Chapter 7. Introduction to FLTK

Table of Contents
History of FLTK
What Does "FLTK" Mean?
Building and Installing FLTK Under UNIX
Building FLTK Under Microsoft Windows
Building FLTK Under OS/2
Internet Resources
Reporting Bugs

The Fast Light Tool Kit ("FLTK", pronounced "fulltick") is a LGPL'd C++ graphical user interface toolkit for X (UNIX), OpenGL, and Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, 95, or 98. It was originally developed by Mr. Bill Spitzak and is currently maintained by a small group of developers across the world with a central repository in the US.

History of FLTK

It has always been Bill's belief that the GUI API of all modern systems is much too high level. Toolkits (even FL) are not what should be provided and documented as part of an operating system. The system only has to provide arbitrary shaped but featureless windows, a powerful set of graphics drawing calls, and a simple unalterable method of delivering events to the owners of the windows. NeXT (if you ignored NextStep) provided this, but they chose to hide it and tried to push their own baroque toolkit instead...

Many of the ideas in FLTK were developed on a NeXT (but not using NextStep) in 1987 in a C toolkit Bill called "views". Here he came up with passing events downward in the tree and having the handle routine return a value indicating the used the event, and the table-driven menus. In general he was trying to prove that complex UI ideas could be entirely implemented in a user space toolkit, with no knowledge or support by the system.

After going to film school for a few years, Bill worked at Sun Microsystems on the (doomed) NeWS project. Here he found an even better and cleaner windowing system, and he reimplemented "views" atop that. NeWS did have an unnecessarily complex method of delivering events which hurt it. But the designers did admit that perhaps the user could write just as good of a button as they could, and officially exposed the lower level interface.

With the death of NeWS Bill realized that he would have to live with X. The biggest problem with X is the "window manager", which means that the toolkit can no longer control the window borders or drag the window around.

At Digital Domain Bill discovered another toolkit, "Forms". Forms was similar to his work, but provided many more widgets, since it was used in many real applications, rather then as theoretical work. He decided to use Forms, except he integrated his table-driven menus into it. Several very large programs were created using this version of Forms.

The need to switch to OpenGL and GLX, portability, and a desire to use C++ subclassing required a rewrite of Forms. This produced the first version of FLTK. The conversion to C++ required so many changes it made it impossible to recompile any Forms objects. Since it was incompatible anyway, Bill decided to incorporate his older ideas as much as possible by simplifying the lower level interface and the event passing mechanisim.

Bill received permission to release it for free on the Internet, with the GNU general public license. Response from Internet users indicated that the Linux market dwarfed the SGI and high-speed GL market, so he rewrote it to use X for all drawing, greatly speeding it up on these machines. That is the version you have now.

Digital Domain has since withdrawn support for FLTK. While Bill is no longer able to actively develop it, he still contributes to FLTK in his free time and is a part of the FLTK development team.