Scenic Views, view focus, and focus chain

View focus

When a user starts interacting with a region of the UI, Fuchsia's input system treats it as a statement of intent. To reflect that intent, Scenic defines a concept of "view focus", where one Scenic View is determined to "have view focus". Only one view may have view focus at any time.

Scenic notifies a newly-focused view with a "view focus gained" event, and notifies a previously-focused view with a "view focus lost" event.

Clients may use view focus to drive interactions, such as hover animations or cursor blinking. Manager programs may use view focus to coordinate interactions, such as determining which client may use the IME, or determining which shortcut to fire.

Transfer of view focus

Initiated programmatically

In some cases, it is desirable to shift view focus in a programmatic manner. For example, the System UI may wish to start the UI with view focus on a view that owns a search box. Another example is support for alt-tab keyboard navigation, where each invocation of alt-tab cycles through a set of views and transfers view focus to each in turn.

Clearly, the capability to programmatically transfer view focus is a powerful one. To limit abuses of power, Scenic defines a view focus transfer policy tied to the view tree. Informally, view focus transfer is scoped to the requestor view's subtree, hence requestor and requestee are related by view tree ancestry.

The policy details are listed below, but requires exposition of the focus chain.

Initiated by user input

When pointer_auto_focus is set to true, Scenic shifts focus from view to view as the user interacts with the UI. (Smart displays set that value to false, and use the programmatic focus change scheme described in the previous section.)

Focus transfer occurs in the following situations:

  • On touch devices, the start of a finger's touch triggers a focus transfer to the view that is touched.
  • On mouse devices, a primary button click triggers a focus transfer to the view that is clicked. This policy follows the UI principle of "direct manipulation." Scenic does not trigger a focus transfer with mouse hover, even if pointer_auto_focus is set to true.

Focus chain: focus path in a view tree

If we think about just the view parts of the scene graph, they form a tree hierarchy; we call this the view tree. Parent views have tremendous power over child views: the power to reposition the child's view, enforce clip boundaries on the child's view, hide the child's UI content, etc. Because of the inherent power of the view hierarchy, we use it as a basis of hierarchy outside of Scenic. This hierarchy, which changes dynamically based on view focusing, is represented with a "focus chain".

In a data structure sense, a focus chain is merely a vector of ViewRefs. The canonical definition is fuchsia.ui.focus.FocusChain.

However, it's more than just that. The focus chain is tied intimately to the view tree. It captures a snapshot of view authority, starting from the root view, walking down through descendants, and terminating at the focused view. It is thus ordered in amount of authority, from most to least. Views outside the focus chain have no view-based authority.

Intuitively, the focus chain is the path from view tree's root node to the focused node.

When focus is transferred to another view, the focus chain changes. Scenic manages these changes to the focus chain, as part of managing the view tree and view focus.

A focus chain holds sensitive information, since it embeds ViewRefs and encodes hierarchical information about the view tree. Hence, access to the focus chain must be restricted to trusted entities, such as Accessibility Manager.

Race between view focus event and focus chain

We note that the view focus event, dispatched to UI clients, and the focus chain, dispatched to manager programs, can race. There is no global ordering between these events. Fuchsia components are typically exposed to this distributed system complexity as part of manipulating discrete FIDL protocols.

Transfer of view focus: policy

Transfer of view focus can be thought of as a combination of three operations, described below. We talk about a focus chain F, with ViewRefs [v0, v1, ..., vi, ..., vn], where view focus is currently at vn (the terminal element). The RequestFocus method does not require access to the focus chain to function properly; the focus chain is expository and not part of the transfer interface.

Take view focus

An ancestor view can take view focus from a descendant view: vi may invoke RequestFocus(vi) and Scenic will honor the request: vi will receive a view focus event. The focus chain then becomes [v0, v1, v2, ..., vi], where the successor elements after vi are simply dropped.

This operation pulls view focus "up" the view tree to the caller; note that the caller remains in the focus chain.

Grant view focus

A focused view can grant view focus to a descendant view: if vm is a descendant of vn, then vn may invoke RequestFocus(vm) and Scenic will honor the request: vm will receive a view focus event. The focus chain then becomes [v0, v1, v2, ..., vi, ..., vn, ..., vm], where successor elements are appended to vn.

This operation pushes view focus "down" the view tree from the caller; note that the caller remains in the focus chain.

Release view focus

A view in the focus chain can release view focus to its direct ancestor: if vi has descendants terminating at vn, and vi has a direct ancestor vh, then vi may invoke RequestFocus() (with no argument) and Scenic will honor the request: vh will receive a view focus event. The focus chain then becomes [v0, v1, ..., vh], where the successor elements starting with vi are simply dropped.

This operation is similar to a stack pop, since the caller disppears from the focus chain.

While Take and Grant are more obvious, Release needs some explanation. An explicit, voluntary Release of view focus may be desired for various reasons, such as:

  • Hiding elements of the UI, without necessarily destroying them
  • Dismissal of a modal dialog, as part of returning view focus to where it was previously
  • User taps on a non-interactive part of the UI, indicating they want view focus to return to where it was previously

Today, Release is an implicit operation, handled by Scenic during lifecycle events, such as view disconnect or view destruction.


Take, Grant, and Release can happen in arbitrary order, as long as the preconditions hold for each operation.

Out of scope

We have simplified the problem space by considering these topics "out of scope":

  • Modal dialogs and focus stealing. When a view wishes to create a modal dialog, instead of creating a sub view or creating a UI rectangle in its view, it should apply to higher authority, such as System UI, to create a modal dialog view on its behalf. System UI can then grant view focus to that modal dialog, along with a scrim that prevents the user's touch from moving the view focus away. With this setup, a view not in the focus chain cannot steal the modal dialog's view focus.
  • Secure input. The system must guarantee the integrity of the "secure input" dispatch path from the kernel to the client.