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Best of Spacemacs

By Brian Sunter

Posted in Programming, Emacs

Spacemacs Editor
Spacemacs Editor

Why Spacemacs

Spacemacs is an opinionated emacs configuration that supports vim keybindings. It has excellent keybindings, plugins, and a declarative configuration. I use spacemacs like a keyboard only IDE.

Hierarchical, searchable, discoverable, keybindings

The most unique idea in spacemacs is the keybinding system. When you hit the spacebar, a window pops up at the bottom of the screen to show you "sub commands". These are high level categories at the top level and it shows you options such as p project, w window, s search, and f files. If you press another key, such as w for window, you are shown another set of commands related to window such as vertical and horizontal split. If you type these commands slowly, you can see prompts of all possible commands, but you can also type them quickly, like SPC w v for vertical window split. It's easy to manage a large number of keybindings without conflict with with method. You can also type SPC SPC to search for keybindings.

Top Level Commands SPC

All Spacemacs Commands

Markdown Commands SPC-m

Markdown Commands

Markdown Insert Commands SPC-m-i

Markdown Insert Commands

Vim Keybindings

I never liked the emacs keybindings and never learned them well, but I can use Spacemacs with no problems. I don't think anything can beat vim keybindings in productivity and Spacemacs has perfect support. gg goes to the top of the file, dt" deletes up to the quotation mark, etc.

Declarative Configuration

You declare all the plugins and configuration in a file called .spacemacs which should be sufficient to recreate your editor. You can easily create custom layers that wrap functions in keybindings. You could easily create an "npm mode" which runs npm install when you use the keybindings in a javascript file. This provides a clear way to organize a large number of keybindings without conflicts.


Helm is a general purpose search and completion system that powers Spacemacs. It allows you to start typing and preview results in the bottom pane. You can search for things like emacs commands, filenames, text, and more.

Search commands and keybindings SPC-SPC

Helm Commands

Search text in project SPC-s-p

Helm Search Texts

Search file in project SPC-p-f

Helm Search File Name

Search text with context SPC-s-s

Helm Swoop


Treemacs is a project sidebar that shows directory structure and let's you navigate files. It is similar to the sidebars in other editors, but you can navigate it with the keyboard using vim keybindings, like any other buffer. You can pin projects anywhere on the filesystem to the sidebar which makes working with multiple projects much easier.


Open project sidebar SPC-f-t

Neotree Sidebar


Magit is a very comprehensive git UI that has replaced most terminal commands for me. You can stage files, view diffs, commit, rebase, push etc.


Magit Commands


Magit Status


Magit Diff


Magit Log


Org mode is a note taking and task management tool in emacs and spacemacs has especially good support. I really like the workflow in org because you can write notes in a collapsible outline view, then turn the notes into tasks and schedule them. There is a convenient org-capture keybinding that you can use to capture a random thought to be organized later. You can write customizations for tasks to be in different states like "blocked" or "waiting".


Org Todo

Agenda mode

Org Agenda

Language Support

Spacemacs has good support for most of the languages I use except for Java. It includes all the autocompletion, type hinting, and jump to definition that you're used to in an IDE. There are plenty of language specific keybindings for compiling, running tests, and installing packages. This is especially important if you like writing in multiple languages, because the keybindings try to be consistent between them. I use the same keybindings for evaluating code in the REPL for Clojure, Javascript, and Python.

Typescript Mode



There is great support for writing English language in emacs as well. Emacs has great support for every text format I use like markdown and org.


I-Spell is a spell checker for emacs. You can go through the spelling errors using the keyboard, and either correct them or add them to a custom dictionary.



Pandoc allows you to convert between many text formats. I mostly use it for exporting markdown and org files to formats like PDF and DOCX. It can also convert markdown files to slidedecks using revealjs.

Pandoc Commands

Pandoc Formats

Writeroom Mode

Writeroom mode allows you to center the text in the middle of the screen for writing. You can completely disable all popups so you can focus on the text at hand.

Writeroom Mode


Spacemacs includes a snippet manager called yasnippet, which let you create short blocks of code that you can expand and eliminate boilerplate. I use snippets for creating the YAML metadata at the top of the blog entries. Typing the command yas-new-snippet creates a new snippet file for the current mode.

# -*- mode: snippet -*-
# name: blog-header
# key: bh
# --
uuid = "$1"
tags = ["blog", "index-page"]
title = "$2"
description = """ $3"""


$1 through $n controls where your cursor jumps to when you hit tab. $0 controls where the cursor starts after all the tab completions have been filled in. With this snippet I can type bh and expand it when I create a new blog post, to fill in the metadata in the correct format.

Brian Sunter
Brian Sunter

Whatever problem you have, I will solve it.