Genesis Digital Audio Workstation

Progress So Far

2015 Feb 06

I started working on Genesis in March 2013. The first commit:

commit 6d1699c42fce480c0b7ec84b521e088b09a3af32
Author: Andrew Kelley <>
Date:   Wed Mar 13 01:38:29 2013 -0400

    hello world

diff --git a/ b/
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..01ae3a5
--- /dev/null
+++ b/
@@ -0,0 +1 @@
+# Digital Audio Workstation
diff --git a/main.go b/main.go
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..893d327
--- /dev/null
+++ b/main.go
@@ -0,0 +1,7 @@
+package main
+import "fmt"
+func main() {
+    fmt.Printf("Hello, world\n")

Yes, that's right. I thought I was going to write it in Go.

This turned out to be a bad idea. Here's why:

Sure enough the next thing I tried to do was use a GTK Go-binding library and find it broken and inadequate.

I fiddled with that for a bit and then lost enthusiasm. But I picked up the project in January 2014:

commit ff958caab890738334f660b058ded310b759206a
Author: Andrew Kelley <>
Date:   Sat Jan 25 23:19:16 2014 -0500

    switching to C++ and Qt. main window, does nothing

Qt solves a lot of platform abstraction for the programmer. You might even say it solves too much. The downside is that it is a hulking behemoth of a dependency with a nontrivial build process. But, it enabled me to make some windows and fiddle around with some code.

I added the ability to list LV2 plugins and open a PortAudio stream.

During this time I came up with some feature requirements:

And then I lost interest for a while. I spent a lot of time working on GrooveBasin, prototyped a Grappling Hook-Based Video Game, and entered Ludum Dare 30.

In November 2014, progress resumed. Well, for some definitions of progress:

commit 8799dcb4c20758bf546ba0d7cccfb60b2c7c3d5a
Author: Andrew Kelley <>
Date:   Sun Nov 2 15:49:01 2014 -0700

    delete all source code

And then:

commit 95f2f251645548196604af9d4087d5b9e043a60a
Author: Andrew Kelley <>
Date:   Sun Nov 2 16:06:47 2014 -0700

    hello, rust

diff --git a/src/ b/src/
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..6686bd0
--- /dev/null
+++ b/src/
@@ -0,0 +1,3 @@
+fn main() {
+    println!("Hello, world!")

Rust seemed like a cool alternative to C++ because it had fancy new programming language features like not requiring .h files. More seriously, the 3 problems with using Go are resolved with Rust, since it can call C code directly, C code can call it, and there is no garbage collector. Further, the safety guarantees it made were promising.

But nothing in life is free. GTK is sufficiently complicated that a Rust "safety wrapper" is in order. The one available was not complete.

At this time I began to have a new philosophy: Stop depending on libraries that hold the project down.

This led me to ditch the idea of using GTK or Qt and instead code the user interface toolkit from scratch. This would work out better anyway if I wanted to sandbox plugins and provide a user-interface API for them to use.

commit e7856aad61bcdaec657832807997244eff20a528
Author: Andrew Kelley <>
Date:   Fri Jan 16 08:55:19 2015 -0700

    goodbye GTK, hello SDL2

Wait, never mind, let's try GLFW.

commit 401b3c99b4849fb65616190e41dbfbe32794c6c4
Author: Andrew Kelley <>
Date:   Fri Jan 16 10:10:01 2015 -0700

    goodbye SDL2, hello GLFW

At this point I felt like I needed a direction, something to work towards. So I created a goal:

  1. Open an audio file with libav.
  2. Display the waveform of the audio file in the display.

Next I began to experience Rust development. I went back and forth between GLFW and glutin for window library as one or the other seemed to be better. I created groove-rs - bindings to libgroove. I wrote my own 3D math library because the existing one's API was too hard for me to understand. I fixed a lot of code after updating to the latest Rust compiler each day.

Finally, I got font rendering working. It took me 16 days, but I felt like I had learned enough about Rust to finally let me develop efficiently.

And then I tried to abstract the font rendering code into a widget concept, and everything broke down. The Rust compiler has many false negatives - situations where it is a compile error due to safety, but actually it's pretty obvious that there are no safety problems.

This is so frustrating and demotivating that I realized the benefits of Rust did not outweigh the slow development pace that I had taken on.

commit 611d1afd7439761a1be8edb8c3f434ade0c7fcdb
Author: Andrew Kelley <>
Date:   Sun Feb 1 00:42:02 2015 -0700

    rust is too hard

commit c45c8c32c4a2f22112c4ee15d8a42b0ad5415e89
Author: Andrew Kelley <>
Date:   Mon Feb 2 18:08:44 2015 -0700

    delete all code, switch to C++

I felt guilty for allowing myself get distracted from actually making progress all this time. From now on I would be lazer focused and in general avoid depending on other people's code. If it's a bug in my code, then I know how to fix it. New roadmap:

  1. Load all the audio file's channels into memory.
  2. Display all of the audio file's channels in a list.
  3. Render channels graphically.
  4. Ability to make a selection.
  5. Playback to speakers.
  6. Delete selection.
  7. Undo/Redo
  8. Multiplayer

So I knew I would be switching to C++. But I did not want to fall into the same trap in C++-land that I did in Rust-land: instead of solving the actual problem of making a DAW, trying to understand how Rust or C++ works and get my code to compile.

I considered switching to C instead of C++. Linus Torvalds has some things to say about that.

But some C++ features are too good to ignore, such as template data structures. For example, in C if you want to create a list data structure, you have 3 options:

This sucks. Preprocessor directives are the devil, Too much void * leads to runtime memory safety errors that the compiler can't catch. And what if it wasn't a simple list data structure, but instead a hash table or something? This is crazy, we can't reimplement the same data structure a bunch of times.

Another example. In C you use malloc to allocate memory. It typically looks something like malloc(sizeof(MyType) * count). If you forget to multiply by count or sizeof, oops. segfault. Meanwhile if you can use templates then you can define a function like this:

template<typename T>
__attribute__((malloc)) static inline T * allocate(size_t count) {
    return reinterpret_cast<T*>(malloc(count * sizeof(T)));

Now you can't mess it up, the compiler does the work for you.

So I wanted templates from C++. And atomics from C++11. But that's about it. Other than that, I want to code like I'm in C. The beauty of C-style coding is that the control flow is so simple, it's impossible to not know what code is doing. Contrast that with fancy C++ stuff and you never know what's going to happen or what each line of code is going to do.

I figured out how to have my cake and eat it too. I discovered that you can compile with g++ and link with gcc, like so:

g++ -nodefaultlibs -fno-exceptions -fno-rtti -std=c++11 -c main.cpp -o main.o
gcc -o main main.o

As long as you don't use anything from the C++ standard library, you end up with working code that was compiled with the C++ compiler and does not depend on libstdc++.

With clang it's even easier, just don't put -lstdc++ on the linker line.

So I moved on, happy with this choice of language. Over the course of 4 days, I implemented, with useful, reusable abstractions:

At this point I felt crazy for even considering Rust. I had accomplished more in 4 days what took me 16 days in Rust. But more importantly, my abstractions were holding up.

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