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Filter design
This document explains guidelines that should be observed (or ignored with
good reason) when writing filters for libavfilter.
In this document, the word “frame” indicates either a video frame or a group
of audio samples, as stored in an AVFilterBuffer structure.
Format negotiation
The query_formats method should set, for each input and each output links,
the list supported formats.
For video links, that means pixel format. For audio links, that means
channel layout, and sample format (the sample packing is implied by the
sample format).
The lists are not just lists, they are references to shared objects. When
the negotiation mechanism computes the intersection of the formats
supported at each ends of a link, all references to both lists are
replaced with a reference to the intersection. And when a single format is
eventually chosen for a link amongst the remaining list, again, all
references to the list are updated.
That means that if a filter requires that its input and output have the
same format amongst a supported list, all it have to do is use a reference
to the same list of formats.
Buffer references ownership and permissions
Frame scheduling
The purpose of these rules is to ensure that frames flow in the filter
graph without getting stuck and accumulating somewhere.
Simple filters that output one frame for each input frame should not have
to worry about it.
start_frame / filter_samples
These methods are called when a frame is pushed to the filter's input.
They can be called at any time except in a reentrant way.
If the input frame is enough to produce output, then the filter should
push the output frames on the output link immediately.
As an exception to the previous rule, if the input frame is enough to
produce several output frames, then the filter needs output only at
least one per link. The additional frames can be left buffered in the
filter; these buffered frames must be flushed immediately if a new input
produces new output.
(Example: framerate-doubling filter: start_frame must (1) flush the
second copy of the previous frame, if it is still there, (2) push the
first copy of the incoming frame, (3) keep the second copy for later.)
If the input frame is not enough to produce output, the filter must not
call request_frame to get more. It must just process the frame or queue
it. The task of requesting more frames is left to the filter's
request_frame method or the application.
If a filter has several inputs, the filter must be ready for frames
arriving randomly on any input. Therefore, any filter with several input
will most likely require some kind of queuing mechanism. It is perfectly
acceptable to have a limited queue and to drop frames when the inputs
are too unbalanced.
This method is called when a frame is wanted on an output.
For an input, it should directly call start_frame or filter_samples on
the corresponding output.
For a filter, if there are queued frames already ready, one of these
frames should be pushed. If not, the filter should request a frame on
one of its input, repeatedly until at least one frame has been pushed.
Return values:
if request_frame could produce a frame, it should return 0;
if it could not for temporary reasons, it should return AVERROR(EAGAIN);
if it could not because there are no more frames, it should return
The typical implementation of request_frame for a filter with several
inputs will look like that:
if (frames_queued) {
return 0;
while (!frame_pushed) {
input = input_where_a_frame_is_most_needed();
ret = avfilter_request_frame(input);
if (ret == AVERROR_EOF) {
} else if (ret < 0) {
return ret;
return 0;
Note that, except for filters that can have queued frames, request_frame
does not push frames: it requests them to its input, and as a reaction,
the start_frame / filter_samples method will be called and do the work.
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