.</p>
<h3 id="glsurfaceview">GLSurfaceView</h3>
<p>The GLSurfaceView class provides some helper classes that help manage EGL
contexts, inter-thread communication, and interaction with the Activity
lifecycle. That's it. You do not need to use a GLSurfaceView to use GLES.</p>
<p>For example, GLSurfaceView creates a thread for rendering and configures an EGL
context there. The state is cleaned up automatically when the activity pauses.
Most apps won't need to know anything about EGL to use GLES with GLSurfaceView.</p>
<p>In most cases, GLSurfaceView is very helpful and can make working with GLES
easier. In some situations, it can get in the way. Use it if it helps, don't
if it doesn't.</p>
<h2 id="surfacetexture">SurfaceTexture</h2>
<p>The SurfaceTexture class is a relative newcomer, added in Android 3.0
("Honeycomb"). Just as SurfaceView is the combination of a Surface and a View,
SurfaceTexture is the combination of a Surface and a GLES texture. Sort of.</p>
<p>When you create a SurfaceTexture, you are creating a BufferQueue for which your
app is the consumer. When a new buffer is queued by the producer, your app is
notified via callback (<code>onFrameAvailable()</code>). Your app calls
<code>updateTexImage()</code>, which releases the previously-held buffer,
acquires the new buffer from the queue, and makes some EGL calls to make the
buffer available to GLES as an "external" texture.</p>
<p>External textures (<code>GL_TEXTURE_EXTERNAL_OES</code>) are not quite the
same as textures created by GLES (<code>GL_TEXTURE_2D</code>). You have to
configure your renderer a bit differently, and there are things you can't do
with them. But the key point is this: You can render textured polygons directly
from the data received by your BufferQueue.</p>
<p>You may be wondering how we can guarantee the format of the data in the
buffer is something GLES can recognize -- gralloc supports a wide variety
of formats. When SurfaceTexture created the BufferQueue, it set the consumer's
usage flags to <code>GRALLOC_USAGE_HW_TEXTURE</code>, ensuring that any buffer
created by gralloc would be usable by GLES.</p>
<p>Because SurfaceTexture interacts with an EGL context, you have to be careful to
call its methods from the correct thread. This is spelled out in the class
<p>If you look deeper into the class documentation, you will see a couple of odd
calls. One retrieves a timestamp, the other a transformation matrix, the value
of each having been set by the previous call to <code>updateTexImage()</code>.
It turns out that BufferQueue passes more than just a buffer handle to the consumer.
Each buffer is accompanied by a timestamp and transformation parameters.</p>
<p>The transformation is provided for efficiency. In some cases, the source data
might be in the "wrong" orientation for the consumer; but instead of rotating
the data before sending it, we can send the data in its current orientation with
a transform that corrects it. The transformation matrix can be merged with
other transformations at the point the data is used, minimizing overhead.</p>
<p>The timestamp is useful for certain buffer sources. For example, suppose you
connect the producer interface to the output of the camera (with
<code>setPreviewTexture()</code>). If you want to create a video, you need to
set the presentation time stamp for each frame; but you want to base that on the time
when the frame was captured, not the time when the buffer was received by your
app. The timestamp provided with the buffer is set by the camera code,
resulting in a more consistent series of timestamps.</p>
<h3 id="surfacet">SurfaceTexture and Surface</h3>
<p>If you look closely at the API you'll see the only way for an application
to create a plain Surface is through a constructor that takes a SurfaceTexture
as the sole argument. (Prior to API 11, there was no public constructor for
Surface at all.) This might seem a bit backward if you view SurfaceTexture as a
combination of a Surface and a texture.</p>
<p>Under the hood, SurfaceTexture is called GLConsumer, which more accurately
reflects its role as the owner and consumer of a BufferQueue. When you create a
Surface from a SurfaceTexture, what you're doing is creating an object that
represents the producer side of the SurfaceTexture's BufferQueue.</p>
<h3 id="continuous-capture">Case Study: Grafika's "Continuous Capture" Activity</h3>
<p>The camera can provide a stream of frames suitable for recording as a movie. If
you want to display it on screen, you create a SurfaceView, pass the Surface to
<code>setPreviewDisplay()</code>, and let the producer (camera) and consumer
(SurfaceFlinger) do all the work. If you want to record the video, you create a
Surface with MediaCodec's <code>createInputSurface()</code>, pass that to the
camera, and again you sit back and relax. If you want to show the video and
record it at the same time, you have to get more involved.</p>
<p>The "Continuous capture" activity displays video from the camera as it's being
recorded. In this case, encoded video is written to a circular buffer in memory
that can be saved to disk at any time. It's straightforward to implement so
long as you keep track of where everything is.</p>
<p>There are three BufferQueues involved. The app uses a SurfaceTexture to receive
frames from Camera, converting them to an external GLES texture. The app
declares a SurfaceView, which we use to display the frames, and we configure a
MediaCodec encoder with an input Surface to create the video. So one
BufferQueue is created by the app, one by SurfaceFlinger, and one by
<img src="images/continuous_capture_activity.png" alt="Grafika continuous
capture activity" />
<p class="img-caption">
<strong>Figure 2.</strong>Grafika's continuous capture activity
<p>In the diagram above, the arrows show the propagation of the data from the
camera. BufferQueues are in color (purple producer, cyan consumer). Note
“Camera” actually lives in the mediaserver process.</p>
<p>Encoded H.264 video goes to a circular buffer in RAM in the app process, and is
written to an MP4 file on disk using the MediaMuxer class when the “capture”
button is hit.</p>
<p>All three of the BufferQueues are handled with a single EGL context in the
app, and the GLES operations are performed on the UI thread. Doing the
SurfaceView rendering on the UI thread is generally discouraged, but since we're
doing simple operations that are handled asynchronously by the GLES driver we
should be fine. (If the video encoder locks up and we block trying to dequeue a
buffer, the app will become unresponsive. But at that point, we're probably
failing anyway.) The handling of the encoded data -- managing the circular
buffer and writing it to disk -- is performed on a separate thread.</p>
<p>The bulk of the configuration happens in the SurfaceView's <code>surfaceCreated()</code>
callback. The EGLContext is created, and EGLSurfaces are created for the
display and for the video encoder. When a new frame arrives, we tell
SurfaceTexture to acquire it and make it available as a GLES texture, then
render it with GLES commands on each EGLSurface (forwarding the transform and
timestamp from SurfaceTexture). The encoder thread pulls the encoded output
from MediaCodec and stashes it in memory.</p>
<h2 id="texture">TextureView</h2>
<p>The TextureView class was
<a href="">introduced</a>
in Android 4.0 ("Ice Cream Sandwich"). It's the most complex of the View
objects discussed here, combining a View with a SurfaceTexture.</p>
<p>Recall that the SurfaceTexture is a "GL consumer", consuming buffers of graphics
data and making them available as textures. TextureView wraps a SurfaceTexture,
taking over the responsibility of responding to the callbacks and acquiring new
buffers. The arrival of new buffers causes TextureView to issue a View
invalidate request. When asked to draw, the TextureView uses the contents of
the most recently received buffer as its data source, rendering wherever and
however the View state indicates it should.</p>
<p>You can render on a TextureView with GLES just as you would SurfaceView. Just
pass the SurfaceTexture to the EGL window creation call. However, doing so
exposes a potential problem.</p>
<p>In most of what we've looked at, the BufferQueues have passed buffers between
different processes. When rendering to a TextureView with GLES, both producer
and consumer are in the same process, and they might even be handled on a single
thread. Suppose we submit several buffers in quick succession from the UI
thread. The EGL buffer swap call will need to dequeue a buffer from the
BufferQueue, and it will stall until one is available. There won't be any
available until the consumer acquires one for rendering, but that also happens
on the UI thread… so we're stuck.</p>
<p>The solution is to have BufferQueue ensure there is always a buffer
available to be dequeued, so the buffer swap never stalls. One way to guarantee
this is to have BufferQueue discard the contents of the previously-queued buffer
when a new buffer is queued, and to place restrictions on minimum buffer counts
and maximum acquired buffer counts. (If your queue has three buffers, and all
three buffers are acquired by the consumer, then there's nothing to dequeue and
the buffer swap call must hang or fail. So we need to prevent the consumer from
acquiring more than two buffers at once.) Dropping buffers is usually
undesirable, so it's only enabled in specific situations, such as when the
producer and consumer are in the same process.</p>
<h3 id="surface-or-texture">SurfaceView or TextureView?</h3>
SurfaceView and TextureView fill similar roles, but have very different
implementations. To decide which is best requires an understanding of the
<p>Because TextureView is a proper citizen of the View hierarchy, it behaves like
any other View, and can overlap or be overlapped by other elements. You can
perform arbitrary transformations and retrieve the contents as a bitmap with
simple API calls.</p>
<p>The main strike against TextureView is the performance of the composition step.
With SurfaceView, the content is written to a separate layer that SurfaceFlinger
composites, ideally with an overlay. With TextureView, the View composition is
always performed with GLES, and updates to its contents may cause other View
elements to redraw as well (e.g. if they're positioned on top of the
TextureView). After the View rendering completes, the app UI layer must then be
composited with other layers by SurfaceFlinger, so you're effectively
compositing every visible pixel twice. For a full-screen video player, or any
other application that is effectively just UI elements layered on top of video,
SurfaceView offers much better performance.</p>
<p>As noted earlier, DRM-protected video can be presented only on an overlay plane.
Video players that support protected content must be implemented with
<h3 id="grafika">Case Study: Grafika's Play Video (TextureView)</h3>
<p>Grafika includes a pair of video players, one implemented with TextureView, the
other with SurfaceView. The video decoding portion, which just sends frames
from MediaCodec to a Surface, is the same for both. The most interesting
differences between the implementations are the steps required to present the
correct aspect ratio.</p>
<p>While SurfaceView requires a custom implementation of FrameLayout, resizing
SurfaceTexture is a simple matter of configuring a transformation matrix with
<code>TextureView#setTransform()</code>. For the former, you're sending new
window position and size values to SurfaceFlinger through WindowManager; for
the latter, you're just rendering it differently.</p>
<p>Otherwise, both implementations follow the same pattern. Once the Surface has
been created, playback is enabled. When "play" is hit, a video decoding thread
is started, with the Surface as the output target. After that, the app code
doesn't have to do anything -- composition and display will either be handled by
SurfaceFlinger (for the SurfaceView) or by TextureView.</p>
<h3 id="decode">Case Study: Grafika's Double Decode</h3>
<p>This activity demonstrates manipulation of the SurfaceTexture inside a
<p>The basic structure of this activity is a pair of TextureViews that show two
different videos playing side-by-side. To simulate the needs of a
videoconferencing app, we want to keep the MediaCodec decoders alive when the
activity is paused and resumed for an orientation change. The trick is that you
can't change the Surface that a MediaCodec decoder uses without fully
reconfiguring it, which is a fairly expensive operation; so we want to keep the
Surface alive. The Surface is just a handle to the producer interface in the
SurfaceTexture's BufferQueue, and the SurfaceTexture is managed by the
TextureView;, so we also need to keep the SurfaceTexture alive. So how do we deal
with the TextureView getting torn down?</p>
<p>It just so happens TextureView provides a <code>setSurfaceTexture()</code> call
that does exactly what we want. We obtain references to the SurfaceTextures
from the TextureViews and save them in a static field. When the activity is
shut down, we return "false" from the <code>onSurfaceTextureDestroyed()</code>
callback to prevent destruction of the SurfaceTexture. When the activity is
restarted, we stuff the old SurfaceTexture into the new TextureView. The
TextureView class takes care of creating and destroying the EGL contexts.</p>
<p>Each video decoder is driven from a separate thread. At first glance it might
seem like we need EGL contexts local to each thread; but remember the buffers
with decoded output are actually being sent from mediaserver to our
BufferQueue consumers (the SurfaceTextures). The TextureViews take care of the
rendering for us, and they execute on the UI thread.</p>
<p>Implementing this activity with SurfaceView would be a bit harder. We can't
just create a pair of SurfaceViews and direct the output to them, because the
Surfaces would be destroyed during an orientation change. Besides, that would
add two layers, and limitations on the number of available overlays strongly
motivate us to keep the number of layers to a minimum. Instead, we'd want to
create a pair of SurfaceTextures to receive the output from the video decoders,
and then perform the rendering in the app, using GLES to render two textured
quads onto the SurfaceView's Surface.</p>
<h2 id="notes">Conclusion</h2>
<p>We hope this page has provided useful insights into the way Android handles
graphics at the system level.</p>
<p>Some information and advice on related topics can be found in the appendices
that follow.</p>
<h2 id="loops">Appendix A: Game Loops</h2>
<p>A very popular way to implement a game loop looks like this:</p>
while (playing) {
advance state by one frame
render the new frame
sleep until it’s time to do the next frame
<p>There are a few problems with this, the most fundamental being the idea that the
game can define what a "frame" is. Different displays will refresh at different
rates, and that rate may vary over time. If you generate frames faster than the
display can show them, you will have to drop one occasionally. If you generate
them too slowly, SurfaceFlinger will periodically fail to find a new buffer to
acquire and will re-show the previous frame. Both of these situations can
cause visible glitches.</p>
<p>What you need to do is match the display's frame rate, and advance game state
according to how much time has elapsed since the previous frame. There are two
ways to go about this: (1) stuff the BufferQueue full and rely on the "swap
buffers" back-pressure; (2) use Choreographer (API 16+).</p>
<h3 id="stuffing">Queue Stuffing</h3>
<p>This is very easy to implement: just swap buffers as fast as you can. In early
versions of Android this could actually result in a penalty where
<code>SurfaceView#lockCanvas()</code> would put you to sleep for 100ms. Now
it's paced by the BufferQueue, and the BufferQueue is emptied as quickly as
SurfaceFlinger is able.</p>
<p>One example of this approach can be seen in <a
href="">Android Breakout</a>. It
uses GLSurfaceView, which runs in a loop that calls the application's
onDrawFrame() callback and then swaps the buffer. If the BufferQueue is full,
the <code>eglSwapBuffers()</code> call will wait until a buffer is available.
Buffers become available when SurfaceFlinger releases them, which it does after
acquiring a new one for display. Because this happens on VSYNC, your draw loop
timing will match the refresh rate. Mostly.</p>
<p>There are a couple of problems with this approach. First, the app is tied to
SurfaceFlinger activity, which is going to take different amounts of time
depending on how much work there is to do and whether it's fighting for CPU time
with other processes. Since your game state advances according to the time
between buffer swaps, your animation won't update at a consistent rate. When
running at 60fps with the inconsistencies averaged out over time, though, you
probably won't notice the bumps.</p>
<p>Second, the first couple of buffer swaps are going to happen very quickly
because the BufferQueue isn't full yet. The computed time between frames will
be near zero, so the game will generate a few frames in which nothing happens.
In a game like Breakout, which updates the screen on every refresh, the queue is
always full except when a game is first starting (or un-paused), so the effect
isn't noticeable. A game that pauses animation occasionally and then returns to
as-fast-as-possible mode might see odd hiccups.</p>
<h3 id="choreographer">Choreographer</h3>
<p>Choreographer allows you to set a callback that fires on the next VSYNC. The
actual VSYNC time is passed in as an argument. So even if your app doesn't wake
up right away, you still have an accurate picture of when the display refresh
period began. Using this value, rather than the current time, yields a
consistent time source for your game state update logic.</p>
<p>Unfortunately, the fact that you get a callback after every VSYNC does not
guarantee that your callback will be executed in a timely fashion or that you
will be able to act upon it sufficiently swiftly. Your app will need to detect
situations where it's falling behind and drop frames manually.</p>
<p>The "Record GL app" activity in Grafika provides an example of this. On some
devices (e.g. Nexus 4 and Nexus 5), the activity will start dropping frames if
you just sit and watch. The GL rendering is trivial, but occasionally the View
elements get redrawn, and the measure/layout pass can take a very long time if
the device has dropped into a reduced-power mode. (According to systrace, it
takes 28ms instead of 6ms after the clocks slow on Android 4.4. If you drag
your finger around the screen, it thinks you're interacting with the activity,
so the clock speeds stay high and you'll never drop a frame.)</p>
<p>The simple fix was to drop a frame in the Choreographer callback if the current
time is more than N milliseconds after the VSYNC time. Ideally the value of N
is determined based on previously observed VSYNC intervals. For example, if the
refresh period is 16.7ms (60fps), you might drop a frame if you're running more
than 15ms late.</p>
<p>If you watch "Record GL app" run, you will see the dropped-frame counter
increase, and even see a flash of red in the border when frames drop. Unless
your eyes are very good, though, you won't see the animation stutter. At 60fps,
the app can drop the occasional frame without anyone noticing so long as the
animation continues to advance at a constant rate. How much you can get away
with depends to some extent on what you're drawing, the characteristics of the
display, and how good the person using the app is at detecting jank.</p>
<h3 id="thread">Thread Management</h3>
<p>Generally speaking, if you're rendering onto a SurfaceView, GLSurfaceView, or
TextureView, you want to do that rendering in a dedicated thread. Never do any
"heavy lifting" or anything that takes an indeterminate amount of time on the
UI thread.</p>
<p>Breakout and "Record GL app" use dedicated renderer threads, and they also
update animation state on that thread. This is a reasonable approach so long as
game state can be updated quickly.</p>
<p>Other games separate the game logic and rendering completely. If you had a
simple game that did nothing but move a block every 100ms, you could have a
dedicated thread that just did this:</p>
run() {
synchronized (mLock) {
<p>(You may want to base the sleep time off of a fixed clock to prevent drift --
sleep() isn't perfectly consistent, and moveBlock() takes a nonzero amount of
time -- but you get the idea.)</p>
<p>When the draw code wakes up, it just grabs the lock, gets the current position
of the block, releases the lock, and draws. Instead of doing fractional
movement based on inter-frame delta times, you just have one thread that moves
things along and another thread that draws things wherever they happen to be
when the drawing starts.</p>
<p>For a scene with any complexity you'd want to create a list of upcoming events
sorted by wake time, and sleep until the next event is due, but it's the same
<h2 id="activity">Appendix B: SurfaceView and the Activity Lifecycle</h2>
<p>When using a SurfaceView, it's considered good practice to render the Surface
from a thread other than the main UI thread. This raises some questions about
the interaction between that thread and the Activity lifecycle.</p>
<p>First, a little background. For an Activity with a SurfaceView, there are two
separate but interdependent state machines:</p>
<li>Application onCreate / onResume / onPause</li>
<li>Surface created / changed / destroyed</li>
<p>When the Activity starts, you get callbacks in this order:</p>
<p>If you hit "back" you get:</p>
<li>surfaceDestroyed (called just before the Surface goes away)</li>
<p>If you rotate the screen, the Activity is torn down and recreated, so you
get the full cycle. If it matters, you can tell that it's a "quick" restart by
checking <code>isFinishing()</code>. (It might be possible to start / stop an
Activity so quickly that surfaceCreated() might actually happen after onPause().)</p>
<p>If you tap the power button to blank the screen, you only get
<code>onPause()</code> -- no <code>surfaceDestroyed()</code>. The Surface
remains alive, and rendering can continue. You can even keep getting
Choreographer events if you continue to request them. If you have a lock
screen that forces a different orientation, your Activity may be restarted when
the device is unblanked; but if not, you can come out of screen-blank with the
same Surface you had before.</p>
<p>This raises a fundamental question when using a separate renderer thread with
SurfaceView: Should the lifespan of the thread be tied to that of the Surface or
the Activity? The answer depends on what you want to have happen when the
screen goes blank. There are two basic approaches: (1) start/stop the thread on
Activity start/stop; (2) start/stop the thread on Surface create/destroy.</p>
<p>#1 interacts well with the app lifecycle. We start the renderer thread in
<code>onResume()</code> and stop it in <code>onPause()</code>. It gets a bit
awkward when creating and configuring the thread because sometimes the Surface
will already exist and sometimes it won't (e.g. it's still alive after toggling
the screen with the power button). We have to wait for the surface to be
created before we do some initialization in the thread, but we can't simply do
it in the <code>surfaceCreated()</code> callback because that won't fire again
if the Surface didn't get recreated. So we need to query or cache the Surface
state, and forward it to the renderer thread. Note we have to be a little
careful here passing objects between threads -- it is best to pass the Surface or
SurfaceHolder through a Handler message, rather than just stuffing it into the
thread, to avoid issues on multi-core systems (cf. the <a
href="">Android SMP
<p>#2 has a certain appeal because the Surface and the renderer are logically
intertwined. We start the thread after the Surface has been created, which
avoids some inter-thread communication concerns. Surface created / changed
messages are simply forwarded. We need to make sure rendering stops when the
screen goes blank, and resumes when it un-blanks; this could be a simple matter
of telling Choreographer to stop invoking the frame draw callback. Our
<code>onResume()</code> will need to resume the callbacks if and only if the
renderer thread is running. It may not be so trivial though -- if we animate
based on elapsed time between frames, we could have a very large gap when the
next event arrives; so an explicit pause/resume message may be desirable.</p>
<p>The above is primarily concerned with how the renderer thread is configured and
whether it's executing. A related concern is extracting state from the thread
when the Activity is killed (in <code>onPause()</code> or <code>onSaveInstanceState()</code>).
Approach #1 will work best for that, because once the renderer thread has been
joined its state can be accessed without synchronization primitives.</p>
<p>You can see an example of approach #2 in Grafika's "Hardware scaler exerciser."</p>
<h2 id="tracking">Appendix C: Tracking BufferQueue with systrace</h2>
<p>If you really want to understand how graphics buffers move around, you need to
use systrace. The system-level graphics code is well instrumented, as is much
of the relevant app framework code. Enable the "gfx" and "view" tags, and
generally "sched" as well.</p>
<p>A full description of how to use systrace effectively would fill a rather long
document. One noteworthy item is the presence of BufferQueues in the trace. If
you've used systrace before, you've probably seen them, but maybe weren't sure
what they were. As an example, if you grab a trace while Grafika's "Play video
(SurfaceView)" is running, you will see a row labeled: "SurfaceView" This row
tells you how many buffers were queued up at any given time.</p>
<p>You'll notice the value increments while the app is active -- triggering
the rendering of frames by the MediaCodec decoder -- and decrements while
SurfaceFlinger is doing work, consuming buffers. If you're showing video at
30fps, the queue's value will vary from 0 to 1, because the ~60fps display can
easily keep up with the source. (You'll also notice that SurfaceFlinger is only
waking up when there's work to be done, not 60 times per second. The system tries
very hard to avoid work and will disable VSYNC entirely if nothing is updating
the screen.)</p>
<p>If you switch to "Play video (TextureView)" and grab a new trace, you'll see a
row with a much longer name
(""). This is the
main UI layer, which is of course just another BufferQueue. Because TextureView
renders into the UI layer, rather than a separate layer, you'll see all of the
video-driven updates here.</p>
<p>For more information about systrace, see the <a
documentation</a> for the tool.</p>