The Latest Pango + HarfBuzz Is Leading To A Messy Font Rendering Situation For Some

Written by Michael Larabel in Desktop on 9 May 2020 at 03:08 PM EDT. 160 Comments
You may recall towards the end of last year when the Pango layout engine library dropped support for bitmap fonts, causing frustrations among some users. There now appears to be another Linux font debacle brewing.

With that former Pango font situation, one of the developers recommended users replace their displays with HiDPI panels if unsatisfied with the font presentation. There now seems to be a similar but different situation at hand.

Pango prior to version 1.44 used kerning hints provided by FreeType but now makes use of the hints provided by HarfBuzz. But HarfBuzz doesn't support all of the hints supported by FreeType and thus a regression for some users depending upon their font hinting preferences and what visibly looks the best to them and their displays.

This was originally reported as a Pango bug of "completely broken kerning for some Microsoft TTF fonts." To which there wasn't much progress and now seems to indicate a HarfBuzz bug given it happened during Pango's shift away from FreeType.

HarfBuzz developer Behdad Esfahbod of Facebook commented they decided to not support aggressive hinting moving forward. He followed up with, "That's what we decided not to support anymore. You can try to get used to the "blurry" rendering. Or you can find something else to use, or whatever. You are using Free Software you realize, right?"

So for those using non-HiDPI displays when moving to the latest Pango text layout engine library, you might find yourself with less attractive fonts depending upon your prior configuration.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via

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