I've been working on kopper recently, which is a complementary project to zink. Just as zink implements OpenGL in terms of Vulkan, kopper seeks to implement the GL window system bindings - like EGL and GLX - in terms of the Vulkan WSI extensions. There are several benefits to doing this, which I'll get into in a future post, but today's story is really about libX11 and libxcb.
One important GLX feature is the ability to set the swap interval, which is how you get tear-free rendering by syncing buffer swaps to the vertical retrace. A swap interval of 1 is the typical case, where an image update happens once per frame. The Vulkan way to do this is to set the swapchain present mode to FIFO, since FIFO updates are implicitly synced to vblank. Mesa's WSI code for X11 uses a swapchain management thread for FIFO present modes. This thread is started from inside the vulkan driver, and it only uses libxcb to talk to the X server. But libGL is a libX11 client library, so in this scenario there is always an "xlib thread" as well.
libX11 uses libxcb internally these days, because otherwise there would be no way to intermix xlib and xcb calls in the same process. But it does not use libxcb's reflection of the protocol, XGetGeometry does not call xcb_get_geometry for example. Instead, libxcb has an API to allow other code to take over the write side of the display socket, with a callback mechanism to get it back when another xcb client issues a request. The callback function libX11 uses here is straightforward: lock the Display, flush out any internally buffered requests, and return the sequence number of the last request written. Both libraries need this sequence number for various reasons internally, xcb for example uses it to make sure replies go back to the thread that issued the request.
But "lock the Display" here really means call into a vtable in the Display struct. That vtable is filled in during XOpenDisplay, but the individual function pointers are only non-NULL if you called XInitThreads beforehand. And if you're libGL, you have no way to enforce that, your public-facing API operates on a Display that was already created.
So now we see the race. The queue management thread calls into libxcb while the main thread is somewhere inside libX11. Since libX11 has taken the socket, the xcb thread runs the release callback. Since the Display was not made thread-safe at XOpenDisplay time, the release callback does not block, so the xlib thread's work won't be correctly accounted. If you're lucky the two sides will at least write to the socket atomically with respect to each other, but at this point they have diverging opinions about the request sequence numbering, and it's a matter of time until you crash.
It turns out kopper makes this really easy to hit. Like "resize a glxgears window" easy. However, this isn't just a kopper issue, this race exists for every program that uses xcb on a not-necessarily-thread-safe Display. The only reasonable fix is to for libX11 to just always be thread-safe.
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