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Testing Video4Linux Applications and Drivers

- July 31, 2014 - 0 Comments


The video4linux subsystem of the kernel which deals with video capture, video output and hardware video codecs has a very large API with many ioctls, settings, options and capabilities. And most hardware will only use a fraction of that. This makes it hard to test whether your driver implements everything it should and it makes it hard to test if your application supports all hardware variants.

Providing tools that allow you gain confidence about the quality of the code you are writing, whether it is a driver or an application, would be very helpful indeed. As co-maintainer of the subsystem and as part of my job trying to convince the industry to switch to the V4L2 API instead of (Oh no! Not again!) rolling your own API I thought this was a worthy cause to spend time on.

Testing Drivers

I started writing a utility called v4l2-compliance to test drivers over 6 years ago, but for a long time it only tested a fraction of the V4L2 API. The test coverage slowly increased over the years but it wasn’t until February this year that it became a really powerful tool when support for testing video streaming was added. Today it has test coverage of around 90% of the API and new V4L2 drivers must pass the v4l2-compliance tests before they are allowed in the kernel.

One important missing piece in the compliance utility is testing for the various cropping, composing and scaling combinations. The main reason being that it wasn’t always clear in the API what the interaction should be between the various actions. E.g. changing a crop rectangle might require a change to the compose rectangle as well. So should that be allowed or should an error be returned instead? (Answer: yes, that’s allowed). I hope to add support for testing this some time this year.

Testing Applications

It would be nice if this could be easily tested with an application and a driver that supports all the various combinations. But no such driver exists, and that brings me to the second part of this post: how do you test an application against the bewildering array of hardware? All too often application developers only test their application against the hardware they own, and so it is likely it will fail miserably when using it with hardware that implements a different subset of the V4L2 API.

The answer to this question is that a virtual V4L2 driver is needed that implements as much of the V4L2 API as is possible and that can be configured in various ways to accurately model real hardware. Today there is a virtual video driver in the kernel called vivi, but unfortunately that driver doesn’t act at all as real hardware does. And it only supports simple video capture which is just a small subset of the whole API.

In order to resolve this situation I wrote a new driver called vivid: Virtual Test Driver. This driver covers most of the V4L2 API and is ideal for testing your application. Writing this driver was very useful since it forced me to think about some of the dark and dusty corners of the V4L2 API, and some of those corners needed a big broom to clean up. I found a variety of bugs in the V4L2 core and the API documentation just because this driver exercised parts of the API that are rarely if ever used.

I also realized that a driver like this is ideal to emulate hardware that is not yet available and can be used to prototype your upcoming product in the absence of the actual hardware. It’s a logical consequence of the requirement that in order for the virtual video driver to be really useful it has to accurately model hardware.

It also had an immediate beneficial effect on the two ‘golden reference’ utilities that control V4L2 drivers: the command line v4l2-ctl utility and the GUI equivalent qv4l2. After all, in order to test whether the vivid driver works you need applications to test the driver. As a result both utilities improved as more features were added to the driver, which all needed to be tested by those applications. So the driver has already fulfilled its promised to help test and improve applications.

All utilities mentioned in this article are part of the v4l-utils git repository.

If you would like to know more about V4L2 driver and application testing, then attend my presentation on this topic during the upcoming LinuxCon North America in Chicago!


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