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Ctlra Support

This page introduces the reader to the proposed work to integrate the Ctlra library with Mixxx. The main advantage to doing this is hotplug support for USB HID devices. The Ctlra library is written in plain C, and developed/tested on Linux. The library currently supports a range of USB HID devices that are not supported by ALSA/Linux-kernel.

Please see the following 1 hour talk on Ctlra, presented at the Linux Audio Conference '17. OpenAV Ctrla: A library for Tight Integration of Controllers - Harry Van Haaren

Code / Plan

The Ctlra library is a plain C library, so integrating it is not particularly difficult from a Code point of view. Integrating it at the correct abstraction is more difficult - Ctlra does not provide an “instance” of each controller, as doing so would make hotplug very difficult to support transparently to the application.

In initial prototyping, the Ctlra library was instantiated as a derived class of a Mixxx “Controller”. This is *not* the correct abstraction, given that one Ctlra instance can support multiple devices.

Given this fact, it seems best to have the Ctlra instance in the ControllerManager class, and for each device that is “known” to Ctlra, we can instantiate a “Controller” class instance to represent it. Surely there will be something else that becomes more difficult by moving the main controller instance up a level, but this is the correct level of abstraction (from experience of attempting integration).


The Ctlra library itself doesn't create any threads. It uses the libUSB library to access USB devices, and uses the async() mode for all transfers to not block any threads. The HIDUSB library was concidered, but due to its tendency to toy with thread creation/joining it was not used. As a result, the Ctlra library must be polled, which means that every X ms, a thread must call ctlra_poll() function.

This thread is created once at a the Ctlra instance level, and the same thread is used to poll all controllers using async() USB callbacks. Events are transmitted to a provided callback - more details further, keep reading!

Events Callbacks

In Ctlra, all actions (physical modification of a control surface) result in “events” being sent to an application specified callback function. This callback function performs a switch() based on the event, and can perform a particular action. The callback function can be implemented in C, or cast to a C++ class using the available void* for userdata.

Handling Input

Input is handled in the user-supplied callback. Any events can trigger ControlProxy writes, which allow controlling the Mixxx engine. Given the callback is a C function, it must be compiled and linked into the binary. Although inflexible, it does provide huge performance and gauranteed results.

In order to provide a more flexible method of handling events, the TCC compiler can be used, to *dynamically generate and link* C code into Mixxx, during runtime. The resulting functions can be run using function-pointers. This has been prototyped in the Ctlra library, *AND* in the Mixxx POC implementation, and works like a dream. The TCC feature will not be in the initial PR, however it is worth mentioning and being aware of in order to understand the value-add of the Ctlra addition to Mixxx.

Handling Feedback

Feedback can be written to any controller using a few Ctlra APIs. The APIs update the state of the LEDs and other controllable items on a physical device. The state of the Mixxx engine is retrieved using ControlProxy objects, and based on the state of the ControlProxy, the feedback can be updated on the device itself.


Harry van Haaren (OpenAV) is the contact point for this work. Please email me ([email protected] ), and we can organize a time to discuss this topic on #mixxx IRC channel, or somewhere else where a record of conversation is maintained.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you find the proposed Ctlra work as interesting as I do :)

Translations of this page:
ctlra_support.txt · Last modified: 2017/07/06 17:39 by harryhaaren