zathura a document viewer

This guide should give a short introduction in the way zathura's plugin system works and how you can write your own plugin and let zathura use it.


Plugin system

zathura's plugin system is quite simple. At startup zathura searches through a specified directory for shared objects and tries to load them as plugins. Each plugin has to register itself by a name, its version, a special function as well as its supported mimetypes to zathura. After the registration of the plugin zathura will automatically use it to open files with the previous defined mimetypes. That's it.

A plugin

Each plugin has to implement a basic set of functionality so that it can be used in a meaningful way with zathura. For instance it would not make any sense if the plugin was not able to render any page at all. On the contrary the export of images out of the document might not be considered as that important.

We have predefined a certain set of functionality that a plugin can have and that can be used by zathura if it has been implemented by the plugin. When a plugin is loaded, zathura calls a certain function that the plugin must implemented in order to work correctly. This function gets a data structure which has to be filled with function pointers by the plugin, which are then used by the main application.

Example - A minimalistic PDF plugin

In this section we are going to develop a simplified version of the zathura-pdf-poppler plugin. For the sake of simplicity we are not discussing the build process of the plugin because we would recommend you to adapt our Makefiles from existing plugins. In addition we avoid most of the error handling that should be implemented.


In order to use the following described functions and macros you have to include the plugin-api.h header file:

#include <zathura/plugin-api.h>

This automatically loads other header files for the zathura_document_t, zathura_page_t as well as all the other types that are necessary automatically.

Register the plugin

As previously described each plugin has to register itself to zathura so that it can be used properly. Therefore we have introduced a macro called ZATHURA_PLUGIN_REGISTER which expects several parameters:

  • Plugin name The name of the plugin
  • Major version The plugins major version
  • Minor version The plugins minor version
  • Revision The plugins revision
  • Open function The open function
  • Mimetypes A character array of supported mime types

In our case we are going to register our plugin "my plugin" with its version 1.0.1, the register function register_functions and the list of supported mimetypes.

  0, 1, 0,

This macro will automatically generate among others a function called plugin_register which is used to register the plugin to zathura when it has been loaded.

Register the plugin functions

In our macro we have defined that the function register_functions is used to install our functions which will implement a certain functionality in the struct:

register_functions(zathura_plugin_functions_t* functions)
  functions->document_open     = plugin_document_open;
  functions->document_free     = plugin_document_free;
  functions->page_init         = plugin_page_init;
  functions->page_clear        = plugin_page_clear;
  functions->page_render_cairo = plugin_page_render_cairo;

We are now going to give a short overview about the used functions in the above code snippet. For a complete documentation you should checkout the documentation of zathura_document_functions_t. A document instance consists out of a zathura_document_t document object that contains information about the document itself and a defined number of zathura_page_t page objects. There are several functions defined for those two types and they have to be implemented by the plugin. For our simple plugin which will only be capable of rendering a page we will need one function that is capable of opening the PDF document and setting up all necessary objects for further usage and one function which will clean up all the allocated objects afterwards. In addition we need two of those functions for page objects as well and one function that will actually implement the rendering process.

Open and closing a document

The first thing we have to do when opening a document is to initialize all necessary objects and values that we are going to need for the future use of the plugin. Therefore we have to implement our pdf_document_open function:

plugin_document_open(zathura_document_t* document)
  /* get path and password */
  const char* path     = zathura_document_get_path(document);
  const char* password = zathura_document_get_password(document);

  /* create document data */
  char* uri = g_filename_to_uri(path, NULL, NULL);
  PopplerDocument* poppler_document = poppler_document_new_from_file(uri, password, NULL);

  if (poppler_document == NULL) {

  /* save poppler document for further usage */
  zathura_document_set_data(document, poppler_document);

  /* get number of pages */
  unsigned int number_of_pages = poppler_document_get_n_pages(poppler_document);
  zathura_document_set_number_of_pages(document, number_of_pages);


To open the document we retrieve the path and the optional password of the document to create an instance of PopplerDocument which represents a document in the poppler library. If this fails for any reason (e.g.: the path does not exist, the user provided the incorrect password) we tell zathura that this function failed for an unknown reason. If we are lucky we continue and save the created poppler_document object in the custom data field of the document so that we can access it later on. After that we determine the number of pages that the document contains so that zathura can initialize every single page.

Since we have allocated the poppler_document object we have to make sure that its resources will be freed when it is no longer needed. This happens in our pdf_document_free function:

plugin_document_free(zathura_document_t* document, PopplerDocument* poppler_document)


Page initialization

Each page has to be initialized so that zathura knows about its dimension. In addition this stage is used to store additional data in the page that will be used for further use with it. Therefore we are implementing pdf_page_init which will save the width and the height of the page in the given structure:

plugin_page_init(zathura_page_t* page)
  unsigned int page_index           = zathura_page_get_index(page);
  zathura_document_t* document      = zathura_page_get_document(page);
  PopplerDocument* poppler_document = zathura_document_get_data(document);

  /* create poppler page */
  PopplerPage* poppler_page = poppler_document_get_page(poppler_document, page_index);
  zathura_page_set_data(page, poppler_page);

  /* get page dimensions */
  double width, height;
  poppler_page_get_size(poppler_page, &width, &height);

  zathura_page_set_width(page,  width);
  zathura_page_set_height(page, height);


And we have to make sure that all requested resources are freed in the end:

plugin_page_clear(zathura_page_t* page, PopplerPage* poppler_page)


Render a page

After we have setup the document and the page objects we are ready to implement the render function which finally will be able to draw our page on a widget so that it can be viewed with zathura. This function has two additional parameters to the already known zathura_page_t object: One of them is a cairo_t object which will be used to render the page, the other one is a flag called printing which determines if the rendered page should be rendered for the print process of zathura. For instance if this flag is set to true you should not render any rectangles around links in the document because they are totally worthless on paper:

pdf_page_render_cairo(zathura_page_t* page, cairo_t* cairo, bool printing)
  if (printing == false) {
    poppler_page_render(poppler_page, cairo);
  } else {
    poppler_page_render_for_printing(poppler_page, cairo);


In this case the pdf_page_render_cairo function is very simplistic since all the work is done by the poppler library. In your case you might have to do some magic here to draw the page to the cairo object. Make sure to check out the source code of our plugins.

Installation of the plugin

As we suggested earlier the easiest way to build and install the plugin is to duplicate the Makefile (as long with its and files of one of our plugins. It already contains all necessary targets for building, installing and debugging the plugin.

Otherwise you could build the above plugin with the following command:

$ gcc -std=c99 -shared -fPIC -pedantic -Wall `pkg-config --cflags --libs poppler-glib zathura` \
  -o pdf.c

After that you have to copy the file into the directory where zathura looks for plugins (this is by default: /usr/lib/zathura).