Emacs for Academia and Developers

Posted on May 3, 2019 • 7 min read • 1,375 words

Emacs for Academia and Developers

Choosing a suitable editor can be a hard problem. At least it is for me. For several years now, I am constantly switching back and forth between vim, Atom.io, and Visual Studio Code. Lastly, I really enjoyed using Atom due to its nice looking interface. However, on my system using my set of plugins, VScode was way faster. Realizing this, I remembered there is another editor many people prefer which I never had a closer look at. So, in this post I will dive into how I setup emacs to suit my writing needs for academia and coding needs for developers.

For now, let us start with the set of plugins I use, why I use them and how I configured them. I am pretty sure there might be better options for some tasks. If you know one, give me a hint in the comments section so that I can have a look at it.

  • vim Right, the first thing to do in emacs is, get and activate evil-mode
  • git For using git in my projects magit
  • package management The default package manager of emacs may feel cumbersome. I very much like use-package
  • non-distractive writing To have some of atom’s and vscode’s zen-mode beauty, I use darkroom
  • managing projects If you are working on multiple projects simultaneously, I like projectile
  • file browser Very much like nerdtree for vim is neotree If you like eye-candy like me, also get all-the-icons
  • fuzzy commands and search This makes every input in emacs work like the fuzzy atom and vscode command search boxes. Just try it and be amazed helm and helm-projectile if you also use projectile

This list only contains my absolute highlights in my config. There are some more plugins I use which you will notice when we have a closer look at the config itself. Following, however, I just want to note some of the commands I frequently use inside these plugins to manage my day-to-day tasks. Each plugin has detailed descriptions on how to use it, so check the links provided.


Important commands I use quite often:

  • commit: c c
  • push: P p
  • pull: F u
  • status/refresh: g
  • diff: d d
  • quit: q


Important commands I use quite often:

  • list projects: p
  • grep in all files of project: p s g


Now, the most interesting part is probably the setup in emacs itself. Together, let’s go through my .emacs file and see, what’s there and why. I am afraid I do not comment every line but will try the best to give an impression on what is done and why.

1(require 'package)
2(savehist-mode 1)
3(add-to-list 'package-archives '("org" . "http://orgmode.org/elpa/"))
4(add-to-list 'package-archives '("melpa" . "http://melpa.org/packages/"))
5(add-to-list 'package-archives '("melpa-stable" . "http://stable.melpa.org/packages/"))
7(add-to-list 'custom-theme-load-path "~/.emacs.d/themes")
8(load-theme 'atom-one-light t)

The block above ensures we can load plugins (l. 1, 3-5), the history of commands used is stored across sessions (l. 2). Finally, we load our favorite color/syntax theme atom-one-light.

 1(setq package-enable-at-startup nil)
 2(setq inhibit-startup-message t)
 3(setq-default left-margin-width 2 right-margin-width 2)
 4(set-window-buffer nil (current-buffer))
 5(global-linum-mode t)
 7(unless (package-installed-p 'use-package)
 8        (package-refresh-contents)
 9        (package-install 'use-package))
10(eval-when-compile  (require 'use-package))

Next, we setup the window to start cleanly (l. 2-5) and initialize the package management (l. 1, 6-12).

 1(use-package evil
 2  :ensure t
 3  :init
 4  (setq evil-want-keybinding nil)
 5  :config
 6  (evil-mode t)
 7  (modify-syntax-entry ?_ "w")
 8  (use-package evil-commentary
 9    :ensure t
10    :config
11    (evil-commentary-mode))
12  (use-package evil-leader
13    :ensure t
14    :config
15    (global-evil-leader-mode)
16    (evil-leader/set-leader ",")
17    (evil-leader/set-key
18      "m" 'helm-M-x))
19  (use-package evil-collection
20    :ensure t
21    :config
22    (evil-collection-init 'outline)))

The above code initializes the evil plugin as well as some additions to that. Note the special directives of the use-package plugin. The :ensure t clause installs the necessary plugin if it is not present. This enables the reuse of the .emacs config on a different machine as long as use-package is installed there. Commands in :init are executed before the packet is actually loaded, commands in :config right after loading. In the case of evil, I define the word text object to include underscores like it does in vim. Additionally, I define , to be my leader key and map the helm plugin to ,m.

1(use-package magit
2  :ensure t
3  :config
4  (evil-leader/set-key
5    "g" 'magit))

We use magit and map it to ,g.

 1(use-package darkroom
 2  :ensure t)
 3(use-package markdown-mode
 4  :ensure t
 5  :commands (markdown-mode gfm-mode)
 6  :mode (("README\\.md\\'" . gfm-mode)
 7         ("\\.md\\'" . markdown-mode)
 8         ("\\.markdown\\'" . markdown-mode))
 9  :init (setq markdown-command "pandoc --natbib"))
10(use-package graphviz-dot-mode
11  :ensure t)
12(use-package sublimity
13  :ensure t
14  :config
15  (sublimity-mode 1))


We use darkroom and the markdown mode. The :mode directive binds the markdown-mode to the provided file extensions. Additionally, we modify the default compile command to our needs, i. e. pandoc --natbib (see also Academic Writing using Pandoc). As I like graphing with graphviz, we install a graphviz plugin. Sublimity then provides us with smoother scrolling. However, this is not working very well for me. I am still looking for better options.

1(use-package powerline  :ensure t  :config  (powerline-center-evil-theme))


We use the powerline module with the evil theme to not get lost in emacs’ mode universe.

 1(use-package projectile
 2  :ensure t
 3  :config
 4  (evil-leader/set-key
 5    "p" 'projectile-command-map)
 6  (projectile-mode +1))
 7(use-package better-defaults
 8  :ensure t)
 9(use-package helm
10  :ensure t
11  :config
12  (helm-mode 1)
13  (global-set-key (kbd "M-x") 'helm-M-x))
14(use-package helm-projectile
15  :after helm
16  :ensure t
17  :config
18  (helm-projectile-on))

We use projectile for project management and map it to ,p. Additionally, we activate helm and remap the default M-x command to helm-M-x. This is done, to ensure we always run helm with its awesome fuzzy search. Finally, we activate helm’s projectile plugin.

 1(use-package flycheck
 2  :ensure t
 3  :init
 4  (global-flycheck-mode))
 5(use-package elpy
 6  :ensure t
 7  :config
 8  (setq elpy-modules (delq 'elpy-module-flymake elpy-modules))
 9  (add-hook 'elpy-module-hook 'flycheck-mode)
10  (elpy-enable)
11  :bind(("M-g" . elpy-goto-definition)))

For python development, we install flycheck, a syntax checker with python support and enable it globally. As primary python development mode, I prefer elpy where we need to activate the corresponding flycheck mode and remap one of my favorite commands, i. e. elpy-goto-definition as M-g.

 1(use-package php-mode
 2  :ensure t)
 3(use-package web-mode
 4  :ensure t
 5  :config
 6  (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.phtml\\'" . web-mode))
 7  (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.tpl\\.php\\'" . web-mode))
 8  (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.[agj]sp\\'" . web-mode))
 9  (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.erb\\'" . web-mode))
10  (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.mustache\\'" . web-mode))
11  (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.djhtml\\'" . web-mode))
12  (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.html?\\'" . web-mode))
13  (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.php\\'" . web-mode))
14  (add-hook 'web-mode-hook
15            (lambda ()
16              (outline-minor-mode)))
17  (add-hook 'php-mode-hook
18            (lambda ()
19              (outline-minor-mode)))
20  (setq web-mode-engines-alist
21        '(("php" . "\\.php\\'")))
22  (setq web-mode-enable-current-column-highlight t)
23  (setq web-mode-enable-current-element-highlight t))
24(defun my-web-mode-hook ()
25  (set (make-local-variable 'company-backends) '(company-css company-web-html company-yasnippet company-files))
26  )
27(add-hook 'web-mode-hook 'my-web-mode-hook)
28(use-package emmet-mode
29  :ensure t
30  :config
31  (add-hook 'sgml-mode-hook 'emmet-mode)
32  (add-hook 'css-mode-hook 'emmet-mode)
33  (add-hook 'web-mode-hook 'emmet-mode)
34  (setq emmet-move-cursor-between-quotes t))
35(add-hook 'web-mode-before-auto-complete-hooks
36          '(lambda ()
37             (let ((web-mode-cur-language
38                    (web-mode-language-at-pos)))
39               (if (string= web-mode-cur-language "php")
40                   (yas-activate-extra-mode 'php-mode)
41                 (yas-deactivate-extra-mode 'php-mode))
42               (if (string= web-mode-cur-language "css")
43                   (setq emmet-use-css-transform t)
44                 (setq emmet-use-css-transform nil)))))

As I am also doing web development for some projects, I included configuration for the web-mode as well as a php-mode. The awesome emmet plugin is also great. However, I do not have much experience with any of them so don’t blame me for errors in that part of the config.

 1(use-package all-the-icons
 2  :ensure t)
 3(use-package neotree
 4  :ensure t
 5  :config
 6  (evil-leader/set-key
 7    "t" 'neotree-toggle)
 8  (setq neo-theme (if (display-graphic-p) 'icons 'arrow))
 9  (setq neo-smart-open t)
10  (setq projectile-switch-project-action 'neotree-projectile-action))
12(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "TAB") 'neotree-enter)
13(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "SPC") 'neotree-quick-look)
14(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "q") 'neotree-hide)
15(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "RET") 'neotree-enter)
16(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "g") 'neotree-refresh)
17(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "n") 'neotree-next-line)
18(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "p") 'neotree-previous-line)
19(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "A") 'neotree-stretch-toggle)
20(evil-define-key 'normal neotree-mode-map (kbd "H") 'neotree-hidden-file-toggle)

Finally, we setup neotree to use all-the-icons, map it to ,t and bind it to the projectile project management. This adds custom behavior to open the neotree view always we switch to a different project. I think that is quite handy to get a quick overview, where you just moved to.

Nextlevel v/Peter Schneider

I work on everything cyber security and development, CVR: 42051993, mail: info@nextlevel-blog.de, phone: 60 59 76 35