How To Try Wayland, A New Display Server For Linux

Danny Stieben 04-06-2014

Linux distributions will soon get a new display server called Wayland. But what exactly is it, and why is it important? Let’s take a look at Wayland, and see how you can try it out right now.


What Is Wayland?

Wayland is a new display server that should be reaching Linux distributions within the next few years. While the Wayland display server is already considered to be stable, it’s still missing some useful functionality, and the majority of user interface toolkits such as GTK and Qt do not have enough support yet for Wayland to actually be used. However, support is currently being worked on, and Wayland will finally be included in Linux distributions once that support is in place.

What’s A Display Server?

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But you may be wondering, what’s a display server? It’s the piece of software that coordinates between the input and output of the system in conjunction with what you see on the screen.

So the user interface toolkits such as GTK and Qt tell the display server how to use interface elements like windows and buttons, and also talk to the mouse to know where to place the cursor. It also interacts with the programs and operating system based on what you do in the GUI. In other words, if you click on a “Render” button in a video editing application, then the display server tells the program that the button was clicked, which starts the rendering process.

Wayland Compared To The X Display Server

While Wayland is a new display server, it’s not the first as we currently use a different display server for our desktop needs. So what’s wrong with the current display server, known as the X Display Server? The short answer: a lot.

The code base that the X display server is based on is at least three decades old, and has been constantly tweaked and adjusted to provide new features. So not only is the code really old, but it’s also a complete mess. All the features are spread around in various files, and there is still code for functionality that no one ever uses anymore. Worst of all, there are several bugs in the code that are security issues, just waiting to be discovered and exploited.


Rather than try to rewrite the entire X display server to turn that mess into something more manageable, the community has opted to instead write a new display server from scratch. Not only is that easier to do, but it also allows the developers to plan for future needs and design implementations before they actually start writing the code. That will also help lead to much cleaner code.

Wayland vs. Mir

Wayland isn’t the only up-and-coming display server out there. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Why Windows XP Users Should Switch To Ubuntu 14.04 LTS "Trusty Tahr" If you're still trying to dump Windows XP but haven't found an alternative yet, Ubuntu 14.04 is a great choice. Read More , has forked Wayland to create their own display server called Mir. Canonical didn’t like the direction of Wayland, and decided to fork the project to gain complete control over their display server’s development.

The community was outraged by Canonical’s decision to fork Wayland to create Mir, since it meant developers would have to work to support two display servers instead of just one. For the time being though, it seems like Mir is still being developed at a steady pace, and is meant to be included in Ubuntu desktop and Ubuntu Touch releases eventually.

How To Try Wayland

Now that you know a bit about Wayland, it’s time to try it out! The best way to do this without messing around with your own Linux installation is to download a copy of the latest version of Rebecca Black OS. Ignore the name, because it serves as a pretty good technology preview for Wayland and a desktop environment that supports Wayland called Hawaii. Once you have it downloaded, you can write it to a USB stick Linux Live USB Creator: Easily Boot Linux From Your Flash Drive Read More and boot off that. Running it on a virtual machine sadly won’t work (at least not for now) because there isn’t a graphics driver available that works with both Wayland and VirtualBox.


If you want to try out Wayland on a more popular distribution, Fedora does offer a Wayland preview Fedora 20: What's New In This "Heisenbug" Linux Release? Fedora recently celebrated their 10 years of existence with their 20th release – appropriately codenamed "Heisenbug". Read More which you can access by running the command:

gnome-session --session gnome-wayland.

Again, use it at your own risk, especially since GNOME doesn’t support Wayland nearly as well as the Hawaii desktop environment does.

Wayland’s Future

Hopefully adoption of Wayland will happen quickly, because the earlier we switch to a cleaner code base, the better. It’ll be much safer and probably faster as it’ll also be less resource-hungry. Until then, you can always get the latest version of Rebecca Black OS to test it out.


What do you think of Wayland? Are you glad to eventually switch to it? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. aicra
    November 17, 2018 at 1:05 am

    First they get rid of XFree86 config file and now this... ;D

  2. Bo
    December 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I don´t mind mir. The more x alternatives the better. Ghost BSD and Open Indiana Desktop are the only BSD and Illumos distros that are usable for laptops and it would be nice if we could have Wayland for them too. I hope Mate, LXQT, and Pantheon will be ready for Wayland soon. Gnome and KDE are terrible with or without Wayland anyhow. E 19 is a good alternative.

  3. paulo
    October 21, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Mir isn't fork

  4. Michael
    October 16, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    PS: Romeo Calota is right, Mir was never part of Wayland

  5. Romeo Calota
    June 6, 2014 at 5:48 am

    I think it's worth noting that Canonical never forked Wayland, they actually wrote it from scratch. While many similarities exist between Wayland and Mir, there was never a fork.

  6. KT
    June 4, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    This is really good news. I'm always fiddling with my X server settings. The Nvidia drivers are nice, but seem incomplete.

  7. dragonmouth
    June 4, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    While we may need something to replace X Server, I hope Wayland does not turn out to be another GRUB 2 with its convoluted way of updating as opposed to GRUB Legacy.

    "Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has forked Wayland to create their own display server called Mir. "
    Canonical is forever forking around with Linux. Just like Microsoft they always have to have their own version of everything. Any day now Canonical will implement the M$ practice of "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish."

  8. M. Adams
    June 4, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Danny, your articles are giving me a great education on Linux. I hope you keep them up! I'm still new to Linux- started getting into it a little more than a year ago- and it often feels overwhelming to try and tease apart useful information about it. A lot of what I find online is either (a) written for someone with a much greater understanding of Linux fundamentals than I have, or (b) outdated. I end up at MakeUseOf almost everyday, and you're featured pretty frequently, so I've ended up learning more from you than from any other source.