Xfce Foundation Classes
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Frequently Asked Questions

Table of contents

  1. What is GTK+?
  2. What are the Xfce Foundation Classes?
  3. How has XFC evolved?
  4. What are the goals of XFC?
  5. What is the relationship between XFC and GTK+?
  6. Why use XFC instead of GTK+?
  7. What does XFC include?
  8. How does XFC improve on GTK+?
  9. How does XFC differ from the other C++ language bindings for GTK+?
  10. How does the XFC virtual signal class system work?
  11. How does XFC memory management work?
  12. What modules does XFC distribute?
  13. How is XFC licensed?
  14. What documentation is there?

What is GTK+?

GTK+ is a powerful graphical user interface library originally designed for the Linux platform. Written completely in C, it comprises a collection of graphical objects, such as buttons, menus  and dialogs, and the function calls needed to implement them. The graphical objects are known as widgets and the collection of widgets is known as the GIMP toolkit or the GTK+ widget set.

What are the Xfce Foundation Classes?

The Xfce Foundation Classes (XFC) is a set of well integrated C++ classes that wrap the functionality provided by GTK+ into a light-weight and easy to use application framework. Such frameworks are called language bindings. Here are some other C++ language bindings you might be familiar with:
  • the Gtkmm package is a high level C++ encapsulation that includes the use of exceptions, STL-like widget interfaces, template classes and offers both automatic memory management and normal C++ memory management techniques.
  • the VDK/VDKBuilder package, which is a Borland-like builder for rapid application development. VDK is a C++ wrapper for GTK+. VDKBuilder is a general purpose integrated development environment for constructing GUI applications using VDK. VDK was built as the base library for VDKBuilder and therefore implements an object hierarchy and API more suited to rapid application development.
  • the wxWindows/GTK package, which is a free C++ library for cross-platform GUI development. Currently it supports MS Windows, Unix with GTK+, Unix with Motif, and Mac OS.
There are many language bindings available for GTK+, including C#, Java, Objective-C, Guile, Perl and PyGtk. You can find more information on these and others in the bindings page on the  GTK+ web site.

How has XFC evolved?

The Xfce Foundation Classes is not a new library but rather the latest incarnation of a stable library that has been in development for the past 5 years.  XFC started out as the GCode library in early 2000, about the same time that GTK+ development version 1.3.1 was released. Unfortunately for GCode there was a CAD program of the same name, so a new name had to be found, not an easy task! Havoc Pennington was approached and he kindly agreed to let GCode use the name Inti, originally a set of C++ foundation libraries written by him but no longer in active development. Inti was the original library on which GCode was based.
Under the new project name, Inti: Integrated Foundation Classes, stable versions up to 1.2.0 were released. During the development of the Inti 2.0 source code base it was decided to change the project name to GTK+ Foundation Classes, to better reflect the library's usage as a GTK+ language binding. To get this name Inti had to merge with two abandoned projects, GFC: GNU/GTK Foundation Classes and GFCLIB: GNU/GTK Foundation Classes. GFC 2.3.1 was the only release made under the newly merged project. Prior to its first stable release GFC became a part of the Xfce project.
A lot of time has been spent developing the GFC source code base, which had been a 'one-person' project. With the source code now mature and stable the time was right for the library to become part of a larger project, to assure its continued development. The Xfce Desktop Environment was the obvious choice because many of its goals were similar. Under the new name: Xfce Foundation Classes, the library is now an integral part of the Xfce project. Compared with the early days, the source code base has continually improved and evolved to the point now where XFC is essentially a complete rewrite; almost none of the original source code is left.

What are the goals of XFC?

The main goal for the Xfce Foundation Classes is to implement a light-weight, fast and easy to use C++ interface that adheres to the GTK+ programming paradigm, so programmers can continue use the concepts they're already familiar with.
Some other goals are:
  • Only implement essential C++ features. 
  • Stable interfaces, with an upgrade path that follows the Xfce Desktop Environment release cycle. 
  • Use of the standard C++ library features. 
  • Automatic memory management to help prevent memory leaks. 
  • Consistency; to make XFC easier to learn, the interfaces religiously follow strict conventions.
  • Ease of use;  XFC gives you an integrated package, with all the interfaces you need.
  • Documentation; stable releases of XFC will have excellent documentation.
  • Maturity; XFC will not be maintained as a 'bleeding edge' library; it will support features as they become mature.

What is the relationship between XFC and GTK+?

GTK+ is a C toolkit that comprises several component libraries. These include:
  • the ATK Accessibility Toolkit
  • the GDK Drawing Kit
  •  the GDK-PIXBUF Image Library
  • the GLib utility library
  • the GTK GUI Toolkit
  • the Pango internationalized text handling library
The Xfce Foundation Classes wraps these libraries in a consistent and easy to use C++ interface. XFC should be immediately familiar to most GTK+ programmers because it uses the same widget hierarchy, and the same API names and identifiers.

Why use XFC instead of GTK+?

Over the years application programming has become more complex. Today, C++ is a better way the manage that complexity because it provides you with a variety of programming designs, both object-oriented and conventional, that let you develop high-quality applications. Properly used, C++ code is easily maintainable, is extensible and can be performance and memory efficient.
The Xfce Foundation Classes is a compact but comprehensive C++ wrapper around the GTK+ library. XFC judiciously uses C++ language features and does not layer on too much extra C++ complexity. Its API is easy to understand and use, and should feel immediately familiar to most GTK+ programmers. Throughout its development XFC has maintained a good balance between remaining faithful to GTK+ and remaining faithful to C++. Hence the catchphrase - "the power of gtk+, the power of c++".

What does XFC include?

The Xfce Foundation Classes includes C++ wrappers for most features implemented in the GTK+ package. These include:
  • A GUI toolkit
  • An Accessibility Toolkit for writing programs for the disabled.
  • Internationalized text handling.
  • Main loop support
  • A signal system.
  • A UTF-8 string class.

How does XFC improve on GTK+?

The Xfce Foundation Classes adds a number of C++ features:
  • Namespace support
  • Type safety, no need for type casting.
  • Use of C++ native types such as string and vector.
  • Automatic memory management.
  • Derivation of new widgets using standard C++ mechanisms.
  • Deprecated and legacy interfaces that have built up over the years in GTK+ are not included in XFC.
  • Full wrapper for all C types, including enumerations and GDK types.
  • Typesafe C++ signal system based on the new libsigc++ 2.0 callback library.
  • Widget signal classes that minimize the overhead of implementing large numbers of virtual signal handlers.

How does XFC differ from the other C++ language bindings for GTK+?

The differences between the Xfce Foundation Classes and other C++ language bindings for GTK+ include:
  • The use of virtual signal classes which are optimized for size, execution speed and performance.
  • The judicious use of C++ language features to improve performance.
  • Minimal use of exceptions, leaving the decision whether or not to use exceptions optional and up to the user.
  • No STL-like widget interfaces; to avoid adding extra layers of C++ object code and risking a bloated interface.
  • The use of the new libsigc2 callback library to implement a typesafe system of C++ signals and slots as an alternative to the virtual signal classes.
  • The use of automatic C++ memory management based on the GTK+ reference counting system.

How does the XFC virtual signal class system work?

Most C++ language bindings put widget virtual signal handlers, all 70+ of them, directly into their respective widget classes. This hooks each virtual signal handler directly into the GTK+ signal emission chain. As a result, every time a GTK+ widget signal is emitted the corresponding virtual signal handler gets called, which usually does nothing but call the default GTK+ signal handler. What a waste! Each widget ends up with huge virtual function table filled with 70+ entries, and the overhead needed to call them. And that's just for one widget. Multiply that by all the widgets in your application and it starts to add up.
The pre-eminent goal for the Xfce Foundation Classes was to implement a virtual signal handler system that overcame these problems. It took some time to develop but the result is impressive. Now there is real potential for smaller, faster applications, depending on your C++ programming style. So how does the virtual signal class system work? In XFC, all widget virtual signal handlers have been moved into an abstract signal class hierarchy. To override one or more widget signal handlers a custom widget class must multiplely inherit from its parent widget's signal class, or one of its base signal classes. For example, to customize your main window by overriding one or more Gtk::Widget signal handlers you would derive your window class like this:
#include <xfc/gtk/window.hh>
#include <xfc/gtk/widgetsignals.hh>
using namespace Xfc;

class MyWindow : public Gtk::Window, protected Gtk::WidgetSignals
    virtual bool on_delete_event(const Gdk::EventAny& event);
    virtual bool on_configure_event(const Gdk::EventConfigure& event);
    virtual bool on_expose_event(const Gdk::EventExpose& event);
    virtual ~MyWindow();
: Gtk::WidgetSignals(this)

The on_delete_event(), on_configure_event() and on_expose_event() signal handlers are all inherited from Gtk::WidgetSignals. One thing to note here is that the widget header file must be included before the widget signal header file. This is because signal class header files are interfaces and don't include widget header files. The other thing to note is that the Gtk::WidgetSignals constructor takes a widget pointer as its only argument. This enforces type safety and simplifies the inheritance hierarchy.

How does XFC memory management work?

The Xfce Foundation Classes uses GTK+ reference counting to manage the memory of its objects. This ensures that the principles of memory management are kept consistent across the GTK+ and XFC libraries, and it minimizes the risks of memory leaks. Essentially, if you already know how to manage memory in GTK+ using functions like g_object_ref() and g_object_unref() then you already know how to manage memory in XFC using the corresponding functions ref() and unref().
Most XFC objects can either be created dynamically on the heap or automatically on the stack. When you create a XFC object dynamically by calling operator new, the caller is responsible for correctly handling the new object's reference count. Objects that derive directly from G::Object, but not Gtk::Object, are created with an initial reference count of one. This reference count is owned by the caller and must be explicitly released by calling unref(). Objects that derive from Gtk::Object are also created with an initial reference count of one, but unlike G::Objects the initial reference count is floating. A floating reference count is not owned by any object. Its purpose is the keep the new Gtk::Object alive until an owner calls ref() on the object for the first time. The first call to ref() will automatically sink a floating object so there is no sink() function. Once a new Gtk::Object has been referenced it is no longer floating but its reference count will still be one. At this point the caller owns the new Gtk::Object and is responsible for releasing its initial reference count by calling unref().
One thing to note about Gtk::Objects. You can pass a newly created Gtk::Object as an argument to any standard XFC API method, or add it to a container widget, without calling ref(). This is because object methods that take a Gtk::Object as an argument will call ref() on the object and take ownership. The same goes for containers. So as a general rule you don't need to call ref() on a Gtk::Object unless you specifically want to hold on to a reference.
Here are a few memory management rules that should be remembered:
  • If you call operator new to create a G::Object you must call unref() on the object when it's no longer required.
  • You don't need to call unref() on a new Gtk::Object if you pass it as an argument to a standard XFC API function or add it to a widget container.
  • Otherwise, you only need to call unref() if you first called ref().
  • Every call to ref() must be accompanied by a call to unref().
  • Never call operator delete on a XFC object. When you call unref() on a XFC object, delete is automatically called when the object's reference count reaches zero.
  • You can ignore the initial reference count for automatic stack objects, but if you do call ref() on one you must also call unref().
  • Never call unref() on a Gtk::Window. GTK+ owns all top level windows. The correct way to destroy a top level window is to call dispose().
  • Having remembered all this, there is an easier way to handle an object's initial reference count. XFC provides Pointer<>, a special smart pointer that knows how to handle a XFC object's initial reference count. It also provides automatic memory management similar to std::auto_ptr<>.

What modules does XFC distribute?

Currently there are two modules in the Xfce Foundation Classes, the core object system and utility library (libXFCcore) and the user interface library (libXFCui), but other modules are planned.
libXFCcore wraps the GLib object system and selected objects from the GLIb utility library. Essentially it provides a low level object system that can be used to build other libraries; libXFCui depends on this library. libXFCcore uses the new libsigc++ 2.0 callback library to implement a system of signals and slots which make using native GObject signals or creating your own signals easy. There is a standard string compatible UTF-8 string class, reference documentation and several test programs.

libXFCui combines the power of GTK+ and the power of C++ into a state-of-the-art user interface toolkit that makes developing GTK+ applications in C++ easy, intuitive and efficient. There are more than 420 classes that wrap most of the objects found in the ATK, GDK, Gdk-pixbuf, GTK and Pango libraries. Included is a full set of simple example programs, a C++ version of the GTK+ widget demonstration program, extensive reference documentation and a new tutorial.

How is XFC licensed?

The Xfce Foundation Classes is licensed under the GNU Library or Lesser General Public License (LGPL), similar to most libraries on the Linux operating system. In general terms, this means that it's OK to develop proprietary software with XFC; however you should read the license yourself (or have your lawyers read it), in order to get all the details about your rights and responsibilities.

What documentation is there?

Stacks! The documentation can be found in the <doc> subdirectory where the Xfce Foundation Classes was installed, usually </usr/share/doc> for stable releases. There are four kinds of documentation: this FAQ sheet, the API reference manual, a new tutorial and numerous widget HOWTOs with examples.
The API reference manual is written with Doxygen, so if you look at the header files you will find them filled with doxygen comments. The XFC tutorial takes you step-by-step through the process of writing three simple XFC applications. Then using one of these programs, XfcApp, it shows you how to write a feature packed main window that can be used as a starting point for any application. The tutorial finishes up by building XfcApp into GNU compliant autotols project with international language support. New to XFC are the numerous widget HOWTOs, one for most widgets, that discuss how each widget is used and works through a real example.

Copyright © 2004-2005 The XFC Development Team Top XFC 4.4