rde Emacs introduction

Andrew Tropin (he/him, IRC: abcdw, https://trop.in)

In this talk, Andrew Tropin will demonstrate how to use rde Emacs for reproducible configuration, including how to enable or remove features. Afterwards, he will handle questions over BigBlueButton.

The following image shows where the talk is in the schedule for Sun 2022-12-04. Solid lines show talks with Q&A via BigBlueButton. Dashed lines show talks with Q&A via IRC or Etherpad.

Format: 24-min talk followed by live Q&A (done)
Etherpad: https://pad.emacsconf.org/2022-rde
Discuss on IRC: #emacsconf-dev

Times in different timezones:
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~10:00 AM - 10:25 AM EST (US/Eastern)
which is the same as:
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~9:00 AM - 9:25 AM CST (US/Central)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~8:00 AM - 8:25 AM MST (US/Mountain)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~7:00 AM - 7:25 AM PST (US/Pacific)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~3:00 PM - 3:25 PM UTC
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~4:00 PM - 4:25 PM CET (Europe/Paris)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~5:00 PM - 5:25 PM EET (Europe/Athens)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~8:30 PM - 8:55 PM IST (Asia/Kolkata)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~11:00 PM - 11:25 PM +08 (Asia/Singapore)
Monday, Dec 5 2022, ~12:00 AM - 12:25 AM JST (Asia/Tokyo)
Find out how to watch and participate


00:00.000 Introduction 00:52.040 The challenge 03:34.840 Functional package managers 05:04.920 Guix Home 07:20.360 rde 08:15.520 Vanilla-flavoured 11:37.440 Removing features 13:52.520 Another example 15:14.080 Multiple steps 16:54.400 A small Emacs configuration 18:07.480 Enabling features 22:19.000 Summary


00:29.720 Do you use this to have multiple configs running side by side for live comparison? 02:16.760 Are you using Guix System, or Guix on top of another distro? If System, any tips? 03:25.560 One of the issues I've had managing Emacs packages with Guix is a conflict between the Guix package ethos (read-only) and the Emacs package ethos (hackable in real-time). Any suggestions to resolve this? 05:40.800 What is next for rde? 08:08.100 Do you use Emacs without this? If so, for what purposes, and how does it feel compared to rde? 11:07.220 Are there any plans to push things from rde to guix's main channel? 13:34.220 How difficult is it to add support for new Emacs packages to Guix? 15:36.340 Do your reckon RDE is currently opinionated? Or is it a one size fits all framework? 18:19.020 How to get into RDE? Is there already documentation/getting started guide? 20:35.420 Can you mix RDE with custom emacs init file?

Listen to just the audio:


rde Emacs is a vanilla-flavored distribution of Emacs, which intergates well with your OS, WM and rest of the environment. It's built on top of Guix Home project and allows to manage not only elisp packages and configurations, but other dependencies like operating system packages, user program configurations in a declarative and reproducible manner.

You don't need to follow complicated installation instructions, apply workarounds and be afraid of updates: just do it, update rde, throw some custom elisp code, declare and customize features you need or want to try in a simple lisp (Scheme) file and you will get it. Don't like the result? Just rollback to previous generation and EVERYTHING will work as before. Once you make it to your liking, it will work forever*, even if you move to a new laptop/workstation.



  • Thank you. Super cool that you started guix home. (:

Questions and answers

  • Q: Do you use this to have multiple configs running side by side for live comparison?
    • A: Yes, two separate configs. (more capture TBD)
  • Q: Are you using Guix System, or Guix on top of another distro?  If System, any tips?  I tried Guix System, but found getting started was very difficult due to lacking WiFi firmware and incomplete documentation.
    • A: Yes he uses Guix system and package manager. RE: WiFi: First option is to buy a wifi adaptor that doesn't require proprietary firmware.
  • Q: One of the issues I've had managing Emacs packages with Guix is a conflict between the Guix package ethos (read-only) and the Emacs package ethos (hackable in real-time). Any suggestions to resolve this?
    • A: There is an interactive/live workflow for editing emacs configuration, which kinda similiar to usual, but you persist your changes from time to time and rebuild the configuration to apply those persisted changes for new emacs instances.
  • Q: What is next for rde?
    • A: Short term plan is to prepare more documentation, getting started guide, live CD to explore system. Also would like to find maintainers to help. 
  • Q: Do you use emacs without this? If so, for what purposes, and how does it feel compared to rde?
    • A: No, I don't use emacs outside of RDE. There's a way to add mostly anything in your emacs config into RDE.But doesn't use it because it isn't reproducible. Can break between machines.
  • Q: Are there any plans to push things from rde to guix's main channel?
    • A: Would like to push some things upstream but can't always fit patches 
  • Q: How difficult is it to add support for new Emacs packages to Guix?  Have you found that's burdensome vs. package.el or other in-Emacs package management approaches?
    • A: Packaging elisp for guix isn't hard at all, in most cases it's really easy. Sending patches is a little more involved, but also not rocket science :)
  • Q: Do your reckon RDE is currently opinionated? Or is it a one size fits all framework?
    • A: It's vanilla-flavored and kinda opinionated at the same time, but everyone free to use whatever parts/features fits them, also they free to implement or use implemented by others features, which can fit better for them than original rde's features.
  • Q: How to get into RDE? Is there already documentation/getting started guide?
    • There is an example configuration and link to slightly sparse manual at https://git.sr.ht/~abcdw/rde, you can ask question

      tropin at libera.chat.

  • Q: Can you mix RDE with custom emacs init file?
    • Yes, you can, but it will add irreproducibility to your setup.

Other discussions from IRC:

  • Easy reliable rollbacks is definitely one of the things I love about nix and guix
  • Yes! It is great to know that stuff is hard to mess up. This leads to more fun experimenting.


[00:00:00.000] Hello and welcome everyone at EmacsConf 2022. I'm Andrew Tropin, and today we will talk about my Emacs setup. I will tell you the story behind it. We will discuss what rde and rde Emacs are, and we'll make a small Emacs configuration. My original motivation was to have a ready for work development environment which is reliable and guaranteed to work every time I need it, preferably performant and consistent. I say development environment, but it actually applies to many other working environment, especially text-heavy.

[00:00:52.040] An easy and obvious solution is to pick one of existing configuration frameworks like Spacemacs, Doom Emacs, Prelude, or something else, and to get a pre-configured Emacs in a minute with all bells and whistles. But the problem is: only Emacs. In reality, your working environment consists not only from elisp packages, but also from system packages and their configurations, project libraries, compilers, building tools, etc., and thus you already have at least three, or more likely, five things for managing your environment: configuration, Emacs configuration framework, Emacs package manager, system package manager, system/dot files configuration manager, project/language package manager and maybe something else. Even having our Emacs configuration and package manager covered by framework we still have a lot of things which we have to interact with, keep in sync, and more importantly, each of them can break. But by "works every time," I mean even if I updated my system packages, configurations, I migrated to a different machine, someone on my team updated project dependencies, I can get back to work in a matter of seconds, or maybe in some cases, minutes. If I have multiple tools for managing my environment and even one of them is broken, the whole setup is broken. Also, if one of them doesn't support deterministic rollback, I can't guarantee the reliability of my working environment. I can't be sure that I will be able to rescue or revive it. The less points of failure we have, the easier to stay sane. Imagine some late breakage notice when you did update a few hours or days ago and found it later, and you have a few different tools involved. It will be really hard to find the cause and to make everything work again.

[00:03:34.840] Is it possible to have one tool to cover all the needs I described above? Yes, almost. With this tool, you can get a reliable setup. Now, I talk about functional package managers. Functional package managers allow us to manage systems, users, Emacs, project/ language packages, and their configurations. But more importantly, it allows to do it in a declarative and reproducible manner. That means you just define what you need, and those tools build it for you. No matter what was before, you get what you asked for. It doesn't matter what time of day, what you did before, what other packages you have installed previously. You just ask for something, and you get it. Two years ago, I did a talk at EmacsConf 2020 where I demonstrated a prototype of Emacs configuration managed by Nix. Originally, I wanted to base my work on an already existing Emacs configuration framework. But later, I decided that it will be easier and a little more flexible to start from ground up.

[00:05:04.920] After the first prototype in Nix, I decided to switch to Guix. To make it short, Guix is another functional package manager, but more freedom- and reproducibility-oriented, and written in only one language (Guile Scheme) instead of few custom-made Nix DSL, Bash, and C++. So now I can write Lisp code, while this code writes another Lisp code. Very neat indeed. Unfortunately, at the moment, there was no tool to manage user configurations, also known as dotfiles, with Guix. So I wrote one. And now it's a part of GNU Guix and called Guix Home. What do we get from this one tool? We can use one language to describe the whole system, the home environment, the project environment, and everything else. We don't need to worry about to keep different tools in sync and to integrate them between each other. Also, using one language to describe the whole configuration makes it possible to share values between different parts of the system. For example, color scheme, fonts, and much more. To sum up the first part of the talk: I want a working environment which is ready for work, configured in minutes to almost what I want. That means it should have some batteries included. It should be reliable. I want to get back to work in seconds even if I broke something or someone else broke something. For example, using rollbacks. It would be nice if it will be performant. It's a little subjective thing, but it's nice when things are snappy. And it's cool when things are consistent. Different interfaces have the same way of interactions with them.

[00:07:20.360] Let's get to the next part, and let's discuss what rde is. Originally it was my dotfiles repo, but it grew into something bigger. Now, it's a set of tools on top of GNU Guix, Guix System, and Guix Home. You can treat it as a GNU/Linux distribution, system and home environment manager or configuration framework, project environment manager (like virtualenv, but on steroids), and Emacs distribution. Usually, you just pick a few features, parameterize them and ask the tool to create an operating system for you, a home environment, project environment, or Emacs configuration. That's it. That's simple.

[00:08:15.520] And what rde Emacs is and how it tastes... It's like an ice cream, vanilla-flavored. No fancy macros for configuration, just plain Elisp. You can find in almost every personal Emacs configuration, built-in or vanilla-flavored packages are in priority over external or very fancy packages. There is practical reason for this. Maybe sometimes you don't get the things you're used to in other text editors, or maybe even in other Emacs frameworks, but we want to keep the final result consistent, so you can apply the same interaction patterns in different situations and extend your expectations from one tool to another, from one package to another. For example, we encourage people to use the minibuffer completion with orderless and vertico for many tasks: code navigation, file navigation, looking through your emails, or just for jumping around. Let's see. First, create a new Emacs instance and open a repository with my configuration. You can see the source code. Let's open another file which contains Emacs-related features. You can see I use imenu, and I can filter the list using minibuffer. Now let's open the Magit interface, and now I want to navigate through this long list of things here. Some of them staged. Some of them are recent commits. Some of them are untracked at all. I can open imenu: the same interface, but for now, I can navigate around the Magit sections and files which are present here. If I want to navigate project files, I use almost the same interface. I can use the same patterns to filter out files in my project or items in magit-imenu. Very similar and very consistent. Also, we try to have hotkeys consistent across different packages and parts of Emacs. We usually don't provide alternatives on what to use. We provide only one package for one task. But of course this is a configuration framework after all. You can declare your own features, implement them yourself, and use whatever you want.

[00:11:37.440] Let's get to some real-world examples. It's always easy to show how things get appended, how things get installed, but usually people don't show how they remove things, because it's usually painful. But in our case, it's not. Let's take my configuration, let's find feature-emacs-vertico. Vertico's just used to show this fancy completion UI that you can see here. If I disable this feature and rebuild my home environment, Emacs will lack this feature. It may take some time. It was quite fast, I didn't expect it. I have Emacs. As you can see here, now it doesn't have this completion UI anymore. I just commented it out, rebuilt my home environment, and this thing disappeared from Emacs. But what if I broke something? I just call guix home roll-back command and launch Emacs again, and you see now we have vertico back. Very good. Reliability is one of the most important qualities of working environment. We can always get back to the working state of our environment and be sure that we do the things we want.

[00:13:52.520] Now let's see another example. Here I have a mastodon, a post which contains a gemini link. I can click it, and you see it opens emacsclient, it renders this gemini capsule, and we can read all the posts of this guy. Very cool. But what if I go back to my configuration, we'll find a feature related to elpher, the application which handles gemini links, we'll comment it out, and we'll rebuild my home environment. What I expect here is that when I will be clicking the link, emacsclient won't pop up anymore. Cool. We rebuilt it and let's click the link. Now you see, it just opens another tab which doesn't do anything useful. Cool.

[00:15:14.080] Why it is important? It is important because every time you install something and you want to remove it, some parts depending on it can be broken. And also important in the other way around. Sometimes you want to install something, and it requires a few steps. For example, if you want to have a docker.el in your Emacs, you need not only docker.el itself and configuration for it, you also need to add your user to the docker group. But before it, you need to create this group, and you also need to define a system service and run it. Also you need to install docker package, docker-cli package, and containerd package. You can forget every of this small step, but if it in your declarative configuration in one place, and you just ask to enable this feature, each of those steps will be performed automatically. If you don't need docker anymore, you just disable the feature, and all the effect of all those steps will be removed from your system. I won't be showing it because it probably will take more time for reconfiguring, but you can experiment with it on your own.

[00:16:54.400] Let's do another interesting thing. Let's construct a small Emacs configuration from scratch. Who's this? I will open a file which contains only emacs-portable feature and feature-user-info. Now I will build an environment, and inside this environment, I will launch a new Emacs instance. As you see, it's very different from what you saw previously. And it's almost barebones. It doesn't contain anything except user-mail-address which is set to my mail address, and user-full-name. How it works: In feature-user-info, I define a few values. Those values are obtained by Emacs feature-emacs-portable and set inside Emacs configuration.

[00:18:07.480] But let's enable a few more features. I will do it in one go because we already saw how it works overall. Let's build another Emacs with Emacs configuration. The interesting thing about this Emacs instance is that it doesn't contain anything that I have in my usual Emacs. For example, I don't have much here. I don't have make installed, and so on. But we have feature-loader-portable package which just requires a few configure packages. Let's move it to a separate workspace. First of all, configure-rde-emacs-portable which just sets a few variables. rde configure-keycast which just shows something on the modeline which demonstrates the last hotkey pressed and the command which was invoked. We can enable which-key, and now when I type a prefix, I can see all the possible continuations for this prefix. I can enable vertico, and you can see, now we have nice completion UI. We can enable completion-related improvements and now I have not only UI itself, but also some notes here near each command, and ability to use regular expressions or some orderless matching. We can enable eshell, and now I have a hotkey for invoking Emacs shell. I don't have hotkey for vterm yet, but I can enable it, and now I have a terminal inside my Emacs. As you can see my usual shell is Zsh, but here I have a plain bash. Let's enable feature-git, and now I will be able to open my project. And inside this project, I will be able to open Magit and navigate around using imenu. Let's do few more things. Let's enable Org Roam so I will be able to open my EmacsConf notes. Let's enable configure-emacs. As you can see, the way it displayed updated. Let's enable configure-appearance, and you see the appearance of Emacs changed radically. And also, let's change the faces. And now you see almost my setup that you saw previously, but we build it from small tiny pieces.

[00:22:19.000] A little summary: rde is the one tool that you can use to manage the whole computing experience. It consists of composable components, and actually, it provides a reliable configuration framework. You always have a rollback. You always can switch to a generation you used a week ago. And of course, it's reproducible and declarative which is also very cool. rde Emacs is a part of rde but it can be used separately. You can think of it as an Emacs distribution which is vanilla-flavored, consistent, well-integrated, and self-contained. That's it for today. Don't hesitate to contact me via email or any other way. Thank you everyone for your attention and see you in a bit.

Captioner: sachac

Questions or comments? Please e-mail emacsconf-org-private@gnu.org

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