Emerging from dotemacs bankruptcy the hard way: init begins
The first action must, of course, be to colour the bikeshed and set some decent defaults.

Jokes apart, my first action has been to read and learn from other peoples' configurations. I am referencing a small set of familiar-to-me configs I noted previously. It pays to be circumspect. One can drown in configs.

OK, so I already have my day-to-day Emacs. It has pulled down packages, and it has set globals and so forth. I want to live-develop my new config on the same machine, without clobbering contents of the old .emacs.d, and without picking up any of my existing init files, which Emacs finds by default at startup.

This means start a new Emacs session only with my draft init file, like so.

emacs -q -l path/to/new/init.el

And I must ensure I set paths for package downloads, temporary files, and other file-based state in a safe enough way. The init file snippet below sets and/or defines values I have researched so far. The preamble and postfix to the config code is conventional Emacs-speak. An elisp package linter will complain if the information is incomplete, or the text is improper.

The barebones init.el
;;; init.el --- My Emacs configuration.

;;; Commentary:

;;; This file is not part of GNU Emacs.

;;; Author: Aditya Athalye
;;; Created on: 30 June 2023
;;; Copyright (c) 2023 Aditya Athalye

;;; License:
;;; This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or
;;; modify it under the terms of the MIT license, which is included
;;; with this distribution. See the LICENCE.txt file.

;;; Code:

;; ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
;; Globals

;; Always load newest byte code
(setq load-prefer-newer t) ; cf. bbatsov/prelude

;; Directory structure
;; Take clues from bbatsov/prelude, except keep structure relative to our
;; initial dotemacs-dir path. This way we can start the user's emacs via
;; ~/.emacs.d symlinked to the dotemacs repo, and develop/debug against
;; the repo without potentially overwriting transient state files of the
;; daily driver .emacs.d.
(defvar dotemacs-dir (file-name-directory load-file-name)
  "The dotemacs' root.")
(defvar dotemacs-savefile-dir (expand-file-name "savefile" dotemacs-dir)
  "This folder stores all the automatically generated save/history-files.")
(unless (file-exists-p dotemacs-savefile-dir)
  (make-directory dotemacs-savefile-dir))

;; Visual Aesthetics

(setq inhibit-startup-message t)

;; More screen real estate
(scroll-bar-mode 0)
(tool-bar-mode 0)
(menu-bar-mode 0)
(set-fringe-mode '(5 . 13)) ;; describe variable fringe-mode

;; Go easy on the eyes
;; This high-contrast darkmode theme is built into Emacs as of
;; Emacs version 28.1
(load-theme 'modus-vivendi)

(provide 'init)
;;; init.el ends here

These preliminaries not at all obvious—"clean GUI", garbage collection (GC) thresholds, native compilation, lockfiles, savefiles, "better defaults" settings, a decent high-contrast theme. They are "unknown unknowns". They are not easy to discover, context-free, as many functions and variables can be oddly named, and do not follow any globally standard naming convention. The manual is vast, and combing through it to learn stuff for our purpose is inadvisable. Settings are also matters of personal taste and need. This is why it helps to read different configs; to acquire context, acquire vocabulary, and to form opinions. And when tastes (or facts) change, one can always change one's mind and dotemacs!

The rough plan has been:

  • [✓] Set the very preliminaries.
  • Set up package management. I'll probably stick with the old familiars; elpa and melpa. I'm not sure about straight.el at this time.
  • Choose use-package to get and configure each package. I like how neat configs are, when defined with use-package.
  • Make completions and "getting about" work (the right mix of ivy, consul, swiper, company, helm, imenu). Someone mentioned newer alternatives to helm. Have a look at that.
  • Fix general text editing stuff (keybindings, multiple cursors, snippets etc.)
  • Add support for favourite programming languages.
  • org-mode specifics
  • then let's see…

I feel like by this point the new init.el will be good enough to switch to, as my daily driver. Next up, package management and useful packages.