Things to check when writing an element

This chapter contains a fairly random selection of things to take care of when writing an element. It's up to you how far you're going to stick to those guidelines. However, keep in mind that when you're writing an element and hope for it to be included in the mainstream GStreamer distribution, it has to meet those requirements. As far as possible, we will try to explain why those requirements are set.

About states

  • Make sure the state of an element gets reset when going to NULL. Ideally, this should set all object properties to their original state. This function should also be called from _init.

  • Make sure an element forgets everything about its contained stream when going from PAUSED to READY. In READY, all stream states are reset. An element that goes from PAUSED to READY and back to PAUSED should start reading the stream from the start again.

  • People that use gst-launch for testing have the tendency to not care about cleaning up. This is wrong. An element should be tested using various applications, where testing not only means to “make sure it doesn't crash”, but also to test for memory leaks using tools such as valgrind. Elements have to be reusable in a pipeline after having been reset.


  • Elements should never use their standard output for debugging (using functions such as printf () or g_print ()). Instead, elements should use the logging functions provided by GStreamer, named GST_DEBUG (), GST_LOG (), GST_INFO (), GST_WARNING () and GST_ERROR (). The various logging levels can be turned on and off at runtime and can thus be used for solving issues as they turn up. Instead of GST_LOG () (as an example), you can also use GST_LOG_OBJECT () to print the object that you're logging output for.

  • Ideally, elements should use their own debugging category. Most elements use the following code to do that:

    GST_DEBUG_CATEGORY_STATIC (myelement_debug);
    #define GST_CAT_DEFAULT myelement_debug
    static void
    gst_myelement_class_init (GstMyelementClass *klass)
      GST_DEBUG_CATEGORY_INIT (myelement_debug, "myelement",
                   0, "My own element");

    At runtime, you can turn on debugging using the commandline option --gst-debug=myelement:5.

  • Elements should use GST_DEBUG_FUNCPTR when setting pad functions or overriding element class methods, for example:

    gst_pad_set_event_func (myelement->srcpad,
        GST_DEBUG_FUNCPTR (my_element_src_event));

    This makes debug output much easier to read later on.

  • Elements that are aimed for inclusion into one of the GStreamer modules should ensure consistent naming of the element name, structures and function names. For example, if the element type is GstYellowFooDec, functions should be prefixed with gst_yellow_foo_dec_ and the element should be registered as 'yellowfoodec'. Separate words should be separate in this scheme, so it should be GstFooDec and gst_foo_dec, and not GstFoodec and gst_foodec.

Querying, events and the like

  • All elements to which it applies (sources, sinks, demuxers) should implement query functions on their pads, so that applications and neighbour elements can request the current position, the stream length (if known) and so on.

  • Elements should make sure they forward events they do not handle with gst_pad_event_default (pad, parent, event) instead of just dropping them. Events should never be dropped unless specifically intended.

  • Elements should make sure they forward queries they do not handle with gst_pad_query_default (pad, parent, query) instead of just dropping them.

Testing your element

  • gst-launch is not a good tool to show that your element is finished. Applications such as Rhythmbox and Totem (for GNOME) or AmaroK (for KDE) are. gst-launch will not test various things such as proper clean-up on reset, event handling, querying and so on.

  • Parsers and demuxers should make sure to check their input. Input cannot be trusted. Prevent possible buffer overflows and the like. Feel free to error out on unrecoverable stream errors. Test your demuxer using stream corruption elements such as breakmydata (included in gst-plugins). It will randomly insert, delete and modify bytes in a stream, and is therefore a good test for robustness. If your element crashes when adding this element, your element needs fixing. If it errors out properly, it's good enough. Ideally, it'd just continue to work and forward data as much as possible.

  • Demuxers should not assume that seeking works. Be prepared to work with unseekable input streams (e.g. network sources) as well.

  • Sources and sinks should be prepared to be assigned another clock then the one they expose themselves. Always use the provided clock for synchronization, else you'll get A/V sync issues.

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