RFC-0189 - Window Management

RFC-0189: Window Management
  • Graphics
  • HCI
  • View System

Describe the platform architecture and standard APIs for window management.

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2022-08-12
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2022-09-20


This RFC proposes a model for how the fuchsia platform, the product session and the session shell work together to support complex graphical applications with multiple windows. In particular:

  • While the platform is responsible for the mechanisms for putting graphics on screen and routing input, the product component(s) must specify the product specific policies for when and how graphics may be displayed.
  • The platform will define a standardized API surface for window management1, to allow for maximum compatibility between applications and products.

An important consequence of this is that applications integrate with the Fuchsia Platform rather than with a particular Fuchsia product, and thus an application that works with one Fuchsia product should work with any other Fuchsia product that supports the same set of windowing capabilities. In particular, an application that runs against one Fuchsia desktop product should run against any such product, regardless of the particular product session or system shell implementation.

This RFC expands on RFC-0092: Sessions. It describes the planned state rather than how things work today. The approach described in this RFC replaces all prior attempts (Modular, Session Framework) and is the plan of record moving forward.


Current Fuchsia APIs make it difficult for products and applications to implement rich window management and multi-window apps. The distinction between platform and product responsibilities is confusing, and the APIs supplied by the platform date from an earlier era of Fuchsia vision and lack some important features required for current work (e.g. Workstation). Multiple prior attempts have been made to solve this and related problems (modular, session framework) but none have been fully implemented across all Fuchsia surfaces.

The current state of the system lacks a clear division of responsibilities and has multiple ways to perform the same actions. This has led to fragmentation across different products. Ratifying the architecture now allows us to make future decisions about the APIs the platform will support in the future (such as potentially adopting Wayland for use in Fuchsia) and unblocks development for both shells and applications.

This RFC is likely the first of a series covering different aspects of window management. Its goal is to clarify the split between product and platform and make it easier to make later decisions about exactly what APIs to use (e.g. Wayland).


Facilitator: abarth@google.com


  • Graphics: dworsham@google.com
  • Workstation: sanjayc@google.com
  • Architecture: abarth@google.com
  • Component Framework: thatguy@google.com
  • Chrome: wez@google.com
  • UX: asz@google.com

Consulted: quiche@google.com, jasoncampbell@google.com, geb@google.com, masonben@google.com, jsankey@google.com, tjdetwiler@google.com

Socialization: Prior to publication via Gerrit a draft of this RFC was shared and discussed extensively with stakeholders.


For the purpose of this doc:

  • Display Server a.k.a. Compositor: A component that is responsible for allowing application components to create and display views, allowing the placement and size of those views to be controlled, and making sure graphical input events are delivered to application components based on their views. On Fuchsia this is scenic.
  • Window Manager: A component (or multiple components) that controls the placement and appearance of windows supplied by applications. On some systems, this system is also responsible for rendering UI (e.g. title bars). Because the Fuchsia platform may be used to implement a variety of products with very different graphical and input capabilities, the distribution of window manager responsibilities on Fuchsia may look very different than other operating systems where the platform is more closely tied to a single user experience.
  • System Shell: The component responsible for drawing product UI. This component owns the top scenic view in the product sub-tree of the view hierarchy that displays visual content. This view is sometimes referred to as the shell view. The system shell is responsible for installing views supplied by application components in the view tree, and making policy decisions about how those view can be displayed.
  • Product Session: A component responsible for implementing a Fuchsia product experience. This component runs as a child of session manager. This component is responsible for launching application components with the appropriate capabilities in response to user actions. As of the writing of this RFC Fuchsia only supports a single session at a time.
  • Element: A session framework concept for a component with graphics. This RFC deprecates the element role.
  • Application Component: A component that implements a graphical user experience and runs within a system shell.
  • View Tree: The hierarchy of views in scenic's scene graph.



There are two main aspects of window management on Fuchsia: mechanism, and policy.

  • "Policy" refers to the product-specific details about which components are allowed to put graphics on screen, where those graphics are displayed, how they receive input and focus, and how they are related in the view tree. Policy is about deciding what is allowed to happen to windows.
  • "Mechanism" refers to the mechanics of getting pixels on the screen and routing input to their underlying components, and is largely handled through the Fuchsia UI stack. All components that supply graphics must communicate with these APIs. The implications of a policy decision may require multiple calls to mechanism APIs to effect the relevant change to the UI.

The Fuchsia SDK defines two API surfaces for window management policy:

  1. An API for a System Shell to implement its product-specific window management policy and supply information about which window manager features are available on this product. Today, this is achieved by requiring the system shell to implement the graphical presenter role.
  2. An API or set of APIs for application components to use to request changes to the existence and appearance of views owned by that component. This takes the form of a core API that all application clients are expected to use, with possible extensions for additional behaviors (detectable at runtime). This API surface should be shared across all Fuchsia applications, which facilitates compatibility across different products built on top of Fuchsia.

The implementation details for client applications currently vary widely. Some applications implement the element role while others interact directly with the component framework and scenic, or implement the element manager API within the app. This RFC mandates simplifying this by moving to a single API for all application components.

This RFC does not currently express an opinion about whether the system shell and application components communicate directly with each other, or if a platform component should mediate these interactions.

Architecture diagram

Architecture diagram

The above diagram shows a possible architecture for a graphical product running on Fuchsia. The product session is responsible for launching the system shell and any applications. The application and system shell must communicate about any policy decisions, possibly through a window manager or "bridge" component supplied by the platform (see Possible platform bridge component below). Both the system shell and application must also communicate with the Fuchsia platform UI stack (which includes components that handle graphics and input processing) to execute on the "mechanism" aspects of window management. This communication may also happen through a bridge component.

Product Session responsibilities

The product session is the first product-specific component to be launched when a product boots up. On products with graphics, it has the following additional responsibilities:

  1. The product session is responsible for launching application components and supplying them with appropriate capabilities, including the capabilities necessary to put UI on screen.
  2. The product session must supply a root view for the user experience, either by implementing this directly or delegating this to a child component. The component that supplies this view is also referred to as the system shell (also sometimes called System UI). The system shell has a capability (fuchsia.session.scene.Manager) that allows it to install its root view in the view tree. (Note that a product may include more than one shell, such as a login and user shell, and swap between them as needed.)
  3. The product session is responsible for the product policy aspects of window management. In particular, the session must implement the window management policy API supplied by the Fuchsia SDK. This responsibility includes supplying information about what kinds of window operations are available on this product.

Example Component hierarchy

sample component hierarchy

This diagram shows a possible component hierarchy for the user experience. Note that this eliminates element manager. As shown, application components are children of the product session. Some products may choose to set things up differently, for example by creating a component in the product session's realm that is responsible for launching applications, or by delegating application component instantiation to some platform component with different capabilities.

Setting up the view hierarchy

Once launched, the application can contact scenic to create an application view, and then contact the system shell via the window management API to show that view as part of the system shell's user experience. The system shell contacts scenic to install the application view into the view tree, typically as a child of the root view.

An application may open a second top-level window by following the same flow described above for the initial window creation. Further window management actions such as resizing the application view, launching a popup, etc. require the application component to request these changes from the system shell via calls to the window management API. In general each component that is responsible for communicating directly with scenic about the contents of the View(s) that it owns. However, if a view owner/application wishes to change how its views are displayed (such as resizing, minimizing, or opening another top-level view), the system shell must somehow indicate that this action is permitted. The system shell may do so either by responding to client API calls, or by storing information in the view tree to indicate what that view is allowed to do and allowing Scenic to execute on the relevant policy.


  • The resulting component hierarchy and view tree do not look the same! While application views must be child views of a view owned by the system shell, application components need not be part of the realm of the system shell component.
  • This description elides a lot of detail about view creation, including how user input etc. are routed to views via the view tree.

Example View Hierarchy

view hierarchy example

The above diagram shows a sample view tree for a system UI running multiple graphical applications The system shell view is the root view of the user experience. Note that the view tree may have different parent-child relationships than the component hierarchy shown above.

Negotiation of window management capabilities

Not all system shell implementations will expose identical capabilities, because a system shell is in part implementing product-specific policy. Therefore, these implementations will vary per-product. For example, a smart watch might have a very simple UI with a single view on screen at a time, while a desktop would support multiple applications with multiple overlapping windows. Some products support user input via a touchscreen, while others support only mouse and keyboard.

For product-specific capabilities exposed outside of the "core set", clients must be able to discover which of these capabilities are supported on the current product. This allows the client to tailor its behavior across different products, and makes it possible to implement graphical fuchsia applications that can function across different products.

Similarly, the system UI must tell the platform what features are currently available.

Possible platform bridge component

The platform may introduce a "bridge" component that mediates communication between the client application and the system UI. This component would be analogous to the window manager on other platforms and could then automate some "mechanism" actions for window management and reduce the need for developers to write code that sends low-level commands to the Fuchsia UI stack. This has the advantage of allowing the client to communicate with a single API surface for both mechanism and policy, which is a common pattern in other systems (e.g. in Wayland). By situating the bridge component in the platform, this would also allow products to share window management code and avoid duplication for similar functionality.

The decision about whether to use a platform bridge component/platform window manager is left to a future RFC.


This RFC addresses the high-level architecture for window management. Because we expect significant changes to the APIs involved via future RFCs, many implementation details should be addressed in those RFCs.

When APIs are in place, this RFC implies the removal of a number of legacy workarounds for the system's current deficiencies. In particular:

  • This RFC deprecates Element Manager (the current element manager functionality becomes the job of the product session).
  • This RFC ratifies the intent to normalize how applications behave (no more Chrome-specific workarounds). The replacements for existing APIs will be addressed in future RFCs.


While graphics and user input processing can be very performance-sensitive, window management policy decisions such as opening a new application or window typically happen at "human speed" and thus do not require the same level of performance as rendering or input processing. Thus it's typically fine to use extra RPC when executing "control" actions such as opening a new window. However, care should be taken when designing APIs to ensure that any performance-sensitive flows (typically those involving data flow, such as putting frames on screen, routing user input) avoid unnecessary IPC and do not block unnecessarily on client responses. This is especially relevant in cases where the window manager and shell are not the same component. The performance implications of particular APIs should be addressed in detail in upcoming RFCs.

Animations and synchronization

In order to provide a smooth experience for users, it's important to ensure that UI actions such as resize animations can be synchronized across multiple components. While this is mostly a function of the particular API and its guarantees about atomicity, architecture can influence how difficult it is to build user experiences where such synchronization is possible.

This RFC does not formally adopt a specific API, but the decisions contained in it were evaluated against the Wayland API, which has a stated goal of making "every frame perfect". Synchronization concerns will be an important consideration when finalizing the APIs described in this RFC.

Security and privacy considerations

Component security

This RFC clarifies that the component hierarchy and view hierarchy do not have to be the same, and allows for the possibility of applications launching as children of the product session rather than the system shell (which may be less stable or less secure on some systems). This should make it easier for products to ensure that the component hierarchy within a product suits that product's particular security and privacy needs.

View security

The security guarantees for the view system are addressed in detail in the view system RFC. Of note for this RFC is the guarantee that a view may only manipulate view focus when it or its child is currently focused, and that views that are disconnected from the view tree cannot receive user input. This means that the product session's installation of the system UI view and the window management policy decisions made by the system shell (such as installing a child view for a launched application) are also decisions about which components are eligible to receive user input at any given time. While the platform cannot guarantee that all products will implement secure behavior, the view system provides the building blocks for a product to create a secure experience.


The platform should provide conformance tests for all window management APIs so that both products and applications can ensure compatibility with the Fuchsia platform. These tests may vary depending on which extensions to the window management APIs are supported by a given application or product session.

System shell and Application developers may use the Test UI Stack to write integration tests for the interaction of their code with the Fuchsia platform UI stack.


This RFC and subsequent RFCs dealing with API specifics will require significant updates to the Session Framework documentation on fuchsia.dev to reflect updated expectations about the split between product and platform and the elimination of Element Manager.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns

Alternative: Scenic does Window Management

  • Without a new API, doesn't let system shell apply product-level policies/concepts.
  • Unclear how to extend this API to handle product differences. Otherwise, pushes a lot of product-specific logic (e.g. what does "minimize" mean) into the platform.

Prior art and references

  1. These APIs will be defined in subsequent RFCs.