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Linux Wacom Project HOWTO

1.2 - Wacom Driver Theory of Operation

Wacom tablets are available in serial and USB configurations. They are also sold as embedded products in certain tablet PC's. I will cover all three types, but the serial case is the most straightforward, so we'll start there.

Serial Tablet Operation - The Short Story

When a Wacom serial tablet is connected to a COM port, software can interact with it directly by opening the appropriate device, usually /dev/ttyS0. The XFree86 Wacom driver (wacom_drv.o) does precisely this, and all stylus movements are converted into XInput events for programs like the Gimp to turn into fluid brush strokes.

Wacom tablets are capable of handling a number of different data protocols, and the Linux Wacom Project code currently utilitizes two, Wacom Protocol IV and Protocol V. Each operates with a fixed-sized packet, the length of which depends on the model and ROM version.

When the serial tablet is reset, it defaults to a standard baud rate, often 9600 baud. From there, the device type can be queried, and if the tablet supports it, the baud rate increased to a higher value. Additionally, model parameters like tablet size can be queried directly to determine which features are available.

Once configured, the tablet streams data back to the application as tools are brought into and out of proximity, are pressed against the tablet surface, or are tilted or inverted.

USB Tablet Operation - The Long Story

Initially at least, the USB Wacom tablet is an HID compliant device, and when first connected to the computer, will identify itself as such. Unfortunately, this is not what you want because in this mode, you will not get any of the fancy features. The hid-core.c, mousedev.c, and usbmouse.c kernel drivers contain exceptions for the wacom; when the device is detected, they ignore the tablet. In this way, the more sophisticated wacom driver has the opportunity to assume control.

The first thing that the driver does is register itself with the USB subsystem and wait for work to do. When the user plugs the device in, or the device is first detected, the USB subsystem shops the vendor and device identifier around, checking it against different drivers. The wacom driver takes responsibility for the tablet and then notifies the event system that it will be providing data. It then asks the tablet to switch from HID-compliant mode to "mode 2", a wacom-specific protocol which allows for values like pressure, Z rotation, and tilt. As information arrives, the wacom driver dutifully converts the data into real-world values and hands it on to the event system.

From here, any usermode application can get access to the event data by opening /dev/input/event0. A stream of events including mouse movements, clicks, and proximity updates can be read from the device. Similar to the serial case, XFree86's Wacom driver (wacom_drv.o) has the ability to read this device, and performs filtering on the data before convert the Linux input events into XInput events.

By breaking the responsibility for the data into three distinct levels, the kernel code remains simple and robust, the applications generalized, and the fancy features commonly accessible to all GUI applications in the X window system itself. This document walks down the entire data path from the USB kernel driver to the gimp application.

Embedded Device Operation - Tablet PC with Wacom Digitizer

Refer to Tablet PC page for detail.

Copyright (C) 2002-2011 - LinuxWacom -Last updated July 23, 2012
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