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What is FreeType Hosting?

If you need an open source font engine, that is streamlined and lightweight, FreeType may be just the solution. With the ability to handle TrueType, Trype 1, and OpenType, FreeType can implement font rasterization from image glyphs.

 About FreeType

FreeType is an open source project licensed under both the FreeType License (FTL), which is a Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) style license, and the GNU Public License (GPL) version 2. The software itself is a font engine. In simple language, font engines manage the process of putting text onto a screen. The software finds and renders high-quality glyph images of letters at the precise location and size needed within an application. A wide variety of applications use font engines, such as video games, Web browsers, and mobile operating systems.

Originally created in 1996 as a library to render TrueType fonts, the first version of the program was written in the Pascal programming language. In 1997, the code was ported it to C, and the Pascale version died out in 2000.

The torch of development passed to multiple people, as and soon replaced existing font drivers in the Apple Operating System, OS/2. After version 2 of FreeType was released, functionality increased but still could not access the bytecode of TrueType fonts. Eventually, in 2010, TrueType bytecode patents expired, and the interpreted for it was reactivated. The source code for FreeType also switched version control over to Git - which it is still using today.

Functionality of FreeType

Designed to be small and efficient, FreeType does not provide application programming interfaces (APIs) to perform higher-level functions, such as text layout and graphics processing. It is also not a font editor. While it is less powerful than a font service, it streamlines font file access, making it simpler for other applications. FreeType is based on modules.

The modules may be loaded on demand at runtime or linked statically to the library at compile time. Certain modules require external libraries for compressed fonts, but these may be disabled on systems that do not have those libraries.

Written in American National Standards Institute (ANSI) C programming language, FreeType requires a C or C++ compiler. FreeType has no other requirements. It can be installed on nearly any system. Other noteworthy features include, but are not limited to: a caching subsystem, ability to expand the library, an automatic hinter module, and selective module compiling. Many font formats are supported, such as TrueType Fonts (TTF) and TrueType Collections (TTC), Type 1 fonts, OpenType Fonts (OTF) and OpenType Collections (OTC), and Windows FNT.

The reasons for why FreeType was written is equally as important as how it works - the purpose of FreeType includes:

  • Allowing client applications to easily access font files, choose where to store fonts, and to keep font format independent from storage methods
  • Global font data can be retrieved - which includes global font metadata, encoding style, and charmaps
  • Individual glyph data can be pulled quickly - including metrics, images, name and other attributes
  • Access to font format-specific feature where available - SFNT tables, OpenType Layout tables, and Multiple Masters formatting
  • Increasing the portability  of a font library - letting fonts of multiple formats to run on an environment
  • New feature extensibility - developers should be able to add new code modules to FreeType source code
  • Customization - developers should be able to build a version of the FreeType library specific to project needs
  • Efficient and Compact - with the ability to pick custom modules to compile and use - keeping a small footprint is key

FreeType can be used as-is for simple applications - or have new code added and compiled for a unique project goal. This flexibility has allowed FreeType to be used extensively by Apple, Java's OpenJDK, Sony PlayStation, and the Android Operating System.

Even some Windows applications can replace the Microsoft font renderers with FreeType. To summarize - FreeType is a highly versatile font rendering library which has existed for decades and is used by nearly all of Microsoft's biggest competitors. It is powerful, adaptive, well maintained, and allows deep control over user font libraries.

Relevance to the Web

Web hosting is not typically marketed as being optimized for running FreeType. The installation and usage of FreeType will vary significantly depending on the application you intend to use it with. For example, in some cases, you can enable FreeType support from with cPanelin your hosting account.

One reason you might need to do this is to properly display Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA) on your website. Anyone looking for a lightweight font engine which won’t need to handle complex tasks, but boasts compatibility with many font types, should look into FreeType.

Who uses FreeType, and what projects can use it?
FreeType as a typography tool is not geared specifically towards PostScript files like Ghostscript or Tex - instead, FreeType can be used in almost any type of application imaginable. It supports the major type formats - and can be compiled in ways which keep the footprint low - which is great for mobile devices and resource intensive applications like video games.

How is the FreeType 2 library compiled?
Documentation is available directly in the source code. The code can be compiled from command line with "GNU make," but also is available in project files for graphical IDEs like Visual C - however, those project files might not always be up to date.

Compiling takes time and effort, but allows fine control over how the software gets used. Of course - many font viewing and control tools can be downloaded as pre-compiled software. MacType for example allows Apple fonts on Windows - but again, this is an application versus the core code for FreeType - this is a very developer heavy tool with a lot of power behind it.

FreeType Frequently Asked Questions

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