SIL Writing Systems Technology


A free and open rendering engine for complex scripts

Graphite Tutorial

Unit 13: Features



Graphite includes a mechanism that allows you to create variations of your writing system. This is accomplished by defining features. The calling application, along with the text to render, sends an indication of the feature settings for the range of text, and rules can be fired conditionally depending on the settings of the features.

Features are defined in the feature table. Each feature has an ID and a list of possible settings. The ID is four-character string or shorter. (Originally IDs were numbers, but that approach is deprecated.) You can also include natural-language descriptor strings for use in an application’s user interface.

  myFeat {
    id = "fea1";
    name.LG_USENG = string("My Feature");
      default = some;
      settings {
        all { value = 4; name.LG_USENG=string("All") }
        many{ value = 3; name.LG_USENG=string("Many") }
        some{ value = 2; name.LB_USENG=string("Some") }
        few { value = 1; name.LG_USENG=string("Few") }
        none{ value = 0; name.LG_USENG=string("None") }
  myBooleanFeat {
    id = "fea2";
    name.LG_USENG = string("My Boolean Feature");


When no settings are defined for a feature, it is considered to be boolean with two settings, true (1) and false (0). The default value for features is assumed to be zero unless otherwise specified.
Rules can be fired conditionally based on the values of features. You can use the if, else, elseif, and endif statements to test the values of features.

if (myFeat == all)
  // rules to fire in the case that myFeat has the value "all"
elseif (myFeat >= few)
  // rules to handle many, some, and few cases
  // rules to handle none case

This if mechanism tests that every slot in the rule “passes” the test. To test a single slot in the rule but not the others, you can test for the feature in the rule’s context, as we saw for testing the values of slot and glyph attributes:

gA  gB  gC  >  gX  gY  gZ / _  _ {myFeat >= few}  _;

In the above rule, only slot #2 is tested for having the given feature value.

Note that it is the GDL feature name that is used in the text, not the ID (eg, we use myFeat, not fea1).

Testing features. In order to test the behavior of your feature mechanism, you need to mark your text with the desired feature settings. Open the Format-Font dialog and locate the button labeled Font Features. When text is selected that is uses a Graphite font, this button will show the features available within that font. (A quirk of WorldPad is that you must also explicitly mark the text with the font; i.e., the text cannot be using the <default> font, even if that font is the Graphite font in question.) You can also set the default features for an entire writing system within the Writing Systems Properties… dialog.

Exercise 13a

Extend your program from Exercise 10a. Use a feature with three possible settings to determine if numbers should be treated as subscripts (lowered), treated a superscripts (raised), or left unchanged.


Exercise 13b

Extend your program from Exercise 10b to only perform the kerning when the “kern” feature is turned on.


Exercise 13c

Extend your program from Exercise 4c, 5a, or 6b to either display Roman or Greek text depending on the setting of a feature.


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