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Recently, I watched BugsWriter falling in love with elisp 1 - he said about describe-mode

Why did nobody ever tell me about this?

This post is called Pearls of introspection.

All of Emacs is one bright pearl.

The describes


Lists all current keybinds in a buffer. Huge output, sometimes what you want.


Emacs is a text editor, text is made up of chars. describe-char is useful if you want to know what face is rendering. It goes beyond that by showing string properties, overlays, and buttons. This can be useful for debugging.

Story: Once I deleted some packages on my system, then I go into emacs info and some of the text is not rendered right.

describe-char gave me the hint, the fixed-pitch face wanted "Monospace Serif" or some such but I only had Monospace.

So I did this and was happy ever after:

(set-face-attribute 'fixed-pitch nil  :family "Monospace")
(set-face-attribute 'fixed-pitch-serif nil  :family "Monospace")

Worth binding:

(define-key help-map (kbd "c") #'describe-char)


"What does this key do?" - the answer is describe-key and hit the key.


Emacs functions have amazing docstrings.

The help buffer has a keymap of its own, try ? to list keybinds.

Highlight: s to go to source.


Probably faster than describe-mode, renders a keymap in a help buffer. Try describe-keymap -> help-map hehe.


You type ? after starting to type a prefix, then you get the binds.


An alternative to the default ?, it is amazing. I get a vertico completing-read of the binds.

M-x describe-

There are more, some of them I never used. Emacs is vast like the ocean.


You accidentally hit some key, and something unexpected happens. view-lossage is your friend. It shows the last keys + commands.

It is like the morning-after pill version of describe-key.

story: I sometimes accidentally hit y before typing the text for an avy command.

Every time I was like "Holy cow whatever I hit there is powerful". 2

I didn't know about view-lossage. The thing is, it would not have helped, because avy is reading the key, then dispatching on the key. I guess it needs to go through the keymap system or something to show up in view-lossage.


This helps me about once per year.

It is extremely satisfying when you use this and it helps you. I once figured out about revert-buffer-function by using it.

You can revert shell-command buffers to rerun the command but I did not know by which principle.

apropos-value, then typing my shell command showed me there was a buffer-local variable called revert-buffer-function. It worked because Elisp closure objects print with their environment. In other words, the value of revert-buffer-function was a lambda that printed with my shell command. It is quite wild.


Read code, and do little experiments. I am not sure but I think there might be something profound about Elisp and emacs. I think the language is the program and the program is the language or something. Knowing the program is to know the language and knowing the language is to know the program. (Insert link to top Elisp functions blog post here).


I just discovered this via describe-keymap into help-map lol. This is like describe-key but you say the command and it says the keybinding.



I thought lisp was going to be complicated but it is simple.

That is an interesting tension between outside perception and the actual language. Since you write the AST directly, you can say what you mean. The power of lisp is that the code is made of

  1. Ideas
  2. There is nothing else.

It makes the cursor stay and yank the target word. Hit ? before typing the keys for avy. The way it works is that avy can dispatch with different actions, the default is to jump to the location, but y for example yanks a word and makes your cursor stay where you are. It is really powerful. Ace-window has the same paradigm.

Date: 2022-11-12 Sat 16:02

Email: Benjamin.Schwerdtner@gmail.com