My third week using Emacs

Posted on September 3, 2015

This is my third week using Emacs, I was using Vim since 2013. I knew Emacs and Vim where very popular code editors, so I started using Vim I really liked it, I was very comfortable editing code, writting my blog posts (markdown files), writting my notes, even I created a little Vim Plugin (written in Python) for developing ABAP programs directly in Vim and submit code to SAP.

But I needed to know the other editor,is it better? or just the same?.

So this is my experience using Emacs in laptop running Windows 7 during this three weeks:

Installing Emacs

The Unnoficial Installation

You can install a modified version of GNU Emacs from Vincent Goulet website.

I choosed this version because it contains a lot of useful things, it allows you to open PDF’s files in Emacs without install any other program (like MikTex). It’s amazing that Emacs can show you a PDF file embedded, I can read a PDF while taking notes!. Unfortunately it doesn’t work for large PDF files, It freezes Emacs, I will try to do it in a linux box later.

To view PDF docs in Emacs you need GhostScript, you can get GhostScript with Cygwin, run the Cygwin installer and select the Ghostscript package.

Then you have to configure Emacs to be able to find the Ghostscript program:


The Official Emacs

You can download the more recent version of Emacs for windows HERE. It is not an installer, it’s just a zip file. You can extract it wherever you want.

After extracting all files run runemacs.exe, this program will create shortcuts and registry entries.

Configuring Emacs

You can customize Emacs using your ~/.emacs file, in Windows the default home for emacs is %HOMEPATH%\AppData\Roaming\. You can change it creating a new environment variable called %HOME% (note that it’s different from Windows’ home environment variable which is %HOMEPATH%). Then Emacs will detect your ~/.emacs file.

In this .emacs file you can configure your emacs, to confiugre Emacs you have to use Emacs Lisp. You can create your own functions and call them using M-x or setting a keyboard shortcut.

Using Bash as shell

If you have Cygwin or Gitbash installed in your computer, you can use bash instead of cmd.exe as shell in Emacs. To do this add the following code to your ~/.emacs file:

(if (file-directory-p "C:/Path/To/Your/Cygwin/bin")
    (add-to-list 'exec-path "C:/Path/To/Your/Cygwin/bin"))

(setq shell-file-name "bash")
(setq explicit-shell-file-name shell-file-name)
(setq explicit-bash-args '("--login" "-i"))

Sometimes it may cause problems using Bash instead of cmd.exe. For example, some Emacs packages detects that you are running Windows and try to execute a specific Windows command which bash can’t process (I got a problem with Cider.

I really like the idea of being able to have a terminal embedded in my editor, it makes me feels like in dwm or xmonad. The only problem I had using Bash embedded in Emacs, is that when I run certain commands (specially Git commands) the terminal stopped working, I still could write there or move to another window, but the terminal just stop working. I hope this doesn’t happen on Linux.

Using Emacs

When you first open you first file in Emacs, you can start editing right away. And you can use it as another “normal” editor, use the menu to Save, Open Files, etc.

But, it is more useful when you learn a few keystrokes. Here are the basics you need to know (Remember M (Meta) = Alt | C = Ctrl ):


Keys Result
C-a Begin of line
C-e End of line
C-f Move forward (next character)
C-b Move backwards (previous character)
C-n Next line
C-p Previous line
M-< Go to the beginning of current buffer
M-> End of buffer
M-g g Go to specific line number
C-v Go to next “page”/screen
M-v Go to previous screen


Keys Result
C- Start selecting
M-w Copy selected region to “Kill ring”
C-y Yank (paste)
M-y Yank (paste), takes the prev element in kill ring
C-k Kill (cut) the text after the point (cursor)
C-x C-f Visit (open) file
C-x C-s Save
C-x C-c Quit


Keys Result
C-x 3 Split current buffer in two vertical buffers
C-x 2 Split buffer horizontally
C-x 0 Close buffer (it remains active)
C-x 1 Close all other buffers
C-x b Open buffer
C-x C-b Show buffer list
C-x o Move to the next buffer
C-x r m Bookmark current buffer
C-x r b Open bookmarked buffer


Keys Result
C-h Help (press ? to see your options)
M-x Execute command
C-g Cancel (for example when you start M-x)

C-h is very useful, for example, if you press C-h and then:

Keys Result
t Built in tutorial
b Keybindings available in current buffer
k Help on keystrokes
f Help on function
l Show the last 300 keystrokes

Last option is useful when you did something unnintentionally by pressing some keys (and you want to know which keys).


I really liked Emacs Lisp as the language to extend Emacs, create your own custom functions is very easy. Here is what I’ve learned about Lisp and some useful functions that may help you to configure your .emacs file.

(add-to-list 'exec-path "C:/My/Path")
(setq browse-url-browser-function 'browse-url-generic
      browse-url-generic-program "chrome.exe")

To do this your, Emacs has to know the location of your chrome.exe program, so you have to add that path to the Emacs execution path (see previous example).

(setq tab-width 4)
(global-linum-mode 1)
(add-to-list 'default-frame-alist '(fullscreen . maximized ))
(setq inhibit-startup-message t
   inhibit-startup-echo-area-message t)
(tool-bar-mode 0)
(scroll-bar-mode 0)

By default, Emacs generates backup files, these files are named as the original file but appending a ~ symbol, these files are generated in the same directory where the original exists, you can change the path where the backyp file is generated using:

(setq backup-directory-alist `(("." . "~/.saves")))

You have to create the .saves directory in your %HOME% directory.

(set-default-font "Liberation Mono-11")
(require 'package)
(add-to-list 'package-archives
	     '("melpa" . ""))
(add-to-list 'package-archives
	     '("marmalade" . ""))
(add-to-list 'package-archives
	     '("tromey" . ""))

(package-initialize) ;;

You can find packages using: M-x and the function: package-list-packages.

You can customize the Emacs theme running command:

`M-x customize-themes

You can install new themes using package install, currently I’m using monokai theme. This theme have to be loaded in your .emacs file too:

(load-theme 'theme-name)

Sometimes Emacs automatically adds a function (custom-set-faces), if you set your load-theme function before, Emacs will ask you if you really want to use your theme, to avoid this, you have to place your load-theme function after `custom-set-faces:

 ;; custom-set-faces was added by Custom.
 ;; If you edit it by hand, you could mess it up, so be careful.
 ;; Your init file should contain only one such instance.
 ;; If there is more than one, they won't work right.

;; Load default theme
;; Dark themes:
(load-theme 'monokai)
(defun my-function-name ()
  "My Function description"
  ;; logic

(interactive) allows you to call the function using the M-x command.

Here is an example of a function I made:

(defun screencap ()
  "Captures an image and generates the required Markdown"
  (shell-command "c:/users/hugo/workspace/notes/bnsc.bat")
  (sleep-for 3)
  (insert "![](/images/")
  (insert ".png)\n\n")

I defined a function called screncap, it is interactive so, I can call it using M-x. It executes a shell-command, in this case is a BAT file, this BAT files calls a program, using this program I can capture a region in the screen, when I’m done the program stores the image in /notes/images/ the name of the new generated image is stored in the windows clipboard, when the program finished, the Lisp function continues, it waits 3 seconds (sleep-for 3) and then insert the string ![](/images/ then yank the content of the clipboard and then adds the image extension and two more lines. This way, when I’m editing a markdown note I can capture a screenshot and the markdown code is generated with the correct image name.

I binded this function to the C-s s keystrokes using:

(global-set-key (kbd "M-s s") 'screencap)

Here is a list of functions that you can use when constructing your own functions:

Function Description
(interactive) Can be called using M-x or keystroke
(forward-char ) Move forward n characters
(delete-char ) Delete n characters to the right
(setq ) “Assign” the value to
(search-forward ) Search forward string
(buffer-substring ) Get substring starting from position to
(concat ) Concat string with
(message ) Show message in minibuffer
(insert ) Insert in current buffer
(beginning-of-line) Move to the beginning of the current line
(end-of-line) Move to end of current line
(next-line) Move to next line
(shell-command ) Execute shell command
(sleep-for ) Wait n seconds
(yank) Yank text


Thanks to Emacs Lisp, Emacs is very customizable and can be extended, currently there are a lot of packages for Emacs, for almost anything you need, here are some examples I have been trying:


Elfeed is a Package that allows you to read your feeds using Emacs. You can find it in the package list (package-list-packages), Once you have installed elfeed you can configure your favorite RSS or Atom feeds, this can be done in your .emacs file (what a surprise):

(setq elfeed-feeds
     ;; Add your favorite feeds here

Once you have configured your .emacs file the position your cursor in the last parantheses of the previous snippet, and press C-x C-e this will evaluate it, this way elfeed will know where to look at. Now you can start elfeed pressing M-x and running elfeed.

You will see an empty list, you can update your database pressing g, this will start updating your feeds, and generates a list:

You can navigate using C-n, C-p, and press enter to start reading a blog post.


Eww is a web browser embedded in Emacs, you can start it with the eww command. Immediately it will ask you for an URL or for some keywords, if you do not provide an URL then it will open and search for the keywords you provided.

Eww can even show images. It doesn’t render a web page as Firefox or Chrome would do, but it’s good if you only want to browse a website that contain mostly text.


Twittering is an emacs package that allows you to view your twitter feed directly in Emacs. After you install this package you can run it using twit, that command will ask you if you want to authorize the app, it will open a twitter page where you can authorize it, the page generates a PIN, which you have to insert in Emacs minibuffer (using C-y), after that you will see your twitter feed:

You can press i to show your contacts profile pictures. You can update your status pressing u.

Here is how it looks:


10 tips for Emacs on Windows

Emacs Rocks

Docview on Windows

Emacs Wiki

Brave Clojure - Starting using Emacs