Notes on 'Mastering emacs'

  • general
  • emacs

I just started going through ‘Mastering emacs’ by Mickey Petersen with a new Egghead book club cohort organized by Ian Jones.

‘Why emacs?’ you may ask. Good question. I’ve been happily using VS Code for a few years and enjoy it. My interest in emacs is primarily due to one thing: org mode. Imagine Notion, iCal and Todoist (plus more I don’t even know about yet) all inside your editor. That’s org mode.

Below are my evolving notes as we make our way through the book.

Week 1 - Ch. 1 & 2

Reading and discussion notes

  • GNU emacs is most common
  • emacs is “for tinkerers”
  • Built on elisp
    • 95% elisp
    • 5% C
  • Has had a speech interface for 20+ years (emacspeak)
  • Some terms predate modern computing terms
    • “killing” — cutting
    • “yanking” — pasting
    • “saving to the kill ring” — copying

Usage notes

Commands are semantic:

  • Spc w — window commands
  • Spc b — buffer commands
  • Spc f — file commands
  • Spc p — project commands

Spc o t

  • toggle integrated terminal window

Spc b b

  • Show recent buffers

To add Prettier formatting:

  • Add Prettier to packages.el
(package! prettier-js)
  • Require Prettier in config.el
(require 'prettier-js)
  • Add hooks to format on save in TypeScript and JavaScript modes
(add-hook 'javascript-mode 'prettier-js-mode)
(add-hook 'typescript-mode 'prettier-js-mode)

Week 2 - Chapter 3

Discussion notes

Everyone else is using org-roam for networked thought

  • We were also roped into emacs by the Jones brothers!
  • Most of us are keeping all our todos in
  • Kevin has multiple files for todos and has his config set to load them all

Resources to reference:

org-roam comes in when you want to connect your notes and link them

  • Keeps a flat file structure

Time tracking in emacs with org-mode tables

  • You can do it manually with org-table
  • Can you Pomodoro plugin

Reading was a bit dry this week

  • Not much that was super useful since we’re all using Doom emacs

Many folks have heard that magit is a great

  • Super powerful git client

emacs has such a cool ecosystem and lots of great customizations

  • Buying in too much is dangerous cause you can never leave

Lauro and I want to have our markdown files with a preview window next to it

  • Being worked on

Questions for the group

  • I’m confused about the emacs client-server concept

Usage notes

C-g: Bailout command

M-x lunar-phases: Shows a list of the upcoming lunar cycles

M-x info: Pull up the emacs info manual

g d: Global describe

Reading notes

Starting emacs

  • You can run emacs either via the terminal or its GUI
  • Using it from the terminal is a limited experience

The emacs way is to keep it running and do all your editing in a dedicated Emacs instance.

  • emacs starts slow cause of the packages and features
  • Meant to be left open for long running sessions

Emacs client-server

  1. Persistent session — use same session instead of spawning new instance
  2. It works well with $EDITOR — what exactly does this mean?
  3. Fast file opening — uses emacsclient

“Key sequence”

  • Keyboard or mouse actions that invoke a user command
  • Commands are functions that are accessible to the user


Modifier keys

  • C - — Control
  • M - — Meta (i.e. Alt)
  • S - — Shift

Discovering a remembering keys

  • emacs is auto documented, so you want to leverage this as you learn
  • C-h will show a help menu

Tinking with emacs is every emacs hacker’s favorite pastime

There are two ways to change your configuration in emacs:

  1. Add elisp snippets to you config file
  2. Use the built-in Customize UI

Customize UI

  • Does not support every feature in emacs
  • When making changes, you must Save and Apply or they will not persist to other sessions
  • Changes here get persisted in your init.el
  • More specific commands get you to specific settings like M-x customize-face

Evaluating Elisp code

  • To evalue Elisp, you don’t have to fully restart emacs
  • M-x eval-buffer — evaluates your entire current buffer
  • M-x eval-region — evaluates only the highlighted region

The package manager

  • ELPA: official package manager
  • MELPA: community package manager
  • Add this config snippet to include ELPA and MELPA packages
(setq package-archives
'(("gnu" . "")
  ("melpa" . "")))

Getting help

  • emacs is self documenting and this is a huge key into mastering it
  • Knowing where to find the answers is the important part because:
    • emacs knows best — Your customizations can make it hard to find solutions online, so the best reference is your own emacs instance
    • you discover more emacs — Learning this way helps you stumble upon new functionality you weren’t aware of
    • helps you solve more problems — The key isn’t knowing everything, but where to look


  • Helpful when you’re not sure exactly what command you’re looking for
  • Supports RegEx
  • EX: C-h a -word$ lists all commands ending with “word”
  • To sort your apropos results by relevancy
(setq apropos-sort-by-scores t)
  • You can scope your search with commands like apropos-documentation, apropos-user-option, etc.

The describe system is not static.

  • The describe system has multiple helpful commands
    • M-x describe-mode or C-h m — Displays documentation for any major mode (uses your current buffer)
    • M-x describe-function or C-h f — Describes a function
    • M-x describe-variable or C-h v — Describes a variable
    • M-x describe-key or C-h k — Describes what a given keybinding does