PipeWire  0.3.36
DMA-BUF sharing

PipeWire supports sharing Direct Memory Access buffers (DMA-BUFs) between clients via the SPA_DATA_DmaBuf data type.

However properly negotiating DMA-BUF support on both the producer and the consumer side require following a specific procedure. This page describes said procedure by using events and methods from the filter or stream API. Note: This article focuses mostly on DMA-BUF sharing from arbitrary devices, like discrete GPUs. For using DMA-BUFs created by v4l2 please refer to the corresponding paragraph.

Capability negotiations

The capability negotiation for DMA-BUFs is complicated by the fact, that a usable and preferred optimal modifier for a given format can only be determined by the allocator, which has to be invoked with the intersection of all supported modifiers of all clients. As a result the fixation of the modifier has to be delegated from PipeWire to the node responsible for allocating the buffers.


The stream parameters should contain two SPA_PARAM_EnumFormat objects for each format: the first one is used for DMA-BUFs, the second one for shared memory buffers as a fallback.

Query the list of all supported modifiers from your graphics API of choice. Add a SPA_FORMAT_VIDEO_modifier property to the first stream parameter with the flags SPA_POD_PROP_FLAG_MANDATORY | SPA_POD_PROP_FLAG_DONT_FIXATE. The value of the property should be set to a SPA_CHOICE_Enum containing one long choice per supported modifier, plus DRM_FORMAT_MOD_INVALID if the graphics API supports modifier-less buffers.

Note: When a producer is only supporting modifier-less buffers it can omit the SPA_POD_PROP_FLAG_DONT_FIXATE (see param_changed hook, For producers).

The second stream parameter should not contain any SPA_FORMAT_VIDEO_modifier property.

To prioritise DMA-BUFs place those SPA_PARAM_EnumFormat containing modifiers first, when emitting them to PipeWire.

param_changed hook

When the param_changed hook is called for a SPA_PARAM_Format the client has to parse the spa_pod directly. Use spa_pod_find_prop(param, NULL, SPA_FORMAT_VIDEO_modifier) to check whether modifiers were negotiated. If they were negotiated, set the SPA_PARAM_BUFFERS_dataType property to 1 << SPA_DATA_DmaBuf. If they were not negotiated, fall back to shared memory by setting the SPA_PARAM_BUFFERS_dataType property to 1 << SPA_DATA_MemFd, 1 << SPA_DATA_MemPtr, or both.

While consumers only have to parse the resulting SPA_PARAM_Format for any format related information, it's up to the producer to fixate onto a single format modifier pair. The producer is also responsible to check if all clients announce sufficient capabilities or fallback to shared memory buffers when possible.

For consumers

Use spa_format_video_raw_parse to get the format and modifier.

For producers

Producers have to handle two cases when it comes to modifiers wrt. to the previous announced capabilities: Using only the modifier-less API, only the modifier aware one, or supporting both.

  • modifier-less: In this case only the modifier DRM_FORMAT_MOD_INVALID was announced with the format. It is sufficient to check if the SPA_PARAM_Format contains the modifier property as described above. Is that the case use DMA-BUFs for screen-sharing, else fall back to SHM, if possible.
  • modifier-aware: In this case a list with all supported modifiers will be returned in the format. (using DRM_FORMAT_MOD_INVALID as the token for the modifier-less API). On the param_changed event check if the modifier key is present and has the flag SPA_POD_PROP_FLAG_DONT_FIXATE. attached to it. In this case extract all modifiers from the list and do a test allocation with your allocator to choose the preferred modifier. Fixate on that EnumFormat by announcing a SPA_PARAM_EnumFormat with only one modifier in the SPA_CHOICE_Enum and without the SPA_POD_PROP_FLAG_DONT_FIXATE, followed by the previous announced EnumFormats. This will retrigger (TBD) the param_changed event with an SPA_PARAM_Format as described below. If the SPA_PARAM_Format contains a modifier key, without the flag SPA_POD_PROP_FLAG_DONT_FIXATE, it should only contain one value in the SPA_CHOICE_Enum. In this case announce the SPA_PARAM_Buffers accordingly to the selected format and modifier. It is important to query the plane count of the used format modifier pair and set SPA_PARAM_BUFFERS_blocks accordingly.

Note: When test allocating a buffer, collect all possible modifiers, while omitting DRM_FORMAT_MOD_INVALID from the SPA_FORMAT_VIDEO_modifier property and pass them all to the graphics API. If the allocation fails and the list of possible modifiers contains DRM_FORMAT_MOD_INVALID, fall back to allocating without an explicit modifier if the graphics API allows it.

add_buffer hook

This is relevant for producers.

Allocate a DMA-BUF only using the negotiated format and modifier.

on_event hook

This is relevant for consumers.

Check the type of the dequeued buffer. If its SPA_DATA_MemFd or SPA_DATA_MemPtr use the fallback SHM import mechanism. If it's SPA_DATA_DmaBuf: Get the DMA-BUF FDs (the plane count is encoded in the n_datas variable of the spa_buffer struct) and import them with the graphics API.

Note: Some graphics APIs have separated functions for the modifier-less case (DRM_FORMAT_MOD_INVALID) or are omitting the modifier, since it might be used for error handling.

DMA-BUF mapping warning

It's important to make sure all consumers of the PipeWire stream are prepared to deal with DMA-BUFs. Most DMA-BUFs cannot be treated like shared memory in general because of the following issues:

  • DMA-BUFs can use hardware-specific tiling and compression as described by modifiers. Thus, a mmap(3) on the DMA-BUF FD will not give a linear view of the buffer contents.
  • DMA-BUFs need to be properly synchronized with the asynchronous reads and writes of the hardware. A mmap(3) call is not enough to guarantee proper synchronization. (Maybe add link to linux syscall doc??)
  • Blindly accessing the DMA-BUFs via mmap(3) can be extremely slow if the buffer has been allocated on discrete hardware. Consumers are better off using a proper graphics API (such as EGL, Vulkan or VA-API) to process the DMA-BUFs.


Another use case for streaming via DMA-BUFs are exporting a camera feed from v4l2 as DMA-BUFs. Those are located in the main memory where it is possible to mmap them. This should be done as follows: Neither producer nor consumer should announce a modifier, but both should include 1 << SPA_DATA_DmaBuf in the SPA_PARAM_BUFFERS_dataType property. It's the the responsibility of the producer while the add_buffer event to choose DMA-BUF as the used buffer type even though no modifier is present, if it can guarantee, that the used buffer is mmapable.

Note: For now v4l2 uses planar buffers without modifiers. This is the reason for this special case.