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Writing Clean Lisp Programs
Here are some tips for avoiding common errors in writing Lisp code
intended for widespread use:
* Since all global variables share the same name space, and all
functions share another name space, you should choose a short word
to distinguish your program from other Lisp programs. Then take
care to begin the names of all global variables, constants, and
functions with the chosen prefix. This helps avoid name conflicts.
This recommendation applies even to names for traditional Lisp
primitives that are not primitives in Emacs Lisp--even to `cadr'.
Believe it or not, there is more than one plausible way to define
`cadr'. Play it safe; append your name prefix to produce a name
like `foo-cadr' or `mylib-cadr' instead.
If one prefix is insufficient, your package may use two or three
alternative common prefixes, so long as they make sense.
Separate the prefix from the rest of the symbol name with a hyphen,
`-'. This will be consistent with Emacs itself and with most Emacs
* It is often useful to put a call to `provide' in each separate
library program, at least if there is more than one entry point to
* If one file FOO uses a macro defined in another file BAR, FOO
should contain `(require 'BAR)' before the first use of the macro.
(And BAR should contain `(provide 'BAR)', to make the `require'
work.) This will cause BAR to be loaded when you byte-compile
FOO. Otherwise, you risk compiling FOO without the necessary
macro loaded, and that would produce compiled code that won't work
right. Note: Compiling Macros.
* If you define a major mode, make sure to run a hook variable using
`run-hooks', just as the existing major modes do. Note: Hooks.
* Please do not define `C-c LETTER' as a key in your major modes.
These sequences are reserved for users; they are the *only*
sequences reserved for users, so we cannot do without them.
Instead, define sequences consisting of `C-c' followed by a
non-letter. These sequences are reserved for major modes.
Changing all the major modes in Emacs 18 so they would follow this
convention was a lot of work. Abandoning this convention would
waste that work and inconvenience the users.
* It is a bad idea to define aliases for the Emacs primitives. Use
the standard names instead.
* Redefining an Emacs primitive is an even worse idea. It may do
the right thing for a particular program, but there is no telling
what other programs might break as a result.
* If a file does replace any of the functions or library programs of
standard Emacs, prominent comments at the beginning of the file
should say which functions are replaced, and how the behavior of
the replacements differs from that of the originals.
* If a file requires certain standard library programs to be loaded
beforehand, then the comments at the beginning of the file should
* Please keep the names of your Emacs Lisp source files to 13
characters or less. This way, if the files are compiled, the
compiled files' names will be 14 characters or less, which is
short enough to fit on all kinds of Unix systems.
* Don't use `next-line' or `previous-line' in programs; nearly
always, `forward-line' is more convenient as well as more
predictable and robust. Note: Text Lines.
* Don't use functions that set the mark in your Lisp code (unless
you are writing a command to set the mark). The mark is a
user-level feature, so it is incorrect to change the mark except
to supply a value for the user's benefit. Note: The Mark.
In particular, don't use these functions:
* `beginning-of-buffer', `end-of-buffer'
* `replace-string', `replace-regexp'
If you just want to move point, or replace a certain string,
without any of the other features intended for interactive users,
you can replace these functions with one or two lines of simple
* The recommended way to print a message in the echo area is with
the `message' function, not `princ'. Note: The Echo Area.
* When you encounter an error condition, call the function `error'
(or `signal'). The function `error' does not return. *Note
Do not use `message', `throw', `sleep-for', or `beep' to report
* Avoid using recursive edits. Instead, do what the Rmail `w'
command does: use a new local keymap that contains one command
defined to switch back to the old local keymap. Or do what the
`edit-options' command does: switch to another buffer and let the
user switch back at will. Note: Recursive Editing.
* In some other systems there is a convention of choosing variable
names that begin and end with `*'. We don't use that convention
in Emacs Lisp, so please don't use it in your library. (In fact,
in Emacs names of this form are conventionally used for
program-generated buffers.) The users will find Emacs more
coherent if all libraries use the same conventions.
* Indent each function with `C-M-q' (`indent-sexp') using the
default indentation parameters.
* Don't make a habit of putting close-parentheses on lines by
themselves; Lisp programmers find this disconcerting. Once in a
while, when there is a sequence of many consecutive
close-parentheses, it may make sense to split them in one or two
* Please put a copyright notice on the file if you give copies to
anyone. Use the same lines that appear at the top of the Lisp
files in Emacs itself. If you have not signed papers to assign
the copyright to the Foundation, then place your name in the
copyright notice in place of the Foundation's name.
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