Emacs workflow - Using Emacs in the terminal

Dheepak Krishnamurthy

Published on

I use the command line a lot, frequently editing files locally or remotely. Up until now, I’ve been using vim with tmux and zsh. I’ve recently been experimenting with emacs and have been trying to get it to work well inplace of vim. I personally think the author of this post nailed it regarding emacs workflow. I’ve only made minor modifications to get it to suit my requirements.

I’ve created a separate script called ess (emacsserverstart) added a & at the end of the emacs script to get it to run in the background.


/Applications/Emacs.app/Contents/MacOS/Emacs &


/Applications/Emacs.app/Contents/MacOS/Emacs "$@"

I’ve found that when using emacsclient connecting to emacs --daemon renders certain things differently, as compared to opening emacs, starting a server and connecting to that instead. I also have (server-start) in my .emacs file.

The following script connects a emacsclient to an already existing emacs server. If a server does not exist, it starts a daemon and then connects to it. This is done using the -a "" flag, which allows you to set an alternate editor. If no editor it set it defaults to running a daemon. It also shifts focus to the emacsclient after it opens.



# This script starts emacs daemon if it is not running, opens whatever file
# you pass in and changes the focus to emacs.  Without any arguments, it just
# opens the current buffer or *scratch* if nothing else is open.  The following
# example will open ~/.bashrc

# ec ~/.bashrc

# You can also pass it multiple files, it will open them all.  Unbury-buffer
# will cycle through those files in order

# The compliment to the script is et, which opens emacs in the terminal
# attached to a daemon

# If you want to execute elisp, pass in -e whatever.
# You may also want to stop the output from returning to the terminal, like
# ec -e "(message \"Hello\")" > /dev/null

# emacsclient options for reference
# -a "" starts emacs daemon and reattaches
# -c creates a new frame
# -n returns control back to the terminal
# -e eval the script

# Number of current visible frames,
# Emacs daemon always has a visible frame called F1
visible_frames() {
  emacsclient -a "" -e '(length (visible-frame-list))'

change_focus() {
  emacsclient -n -e "(select-frame-set-input-focus (selected-frame))" > /dev/null

# try switching to the frame incase it is just minimized
# will start a server if not running
test "$(visible_frames)" -eq "1" && change_focus

if [ "$(visible_frames)" -lt  "2" ]; then # need to create a frame
  # -c $@ with no args just opens the scratch buffer
  emacsclient -n -c "$@" && change_focus
else # there is already a visible frame besides the daemon, so
  # -n $@ errors if there are no args
  test  "$#" -ne "0" && emacsclient -n "$@"

This script opens an emacsclient in the terminal and connects it to a running server. The -t flag opens it in the terminal.



# Makes sure emacs daemon is running and opens the file in Emacs in
# the terminal.

# If you want to execute elisp, use -e whatever, like so

# et -e "(message \"Word up\")"

# You may want to redirect that to /dev/null if you don't want the
# return to printed on the terminal.  Also, just echoing a message
# may not be visible if Emacs then gives you a message about what
# to do when do with the frame

# The compliment to this script is ec

# Emacsclient option reference
# -a "" starts emacs daemon and reattaches
# -t starts in terminal, since I won't be using the gui
# can also pass in -n if you want to have the shell return right away

exec emacsclient -a "" -t "$@"

This following scripts stops the emacs server.



# simple script to shutdown the running Emacs daemon

# emacsclient options for reference
# -a Alternate editor, runs bin/false in this case
# -e eval the script

# If the server-process is bound and the server is in a good state, then kill
# the server

server_ok() {
  emacsclient -a "false" -e "(boundp 'server-process)"

if [ "t" == "$(server_ok)" ]; then
  echo "Shutting down Emacs server"
  # wasn't removing emacs from ALT-TAB on mac
  # emacsclient -e "(server-force-delete)"
  emacsclient -e '(spacemacs/kill-emacs)'
  echo "Emacs server not running"