Anyone still using Emacs?

slick3gz_ profile image Slick3gz ・1 min read

I’ve been through a few code editors & IDEs. Been using VSCode on and off for the last couple years. A few others I have used over the years include DEV-C++, Eclipse, Atom, Code Blocks, Notepad++, Visual Studio, and some others I can’t remember 🤔. Lately I have developed a renewed interest in Emacs. I tried it before but didn’t really invest any serious time in learning how to use it. For some reason I woke up yesterday morning and decided to hop on the Emacs 🚂. I know people choose up sides and are very dedicated to their code editors or IDEs. Just really wondering how many devs use Emacs consistently in their workflow?


Editor guide

I've been using spacemacs for the past two years, Emacs for three maybe, that being said, I'm not a programmer by profession, but I do have a couple of hobby projects in C/C++, python, flex and bison (Emacs modes were a pain here), and Dart.


Why did you end up choosing spacemacs over Emacs? What ultimately made you switch? Or do you use both?


I like that spacemacs sets everything up automatically for me really and that most things just work. At first the slow startup did put me off, which is why I tried grapheme, but then I discovered emacsclient, aliased it to e, and now (space)Emacs "starts" instantly.

And with all the features spacemacs adds, with little to no config file maintenance, why not just use it right? (Although I bet I won't ever discover 75% of all those features)

Makes sense. Sometimes it’s nice to have things just work right out of the box. Do you just prefer the navigation or text editing vs code editors like Atom, VSCode, etc? Or something else?

Now I probably don't utilize the full potential of my editors, but one feature I miss is the multiple cursors from sublime (and I think even atom had it iirc), although there's probably some package for something similar in Emacs.

I think there is, but I’m not 100% sure. I thought I also saw a recent post on emacsrocks.com about using rectangles to edit/replace multiple instances. I’m still in “super noob” mode with Emacs.

Emacs Rocks is the best. Another great similar tool is "Rectangle Editing". I find I use multiple cursors and rectangle editing quite often, even for different parts of the same task.


I am, after 5 or 6 years with Vim, I moved to Emacs since last year, first with Spacemacs, then moving to a simple init.el, ended up ditching evil-mode for Emacs keybinding as well. Wrote some posts about it, here are the two posts reflects my journey with Emacs:


Spacemacs here. I used neovim for a while, vim before that. I really don't like Visual Studio, I can almost feel a cubicle materializing and closing in on me. You'd think I'd like it, since I tend heavily toward the kitchen sink approach to dev environments. The crucial difference is that literally, and I cannot stress this enough, LITERALLY EVERYTHING in emacs is able to be changed. The internal structure of vim is C. The internal structure of VS is... I don't want to know. The internal structure of emacs, above a certain point, is emacs-lisp. If you don't already know, this means you can change emacs while you use it, as well as lots of other nice things like being able to "hook" into a function to make code run whenever it runs, without changing the original function at all. So, you can change and tap into the functioning of every little thing. Don't like the way this particular minuscule item works, something so small you'd have a hard time getting a developer to care? Easy, change it in less than a minute. I use evil-mode in general because I prefer vim's editing style, and Spacemacs in particular because I'm not that familiar with emacs, and the way it's set up works very well for me. In particular, helm was an incredible shock coming from vim, where I had to set up and remember every little leader key combination myself. I switched to spacemacs right around the time I was running out of space for leader key combinations on the keyboard, and looking for a way to have multiple leader keys (I didn't find one).

Now, outside of this, why emacs in particular? You can do pretty much anything and have it feel natural, like it was made to do this. Do something the first time, figure it out, optimize it so it's easy. It grows around you until you can focus on the task at hand. This style of growth, coupled with the incredible wealth of packages available for emacs, means it can do pretty much anything any IDE can. I timed a friend who uses VS on a particular task related to compilation and git integration as a test, and I was able to do it faster. In general, so much of working with normal IDEs feels so forced and structured. This menu is hard to use, has a bug, or doesn't really fit what you're doing (ex. a file prompt makes you do files one at a time)? Fuck you, that's the answer. With emacs, if there's something you can do, then you can change and automate that something for ease of use or use in a larger task to be automated.

In terms of UI, one of the best developments from emacs is the idea of major and minor modes. This allows your development environment to be adaptable and change immediately, having things like context-based settings, keybindings, behaviors, and features.

I don't see myself moving from emacs until we move to a more direct way of interfacing with computers, like direct telepathy, and even then I'd probably try to migrate emacs to that environment. It really is, as it has been called, the "editor of a lifetime". As well as an editor and IDE, I currently use it for my todo-lists (org-mode), notes, interface to google translate, calculator (I could write a whole thing like this on emacs-calc), remote environment, occasionally terminal, and more.


Sounds like you really enjoy the Emacs experience. I also like the ability to customize the editor and just about anything else. I’m still getting used to everything, but slowly starting to figure things out.


Be sure not to spend too much time at once in making everything perfect, try to use it to do actual work and fix any problems that crop up, then do extensive customization later. It's easy to see the editor as an end rather than the means to an end.

As a Spacemacs user, I fully agree.


Actually not " LITERALLY EVERYTHING in emacs is able to be changed". The first thing I tried to change (How I exit normal mode in Vim) I was told is not possible... emacs.stackexchange.com/questions/...


I had to remake an account for this, but I got this as an email. I understand that this is something you want to do, but it's important to note that this isn't a feature of vim, as was answered on stackexchange. You COULD write a function that emulated the behavior you're seeking, but it'd be a bit of a pain for a new user, and it'd most likely get in the way of other things. Mostly, though, why do you want to do this? What's the advantage of holding alt and pressing a key rather than pressing escape and then the key?

Edit: also important here, are you doing this in gui or terminal emacs?

Using the Gui emacs. The reason is because the change from insert mode to insert mode is virtually seamless. After typing and say I wish to go down a line, press ALT-j and carry on. Or to type a command ALT+: One doesnt have a dead step of this key press is to change modes. Its about doing something, then doing another thing. I find it very fast and efficient. Judging by the lack of response to the question shows that it is not easy for even an experienced user. I to figure it out with maybe advice'ing a function but got no where.


First, whoever you are, you should remap your Caps-Locks key to any other useful key. Recommended Esc or Ctrl. Should be a default IMO.

TLDR: Emacs is a very customizable working environment with time tested features and great extensiblity while also forcing an upfront learning curve that can be hard to invest in. It forces you to learn the power of the editor(environment) to use where other tools are very capable too if you dig into them. Learning Emacs can potentially save a lot of other tooling fatigue issues.

Note: I am not a writer so grant some leeway on the grammar/styling or whatever a pro writer would do that I missed, I’m trying. These are all my thoughts aggregated from various resources, experience, opinion, and probably lack of knowledge as there's so much to learn! Let me know what I missed!

Why did I write this?
I think about editors a lot. I think about efficiency and productivity way to much. Probably to the detriment of actually being productive. Having to many thoughts with no one to talk to...

This story will go through my path as a developing programmer and how I got to Emacs(Spacemacs) and my thoughts on it.

I started programming 1.5 years ago and am currently looking for a job in New Mexico after attending a coding boot camp for 6 months. I contemplated what my interests were and what I wanted to do for a long running career and have a long history using computers. So I vetted and aggregated learning resources to avoid fumbling around with what learn next at any stage of development. To test my interest in programming I went through the highly touted Harvard CS50 course and loved it! I choose to start with Python as a language.

How does this have anything to do with editors? Well, I researched editors and tried a lot of them! At one point I had Sublime Text 3, Pycharm, IDEA, Atom, VSCode, Emacs, Vim(with someone else's config setup), Geany, Notepad++(on windows dual boot), Eclipse, Brackets, and Netbeans ... all installed. I did open and get all of them running in some form or another but, admittedly, I went for high review editors hoping some vetting of good resources had been done by the community. I have put time into Atom, VSCode, Pycharm, Sublime Text 3, Vim, and Spacemacs. Currently I try to code within Spacemacs and run VSCode or PyCharm in the background for visual debugging because I am the more comfortable and productive using them for now.

So I started coding with Sublime Text 3 as it was recommended first (actually python IDLE =/ ) and had no clue what the other options, features, and differences were with editors. So off exploring I went. Most GUI editors have been mostly the same and very good with their own set of pros/cons. I looked into Vim and after getting more familiar with Python, started using it. Vim is awesome as an editor! It really opened my eyes to powerful editing that I had missed trying different GUIs(not for lack of good editing shortcuts rather no forced need to learn them). It also really sparked the questions of, “If this exists, are there other eye opening tools?” Using Vim also made me notice how many things supports vims hotkeys and crave that far reaching utility.

That search invariable ends up leading to Emacs, the most non-user friendly, standoffish, long-living, and infamous tool you can find. It took a lot of digging to answer, “Why learn and use Emacs?” The tipping point was this video youtube.com/watch?v=JWD1Fpdd4Pc. It left me asking to many questions that have no real answers when googled other than I would have to try Emacs myself. And here I am a month and a half later, using Spacemacs casually as I’m ⅓ as productive, highly frustrated when I kill/close/lose a buffer(if that’s even what’s happening?), and turn to other tools/editors to ease into this transition that I’m so obsessed with! Thank you stubbornness?

OK, I have been lumping Emacs in with Editors and that needs clearing up. If the adage “Emacs is an great OS without a good editor…”(how ever the saying goes) than let me define editor and/or OS. I have almost never used an editor in isolation and always with other tooling. Vim and Tmux is common, I us VSCode with the built in terminal along with another terminal for other commands and file traversing which in turn has Midnight commander and ZSH and...(I know I can have multiple terminals in Code), and a browser is always open. My use of the word editor here is more connotative toward the entire environment that I wrap the editor in. This is important to denote for two reasons. One, it creates a better comparison. And two, you spend a lot of time learning tooling to use you editor of choice efficiently within that tooling environment. The difference is presentation and discover-ability and where that learning curve takes place.

This is where Spacemacs stepped in...eventually. Opening vanilla Emacs and going through the tutorial left me wondering how to put the pieces together and, while more familiar, guessing at the correct commands just to get started. It felt overwhelming as I sat staring at the open prompt asking myself, “Now what do I do?” Highlighting that feeling when you get a deck of cards with the idea your going to learn magic tricks with them and blow your own self away! I new learning everything (or anything) would be slow and incremental (did the Vim tutorial, steps 1-6, 50 times and the whole things 1 time). I just wanted to check out Org-mode and Magit, maybe figure this Tramp thing out!

Google-fu said that I needed to learn E-Lisp and install plugins/layers and just us M-x butterfly or something. I searched for some videos for a general workflow to template off of. I looked at Evil-mode, Doom-emacs, Spacemacs and Prelude and had no idea where to begin again until it became clear that I just needed to learn by doing and find an easy way to start off. Spacemacs offered an out of the box experience with visual command input guidance! Also key commands I was familiar with as well as space-bar as a default. It also had some easy documentation for adding layers(which is pretty easy without Spacemacs as it turns out!).

Hopefully I have passed some of the harder parts of getting started and have hope of learning E-lisp and building out a config of my own. It is worth noting that there is a smaller community which means less quality resources. It’s pretty easy to find all the answers to your issues in, say, Atom or even just more help since there’s way more people using it.

Overall I am still obsessed with Emacs and how/when I can get productivity out of it. Its been useful to see how configurable it is and how that translates to other software, how I come to expect more from it! What’s this a closing line with no solid conclusion? I've been using Emacs for a month and half, give me a few more years! How did I even get here?

P.S. This was wrote in google docs where all I could think about was the blasphemy of not using org-mode.


😂 Thank you for sharing. There is alot to discover about Emacs for sure. Just started messing with magit about a half hour ago. I like the the informative popups. Still so much to learn. Seems worth it though.


I use Emacs and have my fair share of posts about it. If you have previous experience with it I strongly advice you to give it a try. Emacs 26 has gained quite a lot of attractive features. I'm a Python developer, but in my experience Emacs works quite well with Go, Rust and Javascript/Typescript.


Great! I have Emacs 26.1 for MacOS right now. Been messing around with it for the past 2 days. Seems to be a lot more than I ever thought it was. Easy enough to get started, but so much to learn.


You should go and set up MELPA and start installing things :D.

Been following along with Mike Zamansky. He's a high school CS teacher that posts videos about CS, Emacs, and other stuff. I have Melpa setup with melpa.milkbox.net/packages. Still figuring out what everything is.


Over the years, have tried so many: BBEdit, TextPad, Sublime, Vim, Atom, IDEA, Eclipse, etc, but have spent most time on Emacs due it's complete configurability.

I moved to VSCode for a few years after Emacs config. started becoming a bit too onerous. It this was a very, very good experience overall even though it was noticeably less-mature, especially some extensions.

I moved back to Emacs (via Spacemacs) after getting tired of fighting simplistic config in extensions, and missing supreme packages like Magit and Tramp-mode — while Git Lens and Remote Dev extensions are very good, they're still years behind.
Spacemacs completely changes the entire config experience, and Evil mode (i.e. Vim) is surprisingly helpful for certain kinds of editing tasks.

Being able to edit in a terminal can also be unexpectedly helpful.

I can easily believe VSCode will catch up in time, however!


I do like the Vim editing features and I find myself looking for Vim key bindings in most programs. I mostly use VSCode right now because I’m trying to level up my JS skills. I tried using Xcode last night while playing with C but I missed the Vim key bindings. My Emacs usage has fell off quite a bit. If I get into C development I may have to give it another try.


Over the past month I’ve been using ssh to connect to an Arch Linux box I’ve set up. Vim has been my goto editor for this. I haven’t even messed with my .vimrc and have been reasonably productive. The switch from VSCODE w/ vim bindings to regular vim took a little adjustment but I think I’m starting to hit my stride. It remains simple enough to use that I can focus on what I’m trying to learn without having to deal with all the extra bells & whistles.


Emacs has got the best git interface I've seen so far, magit. I'm also so used to the keyboard shortcuts and smart-tabs that I try to recreate them in the other editors I use.

Next to that, you can merely do anything within Emacs, file browser, emails, console, ...


Nice to hear about magit. Was reading a little about it last night before bed. VC is a big part of the workflow.

I’ve read that the concept for Emacs is that you shouldn’t ever have to leave the program. 🤯


Emacs was basically the first editor that would balance (blink matching) parentheses by default. I started using it when it was recommended for an introductory undergraduate course in LISP at MIT. You either used Emacs or you flunked the course. I suspect it still has the most productive programming engine of any editor, and the most custom-file modes. Emacs is like Apple computers. People may earn their livings programming other computers but they program Macs (and e-Macs) because it's FUN.

I use gnumacs reprogrammed to be Gosling's Emacs (James Gosling wrote the first emacs for UNIX in ~1986). I have a mode file called "gosmacs.el" which uses most of the same key bindings as Gosling's emacs which is a 1970's / early 1980's emacs. Stallman keeps pissing people off by changing the keybindings but I'm not subject to his flavor-of-the-month whims in this regard.


I began programming last year, and jumped into Spacemacs for 2 reasons:

  • My low-resource laptop for web development has only 4Gb RAM (can't afford an upgrade right now)
  • Configuring in elisp sets me in a programming mindset

Just hook up every mode possible to the appropriate lsp server, and you've "VSCode-ized" Emacs.

I'm currently using it for Javascript / NodeJS / React, C / C++, Go, Python.
Low footprint in old machines that one can repurpose for development work, for a few bucks. (got a T410s ThinkPad for $140)


I love emacs. I know it is hard to convince your colleagues to use it. Here in Peru, I have never found a single person who loves it, although I must say I am a psychologist so my group of people tend to use ugly programs such as SPSS to run statistics. However anytime I can, I use emacs with the ESS package and shows how amazing is the data science programming world.


I used it for some months, inspired by Handmade Hero.
Spent some time customising it myself, also used Evil-Mode.
I think Magit and Org-Mode are still the best tools in their field, and it's worth to run Emacs solely for them.
I switched to VSCode eventually. It became too much of a hassle to use modern front-end-tooling in Emacs, and VSCode has most of it out of the box.
Plus I love nice visual interfaces.

Did you try "Zone Out" yet?


Haven’t tried “Zone Out” yet. Just getting started learning org-mode and magit. Magit seems really nice from the get go. I can already see why some people like it so much. Org seems to have a lot to offer as well. The ability to execute code in my org files already seems like a win.

What modern tooling are you using that you feel doesn’t really mesh with Emacs?


I think it was Prettier back then. Also I had some troubles getting modern JS-Syntax to display correctly. I'm sure all of that is fixable and probably fixed by now, I just haven't had the time to tinker around with the config.


I've been using Emacs for years now, and not only is it the only editor I use as a professional coder, I use it for nearly all text editing in general (including writing several long papers in college). If you're interested in getting started, I recommend checking out Bozhidar Batsov's Prelude distribution (I use a slightly personalized version myself). Similar to Spacemacs, it's an opinionated set of Emacs configs that comes with a LOT out of the box. Prelude is just configuring emacs with more sensible defaults and useful packages, whereas Spacemacs is an opinionated configuration of Emacs for former Vi users who prefer to keep those motion commands rather than learning the emacs defaults.

Personally, I'm really glad that I invested the time and energy to learn Emacs, but it was just that, an investment.


You bet. I just about live in it, except when using Eclipse. I do a fair amount of command line work, and shell mode allows me to search through commands and their output. I also use emacs a lot with interactive SQL. I could barely get my work done without it.


I need to get my shell set up in Emacs. Using zsh on MacOS, but my shell comes out garbled in the shell buffer. Haven't tried out any of the shell packages yet.


Yep. Was having some trouble with Iterm2 pasting codes in the shell. After I installed Iterm2 shell integration it is working great. 🙏


I'm a long time Emacs user but I consistently use IntelliJ too. I would like to use only Emacs but the ecosystem is sparse and there's no consensus around a single and convenient user interface (read: standard key bindings) across several programming languages. It means that you have to learn multiple key bindings sets as much programming languages you use. IMHO, the big advantage of IntelliJ is that you have only one set of keybindinds which applies across the board to all programming languages.

I've done my own [little] efforts to create a sort of more or less convenient IDE for Emacs which attends my purposes. If you are interested, it's here: github.com/frgomes/.emacs.d



Nice. I experimented with Neotree a little bit last night. So used to seeing that tree view that I felt a little lost without it. Thanks for sharing your work.


I've been an Emacs user since 1990 and a maintainer since 2006. While I don't have the prettiest desktop, I frequently locate and identify issues in our tools first because the workflow is not being hidden from me. #nomagic


I was a CS major (before I dropped out and switched to music ed) in 1997. I remember using Turbo C++ back then, but never even heard of Emacs. I mostly used Dev-C++ on Windows for a few years after that. Went through a bunch of different languages/editors/complilers over the years but just now getting to Emacs. 🤷‍♂️


I don't (long time vim user), but two of my colleagues use it every day and swear by it.


What kind of things are they usually working on? Also, why did you choose vim?


Ruby on Rails and a lot of Clojure.

I went with vim having used vi long long ago (25 years ago), back when I was connecting to lots of different machines and you could count on vi being available everywhere. emacs had to be installed, nano wasn't even a thing then. So I just got used to it.

I’ve heard of others say that vi/vim is usually available in most *nix environments.

At this point, the vi thing isn't even important anymore unless you're physically walking to the device (which is less of a thing now). If you have SSH access, you can use emacs without even leaving your computer. Tramp allows you to connect to the system as though you were working with files on your own computer.


There is a few types of developers:

  • Those who have mastered Emacs and have become enormously productive with it and to some degree developed Stockholm syndrome type of relationship and would stay with Emacs even if it could hurt them (e.g.: work doesn't permit use of Emacs, they refuse to stay on that job)

  • Those who have read about it, seen a few of Youtube videos, etc. and refuse to try it because they think it's archaic and clunky and they simply don't understand why some people are crazy about it (like people of the first category)

  • Those who tried it for a bit, didn't have patience to learn it and moved back to whatever is shiny and popular for the next two years. They often brag about the experience: "Oh yeah, I've used Emacs. It's not for me"

I think it would be fair to say that the second category always had the biggest crowd. Yes, Emacs is not for everyone. It ain't simple blue pill/red pill kind of a thing. It requires a serious commitment. It may take months to develop skills that would make you positively more productive than ever before. And even then it does not guarantee an enlightenment to every single user. But those who give it a true heartfelt try usually come to realization that truly, nothing can beat Emacs. Whatever shiny cookie-cutter feature gets added to other editors/IDEs - sooner or later it gets replicated in Emacs. Just be patient and persistent - who knows, maybe it would be you who implements that shiny thing for Emacs.


I went to Holberton School and we are only allowed to code in Emacs or Vim exclusively


Was watching an Emacs Meetup talk on thoughtbot’s Youtube. Had a professor from Penn say that he told his student that he didn’t care if they picked Vim or Emacs... but they had to pick one or the other 😂


It's honestly a big benefit starting with one of those over say VS Code. When you can only work from the command line, the speed with which you are able to complete tasks doesn't even compare to using a GUI text editor. I do a lot of front end work now so VS code is a better fit for my workflow now, but I have a real appreciation for Emacs.


I've been using Emacs for the past 2 years. I've bundled my experiences to create a lightweight Emacs distro with better defaults to help beginners, have a look if you're interested: github.com/ianpan870102/.emacs.d


Only since 1996. The relationship between other editors and Emacs and Vim are like Dennis Ritchie said about Unix: those who do not understand it are doomed to reimplement it -- badly.



I've used it for such a long time and I still find new things to learn about it and new features being developed for it. In particular I love Magit and Projectile.

Takes time to get to know it though, but it's really worth it. Any good editor should feel like an extension of one's self.


Discovering magit was like finding beer, on Christmas, hidden in a lower counter on your uncle's house, back when you were 12.


I’m liking tinkering with it so far. Trying to put together a decent setup for Javascript/React. Since I’ve been typing Emacs-lisp code lately I’m slightly curious about Lisp/Clojure/etc.


Dev? No thanks, I'm just a student xD. But it's just like a week since I've installed it. I've hopped from IntelliJ fam (PhpStorm which I love so much) and the reason was bcoz it's free and it's SO lightweight. My main machine has no trouble with IntelliJ fam IDEs but my RBP? well, it takes 2 minutes for it to JUST boot up xD.

Much to my astonishment how it is still warm in the Emacs world in compare to apps like Atom and Vim. As of yet it still has great support and the community is like heaven. Everybody supports noobs and it's customizable as hell. I just hooked right in like after the first hour.

BTW I use Doom-Emacs which greatly boosts the workflow and believe me even weeks of customizations cannot keep up the pace with that.


Just an update from me on my use of Emacs. A year later I haven’t used Emacs much. I’ve been using VSCode with Vim bindings. I started looking at Vim around the same time I was toying with Emacs. I just went with Vim because it seemed more to my liking. I think VSCode is pretty popular but I think the Vim bindings make editing a little easier. Just my personal journey over the last year with editors.


Spacemacs was my gateway to emacs. I'm a vim user and spacemacs just provided more functionality, plus vim mode, out of the box. Plus elisp is way more approachable than vimscript!


@gavinfernandes2012 also seems to enjoy the quick setup of Spacemacs.

E-lisp is a little different for me because of my “C” languages background, but it slowly starting to make sense.


I've shared a set of configurations for Emacs start here: github.com/ricardoamaro/.emacs.d



Spacemacs ftw. I write more than I code now .. and spacemacs is even more dear to me now as a writer and not just a coder.


Yep been using it for the past 2.5 years. not using the mouse is a blessing. I do use Intelij on occasion.


Started with emacs in 1996. Since two years I use spacemacs with vi key bindings. Very very powerfull. The only downside I see is the need of heavy computers. Big mem / cpu


use it every day, multiple shells, compiling, grepping, etc.


😎 Is that you with the bass?


Yes. Emacs is my main editor for code and prose. I have been using it for a year. I'm a software-engineering student in my mid-thirties.