It has been 2 years since I last revised my optimal GNU Emacs settings for developing Clojure. Since then, many things have changed in the Cider/Emacs ecosystem and it is why a revision of these settings is now warranted.

There is one set of settings that I will not discuss in this blog post, and these are all the settings related to Literate Programming using Org-mode. Since much needs to be said about these, they will be the topic of a subsequent blog post that will focus exclusively on that matter.

GNU Emacs

GNU Emacs is an awesome programming interface. It is said to be the programmable programming interface. It is terrific but it comes at a price: steep learning curve and much time spent testing and configuring useful packages. However, once these hurdles are passed, the sun starts to shine and a joyful journey begins.

I am personally developing on Windows 10, but these steps should be platform agnostic. You only have to download and install the latest GNU Emacs 24 version.

The first thing you have to do is to locate your .emacs file. All the configurations I am defining in this blog post goes into that file.


Once Emacs is installed, the first thing you have to do is to install all the packages that are required to develop in Clojure or that will make your life easier for handling the code. The packages that you have to install are:

  1. cider
    • Clojure Integrated Development Environment and REPL. This is the actual Clojure IDE. It includes everything to work with Clojure in Emacs. It runs the REPL, it has a debugger, etc.
  2. company
    • In-buffer auto-completion framework. This is now the best integrated auto-complete for Cider.
  3. monokai-theme
    • This is a new theme that is pleasant to look at and that works pretty well with Clojure code.
  4. rainbow-delimiters
    • Highlight nested parenthesis, brackets, braces a different color at each depth – This is really handy to visually see where you are with your parenthesis. An essential to have (in my view).
  5. highlight-symbol
    • Highlight all occurrences of a symbol in a buffer. This is really handy to find occurrences of variables, or function calls, etc.
  6. heml-ag
    • High performance file system search function. This is essential to find all occurrences of a [regex] pattern within local files.

Before installing them, we have to tell Emacs which package repositories it has access to so as to find these packages. At the top of your .emacs file, put:

;; Define packages archives repositories
(require 'package)

(add-to-list 'package-archives
  '("melpa-stable" . ""))

(add-to-list 'package-archives 
  '("marmalade" . ""))  

;; Initialize all the ELPA packages (what is installed using the packages commands)    

If you are editing your .emacs file directly into Emacs, and you can re-evaluate the settings file using Emacs, then by moving the cursor at each top-level expression end (after closing parenthesis) and press C-x C-e. However, it may be faster just to close and restart Emacs to take the new settings into account. You can use any of these methods for the following set of settings changes.

Before changing any more settings, we will first install all the required packages using the following sequence of commands:

M-x package-install [RET] cider [RET]
M-x package-install [RET] company [RET]
M-x package-install [RET] monokai-theme [RET]
M-x package-install [RET] rainbow-delimiters]] [RET]
M-x package-install [RET] highlight-symbol [RET]
M-x package-install [RET] helm-ag [RET]

Additionally, you could have used M-x package-list-packages, then move your cursor in the buffer to the packages’ line. Then press i (for install) and once all the packages are selected, you could have press x (execute) to install all the packages all at once.

In the list of commands above, M-x is the “meta-key” normally bound to the left Alt key on your keyboard. So, M-x usually means Alt-x.

Now that all the packages are installed, let’s take a look at how we should configure them.

Installing Leiningen or Boot

An important piece of software to install is a build tool for Clojure. The two most popular choices are Leiningen and Boot.

Installing Platinum Searcher

For the helm-ag package, you will have to install the Platinum Searcher application. Installing it on Windows is quite simple. Just download the proper package, and extract the pt.ex file somewhere on your computer (let’s say in c:/platinum-searcher). We will configure it later.

Configuring Keyboard

If you are using an English/US keyboard, you can skip this section. Since I use a French Canadian layout (On an English/US Das Keyboard!), I had multiple issues to have my keys working since all the binding changed in Emacs. To solve this problem, I simply had to define that language configuration option. Then I had to start using the right Alt key of my keyboard to write my brackets, curly brackets, etc:

;; Enable a Canadian French keyboard layout
(require 'iso-transl)

Configure Text Editor

There are a few settings we have to specify related to the Emacs text editor. We want to send the comment columns of Clojure comments to column 70 and we want to force the usage of UTF-8 as the default encoding. Finally we want to start emacs maximized in Windows:

;; UTF-8 as default encoding
(set-language-environment "UTF-8")

;; Set the default comment column to 70
(setq-default comment-column 70)

;; Every time a window is started, make sure it get maximized
(add-to-list 'default-frame-alist '(fullscreen . maximized))

Configuring Fonts

There is a new wonderful coding font that I discovered recently called the Input (Font for Code). This is a really neat font that works particularly well. You just have to go to their site, define the characteristics you want for it, download and install it locally.

Once it is installed on your system, configure it that way in .emacs:

;; Use the Input font size 12
(set-default-font "Input-12")


Now that the general Emacs settings are configured, let’s focus on Cider. We want to make sure that we enter in cider mode when entering in Clojure major mode. Then we have to specify that we want to use company-mode as the auto-completion framework and finally we want to specify that when we enter via the client in Cider, that we want a new line and to indent that new line according to where we are in the code.

;; Enter cider mode when entering the clojure major mode
(add-hook 'clojure-mode-hook 'cider-mode)

;; Turn on auto-completion with Company-Mode
(add-hook 'cider-repl-mode-hook #'company-mode)
(add-hook 'cider-mode-hook #'company-mode)

;; Replace return key with newline-and-indent when in cider mode.
(add-hook 'cider-mode-hook '(lambda () (local-set-key (kbd "RET") 'newline-and-indent)))

Show Parenthesis Mode

Another handy feature is to enable, by default, the show-parent-mode configuration option. That way, every time the cursor points to a parenthesis, the parent parenthesis will be highlighted into the user interface. This is an essential must-have with Par Edit:

;; Show parenthesis mode
(show-paren-mode 1)

Rainbow Delimiters

Another essential package to have helps you out in maintaining these parenthesis. The rainbow delimiters will change the color of the parenthesis depending on how “deep” they are into the structure. Another essential visual cue:

;; rainbow delimiters
(add-hook 'prog-mode-hook #'rainbow-delimiters-mode)

Monokai Theme

The Monokai theme is joyful and really fun to work Clojure code with. This is the current theme I use.

;; Set theme & font size
(add-to-list 'custom-theme-load-path "~/.emacs.d/lib/monokai-theme")
(load-theme 'monokai t)

There is another configuration we need to do which is to make sure that the theme’s colors are used by company-mode such that the popup contextual menus are properly themed:

;; Update the color of the company-mode context menu to fit the Monokai theme
;; @source:
(deftheme monokai-overrides)

(let ((class '((class color) (min-colors 257)))
      (terminal-class '((class color) (min-colors 89))))


   ;; Linum and mode-line improvements (only in sRGB).
     ((,class :foreground "#75715E"
              :background "#49483E")))
     ((,class (:box (:line-width 1 :color "#2c2d26" :style nil)
                    :background "#2c2d26"))))

   ;; Custom region colouring.
     ((,class :foreground "#75715E"
              :background "#49483E")
      (,terminal-class :foreground "#1B1E1C"
                       :background "#8B8878")))

   ;; Additional modes
   ;; Company tweaks.
     ((t :foreground "#F8F8F0"
         :background "#474747"
         :underline t)))

     ((t :inherit company-tooltip
         :foreground "#C2A1FF")))

     ((t :background "#349B8D"
         :foreground "#BBF7EF")))

     ((t :foreground "#F8F8F0"
         :background "#474747"
         :underline t)))

     ((t :background "#BBF7EF")))

     ((t :inherit company-tooltip
         :foreground "#C2A1FF")))

   ;; Popup menu tweaks.
     ((t :foreground "#A1EFE4"
         :background "#49483E")))

     ((t :background "#349B8D"
         :foreground "#BBF7EF")))

   ;; Circe
     ((t (:foreground "#C2A1FF" :weight bold))))

     ((t (:foreground "#75715E"))))

     ((t (:foreground "#AE81FF" :weight bold))))

     ((t (:foreground "#E6DB74"))))

     ((t (:weight bold))))))


It is essential to have a local file system search functionality. This is what helm-ag provides. I configured it to use the Platinum Searcher. I also bound it to the key M-s for easy invocation:

;; Configure helm-ag
;; Make sure to have Platinum Searcher installed:

 '(helm-ag-base-command "C:/platinum-searcher/pt -e --nocolor --nogroup"))

(global-set-key (kbd "M-s") 'helm-do-ag)

Syntax Highlighting

It is often handy to be able to highlight symbols within a buffer. I use highlight-symbol for that purpose but I re-mapped its functionalities to keys more meaningful and natural to me:

; Syntax Highlighting
(require 'highlight-symbol)
(global-set-key (kbd "C-é") 'highlight-symbol-at-point)
(global-set-key (kbd "C-.") 'highlight-symbol-next)
(global-set-key (kbd "C-,") 'highlight-symbol-prev)
(global-set-key (kbd "C-;") 'highlight-symbol-query-replace)

Binding Some Keys

I like to bind some behaviors to the F-keys. What I want is to be able to run Cider and to switch frames (windows within monitors) in a single click. I also added a shortkey for starting speedbar for the current buffer; it is an essential for managing project files. What I did is to bind these behaviors to these keys:

(global-set-key [f9] 'cider-jack-in)
(global-set-key [apps] 'other-frame)
(global-set-key [f11] 'speedbar)

Fixing the Scroll

There is one thing that I really didn’t like, and it was the default behavior of the scrolling of Emacs on Windows. After some searching, I found the following configurations that I could fix to have a smoother scrolling behavior on Windows:

;; scroll one line at a time (less "jumpy" than defaults)
(setq mouse-wheel-scroll-amount '(1 ((shift) . 1))) ;; one line at a time
(setq mouse-wheel-progressive-speed nil) ;; don't accelerate scrolling
(setq mouse-wheel-follow-mouse 't) ;; scroll window under mouse
(setq scroll-step 1) ;; keyboard scroll one line at a time


The Emacs/Clojure ecosystem has improved quite a lot in the last two years thanks to Cider and the decision they made in its development. The configuration of Cider is now much simpler with company-mode. This blog post provides the latest improvement I did to my setup.

As I said in my introduction, there is a whole bunch of settings that I did not include in this blog post related to configuring org-mode for doing Literate Programming in Clojure. I will discuss these in its own blog post, likely to be published within the next week.

2 thoughts on “My Optimal GNU Emacs Settings for Developing Clojure (Revised)

  1. Thanks for this! have you updated this recently? Also a link to the whole emacs configuration in one file would be useful.

    1. Hi Jason,

      No, since then, things evolved quite a bit. I am now using the great Spacemacs distribution which makes many things much easier and faster to maintain.

      Hope it helps,



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