Although I use Emacs for my day-to-day editing tasks, I haven’t gotten around to updating a
lot of my config, some of which dates back to around 2004 when I
started using Emacs. There’s a lot of cruft in my
particularly in some of the settings I’ve put in via
this week, I decided to clean things up a bit and try out new stuff. I
decided to drop a lot of my existing config, reconfiguring stuff as I
In the process of cleaning things up, I’ve also decided to try out new
ways of doing things in Emacs, in particular with the how to navigate
around buffers and files. Early on, I picked up
ibuffer as my go-to
way for selecting and managing my buffers instead of the default
buffer menu. That was then replaced with
on (for reasons that escape me now 1).
However, I’ve previously been dipping my toes with
Helm. I wasn’t really using Helm
fully, just bits and pieces – in particular, I was using a minimal
helm-projectile. (I also forgot what else other bits and
pieces I was trying out that depended on Helm). In any case, this week
I’m plunging into getting Helm everywhere, using Helm to replace a
bunch of things in the system for instance. It’s been wild, and I
although I stumble here and there, I think I just might keep Helm.
Admittedly, diving into the deep end this way has its downsides. Thankfully, I’m on a break between jobs, so I can afford to stumble through my Emacs usage a little bit.
If you want to take my Emacs config up for a spin, clone it from my
Git repo here, and add a
.emacs.el in your home directory with a single line:
~/.emacs.init/ with the path to your own clone of my repo.
Keybindings, Meet Muscle Memory
One of the things that is working against me though is my own damned
muscle memory: years of hitting
C-x C-f2 and then expecting
to do completion has often gotten me flatfooted with Helm replacing
find-file, for one. Hitting
C-x b has some similar weirdness for
Tab not completing but instead listing Helm’s alternate
actions for the particular selected item. Nevertheless, it’s been
pretty fruitful to use Helm so far for those particular tasks.
Some keybindings though I expect to exist, after a few years of using them to get around, so I’ve added them in.
For instance, a colleague of mine introduced me to
PeepOpen, which he was using
to navigate between files in MacVim. By default, PeepOpen uses
(Super-t, which on macOS is
⌘-t), and I’ve been using that ever
since, even when I stopped using PeepOpen and started with other
alternatives such as Projectile. So, I needed to bind
something, or else I would go nuts.
Outside of Helm, I’ve also gotten used to moving between buffers using
the arrow keys (using
windmove). Previously, I’ve been using
windmove-default-keybindings to use the default “shift and arrow
key” bindings, but I’ve tweaked that in my new config, binding instead
S-s-right for instance: I’ve added the
Super prefix key to all
of the bindings, but I might relent later on and go back to the
defaults; we’ll see.
I also pulled in a lot of my keybindings from my old config, although
that I’ll probably clean that up, seeing as there’s a bunch of config
I don’t already use nor need. I previously set up
F8 as a general
“these are my shortcuts” key, so for instance hitting
F8 m would
open Gnus for my mail. A lot of that stuff I no longer use, so I’ll
probably discard it, although I’ll still keep
F8 as a prefix key.
I also used to use
bookmark.el heavily: I’ll see if I can integrate
that with this new Helm world.
I mentioned PeepOpen. As I said, I’ve gotten used to a lot of the affordances that PeepOpen gave, in the brief time of my using it. In particular, I liked how it does fuzzy matching, instead of just doing prefix or substring matching; I use that completion model quite heavily as well outside of Emacs, in particular within Alfred.
So, I’ve set
t, which reflects how I
expect it to work, and makes things consistent with Alfred.
I’ve also set Helm to use the same window3 as the buffer I’ve
invoked it in, by setting
'same. The default is just too confusing to me: seeing Helm do a
frame split only sometimes confuses me as to where I should
look. With this, I know exactly where Helm shows up.
Outside of Helm, I have only quite a few changes to my config
overall. I want to keep things working as close to how I’m used to,
where it makes sense. I’ve kept Solarized Dark as my Emacs theme
of choice, as well as the use of
spaceline) for my modeline. I’ve also kept the use of buffer
boundaries in the fringe, as I often want to see if I’ve inadvertently
added unneeded blank lines to the end of a file I’m working on. Hack
is still my font of choice, of course.
Meta: Organizing My Emacs Config
Back around 2007 when I started to keep my config in version control,
I had decided on splitting out my then-monolithic
separate files, one per package or module or what-not. Each
file in my config directory with the suffix
.init.el would be loaded
by a little bit of code, so all I needed to do to add a new bit of
config or functionality was to add that a file in my config directory;
similarly, I could disable stuff by removing the relevant
file, or renaming it
That worked for a while, but I realized that it’s become quite
unwieldly as well, seeing as I ended up just using
customize a lot,
and having a lot of little files just becomes confusing.
Also: my original intent was to perform module configuration and
loading in those little files. This was important pre-Emacs 24 and
ELPA, when you had to download
elisp packages and manually load them
into your Emacs. Emacs 24 and ELPA just made a lot of those things
unnecessary, so I decided to just refactor everything.
Now, instead of keeping files per module, I’ve reorganized things
according to function. I have an init file containing all my config
for development, and a file containing all my navigation config
(including my Helm config). Admittedly, disabling individual files no
longer makes that much sense, seeing as, for instance,
development.init.el contains all of my config for working on code,
and disabling that would disable a large swathe of functionality; it
still makes sense to at least separate everything out this way though,
a little happy middle between lots of small files and a single
Speaking of packaging though, I also picked up the use of John
couple of years back, and it’s helped with keeping package-related
config together quite nicely. I’ve also started to use a little more
of its functionality (
:bind is a bit of a TIL).
Previously, most of my Emacs usage has solely been on Linux machines, and there was a bunch of things that I hard-coded into my config – tool paths for one. I’ve now added a bit of code so that I load platform-specific stuff separately, so that way I can use my config on my Macbook Pro as well as some Linux VM desktops I still have.
Acclimatizing To Everything
So far, it’s been pretty spectacular, even with the bumps caused by my misfiring muscle memory. I’ve been enjoying tweaking things here and there, and learning a little more about the tool I use everyday. There’s a lot more I don’t know, or haven’t had the opportunity yet to try out, so it’s exciting to have the time to do it.
There are probably a few things I’ll tweak here and there, to get the
most out of my config, and there’s definitely a bunch of things I
haven’t gotten rid of (the old
F8 keymap, for instance). But so far,
I’ve been happy with the reconfig.
Postscript, June 21– I looked at an older version of my config in my archive, and apparently I was mistaken: I used
ibuffer– and I switched to
iswitchbwas deprecated circa Emacs 24. ↩
For those not using Emacs, or not well-versed with how Emacs represents keybindings: a lot of things in Emacs can be accessed from the keyboard with a sequence of keys. For example,
C-x C-fis used to open a file, and represents hitting
X, releasing, and then hitting
F. Modifier keys are usually represented by uppercase letters, followed by a dash connecting it to the key it modifies:
Alt(otherwise known in Emacs as Meta). Shift is usually represented by the equivalent uppercase letter or shifted key (
tmeans to hit
T), but sometimes as
s-, when the key doesn’t have a shifted representation. Sometimes you’ll see something like
C-M-x: that means hitting
Xat the same time. You can find more about it in the Emacs manual here. ↩
I use the naming conventions in Emacs for things like windows, frames, buffers, etc. It gets confusing if you’re not used to it, so my apologies. Check out the Emacs manual for more info though. ↩