5 Pieces of advice for Learning Emacs

snj profile image Nick Chen Originally published at coderscat.com ・4 min read

Original Post: https://coderscat.com/5-advice-for-learning-emacs


I have been lived with Emacs for 16 years and will likely continue with it in more years. I programming, write articles, and do the presentation with Emacs, effectively.

Sometimes, I tried to escape from Emacs for refresh experiences. I had tried some modern editors, such as Sublime, Atom, and VSCode.

The result is always the same, I’m more productive and more enjoyable with Emacs. Living with Emacs eventually becomes a lifestyle.

Two decades ago, most programmers were Emacs users or Vim users. Sadly, fewer and fewer programmers use these ancient editors, Emacs’s user ratio is shrinking.


Even so, I’m encouraging you to have a try on Emacs.

Something is good doesn’t mean it is popular. We should try to find the tools that suit ourselves best.

Why learning Emacs is worth it

The time we spent on Emacs is rewarding in the long term. Emacs is the most extensionable editor and gives users maximum freedom. We will get the best productivity after familiar with it.

Emacs is a 45 years old software. It’s stable and with lots of packages and supports for different programming languages and all kinds of tasks.

Most Emacs users are senior developers who have mastered multiple languages. I have got very well programming experience with Emacs, even for some less popular programming language, such as OCaml, Scheme, and Clojure.

Think about how much our computing life revolves around editing. If someone will programming for years and will be open for different technology stack then Emacs is a rewarding choice.

Do you want to have a try on Emacs? Here are my 5 tips for you:

#1 Learning Emacs by using it

Don’t be afraid of so many commands and key bindings.

Emacs has a learning curve in the beginning.

Keep using it consistently. After some time, Your fingers and muscles will form memories, and everything you do is performed naturally.

You don’t need to write Emacs Lisp from the beginning.

Follow this best guide for mastering Emacs in one year and this video is awesome for starting:

#2 Start with open-source configurations

Please check out spacemacs or doom-emacs.

They are maintained by the community and have many excellent default configurations for most tasks and most programming languages.

Even more, these 2 projects both contain handy configurations for Vim users.

The best editor is neither Emacs nor Vim, it’s Emacs and Vim!

awesome-emacs lists popular packages with all kinds of categories. This will save much of our time.

#3 Keep your finger healthy

Switch the key of Ctrl with Caps Lock so that your finger will feel better.

Ctrl is the modifier key for most Emacs key bindings, Caps Lock is the more proper key position for the left pinky finger.

This is why most Emacs users want to buy an HHKB.


#4 Try org-mode

org-mode is a killer application in Emacs, it’s the reason I can not escape from Emacs and some non-programmers to use Emacs.

org-mode is a complete system to organize your project, take notes, track tasks, track time, agenda, write documents, and much more! Everything is plaintext, and you could sync them with Github or Dropbox, or export your writings into PDF, HTML, Markdown formats.

It’s your emacs-based knowledge management system!

I’m currently writing most of my blogging posts in Emacs, then sync up to my WordPress with a key binding.

Learn Emacs Org Mode: Spacemacs Intro Tutorial is a good tutorial video for you to start with.

#5 Don’t use it as an operating system

Because of its extreme extensibility, Emacs could serve as a “great operating system”. This means you could write extensions to Emacs for finishing various kinds of tasks.

You could use it to browse Web pages, you could play music, receive Emails, and you could even use it to control a coffee maker!

After you find the fun of Emacs, you may be obsessed with it imperceptibly.

In some cases, I just put too much of time to hack Emacs for all kinds of tasks, just for curious reasons.

This is OK if you have enough spare time, Emacs Lisp is a Lisp dialect which worth exploring.

But you need to avoid to too addicted to it :).


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Great post, fellow Emacs user.