Harry R. Schwartz

Code writer, sometime Internet enthusiast, attractive nuisance.

The author at the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris, November 2022. hacker news gitlab sourcehut pinboard librarything 1B41 8F2C 23DE DD9C 807E A74F 841B 3DAE 25AE 721B


British Columbia





Published .
Tags: emacs.

Emacs is a terrific editor, but its out-of-the-box experience isn’t great. Some of its default settings feel a bit clunky. There’s no syntax highlighting, users have to type “yes” to confirm actions, and their repos are suddenly littered with files ending with “~”.

There are some great projects to make Emacs more approachable. Prelude provides a terrific selection of preconfigured packages, and Spacemacs offers a great onramp for users coming from Vim.

I’m not crazy about those, though. I kinda feel like they “magically” do too much, and that they might not encourage exploration and modification in the same way that Emacs generally does. I worry that it’s not obvious to users what features are Emacs and what’s coming from the starter kit.

I recently created sensible-defaults.el as an alternative. It’s a minimal set of configuration changes and keybindings: just enough to knock off some of the unnecessarily sharp edges. A user can use as much or as little of it as they’d like, and it’s especially amenable to tweaking and customization since it’s just a set of functions with reasonable names.


Most users want these kinds of features, but finding them—especially for the new user—isn’t always easy (“why is syntax highlighting called global-font-lock-mode?!”).

If a user wants everything it offers, that’s as easy as:

(load-file "~/.emacs.d/sensible-defaults.el")

Anyway, check it out! It’s got a few nice tricks in it that you might like!

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