Frequently Asked Questions¶
Last updated: 19 September 2018
1. High-level Questions and Answers¶
1.1 What is Mesa?¶
Mesa is an open-source implementation of the OpenGL specification. OpenGL is a programming library for writing interactive 3D applications. See the OpenGL website for more information.
Mesa 9.x supports the OpenGL 3.1 specification.
1.2 Does Mesa support/use graphics hardware?¶
Yes. Specifically, Mesa serves as the OpenGL core for the open-source DRI drivers for X.org.
1.3 What purpose does Mesa serve today?¶
Hardware-accelerated OpenGL implementations are available for most popular operating systems today. Still, Mesa serves at least these purposes:
Mesa is used as the core of the open-source X.org DRI hardware drivers.
Mesa is quite portable and allows OpenGL to be used on systems that have no other OpenGL solution.
Software rendering with Mesa serves as a reference for validating the hardware drivers.
A software implementation of OpenGL is useful for experimentation, such as testing new rendering techniques.
Mesa can render images with deep color channels: 16-bit integer and 32-bit floating point color channels are supported. This capability is only now appearing in hardware.
Mesa’s internal limits (max lights, clip planes, texture size, etc) can be changed for special needs (hardware limits are hard to overcome).
1.4 What’s the difference between “Stand-Alone” Mesa and the DRI drivers?¶
Stand-alone Mesa is the original incarnation of Mesa. On systems running the X Window System it does all its rendering through the Xlib API:
The GLX API is supported, but it’s really just an emulation of the real thing.
The GLX wire protocol is not supported and there’s no OpenGL extension loaded by the X server.
There is no hardware acceleration.
The OpenGL library,
libGL.so, contains everything (the programming API, the GLX functions and all the rendering code).
Alternately, Mesa acts as the core for a number of OpenGL hardware drivers within the DRI (Direct Rendering Infrastructure):
libGL.solibrary provides the GL and GLX API functions, a GLX protocol encoder, and a device driver loader.
The device driver modules (such as
r200_dri.so) contain a built-in copy of the core Mesa code.
The X server loads the GLX module. The GLX module decodes incoming GLX protocol and dispatches the commands to a rendering module. For the DRI, this module is basically a software Mesa renderer.
1.5 How do I upgrade my DRI installation to use a new Mesa release?¶
This wasn’t easy in the past. Now, the DRI drivers are included in the Mesa tree and can be compiled separately from the X server. Just follow the Mesa compilation instructions.
1.6 Are there other open-source implementations of OpenGL?¶
Yes, SGI’s OpenGL Sample Implementation (SI) is available. The SI was written during the time that OpenGL was originally designed. Unfortunately, development of the SI has stagnated. Mesa is much more up to date with modern features and extensions.
Vincent is an open-source implementation of OpenGL ES for mobile devices.
TinyGL is a subset of OpenGL.
SoftGL is an OpenGL subset for mobile devices.
Chromium isn’t a conventional OpenGL implementation (it’s layered upon OpenGL), but it does export the OpenGL API. It allows tiled rendering, sort-last rendering, etc.
ClosedGL is an OpenGL subset library for TI graphing calculators.
There may be other open OpenGL implementations, but Mesa is the most popular and feature-complete.
2. Compilation and Installation Problems¶
2.1 What’s the easiest way to install Mesa?¶
If you’re using a Linux-based system, your distro CD most likely already has Mesa packages (like RPM or DEB) which you can easily install.
2.2 I get undefined symbols such as bgnpolygon, v3f, etc…¶
Your application is written in IRIS GL, not OpenGL. IRIS GL was the predecessor to OpenGL and is a different thing (almost) entirely. Mesa’s not the solution.
2.3 Where is the GLUT library?¶
GLUT (OpenGL Utility Toolkit) is no longer in the separate
MesaGLUT-x.y.z.tar.gz file. If you don’t already have GLUT
installed, you should grab
2.4 Where is the GLw library?¶
GLw (OpenGL widget library) is now available from a separate git repository. Unless you’re using very old Xt/Motif applications with OpenGL, you shouldn’t need it.
2.5 What’s the proper place for the libraries and headers?¶
On Linux-based systems you’ll want to follow the Linux ABI standard. Basically you’ll want the following:
the main OpenGL header
the OpenGL GLU (utility) header
the OpenGL GLX header
the OpenGL extensions header
the OpenGL GLX extensions header
the Mesa off-screen rendering header
a symlink to
a symlink to
the actual OpenGL/Mesa library. xyz denotes the Mesa version number.
When configuring Mesa, there are three meson options that affect the
install location that you should take care with:
-D dri-drivers-path. To install Mesa into the
system location where it will be available for all programs to use, set
--libdir to where your Linux distribution
installs system libraries, usually either
-D dri-drivers-path to the directory where your
Linux distribution installs DRI drivers. To find your system’s DRI
driver directory, try executing
find /usr -type d -name dri. For
example, if the
find command listed
/usr/lib64/dri, then set
After determining the correct values for the install location, configure
meson configure --prefix=/usr --libdir=xxx -D dri-drivers-path=xxx
and then install with
sudo ninja install.
3. Runtime / Rendering Problems¶
3.1 Rendering is slow / why isn’t my graphics hardware being used?¶
If Mesa can’t use its hardware accelerated drivers it falls back on one of its software renderers. (e.g. classic swrast, softpipe or llvmpipe)
You can run the
glxinfo program to learn about your OpenGL library.
Look for the
OpenGL vendor and
OpenGL renderer values. That will
identify who’s OpenGL library with which driver you’re using and what
sort of hardware it has detected.
If you’re using a hardware accelerated driver you want
direct rendering: Yes.
If your DRI-based driver isn’t working, go to the DRI website for trouble-shooting information.
3.2 I’m seeing errors in depth (Z) buffering. Why?¶
Make sure the ratio of the far to near clipping planes isn’t too great. Look here for details.
Mesa uses a 16-bit depth buffer by default which is smaller and faster
to clear than a 32-bit buffer but not as accurate. If you need a deeper
you can modify the parameters to
glXChooseVisual in your code.
3.3 Why Isn’t depth buffering working at all?¶
Be sure you’re requesting a depth buffered-visual. If you set the
MESA_DEBUG environment variable it will warn you about trying to
enable depth testing when you don’t have a depth buffer.
Specifically, make sure
glutInitDisplayMode is being called with
glXChooseVisual is being called with a non-zero
This discussion applies to stencil buffers, accumulation buffers and alpha channels too.
3.4 Why does
glGetString() always return
Be sure you have an active/current OpenGL rendering context before
GL_LINES don’t touch the right pixels¶
If you’re trying to draw a filled region by using
GL_LINES and seeing holes or gaps it’s because of a float-to-int
rounding problem. But this is not a bug. See Appendix H of the OpenGL
Programming Guide - “OpenGL Correctness Tips”. Basically, applying a
translation of (0.375, 0.375, 0.0) to your coordinates will fix the
4. Developer Questions¶
4.1 How can I contribute?¶
First, join the mesa-dev mailing list. That’s where Mesa development is discussed.
The OpenGL Specification is the bible for OpenGL implementation work. You should read it.
Most of the Mesa development work involves implementing new OpenGL extensions, writing hardware drivers (for the DRI), and code optimization.
4.2 How do I write a new device driver?¶
Unfortunately, writing a device driver isn’t easy. It requires detailed understanding of OpenGL, the Mesa code, and your target hardware/operating system. 3D graphics are not simple.
The best way to get started is to use an existing driver as your starting point. For a classic hardware driver, the i965 driver is a good example. For a Gallium3D hardware driver, the r300g, r600g and the i915g are good examples.
The DRI website has more information about writing hardware drivers. The process isn’t well document because the Mesa driver interface changes over time, and we seldom have spare time for writing documentation. That being said, many people have managed to figure out the process.
Joining the appropriate mailing lists and asking questions (and searching the archives) is a good way to get information.
4.3 Why isn’t
GL_EXT_texture_compression_s3tc implemented in Mesa?¶
Oh but it is! Prior to 2nd October 2017, the Mesa project did not include S3TC support due to intellectual property (IP) and/or patent issues around the S3TC algorithm.
As of Mesa 17.3.0, Mesa now officially supports S3TC, as the patent has expired.
In versions prior to this, a 3rd party plug-in library was required.