emacs package to check for unbalanced parens on the fly
Emacs Lisp
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FlyParens provides a minor mode called flyparens-mode which checks for unbalanced parens (a.k.a. parentheses) (or braces) on the fly in Lisp code and highlights the first mismatched paren, whether it be at point or not. Also, you can customize to make it tell you whether or not the parens in the buffer are balanced, via text cursor color or other means. This means that whenever you accidentally introduce mismatched parens, you get notified instantly, and so you get to do something about it immediately rather than fix parens at a much later time. For example, you could simply undo (M-x undo) on the spot and you also get to know which habit tend to introduce mismatched parens.

If you are a beginner, then this package is for you, and you are encouraged to think of this package as a training wheel and eventually move on to paredit. (In particular, this package is to help you mainly in the "no red tape" phase of Lisp coding. See this article for context: It is not hard to edit Lisp code)

Check out the following minor modes too, which you can use together with flyparens-mode:

  • show-paren-mode (Emacs built-in. highlights the paren that matches the paren at point)
  • rainbow-delimiters-mode (highlights parens by depth and highlights unmatched close parens.)

Alternatively, you can just run the following command to find the first mismatch paren:

M-x check-parens

That command is an Emacs built-in. FlyParens is essentially an on-the-fly wrapper on that command.

See this demo gif to see a demonstration of FlyParens. The demo also goes into how mismatched parens could arise. (Note: the demo assumes CUA mode is on.)

Recommended configuration for beginners

Install the package and then copy the code from flyparens-config-example-1.el and paste it in your emacs init file.

Advanced usage

Users well versed in elisp may customize flyparens-function in more radical ways and share them with others.


Only one mismatched paren in only one buffer (current buffer) is highlighted.

Other packages to look into

  • Flylisp (Color unbalanced parentheses and parentheses inconsistent with indentation)

Flylisp colors mismatched open paren (coloring mismatched close paren is planned) and since it relies on propertize-region, it is fast in large buffers. Flyparens on the other hand relies on checking the whole buffer and given the recommended config, it notifies you of occurrence of mismatched parens not on screen. (Mismatched parens outside of the visible area can occur when the user invokes C-k while paredit is not on.)

Inspired by

The idle-highlight-mode package and the check-parens command