2018-08-02 Why Emacs?

I found this great section in the README to remacs, a “community-driven port of Emacs to Rust.” I had never heard of this effort before, probably because I’m so disconnected from everything.

The entire project uses the GPLv3 so that holds for this section, too. Users who have contributed to the README.md file: Wilfred shaleh jaccarmac birkenfeld mrwacky42 jeandudey db48× brotzeit vic setupminimal pnkfelix necto yqrashawn mjfeller andrewmcveigh Fuco1 spacecowboy dk87 c-nixon gitter-badger.

Anyway, on to the text:

Why Emacs?

Emacs will change how you think about programming.

Emacs is totally introspectable. You can always find out ‘what code runs when I press this button?’.

Emacs is an incremental programming environment. There’s no edit-compile-run cycle. There isn’t even an edit-run cycle. You can execute snippets of code and gradually turn them into a finished project. There’s no distinction between your editor and your interpreter.

Emacs is a mutable environment. You can set variables, tweak functions with advice, or redefine entire functions. Nothing is off-limits.

Emacs provides functionality without applications. Rather than separate applications, functionality is all integrated into your Emacs instance. Amazingly, this works. Ever wanted to use the same snippet tool for writing C++ classes as well as emails?

Emacs is full of incredible software concepts that haven’t hit the mainstream yet. For example:

  • Many platforms have a single item clipboard. Emacs has an infinite clipboard.
  • If you undo a change, and then continue editing, you can’t redo the original change. Emacs allows undoing to any historical state, even allowing tree-based exploration of history.
  • Emacs supports a reverse variable search: you can find variables with a given value.
  • You can perform structural editing of code, allowing you to make changes without breaking syntax. This works for lisps (paredit) and non-lisps (smartparens).
  • Many applications use a modal GUI: for example, you can’t do other edits during a find-and-replace operation. Emacs provides recursive editing that allow you to suspend what you’re currently doing, perform other edits, then continue the original task.

Emacs has a documentation culture. Emacs includes a usage manual, a lisp programming manual, pervasive docstrings and even an interactive tutorial.

Emacs has a broad ecosystem. If you want to edit code in a niche language, there’s probably an Emacs package for it.

Emacs doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and there are other great tools out there. Nonetheless, we believe the Emacs learning curve pays off.

Also check out the post by Per Abrahamsen from 2000, what's so fun about emacs? but keep in mind that it was also posted to the newsgroup alt.religion.emacs.

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