Since then, I've spoken with several gtk people, and investigated several workarounds, which I'm writing up here for the benefit of anyone else trying to solve this problem.
First, "it's a feature". What's happening is that the default focus in and out handlers for the drawing area (or perhaps its parent class) assume that any widget which gains keyboard focus needs to redraw its entire window (presumably because it's locate-highlighting and therefore changing color everywhere?) to indicate the focus change. Rather than let the widget decide that on its own, the focus handler forces the issue via this expose event. This may be a bad decision, and it doesn't agree with the gtk or pygtk documentation for what an expose event means, but it's been that way for long enough that I'm told it's unlikely to be changed now (people may be depending on the current behavior).
Especially if there are workarounds -- and there are.
I wrote that this happened only in pygtk and not C gtk, but I was wrong. The spurious expose events are only passed if the CAN_FOCUS flag is set. My C gtk test snippet did not need CAN_FOCUS, because the program from which it was taken, pho, already implements the simplest workaround: put the key-press handler on the window, rather than the drawing area. Window apparently does not have the focus/expose misbehavior.
I worry about this approach, though, because if there are any other UI elements in the window which need to respond to key events, they will never get the chance. I'd rather keep the events on the drawing area.
And that becomes possible by overriding the drawing area's default focus in/out handlers. Simply write a no-op handler which returns TRUE, and set it as the handler for both focus-in and focus-out. This is the solution I've taken (and I may change pho to do the same thing, though it's unlikely ever to be a problem in pho).
In C, there's a third workaround: query the default focus handlers, and disconnect() them. That is a little more efficient (you aren't calling your nop routines all the time) but it doesn't seem to be possible from pygtk: pygtk offers disconnect(), but there's no way to locate the default handlers in order to disconnect them.
But there's a fourth workaround which might work even in pygtk: derive a class from drawing area, and set the focus in and out handlers to null. I haven't actually tried this yet, but it may be the best approach for an app big enough that it needs its own UI classes.
One other thing: it was suggested that I should try using AccelGroups for my key bindings, instead of a key-press handler, and then I could even make the bindings user-configurable. Sounded great! AccelGroups turn out to be very easy to use, and a nice feature. But they also turn out to have undocumented limitations on what can and can't be an accelerator. In particular, the arrow keys can't be accelerators; which makes AccelGroup accelerators less than useful for a widget or app that needs to handle user-initiated scrolling or movement. Too bad!
[ 21:52 Apr 09, 2005 More programming | permalink to this entry | ]