Re: Whatever happened to the Secondary Selection?


thanks for your email.

GTK+, as a project, tracks bugs and enhancements in Bugzilla - - instead of the mailing list, which is only meant for discussion.

Additionally, the latest stable version of GTK+ is 3.20, and we plan to release GTK+ 3.22 by next month.

We still (optionally) support the PRIMARY selection on the X11 backend, and some compatibility layer for it on Wayland, but we have no plans on adding support for the SECONDARY selection, as it's both barely specified and, like the PRIMARY, highly confusing for anybody who is not well-versed in 20+ years of use of textual interfaces on the X Windows System. Personally, I would have jettisoned the PRIMARY selection a long time ago as well, but apparently a very vocal minority is still holding tight to that particular Easter egg. Adding support for the even more esoteric SECONDARY selection on the X11 backend when we're trying to move the Linux world towards the more modern and less legacy-ridden Wayland display system would be problematic to say the least, and an ill fit for the majority of graphical user experiences in use these days.

It should be entirely possible to add support for the SECONDARY selection inside specific applications, like text editors; or in specific libraries, like VTE for terminal emulators. It would definitely make more sense than trying to apply it to all text entry widgets in GTK+.


On Saturday, 20 August 2016, Charles Lindsey <chl clerew man ac uk> wrote:
For over 20 years, I have been using the secondary-selection (a standard feature of the X-Windows system) when editing texts, using the Solaris operating system on Sun Hardware. Recently, I have switched to Linux on i86 hardware, and have been horrified to find that this valuable feature is not supported by modern toolkits and editors. The world seems to have forgotten what it was meant for, and yet I believe it is the best thing since sliced bread.

This is not the place to explain what the secondary-selection does, and why it should be used more widely. To see that, I invite you to visit my website at
which I hope will persuade you that something needs to be done about it.

Furthermore, to illustrate how it is used, I have implemented an Experimental Extension to GTK-3 so that people can try it out for themselves and to see how useful it can be for constructing texts (and particularly program texts, where there is a common requirement to grab existing bits of code - perhaps even just identifiers - from other places, whether in the same document or from outside).

My implementation is based on gtk+-3.10.8, because I am using Ubuntu 14.04LTS "Trusty Tahr", though it may well work on other Linux versions. Yes I know 3.10.8 is ancient, but I don't expect my code, which is pretty hairy, to be fit for immediate incorporation in current versions of gtk. But it now works well enough for it to be tested more widely, and if people like it, then I would be happy to join the Developer Team and to do the job properly.

So I invite you guys to look at my website, download my code and give it a try. I am also making this known on various other lists, because unless people try it out (and hopefully like it), there can be no pressure to take it further.

Share and Enjoy!

Charles H. Lindsey ---------At Home, doing my own thing------------------------
Tel: +44 161 436 6131                         Web:
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