GIMP Coding Style

This document describes the preferred coding style for the GIMP source code. It was originally inspired by GNU’s coding style and developed from there across the years.

Coding style is completely arbitrary as it is a a matter of consistency, readability and maintenance, not taste. Therefore it doesn’t matter what you prefer (we all have some part of the rules we would like different, and we can apply these to our personal projects), just follow these rules so that we can work together efficiently.

This document will use examples at the very least to provide authoritative and consistent answers to common questions regarding the coding style and will also try to identify the allowed exceptions.

Dealing with the old code

The new GIMP code should adhere to the style explained below. The existing GIMP code largely follows these conventions, but there are some differences like extra or missing whitespace, tabs instead of space, wrong formatting, etc.

Our policy is to update the style of a code block or function if and only if you happen to touch that code.

Please don’t waste your time and reviewers’ time with merge requests or patches with only code style fixes unless you have push rights to the GIMP’s repository.

Git usage

Commit messages

Commit messages should follow the following rules:

  • Always provide informative titles. No one-word commits saying nothing like “bug fix”, so that we can at least search through the git history if needed. It can still be short messages for very simple fixes: for instance “Fix typo” or “Fix small memory leak” are informative of the type of fix.
  • Prefix the title with the codebase section (i.e. the root folder usually) which was changed. For instance: libgimpbase: fix memory leak immediately tells us it was a memory leak fix in the libgimpbase library. If several sections are touched, list them with comma-separation.
  • Alternatively, when the change is a response to a bug report, you may prefix with Issue #123: (where #123 is the report ID) instead.
  • If the changed code itself is not self-explanatory enough, you can add longer change description (2 lines after the title) to explain more. It is not mandatory, but it is never unwelcome because old code exploration to understand why things were done (possibly years before by people long gone) is a real thing we do all the time. So if it’s not obvious, explain us.
  • Explanations can also be made in the shape of links to a bug report (ours, or a third-party project tracker, or some manual), even though additional text explanations may still be useful (unfortunately URLs may change or disappear). If the link is to our own bug tracker, usually giving the ID is enough.
  • Same as for code, wrap your commit message to reasonable line widths, i.e. 80 characters maximum so that other contributors don’t have to scroll horizontally on narrow vizualisation. There may be exceptions, for instance when pasting some error messages which may end up confusing when wrapped. But other than this, wrap your text (most git client would have a feature to do it for you).
  • If the title is too long because of the max-width settings, a common format is to break it with ‘…’ and to continue the title 2 lines below. Then the description goes again 2 lines below.

Here is an example of a well formatted fix in the plug-ins/ section:

plug-ins: fix file-gih.

We currently cannot call gimp_pdb_run_procedure() for procedures
containing arrays because this C-type doesn't contain the size
information (which is in a second parameter but since the rule is not
hard-coded, our API can't know this).

See issue #7369.

Here is another as a response to a bug report and a long title:

Issue #6695: Wrong tab after JPG export because of "Show preview"…

… feature.

Using the new gimp_display_present() function in file-jpeg to make sure
the original display is back to the top.

If you want to see more good examples, this git command will list commits whose messages are generally well formatted: git log --author="Jehan\|mitch\|Jacob Boerema"

Linear git log

Nearly all our repositories (gimp-web being the exception) have a fully linear history. The “merge commit” workflow is definitely good and useful in some projects’ workflow, especially with bigger projects with many contributors and subdivided maintenance roles (where the main tree is mostly about merging public trees of several submaintainers’ public trees, who themselves applied contributed commits by individuals).

This doesn’t work well with GIMP’s current workflow and our number of contributors. This is even worse with the completely useless merge commits created by hosting tools which completely misused (or even misunderstood) the merge concept.

This is why our Gitlab projects are configured to only push commits linearly. This means that when a contributed tree is behind, you must first rebase it through the “Rebase” button in the merge request (which requires contributors to check the “Allow commits from members who can merge to the target branch” option) or by rebasing in the tree then force-pushing when Gitlab is unable to merge.

When you push directly (for contributors with push rights), you are also expected to never push a merge commit.

Multiple or single commits?

When contributing merge requests or patch files, you should break your work into logical changes, not into review timelines.

E.g. after a review, instead of pushing fixes as an additional commit, amend your commits to rewrite your local git history as though reviewed bugs never existed.

On the other hand, we appreciate separate commits when they are logical units. For instance, you could have 1 commit adding a GUI feature, then 1 commit adding a libgimp API to manipulate the new feature and 1 commit for a plug-in to use this new API. It makes perfect sense to separate these 3 changes into their own commits and even help for review and later dig through development logs.

C code

Line width

The recommended line width for source files is 80 characters whenever possible. Longer lines are usually an indication that you either need a function or a pre-processor macro.

The point is to have clear code to read and not overly long lines. Don’t break code into ugly and choppy parts to blindly follow this rule.

Function definitions in the function forward declaration block don’t have to obey the 80 characters limit. The only general rule for headers is to align the function definitions vertically in three columns. See more information in Functions section

Whitespaces

Indentation

Each new level is indented 2 or more spaces than the previous level:

  if (condition)
    single_statement ();

Use only space characters to achieve this. Code indented with tabs will not be accepted into the GIMP codebase.

Even if two spaces for each indentation level allow deeper nesting, GIMP favors self-documenting function names that can be quite long. For this reason, you should avoid deeply nested code.

Note: the only place where we use Tab indentation and alignment is the Makefiles. In there, Tab are expected to be displayed as 8 characters for proper display

Vertical spaces (new lines)

Except for one single newline at the end of the file, other empty lines (at the beginning and the end) of a file are not allowed.

On the other hand, empty lines in the middle of code are very encouraged for well-ventilated code. For instance gathering and separating code by logical parts making it easy to read and understand.

Horizontal spaces

Always put a space before an opening parenthesis but never after:

  /* valid */
  if (condition)
    do_my_things ();

  /* valid */
  switch (condition)
    {
    }

  /* invalid */
  if(condition)
    do_my_things();

  /* invalid */
  if ( condition )
    do_my_things ( );

Do not eliminate whitespace and newlines just because something would fit on 80 characters:

  /* invalid */
  if (condition) foo (); else bar ();

Tab characters in strings

Use \t instead of literal tab inside the source code strings.

Braces

If-else

Don’t use curly braces for single statement blocks:

  /* valid */
  if (condition)
    single_statement ();
  else
    another_single_statement (arg1);

In the case of multiple statements, put curly braces on another indentation level:

  /* valid */
  if (condition)
    {
      statement_1 ();
      statement_2 ();
      statement_3 ();
    }

  /* invalid */
  if (condition) {
    statement_1 ();
    statement_2 ();
  }

  /* invalid */
  if (condition)
  {
    statement_1 ();
    statement_2 ();
  }

The “no block for single statements” rule has only three exceptions:

Both sides of the if-else statement must have curly braces when either side of this if-else statement has braces or when the single statement covers multiple lines, and it’s followed by else or else if (e.g., for functions with many arguments).

  /* valid */
  if (condition)
    {
      a_single_statement_with_many_arguments (some_lengthy_argument,
                                              another_lengthy_argument,
                                              and_another_one,
                                              plus_one);
    }
  else
    {
      another_single_statement (arg1, arg2);
    }

② if the condition is composed of many lines:

  /* valid */
  if (condition1                 ||
      (condition2 && condition3) ||
      condition4                 ||
      (condition5 && (condition6 || condition7)))
    {
      a_single_statement ();
    }

③ In the case of nested if’s, the block should be placed on the outermost if:

  /* valid */
  if (condition)
    {
      if (another_condition)
        single_statement ();
      else
        another_single_statement ();
    }

  /* invalid */
  if (condition)
    if (another_condition)
      single_statement ();
    else if (yet_another_condition)
      another_single_statement ();

Switch

A switch() should open a block on a new indentation level, and each case should start on the same indentation level as the curly braces, with the case block on a new indentation level:

  /* valid */
  switch (condition)
    {
    case FOO:
      do_foo ();
      break;

    case BAR:
      do_bar ();
      break;
    }

  /* invalid */
  switch (condition) {
    case FOO: do_foo (); break;
    case BAR: do_bar (); break;
  }

  /* invalid */
  switch (condition)
    {
    case FOO: do_foo ();
      break;
    case BAR: do_bar ();
      break;
    }

  /* invalid */
  switch (condition)
    {
      case FOO:
      do_foo ();
      break;
      case BAR:
      do_bar ();
      break;
    }

It is preferable, though not mandatory, to separate the various cases with a newline:

  switch (condition)
    {
    case FOO:
      do_foo ();
      break;

    case BAR:
      do_bar ();
      break;

    default:
      do_default ();
      break;
    }

If a case block needs to declare new variables, the same rules as the inner blocks (see above) apply; place the break statement outside of the inner block:

  switch (condition)
    {
    case FOO:
      {
        int foo;

        foo = do_foo ();
      }
      break;

    ...
    }

Do not add default: case if your switch () is supposed to handle all cases.

Random blocks

Using blocks to group code is discouraged and must not be used in newly written code.

int   retval    = 0;
gbool condition = retval >= 0;

statement_1 ();
statement_2 ();

  /* discouraged in newly written code */
  {
    int      var1 = 42;
    gboolean res  = FALSE;

    res = statement_3 (var1);
    retval = res ? -1 : 1;
  }

Conditions

Do not check boolean values for equality:

  /* valid */
  if (another_condition)
    do_bar ();

  /* invalid */
  if (condition == TRUE)
    do_foo ();

Even if C handles NULL equality like a boolean, be explicit:

  /* valid */
  if (some_pointer == NULL)
    do_blah ();

  /* invalid */
  if (some_other_pointer)
    do_blurp ();

When conditions split over multiple lines, the logical operators should always go at the end of the line. Align the same level boolean operators to show explicitly which are on the same level and which are not:

  /* valid */
  if (condition1  &&
      condition2  &&
      (condition3 || (condition4 && condition5)))
    {
      do_blah ();
    }

  /* invalid */
  if (condition1
      || condition2
      || condition3)
    {
      do_foo ();
    }

Variables declaration and definition

Place each variable on a new line. The variable name must be right-aligned, taking into account pointers:

  /* valid */
  int         first  = 42;
  gboolean    second = TRUE;
  GimpObject *third  = NULL;

Blocks of variable declaration/initialization should align the variable names, allowing quick skimming of the variable list.

Functions

Function header has the return type on one line; the name starting in the first column of the following line. Prototype each parameter and place each on a new line.

In function names, each word must be lowercase and separated by an underscore.

In the function definition, place the return value on a separate line from the function name:

void
my_function (void)
{
}

The parameters list must be broken into a new line for each parameter, with the parameter names right-aligned, taking into account pointers:

void
my_function (some_type_t     some_param,
             another_type_t *a_pointer_param,
             final_type_t    final_param)
{
}

While curly braces for function definitions should rest on a new line they should not add an indentation level:

/* valid */
static void
my_function (int parameter)
{
  do_my_things ();
}

The alignment also holds when invoking a function, except that we align full expressions, not variables:

  align_function_arguments (first_argument,
                            *second_argument + 3,
                            &third_argument,
                            (a + b) * c);

If your function name is very long, it’s always better to extract arguments into separate variables to improve readability:

  /* valid */
  first_a  = argument_the_first;
  second_a = argument_the_second;
  a_very_long_function_name_with_long_arguments (first_a, second_a);

Keep the function name and the arguments on the same line. Otherwise, it will hurt readability.

  /* invalid */
  a_very_long_function_name_with_long_arguments
    (argument_the_first, argument_the_second);

Macros

Try to avoid private macros unless strictly necessary. Remember to #undef them at the end of a block or a series of functions needing them.

Use inline functions instead of private macro definitions. Do not use public macros unless they evaluate to a constant.

Includes

GIMP source files should never include the global gimp.h header, but instead include the individual headers that are needed.

Includes must be in the following order:

  1. config.h first;
  2. System and third-party headers;
  3. GIMP library headers (libgimp* headers);
  4. GIMP core/app headers that it needs including its own;

Sort alphabetically the includes within the blocks.

/* valid */
#include "config.h"

#include <gegl.h>
#include <gtk/gtk.h>

#include "libgimpbase/gimpbase.h"
#include "libgimpcolor/gimpcolor.h"

#include "core/gimp.h"
#include "core/gimpcontainer.h"

#include "gimpcolorpanel.h"
#include "gimpcontainerentry.h"

Structures

When declaring a structure type use newlines to separate logical sections:

  /* preferred for new code*/
  typedef struct
  {
    gint  n_pages;
    gint *pages;

    gbool read_only;
  } Pages;

When initializing a structure variable with constants, shortly enough that it can be done on a single line, then you should add a space after the opening curly brace and before the closing one, such as:

  GimpRGB color = { 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, GIMP_OPACITY_OPAQUE };

Memory management

To dynamically allocate data on the heap, use g_new(). To allocate memory for multiple small data structures, g_slice_new().

When possible, all public structure types should be returned fully initialized, either explicitly for each member or by using g_new0() or g_slice_new0().

As a general programming rule, it is better to allocate and free data on the same level. It is much easier to review code because you know that when you allocate something there, then you also free it there.

GeglBuffer *buffer;
void       *p;

*buffer = gegl_buffer_new (some, args);
*p      = g_new (something, n);

/* do stuff */

g_object_unref (buffer);
g_free (p);

When a transfer of ownership is unavoidable make it clear in the function documentation.

Comments

In-code explanation

The only allowed style is C-style comments /* */. In particular C++ comments // are strictly forbidden from our source.

We are not asking contributors to over-comment their code, yet we highly value quality comments to explain complicated algorithms or non-obvious code. Just ask yourself this: what if someone sees my code 5 years later (another contributor or even your future self)…

  • will one easily understand what you meant to do?
  • In particular: if it needs to be removed later, won’t one be scared to delete now-useless code by fear of unexpected side-effects?
  • Or oppositely: won’t someone delete the code by mistake because it looks useless while it was actually dealing with a very particular (yet absolutely non-obvious) issue?

Adding links which explain well a problem or the reason for some non-obvious code is also permitted. For instance a link to a bug report (ours or some other projects’) can sometimes be a good complement to a comment. Nevertheless it should not be overdone and in particular not for links likely to disappear (personal blog posts, forums, corporate websites which often revamp their design, breaking URLs, etc.).

Public API Documentation

All public APIs (i.e. any function exported in a header inside libgimp*/ folders) MUST have proper GObject-introspection (GIR) comments. For functions, these should be placed in the source file directly above.

These annotations are also relevant for GObject Introspection to generate bindings for other languages.

/* valid */
/**
 * gimp_object_set_name:
 * @object: a #GimpObject
 * @name: the @object's new name (transfer none)
 *
 * Sets the @object's name. Takes care of freeing the old name and
 * emitting the ::name_changed signal if the old and new name differ.
 **/
void
gimp_object_set_name (GimpObject  *object,
                      const gchar *name)
{

  ...

}

Doc comments for macros, function types, class structs, etc., should be placed next to the definitions, typically in headers.

Non-public API documentation

Project-only code (for instance any code from the app/ folder) can be less documented. For instance when a function has obvious naming, not explaining it is perfectly acceptable.

Nevertheless adding documentation even for these private APIs is welcome, especially when the usage is not as obvious as it looks, or to make sure to advertize the proper memory handling (does it allocate new memory? Which function to free it with? Or shouldn’t the returned memory be freed?), avoiding silly bugs and not wasting developer times (when we have to look at the implementation to verify each time we use a function).

In such a case, using gtk-docs syntax is still a nice idea as we will understand it directly (even though we won’t generate any docs from it).

Public API

No variables

Avoid exporting variables as public API since this is cumbersome on some platforms. It is always preferable to add getters and setters instead.

Def files for Windows

List all public functions alphabetically in the corresponding .def file.

  • app/gimpcore.def
  • libgimp/gimp.def
  • libgimpbase/gimpbase.def
  • etc

Natural language text

Base rules

Any text in GIMP source should follow these base rules:

  • Our base language is US English, both for historical reason and because this is the usual expectation with gettext, the localization tool used by GIMP. In particular when variants of words or idioms exist in several native English countries, we should choose the US variant. Other English variants can be used in specific locales (such as en_GB or en_CA…).
  • Text meant for technical people, such as API documentation (in-code comments, in-repository documentation, or gtk-doc/docgen style comments for generated docs…) usually does not need localization, and therefore can just be written in US English.
  • Text meant to be viewed by all users should be translatable. In particular in GIMP source code, it means that we need to use gettext API.
  • Use gender-neutral terms, in particular not using words such as “she/he” or “her/his” is better. We should not use over-complicated wording to achieve this and should look for simpler writing if necessary.
  • Be nice and open-minded in all text, even in code comments. Remember these will be read by others and that we are here to have fun together, not fight.

User-visible text in C code

As explained, C code uses the gettext API. Any text which might appear in front of people should be translatable, with the following exceptions:

  • Error or warning output in stderr might often be untranslated (because we assume these are mostly used for debugging and people who will see these would be more comfortable with digging into issue causes; also it makes debugging and searches in code easier).

  • Technical error text in the graphical interface when it is made to be reported to developers. Basically error messages meant for users themselves should still be translatable. For instance, if one tries to draw on a layer group, we’d display:

    _("Cannot modify the pixels of layer groups.")
    

    Indeed this is an error message to give an information to the user. It’s not a bug. Now when a crash happens, we add a translated header message to explain a problem occured, but the core information stays in English because we are not asking people to understand it, only report it to us.

The most common variant of gettext API is the underscore _() (alias of gettext()) for simple text:

frame = gimp_frame_new (_("Shadows"));

When used in some widgets, we may want to add mnemonics for accessibility. This is done with the underscore:

label = gtk_label_new_with_mnemonic (_("_Width:"));

Note that it is a good idea to not change well-known mnemonics, such as _("_OK"), _("_Cancel") or _("_Reset"). Also you should avoid using the same mnemonics in 2 widgets on the same interface (even though GTK has some way to handle mnemonic duplicate, but it’s not a really good implementation accessibility-wise).

Translators may (and often will) change mnemonics. It is therefore up to them to take care of not having the same mnemonics on a same interface in their specific locale.

When some messages cannot be translated at initialization, you must use the no-op variant N_(). For instance, when we declare and initialize a struct:

static const struct
{
  const gchar *name;
  const gchar *description;
}
babl_descriptions[] =
{
  { "RGB u8",         N_("RGB") },
  []
  { "Y u8",           N_("Grayscale") },
  []
  { "R u8",           N_("Red component") },
  []
  { "G u8",           N_("Green component") },
  []
};

The normal gettext _() would not compile because you must initialize struct elements with constants. N_() allows the gettext tools to detect the strings which will need to go into the translator files. Note though that these strings will still need to be translated when used at runtime:

        g_hash_table_insert (babl_description_hash,
                             (gpointer) babl_descriptions[i].name,
                             gettext (babl_descriptions[i].description));

Finally note that for any strings which depends on a variable number, you must use the ngettext variant:

  desc = g_strdup_printf (ngettext ("Crop Layer to Selection",
                                    "Crop %d Layers to Selection",
                                    g_list_length (layers)),
                          g_list_length (layers));

It is important to use ngettext() even in cases where there will always be a count bigger than 1. Say our indexed image do not support the monochrome (1 color) case, and even less 0 colors, then this seems useless because we will always use the second string only:

      g_snprintf (buf, sizeof (buf),
                  ngettext ("Indexed color (monochrome)",
                            "Indexed color (%d colors)",
                            gimp_image_get_colormap_size (image)),
                  gimp_image_get_colormap_size (image));

Yet it’s actually not useless as it allows translators for languages with more plural forms to translate GIMP correctly. For instance, gettext documentation mentions the Polish language has different grammatical agreements for 2,3,4 and 5-21 or again 22-24 and so on. If we were to use solely _("Indexed color (%d colors)"), Polish translators would not be able to list all these cases (therefore GIMP would have a crappy Polish localization), so we have to use ngettext() even when sometimes, it feels useless in English.

Finally when you add translated strings in a file which had none until now, for it to be processed by gettext, you need to add its path in alphabetical order in po/POTFILES.in for core files (or other POTFILES.in, for instance po-plug-ins/POTFILES.in for plug-ins). We have a test checking this, so the make distcheck step will fail anyway when you forgot to add a new file with translation. Yet as developers don’t always run this step locally, the bug may be discovered during CI builds. It is obviously prefered to not forget it hence not push code which breaks the CI (and localization).

Helping tools

Git

We recommend enabling the default git pre-commit hook that detects trailing whitespace and non-ASCII filenames for you and helps you to avoid corrupting GIMP’s tree with it.

In the terminal, navigate into your GIMP source code folder. Then do that as follows (one command at a time):

  cp -v .git/hooks/pre-commit.sample .git/hooks/pre-commit
  chmod a+x .git/hooks/pre-commit

If any command above fails, visit your .git/hooks/ folder and check for the existence of pre-commit.sample or pre-commit files.

You might also find the git-stripspace utility helpful, which acts as a filter to remove trailing whitespace as well as initial, final, and duplicate blank lines.

Code editor / Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

GIMP’s codebase is not tied to a specific editor or IDE. The whole build can be performed from anywhere, and we don’t care what you write your code with (as long as it follows syntax rules from this document).

Several configuration files were contributed across the years to configure your favorite software to follow our coding style. You are very welcome to use them (or improve them and contribute the change when they are not perfect):

Note: all config files should work out-of-the-box, but the Vim one needs to be enabled explicitly because it is too powerful, hence is basically unsafe.

If you use another software to write code, you are welcome to contribute coding style files implementing our coding style.

Code Formatter

Our project contains a .clang-format in the repository root.

A good way to test your code is with the following command while it’s not committed yet:

git diff -U0 --no-color | clang-format-diff -p1

Note that we are not considering these format rules as perfect, because it seems the tool still cannot handle several special cases we have in our coding style. Also we are not perfectly fond of the way it handles long lines (when to accept lines a bit longer than the max line width or not) as well as other rules. Therefore the current document remains the ultimate one to verify when unsure of how to format something.

The CI for any merge request will contain a job called clang-format which will also run your proposed change through the clang-format code formatter as a soft verification of contributed patches. Note that this job is only informational and in particular, it isn’t considered a CI failure, since — as said above — we are not perfectly happy with the tool yet. Nevertheless we expect new contributors to look at the result to fix their basic coding style mistakes and free up reviewing contributors’ time.