PipeWire 1.0.3
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This document explains how Audio is implemented.

Use Cases

Audio Devices Are Made Available As Processing Nodes/Ports

Applications need to be able to see a port for each stream of an audio device.

Audio Devices Can Be Plugged and Unplugged

When devices are plugged and unplugged the associated nodes/ports need to be created and removed.

Audio Port In Canonical Format

It must be possible to make individual audio channels available as a single mono stream with a fixed format and samplerate.

This makes it possible to link any of the audio ports together without doing conversions.

Applications Can Connect To Audio Devices

Applications can create ports that can connect to the audio ports so that data can be provided to or consumed from them.

It should be possible to automatically connect an application to a sink/source when it requests this.

Default Audio Sink and Sources

It should be possible to mark a source or sink as the default source and sink so that applications are routed to them by default.

It should be possible to change the default audio sink/source.

Application Should Be Able To Move Between Sinks/Sources

It should be possible to move an application from one device to another dynamically.

Exclusive Access

Application should be able to connect to a device in exclusive mode. This allows the application to negotiate a specific format with the device such as a compressed format.

Exclusive access means that only one application can access the device because mixing is in general not possible when negotiating compressed formats.



Audio devices are implemented with an SPA Device object.

This object is then responsible for controlling the SPA Nodes that provide the audio ports to interface with the device.

The nodes operate on the native audio formats supported by the device. This includes the sample rate as well as the number of channels and the audio format.

Audio Adapter

An SPA Node called the "adapter" is usually used with the SPA device node as the internal node.

The function of the adapter is to convert the device native format to the required external format. This can include format or samplerate conversion but also channel remixing/remapping.

The audio adapter is also responsible for exposing the audio channels as separate mono ports. This is called the DSP setup.

The audio adapter can also be configured in passthrough mode when it will not do any conversions but simply pass through the port information of the internal node. This can be used to implement exclusive access.

Setup of the different configurations of the adapter can be done with the PortConfig parameter.

The Session Manager

The session manager is responsible for creating nodes and ports for the various audio devices. It will need to wrap them into an audio adapter so that the specific configuration of the node can be decided by the policy mode.

The session manager should create name and description for the devices and nodes.

The session manager is responsible for assigning priorities to the nodes. At least PW_KEY_PRIORITY_SESSION and PW_KEY_PRIORITY_DRIVER need to be set.

The session manager might need to work with other services to gain exclusive access to the device (eg. DBus).


PipeWire Media Session (alsa-monitor)

PipeWire media session uses the SPA_NAME_API_ALSA_ENUM_UDEV plugin for enumerating the ALSA devices. For each device it does:

  • Try to acquire the DBus device reservation object to gain exclusive access to the device.
  • Create an SPA device instance for the device and monitor this device instance.
  • For each node created by the device, create an adapter with an ALSA PCM node in the context of the PipeWire daemon.

The session manager will also create suitable names and descriptions for the devices and nodes that it creates as well as assign session and driver priorities.

The session manager has the option to add extra properties on the devices and nodes that it creates to control their behavior. This is implemented with match rules.