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os x emacs and gnuserv

As part of my final migration to all things Macintosh, I needed to get my text editing situation under control.

After developing on various X windows based platforms for the vast bulk of my career, I’m very comfortable with using the command line to navigate around a programming project. My work pattern is typically to move around on the command line until I need to edit a file. Then I have a command line tool that will bring that file up in my chosen editor. Users of BBEdit on Mac OS X might be familiar with this, as BBEdit includes a nice command line utility that you can use for this. If push came to shove, I could probably live with using BBEdit as my main editor.

However, for many years, I’ve been using a shell script wrapper around “gnuclient”, which would bring up an (X)Emacs frame with my file. Very very convenient. This was a practice started in the distant past when I used both XEmacs instead of (GNU) Emacs, and it took forever to launch a new instance of XEmacs (as well as each instance sucking up a lot of memory). In any case, I wanted to stick with Emacs because 15 years of using it has so deeply ingrained the key combinations that I try and turn on emacs-like key bindings wherever I go. Not that BBEdit is a bad editor, but when you’ve invested in Emacs as much as I have, you tend to want to stick with it for most things. (I do find BBEdit to be a much better option when dealing with HTML and CSS, however).

So, first off was to get a build of Carbon Emacs. I had played with Aquamacs, which is essentially a different build of Carbon Emacs, but it want’s to use ESC as meta by default, and that doesn’t work for me.

I had originally tried Aquamacs because my original copy of Carbon Emacs was locked into a particular, weird install location. The current version of Carbon Emacs doesn’t seem to have that restriction, and seems to be quite nice, actually.

Next, was to get gnuserv/gnuclient working. Interestingly enough, OS X 10.4 (and possibly earlier? I haven’t checked) comes with gnuserv and gnuclient already installed, presumably for use with the terminal-based emacs that it ships with (and it works!). Getting it to work with Carbon Emacs was just the trick I was looking for. Based on previous work, I had downloaded an external gnuserv implementation.

Version 3.12.6 didn’t compile cleanly on 10.4, but 3.12.7 did. I don’t think that you need to do this at all, however. Mostly what you need is to give Carbon Emacs access to three elisp files from that gnuserv distribution – which are already in your Tiger system in /usr/share/emacs/21.2/lisp directory. The three files are gnuserv.el, gnuserv-compat.el, and devices.el. You could probably just throw them into your Carbon Emacs’s internal lisp directory, or you can do what I did–put them somewhere in your home directory and get .emacs to point to them. Something like:

(setq load-path (cons (expand-file-name "\~/.fsfemacs/pkg/gnuserv") load-path))

which assumes that you put them into the ~/.fsfemacs/pkg/gnuserv directory. Modify that to match wherever you put them. Next, put


somewhere in you .emacs. This will actually cause your Carbon Emacs to run gnuserv in a sub-process.

One potential problem remains, however. If you have DISPLAY set in the environment that Carbon Emacs in running it (like I do), using gnuclient will generate an error message, rather than actually work. What is going on is that Carbon Emacs cannot actually connect to an X display (not actually being an X application). There are probably a number of different ways to fix this. How I did it was to patch devices.el:

--- devices.el  2000-01-31 18:12:32.000000000 -0500
+++ devices.el.davidb   2005-06-03 11:09:03.000000000 -0400
@@ -69,7 +69,8 @@
have no effect."
((and (eq type 'x) connection)
-    (make-frame-on-display connection props))
+    ; (make-frame-on-display connection props))
+    (make-frame props))
((eq type 'x)
(make-frame props))
((eq type 'tty)

Oh, and a helpful hint for any folks (like me) who traditionally defined a lot of binding to function keys: in Carbon Emacs, option+function key seems to register as the function key, and bypasses any OS-level bindings.

Update: for convenience, I’ve put up local copies of the gnuserv-3.12.7 package (unpatched), the dtemacs script, and my gc script.

Written on Jun 3, 2005.

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