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Guide Complex text rendering using FreeType and HarfBuzz libraries


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Hi everyone, apart of L2, I also work on many different things and I'd like to share one example I wrote (because it's not so easy finding out how to  do it properly).


When you need to render some text that requires more complex rendering than Latin - for example Hebrew, Arabic and Devanagari (Hindi) - you'll have to do some text shaping. It's not so difficult for Hebrew and Arabic (if you don't mind sometimes wrong niqqud, you can implement subset of OpenType and use fribidi) but for Devanagari it's almost impossible to implement again (too much work).


If you're on Windows platform only, you can use Microsoft's Uniscribe which works perfectly, on OS X/iOS you can use Apple's Coretext which works very well too.


But what if you need it to be platform agnostic? Then you can use FreeType and HarfBuzz :) Also, HarfBuzz can use native (Uniscribe/Coretext) shapers on given platform (depends how you compile it) instead of it's own shaper.


So the example here, as for fonts, you can download them from Google, if you want to see output without compiling, scroll down.

#include <iostream>
#include <harfbuzz/hb.h>
#include <harfbuzz/hb-ft.h>
#include <ft2build.h>
#include <freetype.h>

// Input texts in UTF-8 (without Byte Order Mask)
static const char *texts[] = {
    "\xd7\xa9\xd7\x9c\xd7\x95\xd7\x9d \xd7\xa2\xd7\x95\xd7\x9c\xd7\x9d",
    "\xd9\x85\xd8\xb1\xd8\xad\xd8\xa8\xd8\xa7 \xd8\xa8\xd8\xa7\xd9\x84\xd8\xb9\xd8\xa7\xd9\x84\xd9\x85",
    "\xe0\xa4\xa8\xe0\xa4\xae\xe0\xa4\xb8\xe0\xa5\x8d\xe0\xa4\xa4\xe0\xa5\x87 \xe0\xa4\xa6\xe0\xa5\x81\xe0\xa4\xa8\xe0\xa4\xbf\xe0\xa4\xaf\xe0\xa4\xbe"

// Font sizes in points
static const size_t fontSizes[] = {

// Font filenames
static const char *fontFiles[] = {

int main(int argc, char **argv)
    // Freetype library handle
    FT_Library library;

    // Initialize FreeType
    if (FT_Init_FreeType(&library)) {
        std::cerr << "Can't initialize FreeType" << std::endl;
        return 1;

    // Go through all input texts
    for (size_t textIndex = 0 ; textIndex < sizeof(texts) / sizeof(texts[0]) ; ++textIndex) {
        // Current input text
        const char *text = texts[textIndex];
        const size_t fontSize = fontSizes[textIndex];
        const char *fontFile = fontFiles[textIndex];

        // FreeType font face handle
        FT_Face face;

        // Load font
        if (FT_New_Face(library, fontFile, 0, &face)) {
            std::cerr << "Can't load font " << fontFile << std::endl;
            return 1;

        // Set character size
        if (FT_Set_Char_Size(face, fontSize << 6, fontSize << 6, 0, 0)) {
            std::cerr << "Can't set character size" << std::endl;
            return 1;

        // Set no transform (identity)
        FT_Set_Transform(face, 0, 0);

        // Load font into HarfBuzz
        hb_font_t *hbFont = hb_ft_font_create(face, 0);

        // Create buffer for our text
        hb_buffer_t *hbBuffer = hb_buffer_create();

        // Add our text to buffer
        hb_buffer_add_utf8(hbBuffer, text, -1, 0, -1);

        // Detect direction etc

        // Shape our text
        hb_shape(hbFont, hbBuffer, 0, 0);

        // Shaped text info
        unsigned int len = hb_buffer_get_length(hbBuffer);
        hb_glyph_info_t *info = hb_buffer_get_glyph_infos(hbBuffer, 0);
        hb_glyph_position_t *pos = hb_buffer_get_glyph_positions(hbBuffer, 0);

        // Compute text width and origin (from min and max X and Y drawing coordinate)
        int originX = 0, originY = 0;
        int minX = INT_MAX, maxX = INT_MIN, minY = INT_MAX, maxY = INT_MIN;

        // Go through all glyphs and find minimum and maximum X and Y coordinate
        for (size_t i = 0 ; i < len ; ++i) {
            // Load glyph
            if (FT_Load_Glyph(face, info[i].codepoint, FT_LOAD_RENDER)) {
                std::cerr << "Can't load glyph " << info[i].codepoint << std::endl;
                return 1;

            // Glyph data
            FT_GlyphSlot slot = face->glyph;

            // Get X and Y offset
            int offsetX = ((pos[i].x_offset + slot->metrics.horiBearingX) >> 6);
            int offsetY = ((pos[i].y_offset + slot->metrics.horiBearingY) >> 6);

            // Compute minimum and maximum X and Y for this glyph
            int glyphMinX = originX + offsetX;
            int glyphMaxX = originX + slot->bitmap.width + offsetX;
            int glyphMinY = originY - slot->bitmap.rows + offsetY;
            int glyphMaxY = originY + offsetY;

            // Update minimum and maximum X and Y for text
            if (glyphMinX < minX) minX = glyphMinX;
            if (glyphMaxX > maxX) maxX = glyphMaxX;
            if (glyphMinY < minY) minY = glyphMinY;
            if (glyphMaxY > maxY) maxY = glyphMaxY;

            // Advance
            originX += pos[i].x_advance >> 6;

        // Text will start on 0
        originX = -minX;
        originY = -minY;

        // Compute width and height
        size_t width = maxX - minX + 1;
        size_t height = maxY - minY + 1;

        // Allocate buffer for image
        unsigned char *image = new unsigned char[width * height];

        // Clear image bufer
        memset(image, 0, width * height);

        // Go through glyphs and draw them
        for (size_t i = 0 ; i < len ; ++i) {
            // Load glyph
            if (FT_Load_Glyph(face, info[i].codepoint, FT_LOAD_RENDER)) {
                std::cerr << "Can't load glyph " << info[i].codepoint << std::endl;
                return 1;

            // Glyph data
            FT_GlyphSlot slot = face->glyph;

            // Pointer to bitmap data
            unsigned char *ptr = slot->bitmap.buffer;

            // Get real offset
            int drawX = originX + ((pos[i].x_offset + slot->metrics.horiBearingX) >> 6);
            int drawY = originY + ((pos[i].y_offset + slot->metrics.horiBearingY) >> 6);

            // Copy bitmap
            for (size_t y = 0 ; y < slot->bitmap.rows ; ++y) {
                // Copy row
                for (size_t x = 0 ; x < slot->bitmap.width ; ++x) {
                    if (drawX + x < 0) {
                        std::cerr << "drawX (" << drawX << ") + x (" << x << ") < 0" << std::endl;
                    if (drawX + x >= width) {
                        std::cerr << "drawX (" << drawX << ") + x (" << x << ") > width (" << width << ")" << std::endl;
                    if (drawY - y < 0) {
                        std::cerr << "drawY (" << drawY << ") - y (" << y << ") < 0" << std::endl;
                    if (drawY - y >= height) {
                        std::cerr << "drawY (" << drawY << ") - y (" << y << ") > height (" << height << ")" << std::endl;
                    image[(drawY - y) * width + drawX + x] = ptr[x];
                // Advance pointer
                ptr += slot->bitmap.pitch;

            // Advance
            originX += pos[i].x_advance >> 6;

        // Output rendered text
        for (size_t y = 0 ; y < height ; ++y) {
            for (size_t x = 0 ; x < width ; ++x) {
                unsigned char value = image[(height - y - 1) * width + x];
                if (value >= 0x80) {
                    std::cout << "XX"; // if it's 128+
                } else if (value >= 0x40) {
                    std::cout << ".."; // if it's 64+
                } else {
                    std::cout << "  "; // if its under 64
            std::cout << std::endl;
        std::cout << std::endl;

        // Delete image buffer
        delete [] image;

        // Destroy buffer for text

        // Destroy HarfBuzz font

        // Destroy FreeType font

    // Destroy FreeType

    return 0;
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Edited by eressea
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