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what is it?

sauron is an emacs mode for keeping track of events happening in the (emacs) world around you. Events are things like ‘appointment in 5 minutes’, ‘bob pinged you on IRC’, ‘torrent download is complete’ etc. Sauron shows those events like a list – basically like a log. You can ‘activate’ an event by either pressing RET when point is on it, or clicking it with the middle mouse button (<mouse-2>).

When activated, it can execute some arbitrary function – for example in the case of IRC (ERC), it will switch you to the buffer (channel) it originated from. It’s a bit of a generalization of what tracking mode does in ERC (the emacs IRC client), and that is in fact how it started.

There’s an increasing number of hooks and tunables in sauron, which allows you to fine-tune the behavior. However, I strive for it to be useful with minimal configuration.

getting started

After you’ve put the various sauron files in a directory, you can enable it with something like the following in your .emacs:

;; set load path, obviously replace “<path-to-sauron-dir>” with the actual path…

(add-to-list 'load-path "<path-to-sauron-dir>")
(require 'sauron)

Now, you can start sauron with… M-x sauron-start, and stop it with M-x sauron-stop.

sauron-start will pop-up a new frame (window) which will show events coming from any of its sources (i.e., ERC, org-mode appointments, D-Bus). You can ‘activate’ a source by pressing “Enter” with the cursor on the event, which will then take some backend-specific action.

For example, for the ERC-backend, it will transfer you to the buffer (IRC-channel) where said event happened. You can clear all events with M-x sauron-clear (default keybinding: c).

You can toggle between showing and hiding of the Sauron frame or window using M-x sauron-toggle-hide-show.

Sauron (by default) loads the sauron-erc, sauron-org and sauron-dbus modules; if you don’t have ERC, org-mode or d-bus support, these will simply be ignored. If so desired, you can customize sauron-modules. See below for some specifics about the backends.


I’ve tried hard to come up with reasonable defaults, such that users can get started with sauron without reading too much documentation or having to write elisp etc.; still, I’ve also tried to make sauron very configurable - different people have different needs, so it should be possible to coerce the software in whatever direction.

Below are some customization points.

sauron look-and-feel

Sauron can be shown either as a separate frame (the default), or embedded in your current frame. For the latter, set sauron-separate-frame to nil:

(setq sauron-separate-frame nil)

Note, this latter option (embedded sauron) is experimental. Emacs does not make it easy to do this reliable. Note, you can use: M-x sauron-toggle-hide-show to hide/show the sauron frame or window.

You can customize the columns shown in the sauron buffer by setting sauron-column-alist - see its documentation.

You can remove the mode-line in the sauron-buffer by setting sauron-hide-mode-line to t, e.g.:

(setq sauron-hide-mode-line t)

You can make the Sauron window appear on every (virtual) desktop by setting sauron-sticky-add to t, i.e..

(setq sauron-sticky-frame t)

in your configuration. Depending on your window manager, this may also set the frame to be always-on-top. Obviously, this is only effective if you use sauron in a separate frame.

priorities – sauron-min-priority

Each event in sauron has a certain priority. Sauron ignores all events which have a priority that is lower that sauron-min-priority (default value: 3).

For example, all messages written on IRC (i.e., coming from the ERC-backend) which are not directed towards you have priority 2 – you will not see them. And that is probably a good idea.

watching patterns – sauron-watch-patterns

You can specify a list of patterns (regular expressions) which sauron should check. An event matching any of the patterns in the list will have its priority raised by 1 point. If that one point raises it to `sauron-min-priority’ or higher level, it will now show up in the Sauron buffer.

sauron-watch-patterns is useful if you want to check if, for example, your name, or your hobby project is mentioned in some IRC channel.

So, for example, as part of your settings:

;; watch for some animals
(setq sauron-watch-patterns
  '("\\bgnu\\b" "yak" "capybara" "wombat"))

watching nicks – sauron-watch-nicks

You can also specify a list of nicks to watch for; nicks are matched using a string-match (not a regular expression). A nick matching any of the nicks in the list will have its priority raised by 1 point. If that one point raises it to `sauron-min-priority’ or higher level, it will now show up in the Sauron buffer.

don’t get swamped by a certain nick

Since you may not want to get too many events from one nick – and, who knows, accompanying sound effects, pop-ups and what have you, you can set some insensitivity time; events from the same nick during this time will be lowered in priority by one point.

You can set the time period (in seconds) with `sauron-nick-insensitivity’, which defaults to 60 seconds.

blocking events from showing up – sauron-event-block-functions

We can customize things even more precisely using the sauron-event-block-functions hook function. Any event with a priority >= sauron-min-priority will be passed to the hook function(s); if any of those functions returns non-nil, the event will be blocked. See the emacs documentation for a general introduction to hook functions, here’s an example:

(add-hook 'sauron-event-block-functions
  (lambda (origin prio msg &optional props)
      (string-match "foo" msg) ;; ignore events that match 'foo'
      ;; other matchers

Note that the props parameter is a backend specific property-list, which allows you e.g. (for the ERC-backend) to get the sender of some ERC message, and block based on that.

doing stuff based on events – sauron-event-added-functions

After events have been added, another hook is called: sauron-event-added-functions.

This is place to add sound effects, notifications and so on. After all, if you get an event for e.g. the org-mode backend that you have a meeting to attend in 5 minutes, simply adding a line in the Sauron-buffer may not be enough.

Instead, you can define a hook function for this.

For doing very sound effects, pop-ups etc., a few convenience functions are provided:

  • sauron-fx-sox (play a sound using ‘sox’)
  • sauron-fx-aplay (play a sound using ‘aplay’)
  • sauron-fx-gnome-osd (show some letters on your screen)
  • sauron-fx-zenity (pop up a zenity window)
  • sauron-fx-notify (trigger a notification using the D-Bus notification daemon)

(see the doc-strings for the functions for the details about their parameters).

Now, our hook function could look something like:

(add-hook 'sauron-event-added-functions
  (lambda (origin prio msg &optional props)
    (if (string-match "ping" msg)
      (sauron-fx-sox "/usr/share/sounds/ping.wav")
      (sauron-fx-sox "/usr/share/sounds/something-happened.wav"))
    (when (>= prio 4)
	(sauron-fx-sox "/usr/share/sounds/uhoh.wav")
	(sauron-fx-gnome-osd msg 10))))

Seeing all events

Sometimes, you may want to see all events instead of filtering them, for example for debugging purposes. For this, there is the variable sauron-log-events. If you set it to t, all events will be shown in a buffer names *Sauron Log*. This buffer shows up to sauron-log-buffer-max-lines (default: 1000) lines of the last events.

connecting to alert.el

John Wiegley’s alert.el has a bit of overlap with sauron; however, I’ve added some wrapper function to make it trivial to feed sauron events into alert. Simply adding:

(add-hook 'sauron-event-added-functions 'sauron-alert-el-adapter)

in your setup should do the trick (of course, alert.el must be loaded).

the backend modules

Currently, 8 backend modules have been implemented:

  • erc - for ERC, the emacs IRC client
  • org-mode - for tracking org-mode (appt) notifications
  • notifications - for the emacs24+ notifications module
  • d-bus - for dbus events
  • identica - for identica-mode, the social-network site
  • twittering - for twittering-mode, the emacs twitter client
  • jabber - for jabber, the IM protocol (XMPP)
  • elfeed - for elfeed, an emacs Atom/RSS feed reader

    By default, sauron tries to load all of them; this should work, even if you don’t have some of these packages (they simply won’t be activated).

    If you do not want to load some module, see the variable sauron-modules.


The ERC module check all IRC PRIVMSG messages, and JOIN/LEAVE/QUIT messages. PRIVMSG includes the messages sent to any channel by anyone. These message are given (by default) priority 2, so (by default) they do not show up in your sauron buffer.

However, messages that match one of your sauron-watch-patterns or sauron-watch-nicks are getting a higher priority, or messages that are private messages directed at you. However, after sending a message, you won’t get notified from the same nick for another 60 seconds (by default – see sauron-nick-insensitivity), so you won’t get e.g. sound effects for each message in a private conversation.

org-mode / appt

For org-mode, sauron adds functionality to appt-disp-window-function (but leaves it intact), so that whenever some event is near, you get a notification with the following priorities:

  • 15 minutes left: priority 3
  • 10 minutes left: priority 3
  • 5 minutes left: priority 4
  • 2 minutes left: priority 5

For all other minutes, you’ll get events with priority 2.

Note that you can influence the number of warnings and the time they start by setting the variables appt-display-interval and appt-message-warning-time, as documented in emacs manual.

You should load org before starting sauron, in particular before you set appt-disp-window-function, as sauron-org uses that same function (it will preserve the existing functionality though).


The dbus backend allows you to get events from outside emacs; it listens for two messages, AddUrlEvent and AddMsgEvent. You can call them like this:

dbus-send --session --dest="org.gnu.Emacs"	   \
          --type=method_call                  \
"/org/gnu/Emacs/Sauron"                       \
"org.gnu.Emacs.Sauron.AddUrlEvent"            \
string:shell uint32:3 string:"Link: Emacs-Fu" \

The four parameters are resp. the originator (‘shell’), the priority (‘3’ in the example), a description and a URL. This will show up in the sauron buffer (if the priority is high enough), and if you activate the event (press RET), your browser will visit the link.

dbus-send --session          	          \
--dest="org.gnu.Emacs"	                  \
 --type=method_call                           \
 "/org/gnu/Emacs/Sauron"                     \
"org.gnu.Emacs.Sauron.AddMsgEvent"           \
string:shell uint32:3 string:"Hello, world!"

The three parameters are resp. the sender (‘shell’), the priority (‘3’ in the example), and message. This will show up in the sauron buffer (if the priority is high enough).

As an example, you can get a notification when torrent has been completed in ‘Transmission’. In the torrent-completion script (see Preferences/ Call-script-when-torrent-is-completed), add something like:

dbus-send --session          	          \
--dest="org.gnu.Emacs"	                  \
--type=method_call                           \
 "/org/gnu/Emacs/Sauron"                     \
"org.gnu.Emacs.Sauron.AddMsgEvent"           \
string:Transmission uint32:3 string:"Torrent completed: $TR_TORRENT_NAME"

You also need to enable the web client support in Transmission - it’s in the ‘Web’ tab of the preferences dialog.

Note, if you start transmission before you start your session, see `Using D-Bus outside your session’.

Using D-Bus outside your session

Note, you normally only use D-Bus (i.e.., the d-bus session bus) when you are in the same session – say, your desktop environment. Thus, it is generally not possible to send yourself D-Bus messages from programs outside your session, for example something running from crontab.

For this, if you set sauron-dbus-cookie to non-nil (before starting sauron), it will drop a file ~/.sauron-dbus which contains the D-Bus session bus address (DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS). Using this address you can, in fact, send messages to sauron from outside your session, by doing something like in the previous examples, but first setting DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS:

DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS="`cat ~/.sauron-dbus`" dbus-send ....

We don’t write ~/.sauron-dbus as there may be security downsides to this - even though normally other users are not allowed to send to ‘your’ session bus, even with the cookie, it’s always good to be a bit paranoid.


sauron-notifications tracks notifications sent using `notifications-notify’, which was added in emacs 24. You can use `sauron-notifications-urgency-to-priority-plist’ for the mapping of the ‘urgency’ field of notification to the sauron’s priority field.

Note, one should be careful when calling `notifications-notify’ from functions listed in the `sauron-event-added-functions’ hook, as to not create some infinite recursion.

sauron-identica shows the number of new dents found by identica-mode whenever there is at least one new dent.


sauron-twittering shows the number of new tweets found by twittering-mode whenever there is at least one new tweet.

If twittering-username is set, it will also show @-mentions when new tweets arrive.


sauron-jabber shows events from jabber.el, this includes new messages, info messages, presence alerts and lost connections.

The info, presence and connection events get priority 2, so by default you won’t get to see these. The others get priority 3, so those should be visible by default.


sauron-elfeed show events from elfeed.el, this include new entries in each feed.

By default, all events get priority 2 therefore you won’t get to see these. However, it is possible to configure the priority using the following instruction

(puthash url priority sauron-elfeed-prio-hash)

adding new modules

It may be interesting to track other modules as well; this shouldn’t be too hard. Suppose we have a module ‘foo’:

  • create “sauron-foo.el”, and make sure it’s in the load-path
  • sauron-foo should implement at least:
    • sauron-foo-start to start the module; this function should return t if startup is successful, nil otherwise
    • sauron-foo-stop to stop the module / cleanup etc.
  • add sauron-foo.el with (provide 'sauron-foo)
  • now, add sauron-foo to your sauron-modules

Now, to actually make your module useful, you’d want to add some event is something happens. This is done using sauron-add-event (see it’s documentation).

Using sauron in other elisp

If you want to create simple sauron-events from other elisp code, writing a backend modules might be unnecessary; you can simply call the sauron-add-event function directly. See its docstring for the details. Example:

   'kitchen           ;; origin
   3                  ;; priority
   "Coffee is ready!"
   '(lambda ()        ;; function called when activated
      (message "Coffee's ready, get it while it's hot!"))
   '(:temperature 80)) ;; arbitrary props passed to
                       ;; hook functions

A typical pattern may also be to switch to the buffer of origin when the event is activated. The sauron-switch-to-marker-or-buffer function may be useful there, as it tries to ensure that the buffer is shown in the other frame (not the one with Sauron).

sample configuration

(require 'sauron)

 ;; note, you add (setq sauron-debug t) to get errors which can debug if
 ;; there's something wrong; normally, we catch such errors, since e.g an error
 ;; in one of the hooks may cause ERC to fail (i.e., the message won't come
 ;; trough).

(global-set-key (kbd "C-c s") 'sauron-toggle-hide-show)
(global-set-key (kbd "C-c t") 'sauron-clear)

  sauron-max-line-length 120

  ;; uncomment to show sauron in the current frame
  ;; sauron-separate-frame nil

  ;; you probably want to add your own nickname to the these patterns
  '("emacs-fu" "emacsfu" "wombat" "capybara" "yak" "gnu" "\\bmu\\b")

  ;; you probably want to add you own nick here as well
  '("Tom" "Dick" "Harry"))

;; some sound/light effects for certain events
(add-hook 'sauron-event-added-functions
  (lambda (origin prio msg &optional props)
    (if (string-match "ping" msg)
      (sauron-fx-sox "/usr/share/sounds/ping.wav"))
      ((= prio 3) (sauron-fx-sox "/usr/share/sounds/pling.wav"))
      ((= prio 4) (sauron-fx-sox "/usr/share/sounds/plong.wav"))
      ((= prio 5)
	(sauron-fx-sox "/usr/share/sounds/alarm.wav")
	(sauron-fx-gnome-osd(format "%S: %s" origin msg) 5)))))

;; events to ignore
(add-hook 'sauron-event-block-functions
  (lambda (origin prio msg &optional props)
      (string-match "^*** Users" msg)))) ;; filter out IRC spam