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Elisp Namespaces

An implementation of namespaces for Emacs Lisp. Helps you keep the global namespace clean and protect your symbols from clobbering.

Pull requests welcome.

Requires Emacs 24.3 or later.

Quick Tour

;; Open a namespace:
(namespace agent
  ;; Require and autoload some elisp features:
  [ cl
    (agent-mode   turn-on-agent-mode)
    (spy-training plant-explosives daring-escape) ])

;; Create a private variable:
(def real-name "Bond, James Bond")

;; Get the variable's value:
(@ real-name)
; => "Bond, James Bond"

;; Create a variable you can change:
(defmutable cover)

;; Update a mutable variable:
(@set cover "David Somerset")

;; Define a private function:
(defn identify ()
  (concat "Hello, I'm " (@ cover) "."))

;; Call a private function:
(_ identify)
; => "Hello, I'm David Somerset"

;; Quote a private symbol:
(add-hook 'border-crossed-hook (~ identify))

;; Make some values public:
(namespace agent
  :export [cover identify])

;; --------------------------------------------------

;; Open another namespace:
(namespace guards)

;; You can call an exported function directly...

;; ...or import that namespace and call it with `_`:
(namespace guards :import [agent])

(_ identify)
; => "Hello, I'm David Somerset"

;; Public vars are available only through accessor functions.
(@ agent/cover)
; => ERROR
; => "David Somerset"

;; Private symbols are kept private:
(@ agent/real-name)
; => ERROR
; => ERROR


The best way is to download and install the namespaces package from melpa.

  1. Make sure you've configured package management in your init.el:
(require 'package)

;; Initialize packages.
(add-to-list 'package-archives '("melpa" . ""))
(unless package-archive-contents
  1. Install the namespaces package:
;; Initialize namespaces.
(unless (package-installed-p 'namespaces)
  (package-install 'namespaces))
(require 'namespaces)

Otherwise, clone this repo and add it to your load path, then:

(require 'namespaces)

Optional Configuration

The namespace macro makes it easy to load dependencies using the package management features in Emacs 24+; make sure you set up all that package management stuff before you call those features.


Defining Namespaces and Members

You can define a namespace or reopen an existing one using the namespace macro:

(namespace enterprise)

You can define namespaced functions using defn, and apply them using _.

(defn greet (name)
  (concat "Hello, " name "!"))

(_ greet "Spock")    ; => "Hello, Spock!"

Namespaced vars are defined using def. You can retrieve their values using the @ macro.

(def captain "Kirk")

(@ captain)               ; => "Kirk"

Vars defined using def are immutable. If you need a var that can change, use defmutable instead. You can change the value of a mutable var using @set.

(defmutable captain "Kirk")

(@set captain "Picard")

Symbols defined with defn, def and defmutable are private unless you explicitly export them. Vars defined with defmutable cannot be changed with @set outside the defining namespace.

Exporting and Importing Namespaced Symbols

To make a namespaced symbol publicly-accessible, add it to the exports list for that namespace:

(namespace enterprise :export [ captain ])

This makes enterprise/captain a public var, and generates an accessor function. Other namespaces can now access that symbol by invoking the accessor, or by adding it to their namespace imports and calling using _:

(namespace federation)
(enterprise/captain)                   ; => "Picard"

(namespace borg :import [ enterprise ])
(_ captain)                        ; => "Picard"

These accessor functions add a nice layer of safety: if your requirements change down the track (eg, you need logging), you can safely reimplement an acccessor by hand without changing the interface and breaking client code.

Emacs Interop

Clients of your namespaced code do not need to know anything about namespaces or the macros defined in this package.

The namespace macro declares the given namespace as an Emacs feature, as if you called (provide 'foo). Clients can use the standard require and autoload mechanisms to access your exported functions.

Functions and Vars

Exported functions can be called using their fully qualified name:

(namespace foo :export [greet])
(defn greet () "Hello!")

(namespace bar)
(foo/greet)      ; => "Hello!"

Similarly, exported vars can be read using their accessor functions:

(namespace foo :export [x])
(def x 'hello)

(namespace bar)
(foo/x)      ; => hello

By design, clients cannot modify exported vars with @set, even if they are defined with defmutable. Package writers should probably use defcustom when they want to define a var that can be customized by clients.

The defn, def and defmutable macros mangle their true symbols to ensure namespaced identifiers are unique. You can obtain the underlying symbol using the ~ macro. This is allows your private members to interoperate with foreign elisp. For example:

(defn private () (message "TOP SECRET"))

(defvar example-hook)
(add-hook 'example-hook (~ private))

(run-hooks 'example-hook)                 ; check your *Messages* buffer


You can use the lambda- macro when you want to capture the declaring namespace in your hooks or exported functions:

(namespace foo :export [ x ])

;; Capture a private var in a closure.
(def private 'foo-private)
(def x (lambda- () (@ private)))

(namespace bar :import [ foo ])
(funcall (@ x))                           ; => foo-private

Escape Hatches

It is sometimes necessary to enter a namespace manually within non- namespaced code. The in-ns macro is provided for this purpose.

(namespace foo)
(def x "inside foo")

(defun non-namespaced-fn ()
  (in-ns foo
    (message (@ x))))   ; => "inside foo"

The in-ns macro provides a controlled means of breaking encapsulation. When all else fails, you can use it to access private vars or redefine a def as defmutable in code you do not control.

(namespace closed)
(def x "immutable")

(namespace user)
(in-ns closed
  (defmutable x)
  (@set x "now mutable!"))

Namespace Macro

Keyword Arguments

namespace takes a number of keyword arguments, which expect vectors as their values.


Make the given functions or variables externally-accessible ('public').

(namespace foo :export [ x y z ... ])


Import public symbols from another namespace:

(namespace foo :export [x])
(def x "Hello")

(namespace bar :import [foo])
(_ x)                            ; => "Hello"

The default behaviour is to import all public symbols. You can load a subset by providing a list of symbols instead:

(namespace baz :import [ (foo x y) ])

The example above will import only x and y from namespace foo.


Require an emacs feature.

(namespace foo :use [cl])

Lists are interpreted as autoload directives, where the first item is a feature name and the remainder are functions to be autoloaded.

(namespace foo :use [ (paredit paredit-mode) ])


Download the specified elisp packages.

You can eagerly require the pacakge...

(namespace foo :packages [ auto-complete ])

...or autoload a list of symbols:

(namespace foo :packages [ (auto-complete auto-complete-mode) ])

Conditional Loading

The above forms take optional :when or :unless keyword arguments to specify loading conditions. This can be useful for environment-specific configuration.

(namespace foo :use [ (color-theme :when (display-graphic-p)) ])

Gotchas and Limitations

Byte-compilation sometimes fails to expand definition forms. If you experience issues, wrap everything after your namespace declaration in an (@eval-after-load my-ns ...).

Due to internal name-mangling, you won't be able to use features like eldoc or describe-function on symbols defined by defn, def and defmutable. However, their fully-qualified exported forms work fine.

Elisp doesn't have reader macros, so there's not as much sugar as I'd like.

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