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


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Switching to a Literate Emacs Configuration


Published .
Tags: emacs.

Emacs’ org-mode has a number of nifty features. Among them is the ability to sequentially evaluate all the code blocks in an org document with org-babel-load-file.

This makes literate programming extremely easy. Just write a document, intersperse some code blocks, and evaluate. Literate programming has numerous applications: it’s a handy tool for reproducible research, for example.

A number of folks in the Emacs community structure their configuration files as literate programs in org-mode. I’ve been thinking about that for a while, and I finally gave it a shot last weekend. I got some pretty nice results!

How to do it:

If you’re interested in rewriting your own configuration as a literate org program, it’s simple:

  • Create a ~/.emacs.d/configuration.org file.
  • Take the contents of your ~/.emacs.d/init.el (or .emacs, if you used that), and move it into that configuration.org file. Wrap it in an emacs-lisp source block, like so:
#+begin_src emacs-lisp
  (all-your-config-stuff ...)
  • Replace the contents of your init.el with one line:
(org-babel-load-file "~/.emacs.d/configuration.org")

That’s the first thing Emacs’ll run; it’ll read through that configuration.org file and evaluate that code block.

  • If you restart Emacs everything should still work the way it used to, since the same code is being run. Congratulations: your configuration is now structured as a (really basic) literate program!
  • Break up your configuration into multiple code blocks, structured with headers and useful explanations. This last step may take a while. =)


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