Servo Update: Upgrading Rust, GPU Rendering, and Automation

April 12, 2013

I’ve been working on Servo for three weeks now. There’s an enormous amount of work to do, and I want to capture what’s going on and how it’s progressing. This should be the first of many such updates on the project.

Day One

When I arrived, Servo no longer built at all, at least not on OS X. Servo often requires bleeding edge versions of Rust, and backwards incompatible changes to Rust are still happening on a regular basis. Since all of the contributors to Rust work on different platforms, when porting to a new Rust compiler, some platforms have gotten left behind. This was particularly acute this time because Rust 0.6 contained a lot of syntax changes, mostly things that got removed from the language, and many pieces of Servo were using syntax that was deprecated in Rust 0.5, and was finally deleted entirely in Rust 0.6.

Upgrading to Rust 0.6

Rust 0.6 removed a lot of keywords and syntax from the language. Porting Servo required modifying all the constants, many function declarations, many import statements, etc. These changes were largely mechanical. There were a few changes that weren’t so easy.

Mutable fields are being removed from the language, and mutability will be controlled by the mutability of the struct itself. Not all of these had to be removed in Servo, but many of them did, and removing them often required slightly changing the data structures and their type signatures. In some cases this was trivial, but in a few cases these changes needed more care. In particular, lots of these changes bumped up against the Rust borrow checker, which ensures it’s safe to hand out pointers to memory. There are still some bugs in the borrow check, and workarounds are not always straightforward.

It took me about a week and a half to work my way through all the dependent libraries and Servo itself at which point I had a build. By the end of that second week I had landed the language upgrade to servo as well as some Rust library changes that were needed. The end result is that Servo is now using Rust 0.6 syntax, but it requires a post-0.6 version of Rust due to the Rust changes not landing quite in time for the 0.6 release.

GPU Rendering

Servo uses many forms of parallelism, but one bit of low hanging fruit is to move to a fully GPU rendering path. Currently compositing is done on the GPU, but rendering to the various layers is done on the CPU. This is how most current browsers operate as well.

We’re moving to rendering on the GPU as well which should speed up some things a bit. Instead of rendering in parallel to several layers, Servo will render directly into textures on the GPU which the compositor can use without doing CPU to GPU memory transfers.

This required upgrading the rendering stack to a newer version of Azure (Mozilla’s drawing library) and a new version of Skia (the specific backend that Azure uses on OS X, Linux, and Android). Now that this part is done, we’ll be adding texture layers to the renderer and switching drawing to those.


We’re setting up build and testing automation for Servo now, which should help ensure Servo remains buildable on all platforms. Rust has an amazing set of tools for this already, which we are hoping to reuse fully. Buildbot machines run builds and tests, and a GitHub bot called Bors handles dispatching builds for patches that have been reviewed and merging pull requests that have passed tests.

For now this work will be on Linux, but we hope to expand it to cover OS X and Android as well in the near future. Once Servo is a little farther along, we plan to put up nightly snapshots so more people can follow along with our progress.

Other Work

There’s tons of other work in progress on both Servo and Rust. The DOM bindings are getting improved, a new Rust scheduler that will make performance and I/O better is in progress, a more optimized C FFI in Rust should also land soon, and the rustpkg package manager is shaping up which we’ll be switching to for more and more of Servo as it matures.

We need more help in lots of areas. Please join us in IRC in #servo or on the mailing list. We’ll be trying to mark bugs and projects that are well suited for new contributors. If you want to work on Servo and write Rust code all the time, we’re hiring.

Servo Update: Upgrading Rust, GPU Rendering, and Automation - April 12, 2013 - Jack Moffitt