Writing a Mouse-Sensitive Application

Terminal-oriented programs tend to have an unwieldy interface, while writing X-Windows applications is difficult. By using the gpm client library you can easily turn a text-oriented program into an easy-to-port mouse-sensitive application.
Stacking Applications

Typically, a smart program allows itself to be temporarily stopped or offers the user the option of spawning a shell. This ability is often overlooked during program development, because programmers tend to concentrate on the application itself, rather than on escaping from it. Before giving away tty control, any mouse-sensitive program should release the mouse to avoid stealing events from a user trying to run the selection mechanism within a shell environment. The preferred way to release the mouse in this case is to invoke Gpm_Open with connection parameters indicating that all events are passed along to the next service. When the program resumes the user focus, it can simply Gpm_Close to restore the previous event masks. If the application forgets to release the mouse before releasing the tty, weird things happen.

Using curses

Usually mouse-sensitive applications manage the screen using curses or the compatible ncurses library. [See page ?? for an introduction to ncurses—Ed] From the point of view of mouse handling, this doesn't make much difference. You need only to call Gpm_Getch() or Gpm_Wgetch() in place of the getc or getchar. These replacement functions take the same arguments as the original curses calls.

From the mouse-handling point of view, the only difference between a full-featured curses application and one using normal tty is in the possible subdivision of the screen into different windows. Using a single mouse handler makes management non-trivial if the screen is split into multiple windows. The scenario is dealt with by the so-called high level library, which is a simple yet effective set of functions to manage a stack of “regions of interest”, easing the dispatch of events to multiple recipients.

The High-Level Library

The high-level part of the gpm library offers entry points to a centralized data structure responsible for delivering events to multiple mouse handlers.

In practice, a double linked list of ROIs (regions of interest) is maintained, and each ROI is responsible for handling events for a specific user function with specific “clientdata”. Each region is identified by its rectangular limits and by minimum-modifier and maximum-modifier sets. Thus you can choose to deliver events to different windows, according to either the event position or the modifiers used, in a way similar to the multiplexing of applications on a single console described earlier.

When you use a windowed interface, you can take full advantage of the high level library by creating one or more ROIs associated with each curses window. In addition to events happening in the ROI, the handler associated with a region will get “enter” events when the mouse cursor enters the region and “leave” events when it leaves. This means that a single mouse motion can generate multiple callbacks to help keep a consistent screen state without needing a huge set of global state variables.

Unfortunately, the high level library has been available only since gpm version 1.0. If you have an older version of gpm you would do best to upgrade. Lack of the high level library was the main reason that gpm's version numbers were 0.x for such a long time.

Xterm Support

Within the X Window System, terminal applications are run within xterm, and xterm is the only usable tty you can find on most workstations—usually workstations are terribly slow and unusably hostile before X-Windows is started.

Fortunately, xterm is able to report mouse events, made up of escape sequences, which are reported to the client application through the same channel as normal data.

Unfortunately, the range of events it is able to report is severely limited. Moreover, because events are reported through the same stream as keyboard events, all the nice design of multiple input channels breaks, and any application which wants to sense mouse and keyboard events independently fails.

Fortunately, using Gpm_Getc() and friends works quite well, as you can check by running mev under an xterm.

If you consider ever running your application under an xterm, you must be sure to not depend on a full event reporting. Specifically, you won't be informed of any motion or drag events, and button-release events won't specify which button of a set has been released. This means, in practice, that if you need precise reporting of a double-button press, your application will not work properly under xterm.

I strongly urge you to be careful; if the application can only run under the Linux console, it is of limited use, and you'll surely swear at yourself sooner than you may expect. If, on the contrary, the application is able to run under xterm, it is better exploiting the ability to (at least) invoke buttons by a simple mouse press, rather than forcing the user to use keyboard-only interaction.