Manually adding or removing data from/to a pipeline

Many people have expressed the wish to use their own sources to inject data into a pipeline. Some people have also expressed the wish to grab the output in a pipeline and take care of the actual output inside their application. While either of these methods are strongly discouraged, GStreamer offers support for this. Beware! You need to know what you are doing. Since you don't have any support from a base class you need to thoroughly understand state changes and synchronization. If it doesn't work, there are a million ways to shoot yourself in the foot. It's always better to simply write a plugin and have the base class manage it. See the Plugin Writer's Guide for more information on this topic. Also see the next section, which will explain how to embed plugins statically in your application.

There's two possible elements that you can use for the above-mentioned purposes. Those are called appsrc (an imaginary source) and appsink (an imaginary sink). The same method applies to each of those elements. Here, we will discuss how to use those elements to insert (using appsrc) or grab (using appsink) data from a pipeline, and how to set negotiation.

Both appsrc and appsink provide 2 sets of API. One API uses standard GObject (action) signals and properties. The same API is also available as a regular C api. The C api is more performant but requires you to link to the app library in order to use the elements.

Inserting data with appsrc

First we look at some examples for appsrc, which lets you insert data into the pipeline from the application. Appsrc has some configuration options that define how it will operate. You should decide about the following configurations:

  • Will the appsrc operate in push or pull mode. The stream-type property can be used to control this. stream-type of random-access will activate pull mode scheduling while the other stream-types activate push mode.

  • The caps of the buffers that appsrc will push out. This needs to be configured with the caps property. The caps must be set to a fixed caps and will be used to negotiate a format downstream.

  • If the appsrc operates in live mode or not. This can be configured with the is-live property. When operating in live-mode it is important to configure the min-latency and max-latency in appsrc. The min-latency should be set to the amount of time it takes between capturing a buffer and when it is pushed inside appsrc. In live mode, you should timestamp the buffers with the pipeline running-time when the first byte of the buffer was captured before feeding them to appsrc. You can let appsrc do the timestaping with the do-timestamp property (but then the min-latency must be set to 0 because it timestamps based on the running-time when the buffer entered appsrc).

  • The format of the SEGMENT event that appsrc will push. The format has implications for how the running-time of the buffers will be calculated so you must be sure you understand this. For live sources you probably want to set the format property to GST_FORMAT_TIME. For non-live source it depends on the media type that you are handling. If you plan to timestamp the buffers, you should probably put a GST_FORMAT_TIME format, otherwise GST_FORMAT_BYTES might be appropriate.

  • If appsrc operates in random-access mode, it is important to configure the size property of appsrc with the number of bytes in the stream. This will allow downstream elements to know the size of the media and alows them to seek to the end of the stream when needed.

The main way of handling data to appsrc is by using the function gst_app_src_push_buffer () or by emiting the push-buffer action signal. This will put the buffer onto a queue from which appsrc will read from in its streaming thread. It is important to note that data transport will not happen from the thread that performed the push-buffer call.

The max-bytes property controls how much data can be queued in appsrc before appsrc considers the queue full. A filled internal queue will always signal the enough-data signal, which signals the application that it should stop pushing data into appsrc. The block property will cause appsrc to block the push-buffer method until free data becomes available again.

When the internal queue is running out of data, the need-data signal is emitted, which signals the application that it should start pushing more data into appsrc.

In addition to the need-data and enough-data signals, appsrc can emit the seek-data signal when the stream-mode property is set to seekable or random-access. The signal argument will contain the new desired position in the stream expressed in the unit set with the format property. After receiving the seek-data signal, the application should push-buffers from the new position.

When the last byte is pushed into appsrc, you must call gst_app_src_end_of_stream () to make it send an EOS downstream.

These signals allow the application to operate appsrc in push and pull mode as will be explained next.

Using appsrc in push mode

When appsrc is configured in push mode (stream-type is stream or seekable), the application repeatedly calls the push-buffer method with a new buffer. Optionally, the queue size in the appsrc can be controlled with the enough-data and need-data signals by respectively stopping/starting the push-buffer calls. The value of the min-percent property defines how empty the internal appsrc queue needs to be before the need-data signal will be fired. You can set this to some value >0 to avoid completely draining the queue.

When the stream-type is set to seekable, don't forget to implement a seek-data callback.

Use this model when implementing various network protocols or hardware devices.

Using appsrc in pull mode

In the pull model, data is fed to appsrc from the need-data signal handler. You should push exactly the amount of bytes requested in the need-data signal. You are only allowed to push less bytes when you are at the end of the stream.

Use this model for file access or other randomly accessable sources.

Appsrc example

This example application will generate black/white (it switches every second) video to an Xv-window output by using appsrc as a source with caps to force a format. We use a colorspace conversion element to make sure that we feed the right format to your X server. We configure a video stream with a variable framerate (0/1) and we set the timestamps on the outgoing buffers in such a way that we play 2 frames per second.

Note how we use the pull mode method of pushing new buffers into appsrc although appsrc is running in push mode.

#include <gst/gst.h>

static GMainLoop *loop;

static void
cb_need_data (GstElement *appsrc,
	      guint       unused_size,
	      gpointer    user_data)
  static gboolean white = FALSE;
  static GstClockTime timestamp = 0;
  GstBuffer *buffer;
  guint size;
  GstFlowReturn ret;

  size = 385 * 288 * 2;

  buffer = gst_buffer_new_allocate (NULL, size, NULL);

  /* this makes the image black/white */
  gst_buffer_memset (buffer, 0, white ? 0xff : 0x0, size);

  white = !white;

  GST_BUFFER_PTS (buffer) = timestamp;
  GST_BUFFER_DURATION (buffer) = gst_util_uint64_scale_int (1, GST_SECOND, 2);

  timestamp += GST_BUFFER_DURATION (buffer);

  g_signal_emit_by_name (appsrc, "push-buffer", buffer, &ret);
  gst_buffer_unref (buffer);

  if (ret != GST_FLOW_OK) {
    /* something wrong, stop pushing */
    g_main_loop_quit (loop);

main (gint   argc,
      gchar *argv[])
  GstElement *pipeline, *appsrc, *conv, *videosink;

  /* init GStreamer */
  gst_init (&argc, &argv);
  loop = g_main_loop_new (NULL, FALSE);

  /* setup pipeline */
  pipeline = gst_pipeline_new ("pipeline");
  appsrc = gst_element_factory_make ("appsrc", "source");
  conv = gst_element_factory_make ("videoconvert", "conv");
  videosink = gst_element_factory_make ("xvimagesink", "videosink");

  /* setup */
  g_object_set (G_OBJECT (appsrc), "caps",
  		gst_caps_new_simple ("video/x-raw",
				     "format", G_TYPE_STRING, "RGB16",
				     "width", G_TYPE_INT, 384,
				     "height", G_TYPE_INT, 288,
				     "framerate", GST_TYPE_FRACTION, 0, 1,
				     NULL), NULL);
  gst_bin_add_many (GST_BIN (pipeline), appsrc, conv, videosink, NULL);
  gst_element_link_many (appsrc, conv, videosink, NULL);

  /* setup appsrc */
  g_object_set (G_OBJECT (appsrc),
		"stream-type", 0,
		"format", GST_FORMAT_TIME, NULL);
  g_signal_connect (appsrc, "need-data", G_CALLBACK (cb_need_data), NULL);

  /* play */
  gst_element_set_state (pipeline, GST_STATE_PLAYING);
  g_main_loop_run (loop);

  /* clean up */
  gst_element_set_state (pipeline, GST_STATE_NULL);
  gst_object_unref (GST_OBJECT (pipeline));
  g_main_loop_unref (loop);

  return 0;


Grabbing data with appsink

Unlike appsrc, appsink is a little easier to use. It also supports a pull and push based model of getting data from the pipeline.

The normal way of retrieving samples from appsink is by using the gst_app_sink_pull_sample() and gst_app_sink_pull_preroll() methods or by using the pull-sample and pull-preroll signals. These methods block until a sample becomes available in the sink or when the sink is shut down or reaches EOS.

Appsink will internally use a queue to collect buffers from the streaming thread. If the application is not pulling samples fast enough, this queue will consume a lot of memory over time. The max-buffers property can be used to limit the queue size. The drop property controls whether the streaming thread blocks or if older buffers are dropped when the maximum queue size is reached. Note that blocking the streaming thread can negatively affect real-time performance and should be avoided.

If a blocking behaviour is not desirable, setting the emit-signals property to TRUE will make appsink emit the new-sample and new-preroll signals when a sample can be pulled without blocking.

The caps property on appsink can be used to control the formats that appsink can receive. This property can contain non-fixed caps, the format of the pulled samples can be obtained by getting the sample caps.

If one of the pull-preroll or pull-sample methods return NULL, the appsink is stopped or in the EOS state. You can check for the EOS state with the eos property or with the gst_app_sink_is_eos() method.

The eos signal can also be used to be informed when the EOS state is reached to avoid polling.

Consider configuring the following properties in the appsink:

  • The sync property if you want to have the sink base class synchronize the buffer against the pipeline clock before handing you the sample.

  • Enable Quality-of-Service with the qos property. If you are dealing with raw video frames and let the base class sycnhronize on the clock, it might be a good idea to also let the base class send QOS events upstream.

  • The caps property that contains the accepted caps. Upstream elements will try to convert the format so that it matches the configured caps on appsink. You must still check the GstSample to get the actual caps of the buffer.

Appsink example

What follows is an example on how to capture a snapshot of a video stream using appsink.

#include <gst/gst.h>
#ifdef HAVE_GTK
#include <gtk/gtk.h>

#include <stdlib.h>

#define CAPS "video/x-raw,format=RGB,width=160,pixel-aspect-ratio=1/1"

main (int argc, char *argv[])
  GstElement *pipeline, *sink;
  gint width, height;
  GstSample *sample;
  gchar *descr;
  GError *error = NULL;
  gint64 duration, position;
  GstStateChangeReturn ret;
  gboolean res;
  GstMapInfo map;

  gst_init (&argc, &argv);

  if (argc != 2) {
    g_print ("usage: %s <uri>\n Writes snapshot.png in the current directory\n",
    exit (-1);

  /* create a new pipeline */
  descr =
      g_strdup_printf ("uridecodebin uri=%s ! videoconvert ! videoscale ! "
      " appsink name=sink caps=\"" CAPS "\"", argv[1]);
  pipeline = gst_parse_launch (descr, &error);

  if (error != NULL) {
    g_print ("could not construct pipeline: %s\n", error->message);
    g_clear_error (&error);
    exit (-1);

  /* get sink */
  sink = gst_bin_get_by_name (GST_BIN (pipeline), "sink");

  /* set to PAUSED to make the first frame arrive in the sink */
  ret = gst_element_set_state (pipeline, GST_STATE_PAUSED);
  switch (ret) {
      g_print ("failed to play the file\n");
      exit (-1);
      /* for live sources, we need to set the pipeline to PLAYING before we can
       * receive a buffer. We don't do that yet */
      g_print ("live sources not supported yet\n");
      exit (-1);
  /* This can block for up to 5 seconds. If your machine is really overloaded,
   * it might time out before the pipeline prerolled and we generate an error. A
   * better way is to run a mainloop and catch errors there. */
  ret = gst_element_get_state (pipeline, NULL, NULL, 5 * GST_SECOND);
    g_print ("failed to play the file\n");
    exit (-1);

  /* get the duration */
  gst_element_query_duration (pipeline, GST_FORMAT_TIME, &duration);

  if (duration != -1)
    /* we have a duration, seek to 5% */
    position = duration * 5 / 100;
    /* no duration, seek to 1 second, this could EOS */
    position = 1 * GST_SECOND;

  /* seek to the a position in the file. Most files have a black first frame so
   * by seeking to somewhere else we have a bigger chance of getting something
   * more interesting. An optimisation would be to detect black images and then
   * seek a little more */
  gst_element_seek_simple (pipeline, GST_FORMAT_TIME,

  /* get the preroll buffer from appsink, this block untils appsink really
   * prerolls */
  g_signal_emit_by_name (sink, "pull-preroll", &sample, NULL);

  /* if we have a buffer now, convert it to a pixbuf. It's possible that we
   * don't have a buffer because we went EOS right away or had an error. */
  if (sample) {
    GstBuffer *buffer;
    GstCaps *caps;
    GstStructure *s;

    /* get the snapshot buffer format now. We set the caps on the appsink so
     * that it can only be an rgb buffer. The only thing we have not specified
     * on the caps is the height, which is dependant on the pixel-aspect-ratio
     * of the source material */
    caps = gst_sample_get_caps (sample);
    if (!caps) {
      g_print ("could not get snapshot format\n");
      exit (-1);
    s = gst_caps_get_structure (caps, 0);

    /* we need to get the final caps on the buffer to get the size */
    res = gst_structure_get_int (s, "width", &width);
    res |= gst_structure_get_int (s, "height", &height);
    if (!res) {
      g_print ("could not get snapshot dimension\n");
      exit (-1);

    /* create pixmap from buffer and save, gstreamer video buffers have a stride
     * that is rounded up to the nearest multiple of 4 */
    buffer = gst_sample_get_buffer (sample);
    /* Mapping a buffer can fail (non-readable) */
    if (gst_buffer_map (buffer, &map, GST_MAP_READ)) {
#ifdef HAVE_GTK
      pixbuf = gdk_pixbuf_new_from_data (,
          GDK_COLORSPACE_RGB, FALSE, 8, width, height,
          GST_ROUND_UP_4 (width * 3), NULL, NULL);

      /* save the pixbuf */
      gdk_pixbuf_save (pixbuf, "snapshot.png", "png", &error, NULL);
      gst_buffer_unmap (buffer, &map);
    gst_sample_unref (sample);
  } else {
    g_print ("could not make snapshot\n");

  /* cleanup and exit */
  gst_element_set_state (pipeline, GST_STATE_NULL);
  gst_object_unref (pipeline);

  exit (0);