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  • Page ii

    Writing GNU Emacs Extensions

    Bob Glickstein


    Cambridge • Koln • Paris • Sebastopol • Tokyo

    Page iv

    Writing GNU Emacs Extensions by Bob Glickstein

    Copyright © 1997 O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

    Editor: Andy Oram

    Production Editors: Kismet McDonough-Chan and Ellie Fountain Maden

    Printing History:

    April 1997: First Edition.

    Nutshell Handbook and the Nutshell Handbook logo are registered trademarks and The Java Series is a trademark of O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.

    Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book, and O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. was aware of a trademark claim, the designations have been printed in caps or initial caps.

    While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

    This book is printed on acid-free paper with 85% recycled content, 15% post-consumer waste. O'Reilly & Associates is committed to using paper with the highest recycled content available consistent with high quality.

    ISBN: 1-56592-261-1 [8/97]

  • Page v

    For Mom and Dad, without whom. . . well, I'd just rather not think about it.

    Page vii

    Table of Contents

    Preface xi

    1. Customizing Emacs 1

    Backspace and Delete 1

    Lisp 2

    Keys and Strings 4

    To What Is C-h Bound? 7

    To What Should C-h Be Bound? 8

    Evaluating Lisp Expressions 8

    Apropos 10

    2. Simple New Commands 13

    Traversing Windows 13

    Line-at-a-Time Scrolling 21

    Other Cursor and Text Motion Commands 23

    Clobbering Symbolic Links 24

    Advised Buffer Switching 30

    Addendum: Raw Prefix Argument 33

    3. Cooperating Commands 34

    The Symptom 34

    A Cure 35

    Generalizing the Solution 40

  • 40

    4. Searching and Modifying Buffers 47

    Inserting the Current Time 47

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    Writestamps 50

    Modifystamps 65

    5. Lisp Files 71

    Creating a Lisp File 71

    Loading the File 72

    Compiling the File 76

    eval-after-load 77

    Local Variables Lists 78

    Addendum: Security Consideration 80

    6. Lists 81

    The Simple View of Lists 81

    List Details 83

    Recursive List Functions 85

    Iterative List Functions 87

    Other Useful List Functions 87

    Destructive List Operations 89

    Circular Lists?! 93

    7. Minor Mode 95

    Paragraph Filling 95

    Modes 96

    Defining a Minor Mode 97

    Mode Meat 99

  • 99

    8. Evaluation and Error Recovery 110

    limited-save-excursion 110

    eval 111

    Macro Functions 112

    Backquote and Unquote 113

    Return Value 116

    Failing Gracefully 119

    Point Marker 120

    9. A Major Mode 122

    My Quips File 122

    Major Mode Skeleton 123

    Changing the Definition of a Paragraph 125

    Quip Commands 126

    Page ix

    Keymaps 127

    Narrowing 130

    Derived Modes 131

    10. A Comprehensive Example 133

    New York Times Rules 133

    Data Representation 134

    User Interface 141

    Setting Up the Mode 148

    Tracking Unauthorized Changes 157

    Parsing the Buffer 162

  • 162

    Word Finder 163

    Last Word 181

    Conclusion 183

    A. Lisp Quick Reference 185

    Basics 185

    Data Types 186

    Control Structure 190

    Code Objects 193

    B. Debugging and Profiling 195

    Evaluation 195

    The Debugger 195

    Edebug 197

    The Profiler 198

    C. Sharing Your Code 200

    Preparing Source Files 200

    Documentation 201

    Copyright 201

    Posting 202

    D. Obtaining and Building Emacs 203

    Availability of Packages 203

    Unpacking, Building, and Installing Emacs 205

    Index 207

    Page xi

  • Preface

    Before you even begin to extend Emacs, it's already the highest-function text editor there is. Not only can it do everything you'd normally expect (formatting paragraphs, centering lines, searching for patterns, putting a block in upper case), not only does it have advanced features (matching braces in source code, employing color to highlight syntactic elements in your files, giving online help on every keystroke and other commands), but it also performs a host of functions you'd never dream of finding in a text editor. You can use Emacs to read and compose email and to browse the World Wide Web; you can have it run FTP for you, transparently making remote files editable as if they were local; you can ask it to remind you about upcoming meetings, appointments, and anniversaries. As if that weren't enough, Emacs can also play you in a game of Go-Moku (and win, more than likely); it can tell you today's date in the ancient Mayan calendar; and it can decompose a number into its prime factors.

    With all that functionality, it may seem crazy that Emacs users often spend a significant portion of their time extending Emacs. After all, most programmers view their editors as tools for creating other software; why spend so much energy modifying the tool itself? A carpenter doesn't tinker with his hammer; a plumber doesn't tinker with his wrench; they use their tools to accomplish the job at hand. So why are Emacs users different?

    The answer is that the carpenter and the plumber would tinker with their tools to make them better, if they knew how. Who knows exactly what they need better than they do? But they're not toolsmiths. On the other hand, Emacs is a special kind of tool: it's software, which means the tool is the same stuff as what Emacs users use it on. The user of Emacs is often a programmer, and programming Emacs is, after all, just programming. Emacs users are in the happy position of being their own toolsmiths.

    Page xii

    This book teaches Emacs Lisp programming using a series of real-life examples progressing from trivial to sophisticated. We'll start with simple configuration tweaks that you can put in your Emacs startup file, and by the end we'll be writing "major modes" and modifying Emacs's own "command loop." Along the way we'll learn about variables, keymaps, interactive commands, buffers, windows, process I/O, and more. When I refer to Emacs in this book, I specifically mean GNU Emacs. There are many editors that call themselves Emacs. Here's a bit of the history of the name according to the authoritative On-line Hacker Jargon File, version 4.0.0, 24-Jul-1996:

    [Emacs] was originally written by Richard Stallman in TECO under ITS at the MIT Al lab; AI Memo 554 described it as "an advanced, self-documenting, customizable, extensible real-time display editor." It has since been re-implemented any number of times, by various hackers, and versions exist that run under most major operating systems. Perhaps the most widely used version, also written by Stallman and now called "GNU EMACS" or GNUMACS, runs principally under UNIX. It includes facilities to run compilation subprocesses and send and receive mail; many hackers spend up to 80% of their tube time inside it. Other variants include GOSMACS, CCA EMACS, UniPress EMACS, Montgomery EMACS, jove, epsilon, and MicroEMACS.

    The examples in this book were all developed and tested in GNU Emacs version 19.34 and a

  • pre-release version of Emacs 20.1 under various flavors of UNIX. See Appendix D, Obtaining and Building Emacs, for information on where to find the Emacs distribution.

    I've let my own progression as an Emacs user be my guide in selecting instructive examples. The sequence of examples in this book essentially retells the story of how my own Emacs usage matured. For instance, from the very first moment I started using Emacs I knew I had to do something about getting that damn BACKSPACE key not to invoke the online help! Maybe you have that problem, too. Solving that problem is the first example we'll cover in the next chapter.

    After I'd been using Emacs for a short while, I found myself wanting a number of cursor-motion shortcuts. As I learned, they were easily written in terms of Emacs's existing motion primitives. We'll see several examples of those in Chapter 2, Simple New Commands. Later I needed to have some way of undoing one of my most common and maddening typing errors: pressing CONTROL-v several times, when I meant to press CONTROL-b. Instead of moving the cursor a few spaces to the left, I'd scroll the whole window a few times and lose my place. Fixing this was easily done, too, as you'll see in Chapter 3, Cooperating Commands. When I began to manage files full of clever quotations, I needed special tools to handle the specially formatted files. We'll see some of those in Chapter 9, A Major Mode. Except for the first handful of examples, which are simple one- and two-liners, each example has its own chapter. Each chapter illustrates some problem needing

    Page xiii

    an Emacs Lisp solution, then presents a function or set of functions that solves the problem. Then, just as real-life customizations tend to evolve to become more useful and more general, we'll revise the solution once or twice before going on to the next subject.

    Each example builds on the concepts of prior examples and introduces a few new ones of its own. By the en