Should You Use Pre-Made Emacs Configurations?

Should you use pre-made Emacs configurations?

Pre-made Emacs configurations like Doom Emacs and Spacemacs are really popular and a common entry point into the world of Emacs.

Benefits of pre-made configurations

  • Makes getting started with Emacs much easier! Skip the early learning curve
  • Gives a better representation of what Emacs can really do
  • Many things you might want to use are already configured and polished
  • Better integration between various packages
  • Better configuration of Vim-style keybindings if you need them
  • Large communities where you can get help easily
  • Often there’s more learning resources about them

Downsides of pre-made configurations

  • It might convince you that “vanilla” Emacs is too hard or weird to use
  • Specialized configuration logic can make things more confusing in my opinion
  • You’re not learning how to customize Emacs yourself because you have to do less work
  • If the authors of the pre-made configuration want to make a fundamental change, it might break your workflow!

That said, I don’t think there’s any catastrophic risk to using a pre-made configuration. If you like Emacs enough you’ll eventually get curious about learning how to do more of it yourself.

Is there a middle ground?

An idea that I’ve been thinking about a lot: providing configuration “packs” for certain configuration areas that can be installed in your own configuration. The better-defaults package is a good example of this.

Enable someone to skip configuring something like development configuration for a particular language by using a configuration package!

It’s not very different than just installing Emacs packages, but that’s the point.

I just learned of this config project which might implement a similar idea:

However, Corgi seems to provide its own approach to setting key bindings, so I’m not sure how I feel about it!

What’s my recommendation?

  • If you’ve never used Emacs before, try whatever seems the most interesting to you
  • Use Doom or Spacemacs for a few months to get acquainted with Emacs
  • When you start to become more curious about how to configure Emacs yourself, try experimenting with a from-scratch config on the side
  • Take the parts you liked about the pre-made configuration and implement them in your configuration
  • Use Emacs a lot, improve it whenever you have ideas. Your config will evolve over time!

However, if you enjoy using Doom or Spacemacs, keep using them if they work well for you!

You can have both! Just use Chemacs2 to manage multiple configurations.

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