Trying out Spacemacs

December 14, 2014 / Mad Coding, Vim, Emacs, Spacemacs

I just might convert to using Emacs + Evil after using Vim for ages. I recently learned about Spacemacs while reading stuff on Hacker News. Spacemacs puts together a nice Emacs package already set up for Vim users to feel pretty comfortable. Evil mode looked interesting to me because I much prefer Vim’s editing method than a bunch of C-x or M-x that takes my hands off the home row.

Getting Started With Spacemacs

Installation for Spacemacs is easy. Just follow the installation instruction and git clone to ~/.emacs.d. On Arch Linux, installing Emacs is also easy:

pacman -S emacs

I mainly do my editing in my terminal rather than using the GUI version of Vim. To get the same thing with Emacs you would run it with the -nw parameter:

emacs -nw

With Spacemacs and perhaps Emacs, the command line interface looks fairly ugly so I might start using the GUI version.

Moving around in Evil mode feels comfortable with its modal editing and keys already set up to mimic Vim. Below I detail some of the things I used to do in Vim and how to now do them with Emacs/Spacemacs.

Hard Wrap to 80 Characters

When I write blog entries I typically will enable hard wrapping in Vim to 80 characters via:

:set textwidth=80

Then I might highlight lines and reformat them with gq if I had written things prior to setting textwidth or I need to trigger hard wrap manually.

With Emacs, hard wrapping is called “filling”. This page was helpful for me in getting the right behaviour out of Emacs.

In Emacs, to get the same behaviour, you’ll want to turn on auto-fill-mode. Typically this is done in Emacs with:

M-x auto-fill-mode

With Spacemacs, M-x is mapped to SPC : where SPC means the space bar. So to turn auto-fill on or off, you would type:

SPC : auto-fill-mode

Afterwards to set the textwidth in Emacs you would do:

SPC : set-fill-column

It’ll ask you for the column width and you can type in 80, for example.

To manually trigger hard wrap, the shortcut in Spacemacs is the same as in Vim.

Saving File

In Vim, I had setup shortcut so that I can type s a v to save a file (instead of the typical :w). With Spacemacs, you can do SPC f s to do the same thing. Equally fast and ergonomic. Fingers not moving from home row at all.

Narrow Region

With Vim, I installed the NrrwRgn plugin which is actually for mimicking the narrowing feature from Emacs. In Vim, I had my leader key mapped to comma, so to trigger NrrwRgn I would highlight lines and then type , n r. After doing my editing, you just have to type :q out of the narrow region.

With Spacemacs, doing the same thing involves typing SPC n r to get the narrow region and then SPC n w when you’re done. Pretty awesome.

Command-T or ctrlp.vim

Another plugin that I’ve been using is the Command-T plugin. It allows me to open files just by doing <Leader>t in Vim and then do a fuzzy search on the file name.

In Spacemacs it’s also pretty easy:

SPC p f


One down side of using text editors is that you miss out on IDE features sometimes. For example, when developing node.js projects WebStorm offers really good autocomplete and debugging features. WebStorm’s VIM plugin doesn’t work all that well though, and sometimes just stops working until I restart the IDE.

Tern is an open-source project that brings javascript autocomplete capability to other text editors, but it never worked well for me in Vim. It worked quite well in Emacs though since its integration with Emacs come built-in. Below is my .spacemacs config that enables it.

(defun dotspacemacs/config ()
  "This is were you can ultimately override default Spacemacs configuration.
This function is called at the very end of Spacemacs initialization."
  ;; Load Tern
  (add-to-list 'load-path "/home/danny/.dotfiles/emacs/tern/emacs/")
  (autoload 'tern-mode "tern.el" nil t)
  (add-hook 'js-mode-hook (lambda () (tern-mode t)))
  (eval-after-load 'tern
       (require 'tern-auto-complete)

I just followed the Emacs install instructions on Tern website and git clone to a directory of my choosing.