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Getting Started#

Note This feature is currently outdated and been disabled. However there is this to bring it back.

This is an introduction for building applications and hacking on emacs-ng using JavaScript. emacs-ng supports both TypeScript and JavaScript, so these examples will feature both languages. This guide uses emacs terminology for key binds, i.e. C-x means holding down control and pressing x. M-x means holding Alt and pressing x (unless you are on a system where Escape is the 'Meta' key). C-x C-f means hold down control, press x, keep holding control, press f.

Requirements#

You will need Rust installed. The file rust-toolchain indicates the version that gets installed. This happens automatically, so don't override the toolchain manually. IMPORTANT: Whenever the toolchain updates, you have to reinstall rustfmt manually.

You also need a working installation of emacs-ng. You can either build it or install a precompiled binary distribution from our CI.

Running JavaScript#

Type in the following line and press C-j

(eval-js "lisp.print('hello world!')")

This will display "hello world" in your display area (along with 'nil' - we will get to that). This is an anonymous javascript evaluation. Before we go further, let’s make an environment for working with our new scripting language.

We have multiple ways to run JavaScript. Let us open a new TypeScript file by creating a file name "basic.ts" in our current directory. It will look something like:

declare var lisp: any;

let x: string = "Hello TypeScript";
lisp.print(x);

Now we go back to *scratch* and run

(eval-js-file "./basic.ts")

This is a relative filepath, and it works off of emacs current working directory (cwd). If you are in doubt to what emacs cwd is, just run the lisp function (pwd) in the lisp scratchpad

You should see "Hello TypeScript" printed. All of the eval-js* functions return nil. If you want to use a calculated value from JavaScript in Lisp, you should use eval-js-literally. If you are looking for something like eval-expression, which is normally bound to M-:, you should use eval-js-expression. It accepts the same arguments as eval-expression, except with the first argument being a JavaScript expression, and behaves very similarly to eval-expression. It will also inserts the results into values just like eval-expression. eval-js-literally and eval-js-expression do not work with TypeScript at this time.

Iteration#

Now that we have our TypeScript file, let us get out of lisp and work purely in TypeScript. Open "basic.ts" by pressing C-x C-f and open "basic.ts". Press M-x and enter "eval-ts-buffer". This will evaluate the current contents of your buffer as typescript. You should see "Hello Typescript" print in your minibuffer. From now on, this will be our preferred way to iterate.

If you do not want to evaluate the entire buffer, you can press C-space, highlight a region of code, and press M-x eval-ts-region. Try that with this code and see what happens:

let y: string = 3;

You will see the following error in your minibuffer:

TS2322 [ERROR]: Type 'number' is not assignable to type 'string'.
let y: string = 3;
    ^
    at file:///home/user/$anon$lisp$91610855413.ts:1:5TS2322

It's important to understand that your TypeScript code is compiled prior to execution - unlike standard JavaScript which is evaluated until you encounter a runtime error. Within emacs-ng, that means that your code isn't executed if you have a type error in TypeScript.

If these typescript examples are taking a long time to evaluate, it's likely due to the processing power required to compile everything. If you want to turn off TypeScript typechecking for the remainder of the examples, you can run:

(js-cleanup)
(js-initialize :no-check t)

This code will cleanup your current JS environment and re-initialize it with TypeScript type checking disabled. If you do not care about the type checking that TypeScript offers, or your computer struggles with the cost of compiling, you can add (js-initialize :no-check t) to your init.el.

Let's stop printing to the minibuffer, and instead start pushing our results into buffers. Let's start by something simple: make a network call and dump the results into a buffer.

Buffers#

First thing first, let's make our network call. In order to do this, we will use our built-in Deno APIs. Deno implements fetch, which looks something like this:

declare var lisp: any;

fetch("https://api.github.com/users/denoland")
    .then(response => response.json())
    .catch(e => lisp.print(JSON.stringify(e)));

fetch is a common API documented here. It returns a Promise, which is a tool we will use to manage async I/O operations. Here, the network call isn't blocking, and it managed by our Rust runtime called Tokio. The .then is saying that once this promise is resolved, execute the next function in the chain. We have added a .catch, which will be executed if fetch errors.

NOTE: If you have an unhandled toplevel promise rejection, the JavaScript runtime will RESET. You should always have a toplevel promise handler within any emacs-ng code. We will see the way we can interface with lisp error handling further on.

However we want to put this response into a buffer. In order to do this, we will extend our .then chain, like so

declare var lisp: any;

fetch("https://api.github.com/users/denoland")
    .then(response => response.json())
    .then((data) => {
        const buffer = lisp.get_buffer_create("TypeScript Buffer");
        lisp.with_current_buffer(buffer, () => lisp.insert(JSON.stringify(data)));
    })
    .catch(e => lisp.print(JSON.stringify(e)));

Wait for the network call to resolve, and navigate to "TypeScript Buffer" via C-x b and typing in "TypeScript Buffer", or pressing C-x C-b and selecting our buffer from the buffer list.

By now, you may be wondering about this lisp object, and how we are able to get references to lisp objects from JavaScript. Our next example illustrates this.

Filewatching#

Let's write an async filewatch that logs changes to a directory into a buffer, with a little extra data. In order to do this, we will use Deno's standard library. Deno has built in functions like fetch, along with a robust standard library that you need to import. That will look like this:

declare var lisp: any;

// This will allow us to write
const insertIntoTypeScriptBuffer = (str: string) => {
      const buffer = lisp.get_buffer_create("TypeScript Filewatching");
      lisp.with_current_buffer(buffer, () => lisp.insert(`${str}\n`));
};

async function watch(dir: string) {
    const watcher = Deno.watchFs(dir);
    let i = 0;
    for await (const event of watcher) {
    i += 1;
    if (i > 5) break;
    insertIntoTypeScriptBuffer(JSON.stringify(event));
    }
}

watch('.')

This example is built to only record 5 events prior to ending itself. You can write whatever logic you would like for ending your filewatcher.

Running touch foo.ts in your current directory should yield something like the following in the "TypeScript Filewatching" buffer

{"kind":"create","paths":["/home/user/./foo.ts"]}
{"kind":"modify","paths":["/home/user/./foo.ts"]}
{"kind":"access","paths":["/home/user/./foo.ts"]}

Deno has further documentation on this. Note that these events can differ per operating system.

Key takeaways here - all of the TypeScript written above is executed on the Main elisp thread - there are no race conditions with lisp here. Even though the filewatcher is async, it calls back onto the main thread when it has data. Multithreaded scripting is possible and will be covered later.

Modules#

Now let's look at our tools for importing code. emacs-ng supports ES6 modules. emacs-ng does not support node's require syntax. See the "Using Deno" section for more information on modules.

Let's create a submodule for our main program. Create a file named "mod-sub.js":

export function generateRandomNumber() {
    return 4;
}

Now in our main file, we can add the following to the top of our file:

import { generateRandomNumber } from "./mod-sub.js";
declare var lisp: any;

lisp.print(generateRandomNumber());

Even though our module is TypeScript, we can still import plain old JavaScript.

It's important to note that ES6 modules supposed to be immutable. What does that mean? If we were to edit mod-js to include the following:

export function generateRandomNumber() {
    return 4;
}

lisp.print(generateRandomNumber());

We see that in addition to exporting a function, we execute code with side-effects (printing). Those side-effects only happen once. If I import mod-sub multiple times, I will only ever see "4" printed once. Another important note is that this rule does not apply to any top-level module you execute. Meaning that if you call (eval-js-file "./basic.ts") multiple times, your code is executed every single time, however your dependencies are only executed once. This is by design.

If you want to break this, you can append a number to your dependency and use so-called dynamic importing, like so:

declare var lisp: any;

let timestamp: number = Date.now();
const { generateRandomNumber } = await import(`./mod-sub.js#${timestamp}`);

lisp.print(generateRandomNumber());

This can be useful if you are a module developer and you want to iterate on your modules within emacs-ng. It is recommended that you do not ship your modules using this pattern, as it will not cache results properly and lead to a sub-optimal user experience. Your imports should aim to not have side effects, and instead should only export functions or variables to be used by your main module.

The intended use of Dynamic Importing is to allow you to have condition imports, like so:

if (myCondition) {
     const { func } = await import('example-mod.js');
     func();
}

Lisp Interaction#

The lisp object is magic - it has (almost) all lisp functions defined on it, including any functions defined in your custom packages. If you can invoke it via (funcall ....), you can call it via the lisp object if you change - for _. For example:

(with-current-buffer (get-buffer-create "BUFFER") (lambda () (insert "DATA")))

becomes

lisp.with_current_buffer(lisp.get_buffer_create("BUFFER"), () => lisp.insert("DATA"));

We have implementations of common macros like with-current-buffer. If you find that a certain common macro doesn't work, you can report it to the project's maintainers and they will implement it, however what they are doing isn't magic - they are just calling eval on your whatever macro you want to invoke from JavaScript.

lisp.eval(lisp.list(lisp.symbols.with_current_buffer, arg1, arg2));

You can override the behavior of the lisp object via the special object specialForms, which looks like

lisp.specialForms.with_current_buffer = myWithCurrentBufferFunction;

This overrides JavaScript's implementation of with_current_buffer without touching lisp's implementation. Let's discuss working with lisp more:

Lisp Primitives#

Primitives (Number, String, Boolean) are automatically translated when calling lisp functions

lisp.my_function(1.0, 2, "MYSTRING", false)

If you need to access a symbol or keyword, you will use the symbol keyword objects

const mySymbol = lisp.symbols.foo; // foo
const myKeyword = lisp.keywords.foo; // :foo

You can create more complex objects via the make object

const hashtable = lisp.make.hashtable({x: 3, y: 4});
const alist = lisp.make.alist({x: lisp.symbols.bar, y: "String"});
const plist = lisp.make.plist({zz: 19, zx: false});

const array = lisp.make.array([1, 2, 3, 4, 5]);
const list = lisp.make.list([1, 5, "String", lisp.symbols.x]);
const lstring = lisp.make.string("MyString");

Errors#

If a lisp function would trigger (error ...) in lisp, it will throw an error in javascript. An example:

try {
    lisp.cons(); // No arguments
} catch (e) {
    lisp.print(JSON.stringify(e));
}

Defining Lisp Functions#

We can also define functions that can be called via lisp. We will use defun to accomplish this:

declare var lisp: any;

const insertIntoTypeScriptBuffer = (str: string) => {
      const buffer = lisp.get_buffer_create("TypeScript Filewatching");
      lisp.with_current_buffer(buffer, () => lisp.insert(str));
};

lisp.defun({
    name: "my-function",
    docString: "My Example Function",
    interactive: true,
    args: "MInput",
    func: (str: string) => insertIntoTypeScriptBuffer(str)
});

This defines a lisp function named my-function. We can call this function from lisp (my-function STRING), in JavaScript via lisp.my_function(STRING), or call it interactively. That means that within the editor if we press M-x and type "my-function", we can invoke the function. It will then perform our JavaScript action, which is to insert whatever text we enter into our TypeScript Buffer.

Conclusion#

This covers the basic of calling lisp functions and I/O using Deno. Together using these tools you can already build powerful apps, or allow emacs-ng to perform actions. In our next series we will cover more advanced topics like Threading and WebASM.


Last update: May 2, 2024