Running Weston

libweston uses the concept of a back-end to abstract the interface to the underlying environment where it runs on. Ultimately, the back-end is responsible for handling the input and generate an output. Weston, as a libweston user, can be run on different back-ends, including nested, by using the wayland backend, but also on X11 or on a stand-alone back-end like DRM/KMS.

In most cases, people should allow Weston to choose the backend automatically as it will produce the best results. That happens for instance when running Weston on a machine that already has another graphical environment running, being either another wayland compositor (e.g. Weston) or on a X11 server. You should only specify the backend manually if you know that what Weston picks is not the best, or the one you intended to use is different than the one loaded. In that case, the backend can be selected by using -B [backend] command line option. As each back-end uses a different way to get input and produce output, it means that the most suitable back-end depends on the environment being used.

Available back-ends:

  • drm – run stand-alone on DRM/KMS and evdev (recommend) (DRM kernel doc)

  • wayland – run as a Wayland application, nested in another Wayland compositor instance

  • x11 – run as a x11 application, nested in a X11 display server instance

  • rdp – run as an RDP server without local input or output

  • headless – run without input or output, useful for test suite

  • pipewire – run without input, output into a PipeWire node

The job of gathering all the surfaces (windows) being displayed on an output and stitching them together is performed by a renderer. By doing so, it is compositing all surfaces into a single image, which is being handed out to a back-end, and finally, displayed on the screen.

libweston provides two useful renderers. One uses OpenGL ES, which will often be accelerated by your GPU when suitable drivers are installed. The other uses the Pixman library which is entirely CPU (software) rendered. You can select between these with the --renderer=gl and --renderer=pixman arguments when starting Weston.

Multi-back-end support

Some back-ends can be selected via a comma-separated list to run in parallel, for example -B drm,vnc. The first back-end in the list is the primary back-end. It creates the renderer and creates its outputs first. The following back-ends are secondary backends. They reuse the renderer and create their outputs afterwards. Currently, all back-ends support being loaded as the primary back-end. The PipeWire and VNC backends support being loaded as secondary backends.

Additional set-up steps

Depending on your distribution some additional set-up parts might be required, before actually launching Weston, although any fairly modern distribution should have it already set-up for you. Weston creates its unix socket file (for example, wayland-1) in the directory specified by the required environment variable $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR. Clients use the same variable to find that socket. Normally this should already be provided by systemd. If you are using a distribution that does not set-up $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR, you must set it using your shell profile capability. More info about how to set-up that up, which depends to some extent on your shell, can be found at Building/Running Weston

Running Weston in a graphical environment

As stated previously, if you are already in a graphical environment, Weston would infer and attempt to load up the correct back-end. Either running in a Wayland compositor instance, or a X11 server, you should be able to run Weston from a X terminal or a Wayland one.

Running Weston on a stand-alone back-end

Now that we are aware of the concept of a back-end and a renderer, it is time to introduce the concept of a seat, as stand-alone back-ends require one. A seat is a collection of input devices like a keyboard and a mouse, and output devices (monitors), forming the work or entertainment place for one person. It could also include sound cards or cameras. A single computer could be serving multiple seats.


A graphics card is required to be a part of the seat, as among other things, it effectively drives the monitor.

By default Weston will use the default seat named seat0, but there’s an option to specify which seat Weston must use by passing --seat argument.

You can start Weston from a VT assuming that there’s a seat manager supported by libseat running, such as seatd or logind. The backend to be used by libseat can optionally be selected with $LIBSEAT_BACKEND. If libseat and seatd are both installed, but seatd is not already running, it can be started with sudo -- seatd -g video.

Launching Weston via ssh or a serial terminal is best with the libseat launcher and seatd. Logind will refuse to give access to local seats from remote connections directly. The process for setting that up is identical to the one described above, where one just need to ensure that seatd is running with the appropriate arguments, after which one can just run weston. seatd will lend out the current VT, and if you want to run on a different VT you need to chvt first. Make sure nothing will try to take over the seat or VT via logind at the same time in case logind is running.

If you want to rely on logind, you can start weston as a systemd user service: Running weston from a systemd service.

Running Weston on a different seat on a stand-alone back-end

While Weston can be tested on top of an already running Wayland compositor or an X11 server, another option might be to have an unused GPU card which can be solely used by Weston. So, instead of having a dedicated machine to run Weston for trying out the DRM-backend, by just having an extra GPU, one can create a new seat that could access the unused GPU on the same machine (and potentialy other inputs) and assign it to that seat. All of the happening while you already have your graphical environment running.

In order to have that set-up, the requirements/steps would be:

  • have an extra GPU card – you could also use integrated GPUs, while your other GPU is in use by another graphical environment

  • create a udev file that assigns the card (and inputs) to another seat

  • start Weston on that seat

Start by creating a udev file, under /etc/udev/rules.d/ adding something similar to the following:

ACTION=="remove", GOTO="id_insecure_seat_end"

SUBSYSTEM=="drm", KERNEL=="card*", KERNELS=="0000:00:02.0", ENV{ID_SEAT}="seat-insecure"

SUBSYSTEM=="input", ATTRS{idVendor}=="222a", ATTRS{idProduct}=="004d", OWNER="your_user_id", ENV{ID_SEAT}="seat-insecure", ENV{WL_OUTPUT}="HDMI-A-1"
SUBSYSTEM=="input", ATTRS{idVendor}=="03f0", ATTRS{idProduct}=="1198", OWNER="your_user_id", ENV{ID_SEAT}="seat-insecure"


By using the above udev file, devices assigned to that particular seat will be skipped by your normal display environment. Follow the naming scheme when creating the file (man 7 udev). For instance you could use 63-insecure-seat.rules as a filename, but take note that other udev rules might also be present and could potentially affect the way in which they get applied. Check that no other rules might take precedence before adding this new one.


This seat uses on purpose the name seat-insecure, to warn users that the input devices can be eavesdropped. Futher more, if you attempt doing this on a VT, without being already in a graphical environment (and although the udev rules do apply), there will be nothing stopping the events from input devices reaching the virtual terminal.

In the example above, there are two input devices, one of which is a touch panel that is being assigned to a specific output (HDMI-A-1) and another input which a mouse. Notice how ENV{ID_SEAT} and ENV{WL_OUTPUT} specify the name of the seat, respectively the input that should be assign to a specific output.

Resolving or extracting the udev key/value pair names, can be easily done with the help of udevadm command, for instance issuing udevadm info -a /dev/dri/cardX would give you the entire list of key values names for that particular card. Archaically, one would might also use lsusb and lspci commands to retrieve the PCI vendor and device codes associated with it.

If there are no input devices the DRM-backend can be started by appending --continue-without-input or by editing weston.ini and adding to the core section require-input=false.

Then, weston can be run by selecting the DRM-backend and the seat seat-insecure:

SEATD_VTBOUND=0 ./weston -Bdrm --seat=seat-insecure

This assumes you are using the libseat launcher of Weston with the “builtin” backend of libseat. Libseat automatically falls back to the builtin backend if seatd is not running and a logind service is not running or refuses. You can also force it with LIBSEAT_BACKEND=builtin if needed. SEATD_VTBOUND=0 tells libseat that there is no VT associated with the chosen seat.

If everything went well you should see weston be up-and-running on an output connected to that DRM device.

Running weston from a systemd service

Weston could also be started, as a systemd user service, rather than as systemd system service. In order to do that we would need two unit files, a .service and a .socket one. The module needs to be enabled to notify systemd when Weston has finished its startup and is ready to accept client connections.

On a Debian system, the systemd user units are under /etc/systemd/user/ directory.

  • weston.socket

Description=Weston, a Wayland compositor
Documentation=man:weston(1) man:weston.ini(5)

  • weston.service

Description=Weston, a Wayland compositor, as a user service
Documentation=man:weston(1) man:weston.ini(5)

# Activate using a systemd socket

# Since we are part of the graphical session, make sure we are started before

# Defaults to journal

# add a ~/.config/weston.ini and weston will pick-it up


After creating those two files, make sure systemd is aware of the changes:

systemctl --user daemon-reload

If nothing creates a login session on the machine, one would actually need to log-in physically (over VT). Starting weston then would be as simple as doing:

systemctl --user start weston

Alternatively to logging in over a VT, one can create an equivalent systemd system service. Replacing the need to log-in physically at a keyboard when one might not exist is a real possibility, but this approach can also work while being logged in over a ssh connection, and run weston as a regular user.

In order to do that, create a systemd system service (for Debian that is under /etc/systemd/system directory) called for instance mysession.service, and add the following:

Description=My graphical session

# Make sure we are started after logins are permitted.

# if you want you can make it part of the graphical session

# not necessary but just in case

ExecStart=/usr/bin/systemctl --wait --user start

# The user to run the session as. Pick one!

# Set up a full user session for the user, required by Weston.

# A virtual terminal is needed.

# Fail to start if not controlling the tty.

# Defaults to journal, in case it doesn't adjust it accordingly

# Log this user with utmp, letting it show up with commands 'w' and 'who'.


Make sure that you’re using a valid user for both User and Group entries. Create also system user .target, named that contains:

Description=My session

Perform both a system, but also a user daemon-reload, to make sure all changes have been applied. Afterwards, start mysession and then weston user service. Checking if that worked could be done by verifying with loginctl that there’s an active login with the default seat0 assigned on that particular tty.

So, as a user one can do the following:

systemctl start mysession # systemd will ask for passowrd
loginctl # verify if mysession was able to perform the session login
systemctl --user start weston

Finally, if one would not want to create such a systemd service, one could also use systemd-run which would allow to create a temporary service unit and ultimately achieve something similar to the systemd service above:

systemd-run  --collect -E XDG_SESSION_TYPE=wayland --uid=1000 -p PAMName=login -p TTYPath=/dev/tty7 sleep 1d
systemctl --user start weston