Text layout in librsvg

This document describes the state of text layout in librsvg as of version 2.52.3, and how I want to overhaul it completely for SVG2.

Status as of librsvg 2.52.3

Basic supported features:

  • Librsvg supports the elements text, tspan, a inside text, and tref (deprecated in SVG2, but kept around for SVG1.1 compatibility). See below for the x/y/dx/dy attributes; librsvg supports single-number values in these.

  • text-anchor.

  • SVG1.1 values for direction, writing-mode. Non-LTR or vertical text layout is very much untested.

  • SVG1.1 values for letter-spacing, baseline-shift, text-decoration.

  • font (shorthand), font-family, font-size, font-stretch, font-style, font-variant, font-weight.

  • text-rendering.

Major missing features:

  • text-orientation and glyph-orientation-vertical fallbacks, SVG2 values for writing-mode.

  • SVG2 white-space handling. This deprecates xml:space from SVG1.1.

  • Support for multiple values in each of the attributes x/y/dx/dy from the text and tspan elements. Librsvg supports a single value for each attribute, whereas SVG allows for multiple values — these then get used to individually position “typographic characters” (Pango clusters). In effect, librsvg’s single values for each of those attributes mean that each text span can be positioned independently, but not each character.

  • Relatedly, the rotate attribute is not supported. In SVG it also allows multiple values, one for each character.

  • glyph-orientation-vertical (note that glyph-orientation-horizontal is deprecated in SVG2).

  • textPath is not supported at all. This will be made much easier by implementing x/y/dx/dy/rotation first, since each character needs to be positioned and oriented individually.

  • @font-face and WOFF fonts.

Other missing features:

  • display and visibility are not very well tested for the sub-elements of <text>.

  • SVG2 text with a content area / multi-line / wrapped text: inline-size, shape-inside, shape-subtract, shape-image-threshold, shape-margin, shape-padding. This is lower priority than the features above. Also the related properties text-overflow,

  • text-align (shorthand), text-align-all, text-align-last, text-indent, word-spacing.

  • Baselines: vertical-align (shorthand), dominant-baseline, alignment-baseline, baseline-source, and SVG2 values for baseline-shift. Note that Pango doesn’t provide baseline information yet.

  • line-height (parsed, but not processed).

  • SVG2 text-decoration, which translates to text-decoration-line, text-decoration-style, text-decoration-color.

  • font-feature-settings, font-kerning, font-size-adjust.

  • CSS Text 3/4 features not mentioned here.

Features that will not be implemented:

  • SVG1.1 features like <font> and the glyph-orientation-horizontal property, that were deprecated for SVG2.

Roadmap summary

Since librsvg 2.52.1 I’ve started to systematically improve text support. Many thanks to Behdad Esfahbod, Khaled Ghetas, Matthias Clasen for their advice and inspiration.

First, I want to get bidi to a state where it is reliable, at least as much as LTR languages with Latin text are reliable right now:

  • Implement unicode-bidi. See the detailed roadmap below.

  • Add tests for the different combinations of text-anchor and direction; right now there are only a few tested combinations.

  • Test and implement multiply-nested changes of direction. I think only a single level works right now.

  • Even if white-space handling remains semi-broken, I think it’s more important to have “mostly working” bidi than completely accurate white-space handling and layout.

Second, actually overhaul librsvg’s text engine by implementing the SVG2 text layout algorithm:

  • Implement the text-orientation property, and implement fallbacks from the deprecated glyph-orientation-vertical to it. If this turns out to be hard with the current state of the code, I will defer it until the SVG2 text layout algorithm below.

  • Implement the SVG2 text layout algorithm and white-space handling at the same time. See the detailed roadmap below.

Third, implement all the properties that are not critical for the text layout algorithm, and things like @font-face. Those can be done gradually, but I feel the text layout algorithm has to be done all in a single step.

Detailed roadmap

Implement unicode-bidi

The property is parsed only with SVG1.1 values. Parsing SVG2 values is a trivial change. Supporting this property involves looking at both direction and unicode-bidi and inserting Unicode control characters at the start and end of each text span, so that the bidi and shaping engines know what to do.

Add tests for combinations of text-anchor and direction

These are easy to add now that librsvg’s tests make use of the Ahem font, in which each glyph is a 1x1 em square.

Implement the text-orientation property

This may just be the property parser and hooking it up to the machinery for properties. Actual processing may be easier to do in the SVG2 text layout algorithm, detailed below.

Implement the SVG2 text layout algorithm and white-space handling.

Shaping: One thing librsvg does wrong is that for each <tspan>, or for each synthesized text span from a <text> element, it creates a separate pango::Layout. This means that text shaping is not done across element boundaries (SVG2 requirement). Implementing this can be done by creating a string by recursively concatenating the character content of each <text> element and its children, and adding pango::Attributes with the proper indexes based on each child’s character length. This creates an un-shaped string in logical order with all the characters inside the <text>, to be used in the next steps.

Pango details: create a single pango::Layout, per <text> element, with pango::Attribute for each text span. Set the layout to set_single_paragraph_mode() so it does not break newlines. Pango will then translate them to characters in the Layout, and the white-space handling and SVG2 text layout algorithm below can detect them.

Bidi control: The unicode-bidi property requires adding control characters at the start and end of each span’s text contents. For example, <tspan direction="rtl" unicode-bidi="bidi-override">foo</tspan> should get rendered as oof. The CSS Writing Modes 3 spec has a table of control codes for each combination of direction and unicode-bidi. Implementing this involves adding the control characters while recursively building the string from each child of <text> as in the “Shaping” point above.

White-space handling: SVG2 has a new white-space property that obsoletes xml:space from SVG1.1. Implementing this depends on the concatenated string from the steps above, so that white-space can be collapsed on the result. Maybe this needs to be done before inserting bidi control characters, or maybe not, if the state machine is adjusted to ignore the control characters.

SVG2 text layout algorithm: This is the big one. The spec has pseudocode. It depends on the shaping results from Pango, and involves correlating “typographic characters” (Pango clusters) with the un-shaped string in logical order from the “Shaping”, and the information about discarded white-space characters. The complete text layout algorithm would take care of supporting multi-valued x/y/dx/dy/rotate, textPath (see below), plus bidi and vertical text.

Text rendering

Librsvg is moving towards a “render tree” or “display list” model, instead of just rendering everything directly while traversing the DOM tree.

Currently, the text layout process generates a layout::Text object, which is basically an array of pango::Layout with extra information.

It should be possible to explode these into pango::GlyphItem or pango::GlyphString and annotate these with x/y/rotate information, which will be the actual results of the SVG2 text layout algorithm.

Although currently Pango deals with underlining, it may be necessary to do that in librsvg instead - I am not sure yet how textPath or individually-positioned x/y/dx/dy/rotate interact with underlining.

Pango internals

 * pango_renderer_draw_glyph_item:
 * @renderer: a `PangoRenderer`
 * @text: (nullable): the UTF-8 text that @glyph_item refers to
 * @glyph_item: a `PangoGlyphItem`
 * @x: X position of left edge of baseline, in user space coordinates
 *   in Pango units
 * @y: Y position of left edge of baseline, in user space coordinates
 *   in Pango units
 * Draws the glyphs in @glyph_item with the specified `PangoRenderer`,
 * embedding the text associated with the glyphs in the output if the
 * output format supports it.
 * This is useful for rendering text in PDF.
 * ...

Note that embedding text in PDF to make it selectable involves passing a non-null text to pango_renderer_draw_glyph_item(). We’ll have to implement this by hand, probably.

Wrapped text in a content area

This roadmap does not consider the implementation fo wrapped text yet.

User-provided fonts, @font-face and WOFF

This involves changes to the CSS machinery, to parse the @font-face at-rule. Librsvg would also have to obtain the font and feed it to FontConfig. I am not sure if FontConfig can deal with WOFF just like with normal .ttf files.

See the issue on the Future of the pango dependency for lots of goodies which may come in handy.


https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/librsvg/-/issues/795 - Implement the unicode-bidi property.

https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/librsvg/-/issues/795 - Implement SVG2 white-space behavior.

https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/librsvg/-/issues/599 - Something is wrong with text scaled with a transformation; this is not critical but it bothers me a lot.

Issues that have not been filed yet

From the spec: “It is possible to apply a gradient, pattern, clipping path, mask or filter to text.” We need better tests for the objectBoundingBox of the whole <text>; I think they are wrong for vertical text, and this shows up when filling its spans with gradients or patterns. Clip/mask/filter do not work on individual spans yet.

Multiply-nested changes of text direction / bidi overrides.

Glossary so I don’t have to check the Pango docs every time

PangoItem - A range within the user’s string that has the same language/script/direction/level/etc. (Logical order).

PangoLayoutRun - same as PangoGlyphItem - a pair of PangoItem and the PangoGlyphString it generated during shaping. (Visual order).

PangoGlyphString - The glyphs generated for a single PangoItem.

PangoGravityHint - Defines how horizontal scripts should behave in a vertical context.