Day 17: Gtk Mandelbrot

Two years ago today, the Advent post was on making Mandelbrot sets in Perl 6. At the time, they were in black and white, slow to produce, Rakudo was prone to crashing, and the only user interface thing you could control was how big the resulting PPM file was.

As they say, that was then. This is now.

Full Mandelbrot set

The new script is 423 lines of Perl 6 code — targeted at Niecza, threaded, and using the GtkSharp library. It allows you to move and resize the windows, zoom in (left mouse button, drag across image to define zoom boundaries), create Julia set images (right click on a Mandelbrot set image), increase the number of iterations (press ‘m’), and output a PPM file for a window (press ‘s’).

The threading doesn’t actually improve performance on my MacBook Pro (still looking into why) but it does make the script much more responsive.

It would be far too long to go through all the code, but lets hit on the highlights. The core is almost unchanged:

        sub julia(Complex $c, Complex $z0) {
            my $z = $z0;
            my $i;
            loop ($i = 0; $i < $max_iterations; $i++) {
                if $z.abs > 2 {
                    return $i + 1;
                $z = $z * $z + $c;
            return 0;

It’s named julia instead of mandel now, because it is more general. If you call it with $z0 set to 0, it calculates the same thing the old mandel did. Allowing $z0 to vary allows you to calculate Julia sets as well.

The code around it is very different, though! Stefan O’Rear wrote the threading code, using Niecza’s Threads library, which is a thin wrapper on C#’s threading libraries, and probably not very close to what Perl 6’s built-in threading will look like when it is ready to go. He establishes a WorkQueue with a list of the work that needs to be done, and then starts N running threads, where N comes from the environment variable THREADS if it is present, and the reported processor count otherwise:

for ^(%*ENV<THREADS> // CLR::System::Environment.ProcessorCount) {{ });
} is pretty simple:

    method run() {
        loop {
            my $item = self.shift;
            next if $item.cancelled;

This is an infinite loop that starts by getting the next WorkItem off the queue, checks to see if it has been cancelled, and if it hasn’t, calls the .run Callable attribute and then the mark-done method.

The WorkItems on the queue look like this:

class WorkItem {
    has Bool $!done = False;
    has Bool $!cancelled = False;

    has Callable &.run;
    has Callable &.done-cb;

    method is-done() { WorkQueue.monitor.lock({ $!done }) }
    method mark-done() {
        &.done-cb.() unless WorkQueue.monitor.lock({ $!done++ })

    method cancelled() { WorkQueue.monitor.lock({ $!cancelled }) }
    method cancel() { WorkQueue.monitor.lock({ $!cancelled = True }) }

Each WorkItem has two flags, $!done and $!cancelled, and two Callable attributes, &.run, already mentioned as what is called by, and &.done-cb, which is the callback function to be called when the &.run method finishes.

The two methods (for now) we use in our WorkItem are relatively simple:

            sub row() {
                my $row = @rows[$y];
                my $counter = 0;
                my $counter_end = $counter + 3 * $width;
                my $c = $ur - $y * $delta * i;

                while $counter < $counter_end {
                    my $value = $is-julia ?? julia($julia-z0, $c) !! julia($c, 0i);
                    $row.Set($counter++, @red[$value % 72]);
                    $row.Set($counter++, @green[$value % 72]);
                    $row.Set($counter++, @blue[$value % 72]);
                    $c += $delta;

            sub done() {
                Application.Invoke(-> $ , $ {
                    $.draw-area.QueueDrawArea(0, $y, $width, 1);

            my $wi = => &row, done-cb => &done);
            push @.line-work-items, $wi;

As you might expect, row calculates one line of the set we are working on. It may look like it is using global variables, but these subs are actually local to the FractalSet.start-work method and the variables are local to it from there. The done invokes a Gtk function noting that a portion of the window needs to be redrawn (namely the portion we just calculated).

The above block of code is called once for each row of the fractal window being generated, which has the effect of queuing up all of the fractal to be handled as there are available threads.

Moving upward in the code’s organization, each fractal window we generate is managed by an instance of the FractalSet class.

class FractalSet {
    has Bool $.is-julia;
    has Complex $.upper-right;
    has Real $.delta;
    has Int $.width;
    has Int $.height;
    has Int $.max_iterations;
    has Complex $.c;
    has @.rows;
    has @.line-work-items;
    has $.new-upper-right;

    has $.draw-area;

$.is-julia and $.max_iterations are self-explanatory. $.upper-right is the fixed complex number anchoring the image. $.delta is the amount of change in the previous number per-pixel; we assume the pixels are square. $.width and $.height are the size of the window in pixels. $.c only has meaning for Julia sets, where it is the value $c in the equation $new-z = $z * $z + $c. @.rows the pixel information generated by the row sub above; @.line-work-items saves a reference to all of the WorkItems generating those rows. $.new-upper-right is temporary used during the zoom mouse operation. $.draw-area is the Gtk.DrawingArea for the related window.

Once all that is set up, the rest of the code is pretty straightforward. The Gtk windowing code is set up in

    method build-window()
        my $index = +@windows;

        my $window =$.is-julia ?? "julia $index" !! "mandelbrot $index");
        $window.Resize($.width, $.height);  # TODO: resize at runtime NYI

        my $event-box =;

        my $drawingarea = $.draw-area =;


We store a global array @windows tracking all the FractalSets in play. Each of the different objects here gets the "Id" data set to this set’s index into the @windows array so we can easily look up the FractalSet from callback functions. The rest of the method is just plugging the right callback into each component — simple conceptually but it took this Gtk novice a lot of work figuring it all out.

As an example, consider the KeyReleaseEvent callback, which responds to presses on the keyboard.

sub KeyReleaseEvent($obj, $args) {
    my $index = $obj.GetData("Id").ToInt32();
    my $set = @windows[$index];
    given $args.Event.Key {
        when 'm' | 'M' {
        when 's' | 'S' {

First we lookup the index into @windows, then we get the $set we’re looking at. Then we just call the appropriate FractalSet method, for instance

    method increase-max-iterations() {
        $.max_iterations += 32;

.stop-work cancels all the pending operations for this FractalSet, then we bump up the number of iterations, and then we .start-work again to queue up a new set of rows with the new values.

The full source code is here. As of this writing it agrees with the code here, but this is an active project, and probably will change again in the not-too-distant future. Right now my biggest goals are figuring out how to get the threading to actually improve performance on my MacBook Pro and cleaning up the code. Both suggestions and questions are welcome.