Adventures in Machine Learning

Mastering Emacs: Boost Your Productivity with Powerful Customization Options

As one of the oldest text editors still in use today, Emacs has earned a reputation for being a powerful tool for programmers and power users alike. While its steep learning curve may seem intimidating at first, its abundant customization options provide endless possibilities for streamlining your workflow and boosting productivity.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of installing and setting up Emacs on your preferred platform, explore its rich customization options via packages available on MELPA and PyPI, and provide some tips and tricks to help you get started.

Installation and Basics

The first step in getting started with Emacs is to install it on your computer. While the process can vary depending on your platform, it’s generally straightforward and well-documented online.

For Linux users, Emacs is available in most package repositories and can be installed with a single command. On Windows or macOS, simply download the latest version from the official website and follow the instructions provided.

Once Emacs is installed, it’s time to start learning the basics. Emacs uses a wide range of key bindings and commands to control its behavior, and while these may seem overwhelming at first, they quickly become second nature with practice.

Be sure to check out the built-in tutorial, which can be accessed by pressing the “Control-h t” keybinding. For Python users, Emacs provides built-in support for editing and debugging Python programs, making it a popular choice among developers in this field.

Customization Packages

One of the most powerful features of Emacs is its ability to be customized to suit your needs. This customization can take many forms, including key mappings, visual themes, and additional functionality provided by third-party packages.

One of the easiest ways to install and manage these packages is through the MELPA repository, a centralized collection of Emacs Lisp packages that can be installed with just a few lines of code. To get started with MELPA, add the package archive to your configuration file by adding the following lines of code:


(require ‘package)

(add-to-list ‘package-archives ‘(“melpa” .

“”) t)



Once MELPA is configured, you can easily search for and install packages using the package manager built into Emacs. Some popular packages include “helm” for enhanced file and buffer navigation, “flycheck” for real-time syntax checking, and “magit” for managing Git repositories directly from the editor.

In addition to third-party packages, there are also many built-in customization options available. These include visual themes, which can be installed with the “load-theme” command, and various settings to control the behavior of the editor.

For example, the “inhibit-startup-message” variable can be set to “t” to hide the startup screen and improve startup time, while the “global-linum-mode” variable turns on line numbers for all files by default.


Emacs remains a popular choice among programmers and power users thanks to its flexibility and customization options. While its steep learning curve may seem intimidating at first, the rewards are well worth the investment.

By following the tips and tricks presented in this article, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an Emacs power user in no time!

Emacs for Python Development With


Emacs is a versatile text editor with a long history and widespread use among programmers. Its features and customizability have made it a popular choice for software development, and it can be used for a wide range of programming languages, including Python.

With the

Elpy package, Emacs provides powerful and comprehensive IDE features for Python development, including automatic indentation, syntax checking, code completion, and more.


Elpy is a package for Emacs that adds powerful Python development features to the editor. It builds on top of several other packages, including Jedi, flake8, Pyflake, and Rope, to provide a comprehensive suite of tools for Python development.

Some of the features

Elpy provides include:

– Automatic indentation and insertion of closing brackets and quotes

– Syntax checking and error highlighting

– Code completion and suggestion of function arguments

– Display of function and class documentation in a tooltip

– Integrated debugging and testing support

To enable

Elpy, simply add the following line to your initialization file:




This will load the package and set up the necessary dependencies.

Development Setup


Elpy is enabled, you may notice that there are syntax errors marked in your code even if there are none. This is because

Elpy checks your code using flake8 by default.

flake8 is a Python package that provides a set of tools for code quality and style checking. To troubleshoot this issue, ensure that flake8 is properly installed on your system and that your code meets the recommended style guidelines.

Alternatively, you can disable syntax checking by modifying the configuration file:


(setq-default flycheck-disabled-checkers ‘(python-flake8))


This will disable syntax checking for the flake8 checker, which should remove the erroneous error highlighting for most users.

Additional Python Language Features

In addition to the features provided by

Elpy, there are many other packages available for Emacs that provide Python-specific functionality. These packages can help you improve your workflow, simplify coding tasks, and make your code more readable and maintainable.

Some of the most useful features include:

Syntax Checking

Syntax checking is an important aspect of Python development that ensures your code is free of errors and meets established coding standards. In addition to flake8, there are several other packages available for Emacs that provide syntax checking and error highlighting.

Flymake is an alternative to flake8 that provides real-time syntax checking directly in the editor. Pylint and Flake8 are widely used linting tools that enforce coding best practices and help identify potential bugs and performance issues.

Code Formatting

Code formatting is an important aspect of maintaining readable and maintainable code. YAPF and Autopep8 are popular tools for automatically formatting Python code according to established coding standards.

Emacs provides support for both packages, allowing you to format your code directly inside the editor.

Integration With Jupyter and IPython

Jupyter notebook and IPython provide powerful tools for interactive data analysis and visualization. Emacs can work in tandem with Jupyter and IPython via the jupyter.el package, which provides integration with these tools directly inside the editor.

With this package, you can execute code blocks, display graphs and plots, and take advantage of many interactive features of Jupyter notebook and IPython without leaving Emacs.

Testing Support

Python has a built-in testing framework called unittest, which provides a simple and powerful way to test your code. Emacs provides support for unittest via the built-in “python.el” package, as well as other popular testing frameworks such as nose and pytest.

With these packages, you can easily run tests and view the results within the editor.

Debugging Support

Debugging is an essential part of software development, and Emacs provides several packages for debugging Python code. The built-in pdb package provides basic debugging functionality, allowing you to set breakpoints, step through code, and view variable values.

Realgud is a more powerful debugging tool that supports many languages, including Python, and provides features such as breakpoint management, conditional breakpoints, and debugging multiple processes simultaneously.

Git Support

Version control is an important aspect of software development, and Emacs provides support for Git via the Magit package. With Magit, you can manage repositories and branches, stage and commit changes, and view differences between versions – all directly within the editor.


Emacs provides a wide range of features and tools for Python development, including the powerful

Elpy package. With its comprehensive IDE features, syntax checking, code formatting, testing, debugging, and Git support, Emacs is a strong choice for Python developers looking for a flexible and customizable text editor.

By incorporating these packages into your workflow, you can streamline your development process and tackle even the most complex coding challenges with ease.

Additional Emacs Modes

In addition to the powerful Python development features provided by Emacs and the

Elpy package, Emacs also boasts a wide range of modes for other programming languages, text markup formats, and more. Some notable modes are


ESS, and



Org-mode is a powerful and flexible mode for Emacs that provides tools for organizing notes, to-do lists, and more. It offers an extensive set of keyboard shortcuts for quickly navigating and manipulating text, as well as built-in support for exporting to formats such as HTML, LaTeX, and PDF.

Org-mode is particularly useful for writers, academics, and researchers, and can be used for tasks ranging from writing papers and taking notes to managing projects and tracking time.


ESS (Emacs Speaks Statistics) is a package for Emacs that provides an integrated environment for statistical programming languages such as R, SAS, and Stata. It features syntax highlighting, code completion, and more, as well as integration with popular statistical packages such as ggplot2 and lattice.

ESS provides a range of tools for data manipulation and analysis, making it a popular choice among data scientists and statisticians.


AUCTEX is a mode for Emacs that provides tools for editing and typesetting LaTeX documents. It features syntax highlighting, automatic indentation, and code folding, as well as support for working with BibTeX files and creating PDFs directly from the editor.

AUCTEX provides extensive customization options, allowing users to tailor the environment to their specific needs.


While Emacs remains a popular choice for its flexibility and customizability, there are several other options available for Python and other programming languages. Some notable alternatives to Emacs include

Python IDEs,

Vim, and

Sublime Text.

Python IDEs

Python IDEs such as PyCharm, Spyder, and Visual Studio Code provide comprehensive development environments tailored specifically to Python. They offer features such as code completion, debugging, and code profiling, as well as tools for managing virtual environments and package dependencies.

Python IDEs often provide built-in support for popular Python packages and frameworks, making it easy to get started with web development, data analysis, and more.


Vim is a text editor similar to Emacs in terms of its flexibility and customizability. However,

Vim has a different philosophy and user interface, with many users praising its minimalist approach to editing.

Vim features a wide range of keyboard shortcuts, macros, and commands for text manipulation, as well as built-in support for many programming languages and markup formats.

Sublime Text

Sublime Text is a popular text editor known for its speed and performance. It features a clean and intuitive interface, with support for multiple cursors and split views.

Sublime Text offers a wide range of plugins and packages for different languages, as well as tools for writing code snippets and macros. Its extensive customization options make it a powerful and versatile choice for programmers of all levels.


Emacs is a powerful and flexible tool for Python development and beyond, providing comprehensive IDE features and an unmatched degree of customizability. Its wide range of modes, including


ESS, and

AUCTEX, make it a versatile tool for writers, statisticians, and more.

While Emacs is a popular choice among programmers, there are several other options available for those looking for different design philosophies and feature sets, including

Python IDEs,

Vim, and

Sublime Text.


Emacs is a powerful and feature-rich code editor that offers a high degree of flexibility and customizability. Its extensive package library, including tools for Python development, data analysis, writing, and more, makes it a versatile tool for developers, writers, and researchers alike.

Its user interface takes some time to learn, but once the basics are mastered, its keyboard-driven shortcuts and commands provide efficient editing and navigation capabilities. One of the significant benefits of Emacs is that it is free, open source software developed as part of the GNU project.

This means that it is continually being refined and improved by a dedicated community of developers, ensuring its stability and compatibility with modern hardware and software. While Emacs’ learning curve may seem daunting at first, its built-in tutorial and vast online communities make it easy to get up and running quickly and effectively.

By taking advantage of the various customization options and modes available, users can tailor Emacs to their specific needs, whether for Python development, writing, data analysis, or more. Emacs is, without a doubt, not for everyone.

Its learning curve can be steep, and its customization options can be overwhelming. For those looking for a more turnkey solution, tools such as

Python IDEs,

Vim, and

Sublime Text might be a better fit.

Still, for those willing to invest the time and energy to master Emacs, the payoff can be significant in terms of increased productivity, efficiency, and satisfaction with their workflow. In conclusion, Emacs is a versatile, feature-rich code editor with a powerful range of customization options that make it well-suited for Python development and beyond.

With its sprawling package library, dedicated community, and extensive customization options, Emacs offers a powerful and customizable solution for programmers and power users alike. Whether you are new to Emacs or a seasoned veteran, there are always more features to explore and customization options to try, making this an excellent text editor for anyone looking for a powerful and customizable code editor.

In conclusion, Emacs is a powerful, feature-rich code editor that provides a high degree of flexibility and customization options to developers, writers, and research professionals. The wide range of modes and packages available for Emacs makes it well-suited for a variety of tasks, including Python development, writing, and data analysis.

While Emacs can have a steep learning curve, its benefits in terms of efficiency and productivity are significant. By investing the time and effort to master Emacs, users can optimize their workflow and create a personalized solution tailored to their needs.

Overall, Emacs is an essential tool for anyone looking for a versatile and customizable code editor.

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