Friday, June 27, 2008


Backing store

"Backing store" is an old, albeit not well-known, feature of X servers, going back to the 80's or may be even before that. More often when not, servers do not enable it by default, and then users are left to search through server customization option to discover appropriate magic to enable it.

This page, which, I believe, is devoted to some specific Java drawing problems, has some good and concise explanation of "backing store" mechanism (emphasis added):

Usage of backing store is another way of improving our painting procedure. Backing store is a feature of most of X servers: provided that a window has the backing store attribute set, such an X server automatically maintains the contents of the window while it is obscured. When (a part of) a window is exposed, its contents is automatically copied to the screen, and expose events are not generated as the contents is restored. Though the attribute is only a hint to an X server.

Backing store does conflict with DGA, so backing store attribute is not set for a window if Java2D uses DGA on at least one screen. (DGA is used only on some Solaris/SPARC machines.)

To allow setting of the backing store attribute for a window (if DGA is used), one may set the env var NO_J2D_DGA; refer to

To leverage backing store feature, in addition to setting of the backing store attribute for a window, the X server must have backing store support enabled. One should consult his/her X server documentation in order to enable X server's support for backing store. Let's consider typical setting of 3 most popular X servers.

  1. Xsun has backing store support enabled by default.
  2. XFree86: put 
    Option "backingstore"
    in each Screen section of /etc/X11/XF86Config-4 or /etc/X11/XF86Config if the former isn't present. (See also
  3. Xorg: put    
    Option "backingstore"
    in each Screen section of /etc/X11/xorg.conf. (See also

It turns out that there is also option "SaveUnders" somehow related to this. In any case, this is an example of "Screen" section of /etc/X11/xorg.conf with backing store enabled:

Section "Screen"
   Identifier     "Screen0"
   Device         "Device0"
   Monitor        "Monitor0"
   DefaultDepth    24
   Option "BackingStore" "on"
   Option "SaveUnders" "on"
   SubSection     "Display"
       Depth       24


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