The Architecture of WPE


The WebKit project is designed to provide programming interfaces to Web Browser developers. Depending on the platform and operating system the Browser application should run on, the developers should choose the right WebKit port suiting their needs. For instance, macOS application developers should rely on the WebKit mac ports. Linux desktop developers should build their application upon the GTK port.

WPE is the official WebKit port for embedded platforms. WPE is uniquely designed for embedded systems in that it doesn’t depend on any user-interface toolkit such as the traditional Cocoa, GTK, etc toolkits.

Block diagram of the WPE architeture

Web page rendering

WPE is considered as an hybrid port, it defers the final web page delivery for display to a rendering backend. A traditional port would provide a widget for a given toolkit, but WPE opted for a different and more flexible approach.

The common interface between WPEWebKit and its rendering backends is provided by libwpe. On one side, once WPEWebKit has a graphical representation of the final composited Web page ready for rendering, it invokes a callback function on libwpe. On the other side, the WPE application has to register a view backend on the WPE WebView. This view backend is provided by the rendering backend. The view backend receives the Web page representation from libwpe, usually as an EGLImage, and is in charge of presenting it in the application, on-screen.

The decoupling between generating the WebPage representation on WebKit side and the actual rendering on the application side provides a very flexible design. For instance, WPE integrators can easily develop a new rendering backend for specific embedded platforms that might have a graphics driver with special API requirements.

WPE provides a rendering backend aiming to target the most common platforms and leveraging the existing graphics stack available in the Freedesktop umbrella eco-system. WPEBackend-FDO is the reference implementation of the base rendering backend design. WPEBackend-FDO provides API for WPE applications that aims to ease the handling of rendering either on-screen using EGL or off-screen using SHM.

Input events handling

In a traditional WebKit port, the provided widget usually also handles input (keyboard, mouse, touch) events and is in charge of relaying them to the internal WebKit input-methods components.

As WPE doesn’t provide a widget, it relies on libwpe APIs to relay input events from the WPE application to the internal WebKit input-methods components. This design again adds flexibility to the overall WPE architecture, enabling applications to support new input devices without having to go through a UI toolkit first.

Taking the example of the Cog WPE browser, the application relies on Wayland protocols for user input to communicate events coming from the Wayland compositor up to WPE.