Red Green Repeat Adventures of a Spec Driven Junkie

Emacs' Bare Interface

As a developer that optimized for tooling - I used a wide range of text editors - notably, vim and emacs.

I started with vim, migrated to emacs, and never looked back - even with more powerful editors like JetBrains and VSCode.

One thing that keeps me on emacs: its’ bare interface.

The emacs interface is so bare - I only have one mode line and everything I need to do is accessible without memorizing or contorting my hands for crazy key combinations.

(The contorting hands comment is one vim users share with me when they learn my main editor is Emacs. 🙄)

How does Emacs keep so much functionality (essentially endless functionality) with such a bare interface?

M-x commands

The M-x interface puts a text interface to every single command - even one without a key combination.

For example: finding and replacing text.

  • The key combination: M-%(key combo: meta-shift-5)
  • The menu option: M-x query-replace

The funny thing: on macOS - Cmd-Shift-5 brings up a screen capture option - something I can reconfigure in the System Settings.

I chose not to - why? Because I really don’t use M-% - I use M-x qu-re <tab> to achieve the same result.

Yes - that’s the other secret in M-x commands on Emacs - <tab> key expands anything that matches across dashes.

Another command I use frequently: editing multiple lines.

  • key combination: ??? (honestly, no idea right now)
  • menu option: M-x mc/e-l <tab>

After years of using emacs like this - it’s so natural. I just auto-complete commands I want. I can add in new functionality through plugins and not worry about have their keys mapped to something I can remember. There’s also a good chance it’s conflicting with something else!

I also remove the stress of mapping a function to 100% of the keys something I may only use less than 20% of the time in a specific Emacs’ context or major mode.

In a world where there’s menus and whole science to graphical user interfaces, Emacs’ bare interface won my heart with it’s practicality and elegance.