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Frequently Asked Questions
Last updated: 19 September 2018
1. High-level Questions and Answers
1.1 What is Mesa?
Mesa is an open-source implementation of the OpenGL specification.
OpenGL is a programming library for writing interactive 3D applications.
See the `OpenGL website <>`__ for more
Mesa 9.x supports the OpenGL 3.1 specification.
1.2 Does Mesa support/use graphics hardware?
Yes. Specifically, Mesa serves as the OpenGL core for the open-source
DRI drivers for
- See the `DRI website <>`__ for more
- See ` <>`__ for more information
about Intel drivers.
- See ` <>`__ for
more information about Nouveau drivers.
- See
` <>`__
for more information about Radeon drivers.
1.3 What purpose does Mesa serve today?
Hardware-accelerated OpenGL implementations are available for most
popular operating systems today. Still, Mesa serves at least these
- Mesa is used as the core of the open-source DRI hardware
- Mesa is quite portable and allows OpenGL to be used on systems that
have no other OpenGL solution.
- Software rendering with Mesa serves as a reference for validating the
hardware drivers.
- A software implementation of OpenGL is useful for experimentation,
such as testing new rendering techniques.
- Mesa can render images with deep color channels: 16-bit integer and
32-bit floating point color channels are supported. This capability
is only now appearing in hardware.
- Mesa's internal limits (max lights, clip planes, texture size, etc)
can be changed for special needs (hardware limits are hard to
1.4 What's the difference between "Stand-Alone" Mesa and the DRI drivers?
*Stand-alone Mesa* is the original incarnation of Mesa. On systems
running the X Window System it does all its rendering through the Xlib
- The GLX API is supported, but it's really just an emulation of the
real thing.
- The GLX wire protocol is not supported and there's no OpenGL
extension loaded by the X server.
- There is no hardware acceleration.
- The OpenGL library, ````, contains everything (the
programming API, the GLX functions and all the rendering code).
Alternately, Mesa acts as the core for a number of OpenGL hardware
drivers within the DRI (Direct Rendering Infrastructure):
- The ```` library provides the GL and GLX API functions, a GLX
protocol encoder, and a device driver loader.
- The device driver modules (such as ````) contain a
built-in copy of the core Mesa code.
- The X server loads the GLX module. The GLX module decodes incoming
GLX protocol and dispatches the commands to a rendering module. For
the DRI, this module is basically a software Mesa renderer.
1.5 How do I upgrade my DRI installation to use a new Mesa release?
This wasn't easy in the past. Now, the DRI drivers are included in the
Mesa tree and can be compiled separately from the X server. Just follow
the Mesa :doc:`compilation instructions <install>`.
1.6 Are there other open-source implementations of OpenGL?
Yes, SGI's `OpenGL Sample Implementation
(SI) <>`__
is available. The SI was written during the time that OpenGL was
originally designed. Unfortunately, development of the SI has stagnated.
Mesa is much more up to date with modern features and extensions.
`Vincent <>`__ is an open-source
implementation of OpenGL ES for mobile devices.
`miniGL <>`__
is a subset of OpenGL for PalmOS devices. The website is gone, but the
source code can still be found on
` <>`__.
`TinyGL <>`__ is a subset of OpenGL.
`SoftGL <>`__ is an OpenGL
subset for mobile devices.
`Chromium <>`__ isn't a conventional
OpenGL implementation (it's layered upon OpenGL), but it does export the
OpenGL API. It allows tiled rendering, sort-last rendering, etc.
`ClosedGL <>`__
is an OpenGL subset library for TI graphing calculators.
There may be other open OpenGL implementations, but Mesa is the most
popular and feature-complete.
2. Compilation and Installation Problems
2.1 What's the easiest way to install Mesa?
If you're using a Linux-based system, your distro CD most likely already
has Mesa packages (like RPM or DEB) which you can easily install.
2.2 I get undefined symbols such as bgnpolygon, v3f, etc...
Your application is written in IRIS GL, not OpenGL. IRIS GL was the
predecessor to OpenGL and is a different thing (almost) entirely. Mesa's
not the solution.
2.3 Where is the GLUT library?
GLUT (OpenGL Utility Toolkit) is no longer in the separate
``MesaGLUT-x.y.z.tar.gz`` file. If you don't already have GLUT
installed, you should grab
`freeglut <>`__.
2.4 Where is the GLw library?
GLw (OpenGL widget library) is now available from a separate `git
repository <>`__. Unless you're
using very old Xt/Motif applications with OpenGL, you shouldn't need it.
2.5 What's the proper place for the libraries and headers?
On Linux-based systems you'll want to follow the `Linux
ABI <>`__ standard.
Basically you'll want the following:
the main OpenGL header
the OpenGL GLU (utility) header
the OpenGL GLX header
the OpenGL extensions header
the OpenGL GLX extensions header
the Mesa off-screen rendering header
a symlink to ````
a symlink to ````
the actual OpenGL/Mesa library. xyz denotes the Mesa version number.
When configuring Mesa, there are three meson options that affect the
install location that you should take care with: ``--prefix``,
``--libdir``, and ``-D dri-drivers-path``. To install Mesa into the
system location where it will be available for all programs to use, set
``--prefix=/usr``. Set ``--libdir`` to where your Linux distribution
installs system libraries, usually either ``/usr/lib`` or
``/usr/lib64``. Set ``-D dri-drivers-path`` to the directory where your
Linux distribution installs DRI drivers. To find your system's DRI
driver directory, try executing ``find /usr -type d -name dri``. For
example, if the ``find`` command listed ``/usr/lib64/dri``, then set
``-D dri-drivers-path=/usr/lib64/dri``.
After determining the correct values for the install location, configure
Mesa with
``meson configure --prefix=/usr --libdir=xxx -D dri-drivers-path=xxx``
and then install with ``sudo ninja install``.
3. Runtime / Rendering Problems
3.1 Rendering is slow / why isn't my graphics hardware being used?
If Mesa can't use its hardware accelerated drivers it falls back on one
of its software renderers. (e.g. Softpipe or LLVMpipe)
You can run the ``glxinfo`` program to learn about your OpenGL library.
Look for the ``OpenGL vendor`` and ``OpenGL renderer`` values. That will
identify who's OpenGL library with which driver you're using and what
sort of hardware it has detected.
If you're using a hardware accelerated driver you want
``direct rendering: Yes``.
If your DRI-based driver isn't working, go to the `DRI
website <>`__ for trouble-shooting
3.2 I'm seeing errors in depth (Z) buffering. Why?
Make sure the ratio of the far to near clipping planes isn't too great.
`here <>`__
for details.
Mesa uses a 16-bit depth buffer by default which is smaller and faster
to clear than a 32-bit buffer but not as accurate. If you need a deeper
you can modify the parameters to ``glXChooseVisual`` in your code.
3.3 Why Isn't depth buffering working at all?
Be sure you're requesting a depth buffered-visual. If you set the
``MESA_DEBUG`` environment variable it will warn you about trying to
enable depth testing when you don't have a depth buffer.
Specifically, make sure ``glutInitDisplayMode`` is being called with
``GLUT_DEPTH`` or ``glXChooseVisual`` is being called with a non-zero
value for ``GLX_DEPTH_SIZE``.
This discussion applies to stencil buffers, accumulation buffers and
alpha channels too.
3.4 Why does ``glGetString()`` always return ``NULL``?
Be sure you have an active/current OpenGL rendering context before
calling ``glGetString``.
3.5 ``GL_POINTS`` and ``GL_LINES`` don't touch the right pixels
If you're trying to draw a filled region by using ``GL_POINTS`` or
``GL_LINES`` and seeing holes or gaps it's because of a float-to-int
rounding problem. But this is not a bug. See Appendix H of the OpenGL
Programming Guide - "OpenGL Correctness Tips". Basically, applying a
translation of (0.375, 0.375, 0.0) to your coordinates will fix the
4. Developer Questions
4.1 How can I contribute?
First, join the :doc:`mesa-dev mailing list <lists>`. That's where
Mesa development is discussed.
The `OpenGL Specification <>`__ is
the bible for OpenGL implementation work. You should read it.
Most of the Mesa development work involves implementing new OpenGL
extensions, writing hardware drivers (for the DRI), and code
4.2 How do I write a new device driver?
Unfortunately, writing a device driver isn't easy. It requires detailed
understanding of OpenGL, the Mesa code, and your target
hardware/operating system. 3D graphics are not simple.
The best way to get started is to use an existing driver as your
starting point. For a classic hardware driver, the i965 driver is a good
example. For a Gallium3D hardware driver, the r300g, r600g and the i915g
are good examples.
The DRI website has more information about writing hardware drivers. The
process isn't well document because the Mesa driver interface changes
over time, and we seldom have spare time for writing documentation. That
being said, many people have managed to figure out the process.
Joining the appropriate mailing lists and asking questions (and
searching the archives) is a good way to get information.
4.3 Why isn't ``GL_EXT_texture_compression_s3tc`` implemented in Mesa?
Oh but it is! Prior to 2nd October 2017, the Mesa project did not
include S3TC support due to intellectual property (IP) and/or patent
issues around the S3TC algorithm.
As of Mesa 17.3.0, Mesa now officially supports S3TC, as the patent has
In versions prior to this, a 3rd party `plug-in
library <>`__ was required.