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Emacs development updates

John Wiegley (he/him)

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Format: 24-min talk; Q&A: BigBlueButton conference room
Status: Q&A to be extracted from the room recordings

Duration: 23:22 minutes


In this talk, John Wiegley will briefly summarize important developments on the road to Emacs 30. He will not be able to answer questions right now, but you can post questions in the pad and he can follow up after the event.


Questions and answers

  • Q: Which changes in recent Emacs releases are you enjoying using?
    • A: I have really liked the visual-line-mode. I'm not sure how recent that is. Some of these features I've discovered quite late. The new display-line-number-mode, much faster. Native compilation. I do a lot of stuff in Emacs. Native compilation has brought the experience much closer to a modern app.
  • Q: What do you think the future in the area of artificial intelligence from the developer point of view?
    • A: I do use xinside Emacs quite a bit when doing development in other languages. Ex: working on ledger, haven't done a lot of C++ lately. Ex: comparing strings only up to the length of the shortest string. I think in terms of developer assistance, not having to keep all the libraries in memory... Like Rosetta Code ( That's a great database - code in different languages.
  • Q: What is the future of Emacs on macOS? I understand that there are too few developers for the platform. Is that still true?
    • A: I do not know exactly what the state of Emacs development on macOS is, but I have never suffered in any way, using Emacs on the Mac for decades.
  • Q:Why aren't you contributing to Emacs anymore? Lack of time, I guess?
    • A: Lack of free time
    • Draft? (story about describing what he wanted, and then someone ran it through ChatGPT and sent him Emacs Lisp code) <- ChatGPT example, may increase the efficiency of my free time
    • What was the language that you code in now?
  • Q: One of the tricky things about running emacs on android is do you use anything that requires extra packages ex, pdf-tools with mupdf? - org-roam with a database - playing music or video with mpd or mpv and bonga, elfeed. Do you run emacs turmux, Emacs apk, emacs in virtaul machine??? This is also the case on Emacs for windows but to a lesser degree 
    • A: (zaeph) We'll put a pin in this for Stefan afterwards.
  • Q: Will AUCTeX some day become the default TeX mode in Emacs? And, if so, when? :)
    • A: The downside of moving to core is that your release cycle is slowed down because you have to go through emacs-devel and the devel team. So it seems to be up to AUCTeX developers. This can be troublesome if a package develops rapidly.
  • Q: Do you use other IDEs for theorem proving work, notably VS Code for LEAN? Which languages and provers can/do you use Emacs for?
    • A: I have always used Emacs. 
  • Q: Can we see that AI-generated "Drafts"-like code anywhere?
  • Q: Wait, just a quick search over "Draft". Does that mean you're not using Org anymore?
    • okay, I am good now :)
  • Q: Speaking of which, do you ever hit the walls in terms of multithreading issues, and if so when doing what / in what cases?
  • Q: was [perl-mode] just abandonned or did cperl bring a new design ?
    • Not the speaker: I think someone just started a separate cperl-mode (based on c-mode) and many of us found it worked better, so switched to it.


  • Emacs 29 has been quite a success so far, 29.2 to be released soon
  • Thinking about starting Emacs 30 release cycle (emacs-30 will be cut and development will be frozen with only bugfixes going in); could take some time
  • Not a huge number of changing features, but still some interesting things
  • Android support - native Emacs on a tablet, etc.
  • Much better support for touchscreen devices (laptops and tablets)  Interesting, the original design of Hyperbole anticipated iPad-like devices with each node of information represented by a rounded square and interconnected in a knowledge graph like Org-roam does, so maybe we'll do some work in that direction.
  • There will be some support for LL(?)
  • perl-mode -> cperl-mode
  • byte-compiler will warn about more questionable constructs: empty macro bodies, etc.
  • Stefan Kangas is a new co-maintainer (and he'll be giving the next talk live)
  • Thanks John for all the news on Emacs and informative answers.

Transcript (unedited)

2 seconds. All right. I think we are live. Yes. So, hi again, everyone. I have the pleasure to welcome John Wiegley in person to this EmacsConf. Hi, John. Hello there. How are you doing, Leo? I am doing fantastic, and even more now that I am in a room with you because we've been, we were reminiscing with Sacha. So you had been there in person in 2013 And since we started doing those online, Juan, since 2019, I think you've always been online, right? Usually it's a pre-recorded video. I think this will be the first 1 I do live in a long time. You're right. I'm saying we are online right now, but I just meant pre-recorded video. So it's good to have you almost in person or at least live and we are excited to hear about some of the Emacs news. So the floor is yours. All right, well welcome everybody. This is the yearly state of the Emacs union, I guess, about how Emacs development is going. Just to note, I am not currently a maintainer of Emacs. So what I do to get these notes is I call up my friend, Eli Zaretsky, 1 of the current Emacs maintainers, and he and I sit down for an hour, and he just gives me his dump of what's been going on. So I'm sort of just the messenger here. But thanks to Eli for these notes and all of the efforts that he contributes. So what he's been telling me is that this Emacs 29 release that we had recently looks to have been very, very successful, which is some good news, because there were a lot of new features, and some of those features were actually quite radical. So far, it's been quite a success, no serious problems with it, and we have Emacs 29.2 will be released very soon. They are thinking now about starting the Emacs 30 release cycle soon after 29.2 is released, where the release branch, which is called Emacs-30 usually, will be cut and then development will become frozen with only bug fixes going into that branch. That may take quite some time until it actually comes to fruition as a release, but at least it means that the release is going to start taking shape in that branch soon. So, for now, Emacs 30 looks like maybe it's going to be a little less interesting than Emacs 29 was, meaning not a huge number of changing features. But there are still some new things going in. So 1 of them is that Emacs 30 is going to have Android support. So you will be able to run Emacs 30 on your Android devices. So if you've ever wanted to have native Emacs on a tablet, which I know I've always wanted, that will become possible with Emacs 30. There's also going to be much better support for touchscreen devices, coincidentally, both laptops and tablets. So that'll enhance that Android support. There will be some recently gained support for LLDB in GUD.dl. So if you're on a Mac OS machine or a machine that uses just LLVM as part of the compilation process, then you probably are familiar with LLDB as the command line debugger. And that support for using LLDB through a GUD will become possible in Emacs 30. I'm looking forward to this actually quite a bit as well. C Perl mode is being deprecated, and all future work now is only being put towards C Perl mode. Another 1 is that there are going to be some new major modes based on TreeSitter. They will be for the languages Lua, Elixir, and HTML. And if you're not familiar, I think TreeSitter was introduced in Emacs

  1. It's a library that allows you to specify
the grammar of a programming language as a BNF file, and I think using JavaScript, and then with that file as input to Emacs, it is then able to do syntax highlighting, syntax discovery, all of those things within Emacs without having to use elisp and regexps to discover the structure of the language. It defers the structure gathering to TreeSitter and then uses that information to navigate the language. So, As time goes on, you'll see more and more languages taking on TreeSetter support. So the next 3 coming up, Lua, Elixir, and HTML. And then the last feature for Emacs 30 is that the byte compiler will now detect and warn about many more questionable constructs. Things like empty macro bodies, missing lexical constructs, or say, condition case without any handlers. Just silly stuff that might litter the code, but now you'll get a warning about it from the byte compiler to help you clean up the code and get rid of those potential sites of error. So this is the main thing that will be worked on for Emacs 30 and what's looked like shaping up for the release. And also, he wanted me to announce that Stefan Kongas is now a new co-maintainer. And Stefan is, I believe, here with us in the conference and he'll be able, I hope, to help me answer any questions about future Emacs development because I'm not in the heat of it and don't have all those answers at the moment. So That is all there is as far as a development update for now. And I am available to take any questions. All right. Thank you so much, Sean, for being the messenger of all this good news. I mean, you did start by saying this would not be as exciting, perhaps, as prior releases of Emacs, but you then proceeded to say a lot of stuff that it felt very exciting to me. So good, good. Glad to hear that. Right. So we do have questions coming in already and again people the link is on IRC and also on the talks page if you want to start asking questions. So John what I'm going to do I'm going to read you the questions and then you can answer them. Is that okay with you? Absolutely. So starting with the first question which changes in recent Emacs releases are you enjoying using? I have really liked the visual line mode. I'm not sure how recent that is. Some of these features I only discovered quite late, the new display line number functionality, where it's much, much, much faster, and of course, native compilation. Native compilation has been quite brilliant for some of the larger packages that I use. I do a lot of stuff in Emacs. I use GNU's, I use E-Shell, I use Org Mode quite a lot. So native compilation has brought the user experience much closer to a modern app than some of the lagging and slowness that I might have experienced in the past. Definitely. Moving on to the next question. What do you think the future in the area of artificial intelligence from the developer point of view? Could you say that 1 more time? Your voice broke up a little bit. Oh, sorry. What do you think the future in the area of artificial intelligence from the developer point of view? Could you say that 1 more time? Your voice broke up a little bit. Oh, sorry. What do you think the future in the area of artificial intelligence from the developer point of view? It's also a shaky question, I think, but you get the point. I do use chat-gpt-shell inside of Emacs quite a bit, actually, when doing development in other languages. Just the other day, I was working on my Ledger accounting program, and I haven't done a lot of C++ in recent years. So I had forgotten how to exactly compare 2 strings only up to the length of the shortest string. I know I could have cranked that out just writing it C style, but I didn't remember what the current state of the art is for C++ and the STL. So I just asked chatGPT. I asked the exact question that I just said to you and sure enough it popped out the one-liner that was exactly what I needed. So I think in terms of developer assistance, not having to keep all of standard libraries or common idioms in memory. I don't know if other people are familiar with Rosetta Stone projects. They're projects where you have say a hundred different languages and there's a particular question, say, how do I read a file and copy it to another location? And then it has an instance of doing that activity for every 1 of those languages. That's a great database, and I've used them quite a bit in the past for remembering how to do certain things, say, converting a string to UTF-8. I think that AI does a great job of completely replacing the need for databases like that because you can just ask how do I copy a convert a string to UTF-8. Yeah exactly and you know especially with languages which are tried well tried you know it's very easy to get an answer that is correct. But sometimes what I find bothersome with this type of coding, I think it's AI-aided coding, but it's still coding, is that, especially with C languages, sometimes you're going to end up with undefined behaviors and stuff like this just because other people have been doing it, not because the algorithm or the model was trained with data that dates back to 10 years ago. At the time, C++ was a little different. Anyway, I'm not here to talk, you are here to talk. Moving on to the next question. People already get to hear my voice plenty, whereas yours are much sparser. All right. So, what is the future of Emacs on macOS? I understand that there are too few developers for the platform. Is that still true? That's a good question. I don't know what the current statistics are. I've been a user of Emacs on Mac OS for decades now. It feels like the, There's also that Mac port version of Emacs, which builds Emacs more directly using the GUI libraries on the platform. That continues to be updated with every single new release that comes out. So I'd say that the support may not be as great as it is on Linux and other platforms, but to this day I haven't suffered from being a Mac user. Great. The only thing I remember about Emacs on macOS was that emojis made it inside the GUI first before they did it anywhere else. That's the 1 anecdote that I have on MacOS. Right. And historically that feature was removed in order to prevent Mac from having features that Linux did not. I didn't want to go into that point. I just wanted to mention the beginning of the anecdote and people can find it out. But yes, that's also what it led to. Moving on to the next question. Why aren't you contributing to Emacs anymore? Lack of time, I guess? Lack of time, primarily. Work has been very consuming. There are a lot of other projects and things that I like doing. I still find Emacs Lisp very, very fun to write. Just the other day, I was hacking up some extension macros for myself for org mode. But to have the time needed to sit down and design a whole new mode and work on it. I've been spending a lot of my time now in functional languages, especially theorem provers. I just find that so intellectually satisfying and interesting. Plus it pays a lot better. Never had a paying job as an Emacs list developer. So when it comes to now just being a fun language or a hobby language, it is relegated to the time that I have free when it's available. Right. Well, the good thing is that it's kind of like riding a bicycle, you know, writing a major mode, it comes back relatively quickly and still enjoyable. You know, the other day, actually, I took notes on a mode that I wanted to write. There's an app I use on the Mac called drafts, and I really love it. I use it all the time. I wanted to mimic the interface of this app in Emacs. So I could use Emacs as my drafts application rather than this separate 1. So I noted down all the different user parameters and how it should function and everything to describe the app to myself as sort of notes to get me started on that work when I did have free time to work on it. Somebody out there on the internet just saw these notes, because I keep a lot of my stuff on GitHub. They fed it to chat GPT, going back to your AI question. And they actually sent back to me a mode that implemented everything that I had said, which was effectively, chat GPT, seeing that what I had described was clear enough for it to derive most of the code that I would have wanted to write. So maybe, maybe another thing that AI can do is it can increase the value, the efficiency of my free time. Exactly. I think that's a wonderful point. And phrasing it as efficiency of free time is great because you still have the expertise, obviously, that you're mobilizing into the design that you're formulating to charge DPT, but then this expertise is turned into something that actually works. Perhaps we're all going to become software architects at some point, and then the busy work of actually coding the library and the software will be relegated to AI. That's an interesting future where we still, however, need to acquire the skills to know what is code, I suppose. But that's an interesting future to think of. A fairly long question. So 1 of the tricky things about running Emacs on Android is do you use anything that requires extra packages? Example like PDF tools with new PDF or going with a database, playing music or video with MPD or MPV on Bonga, LFeed. Do you run Emacs Termex, Emacs APK, Emacs in virtual machine? This is also the case on Emacs for Windows to a lesser degree. So summarizing, how do you make Emacs work on Android if you do not have the synergy of stuff that you usually find on Linux systems like MPV and all the fancy applications like this? It's a good question. Since I'm not an Android user and I've never tried running Emacs on Android platforms, I'm not sure what's available out there to plug Emacs into. I mean, effectively, that question comes down to external dependencies and system support. That would be a great question for Stefan or somebody who has tried using Emacs, the development version of Emacs on Android. Great. We'll put a pin in this for Stéphane afterwards. Great, so moving on to the next question. Will Org Tech someday become the default tech mode in Emacs? And if so, when? Will Org what become? Org Tech, you know, the LaTeX mode. I do not know. It's been a while since I've done LaTeX. It must have been like 4 years, but it was a pretty, the major mode for editing documents, like the state of the art for editing latex documents in Emacs. And apparently it's not default. I assume there's latex mode or something that is doing it. So were you saying octech, like A-U-C tech? Oh, did I not pronounce the C? Octech, yes. I thought you said org tech. I wasn't familiar with that. Octech is the only 1 I've ever used. I know there is a built-in LaTeX mode, but I've never used it. I always just download whatever the latest version of Org Tech is and use that. I don't know why it's not a standard package. Becoming a standard package has its own costs for the development cycle because it slows down release cycle quite a bit. It's now you have to create PRs that are reviewed by the Emacs Devel mailing list. It is a little more inertia. Of course, it gets you more distribution because it's a default package now, and everybody can be using that. But it's not something every developer decides to do. It took a few years, in fact, to get usePackage into Emacs core. And that only happened after it was so stable that it really wasn't receiving many changes anymore. Yeah, yeah it's it's the thing when you move into core you lose a lot of your agility in terms of how you're writing the code or how you expand code. That's why you have this vibrant community on Melpa compared to core but you know it doesn't necessarily ought to be this way it could be a little different you know And it feels like there's this repetition between repartition, sorry, between people developing for the core of Emacs and people developing on Melpa, but at the end of the day those 2 groups are constantly talking to 1 another and taking cues from 1 another as well. So that's great. And there's of course... May I jump in about this particular question because I think I mean You know, Org Mode doesn't really have any problems with releases Correct. Just because it's distributed with Emacs so there is a difference between being in the core proper and being distributed with Emacs. And for something like use packages, it's really necessary to be in the core. But for something like major mode, it's a bit easier. That's a very very good point. Yeah, I'd forgotten about that distinction. Org mode does advance pretty rapidly and then it makes releases into the core distribution. Gianni, I believe you also wanted to say something before someone started jumped in with a question do you happen to remember okay that's fine I lost her to lost to their time I'll be moving on to the next question then and by the way feel free to interrupt us you know The whole point of this discussion is for you to ask questions to John Wheatley. So whether it be via the other pad or via BBB, choose your weapon. All right, moving on to the next question in the meantime. And we have about 7 minutes left of Q&A and then we'll be moving on to Stéphane. So, do you use other IDEs for theorem proving work, notably VS Code for Lean? Which languages and provers can or do you use Emacs for? I've only used Emacs. I've used Emacs for working with ACL 2, Coq, Agda, and Lean, and I really love Proof-General. Coq is my favorite language to be working in. Agda has really great support as well, has a very nice Emacs mode. I'm only just now starting to get into Lean
  1. So I have everything installed,
but I haven't really started coding in earnest. I'm still reading a lot of the tutorials and learning a bit about the language. There was a while there where I used a IDE for ACL 2 that was outside of Emacs, only because it was the same IDE all my co-workers were using and it was easier to share tips and tricks with them. But yeah, no, I found Emacs to be a great home for doing theorem proving. Right. Next question. Can we see that AI generated draft? You know what you mentioned before about the draft that you then fed into ChargPT? Do you happen to have this draft anywhere? Let me see if it's still on GitHub. Just take me 1 second to take a look here. Take your time. The problem is I don't quite remember where I made the note. But no, I don't see it on GitHub, so I don't have it readily at hand. Well, that's fine. We'll be able to... Well, if you happen to find it, we'll make sure to add it on the pad and then on the talks page. And I think we would all be interested to see what this design document that actually made something work afterwards in JudgeDPT with Elisp. I'm very interested to see what it would do because I tend to be very interested about this type of stuff I had generated but I never thought about doing it with Elisp because somehow it feels like 2 different worlds, like Elisp is kind of from the past, don't going me wrong, I love it and I use it every day But it's 2 different parts of my brain that I didn't think about linking. So I'd be very excited to see this as well. Moving on to the next question. Oh, go on, please. I did find it. I'm gonna have to give it to you as a link here. Sure, you can do it on the blue button and I'll put it on the pad. I put it into the public chat for Bibi. Yes. So if anyone is interested, I'm putting it right in the answer to the question right here on my screen. So feel free to click on it and explore it. I'm kind of curious, so I'm gonna... Can I click it on stream and can we look at it a little bit together? Sure, sure. I haven't tried running it, I can't say for its fitness, but it's definitely enough of the groundwork done that it's absolutely an assistance. Right. Okay, so it's loading up right now? You can see my webcam, right? I can see your browser attempting to load. There we go. Okay, cool. So I'm not sure what GitHub is doing. Let me give it a little more room. The reactive setup is not working too well. Oh, I see. You're viewing the... I see. Can I see the file then? I should be able to see the file. I think he just mentions the code in that comment. So if there's a way to view only the comment it would make it clear. Right. Okay. I'm loading the file separately. I'm checking the time. We have about 3 minutes left and I think we have a question. In the meantime, whilst I show this, I'm gonna launch another question, which was about Drafts. You are carrying, you're talking about Drafts, but does that mean you're not using org anymore? Oh, no, I use org all the time. In fact, the way that I've configured drafts is that after I type the thing in the note into drafts, I hit a key and it creates an org mode capture item for it. The reason why I use Drafts instead of Emacs is because it's always available. If Emacs is currently doing some job for me, say I'm running some long-running subshell and the UI is frozen up whatnot, Drafts is always 100% of the time instantly available. So that's why I tend to then lean on it a bit, but all of the destination of that data is still Org Mode and everything that I do gets tracked through Org Mode. That's also why I wanted to implement the UI scheme of drafts in Emacs so that I could drop the use of this external application. And then, I mean, I would still have the problem of sometimes Emacs being unavailable, but I would pay that price in order to have that good UI of drafts inside Emacs. Great. I think we have, we might be too tight on time. We only have about 2 minutes and I need to jump room to go into Stephane's room as well. So John, where I get to thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, but also doing a little bit of reporting on the state of Emacs. And now we'll get to continue this with Stéphane. So do you have any last words for everyone, John? No, no. I look forward to hearing Stéphane speak. Okay, great. And we'll look forward, potentially, to having you again next year, potentially still doing news like this, and, fingers crossed, maybe having you live again. Maybe, maybe let's see what happens. All right, John. Thank you so much. Bye bye. Bye bye.

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