Emacs Stack


Emacs is an incredibly useful piece of software, but the default configuration is difficult to use, and makes it difficult to appreciate the capabilities of the program, understand how to customize the environment, or even use the software effectively for basic text editing tasks. Once you become familiar with Emacs and have begun to customize it yourself, the rational for the “no default configuration,” becomes clear, but it’s difficult to get to this point and there’s no good reason to leave would-be emacs users to fend for themselves.

The “emacs-stack”, then, provides a good example configuration that users may find helpful as an example of how to manage a large and complex emacs configuration, and a set of good, working defaults derived from tycho’s working configuration. In contrast to some other attempts to provide a good introductory default to emacs, this “distribution,” of emacs code does not attempt to package emacs itself, nor does it attempt to deliver an emacs experience designed to be easy to learn for users of another system or environment. Rather, the emacs-stack presents a faithful example of a real “working” emacs configuration.

The distribution contains a directory named emacs/ that contains all emacs lisp files and a makefile that manages installation, removal, and byte-compilation of the emacs configuration. Most of the files in this distribution are publicly available and freely licensed packages, but there are a number of files that configure key-bindings, configure variables and settings, and provide some custom “glue functions” that are original to this configuration.


The latest release is always available at http://download.cyborginstitute.net/emacs-config.tar.gz.

You can always view past archival releases by visiting http://download.cyborginstitute.net/, where releases reflect the full commit hash of the stack project git repository (github).

Please submit an issue to the mailing list if you’d would like to see a more formal release process or numbering system.

Points of Interest

  • tycho- files contain specific configuration and integration of the emacs packages into the “stack.” Of particular note are tycho-emacs.el and tycho-init.el: tycho-emacs.el contains the core configuration, while tycho-init.el guides the initialization process for running multiple instances of emacs’ daemon mode with different configurations.
  • tycho-keybinding.el holds most of the keybindings. Review this file before using emacs-stack to become familiar with the interface.
  • config/ the files in config, provide the “gateway” in the initialization process to all of the tycho- files. All the files reflect a hostname for one of your systems, and make it possible have machine specific configuration. The makefile will a file from this directory to your systems ~/.emacs file.
  • makefile will byte-compile all files in the distribution, create a host specific file in the config/ directory, archive your current ~/.emacs file, and create a symbolic link to your new emacs config.

Setup and Customization

See the downloads page for a link to the latest tarball with a copy of the emacs-stack release. Download this file, using the following command:

wget http://download.cyborginstitute.net/emacs-stack.tar.gz

Then extract the archive:

tar -xxv emacs-stack.tar.gz

Then run the make process to install the new configuration.

make install

When complete the script will archive your existing ~/.emacs file in your home directory and ~/.emacs will be a symbolic link that points to a file in emacs/config/, and all emacs lisp files will be byte-compiled.

You can edit any of the emacs lisp files as ended for your configuration. Run the following make operation at any point after changing the lisp files to update the byte-compiled files:

make byte-compile

Continue reading for more information on the specific opportunities for customization and components of the emacs-stack.

Internal Overview

Many of the files included in the distribution are third-party libraries and scripts. The files in the config/ directory, and all files beginning with tycho- provide the integration and originate with this distribution.


There is no guarantee that any of the emacs lisp included in this package is: bug free, up to date, or unavailable through other means.

The following list introduces the core components of the emacs stack, that create the entire experience


Contains all machine specific configuration. Ideally, these files are all unique to the machine, but there is some duplication in practice.

Your user account’s ~/.emacs file should be a symlink to this file.

Do not insert lisp into this file unless it causes an inter-system compatibility issue.


This file controls the initialization process, and grows out of a need to maintain two or more emacs daemon instances on the same system with different desktop (i.e. state) systems.


This is the core configuration file, and most of the other tycho- files are required from this file. At some point in the distant history all of the tycho- files were in this file, now tycho-emacs.el contains (require) calls and sets a number of variables and settings.


Contains all visual modifications to emacs’ display and font selection. Implemented as a series of functions the init file requires this file and then calls one of these functions during the display process.

Alternatively, you may, use your ~/.Xdefaults file with the following lines to control your Emacs appearance a bit more cleanly:

Emacs.font: inconsolata:pixelsize=14:antialias=true:hinting=true
Emacs.pane.menubar.font: inconsolata:pixelsize=14:antialias=true:hinting=true

Provides some fairly significant wrappers around Deft, similar to the code in tycho-ikiwiki.el.


In most cases, the tycho-keybindings.el file specifies all custom keybindings that don’t directly relate or depend on other code. For instance org-relgated bindings are stored in tycho-org.el.

All other tycho- files contain simple wrappers and configuration around otherwise unmodified lisp files and packages obtained from third party sources. Comments may be sparce, but feel free to open an inquiry on lists.cyborginstitue.net for a documentation and/or commenting enhancement.

tychoish, Personal Stack

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