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March 31, 2023 22:29
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A functional API for org-mode inspired by @magnars's dash.el and s.el libraries.

Upcoming Breaking Changes

  • org-ml-get/set/map-affiliated-keyword and org-ml-set-caption! have been merged with org-ml-get/set/map-property and will be removed in a later revision
  • org-ml-do-(some-)headlines, org-ml-do-(some-)subtrees, org-ml-get-(some-)headlines, and org-ml-get-(some-)subtrees are now depreciated. Use org-ml-parse-headlines, org-ml-parse-subtrees, org-ml-update-headlines, and org-ml-update-subtres instead.


Install from MELPA:

M-x package-install RET org-ml RET

Alternatively, clone this repository to somewhere in your load path:

git clone ~/somewhere/in/load/path

Then require in your emacs config:

(require 'org-ml)


  • emacs (27.2, 27.1, 28.1)
  • org-mode (9.5, 9.4, 9.3)
  • dash
  • s

Explicit versions noted above have been tested. Other versions may work but are not currently supported.


Org-mode comes with a powerful, built-in parse-tree generator specified in org-element.el. The generated parse-tree is simply a heavily-nested list which can be easily manipulated using (mostly pure) functional code. This contrasts the majority of functions normally used to interface with org-mode files, which are imperative in nature (org-insert-headine, outline-next-heading, etc) as they depend on the mutable state of Emacs buffers. In general, functional code is (arguably) more robust, readable, and testable, especially in use-cases such as this where a stateless abstract data structure is being transformed and queried.

The org-element.el provides a minimal API for handling this parse-tree in a functional manner, but does not provide higher-level functions necessary for intuitive, large-scale use. The org-ml package is designed to provide this API. Furthermore, it is highly compatible with the dash.el package, which is a generalized functional library for emacs-lisp.

Org-Element Overview

Parsing a buffer with the function org-element-parse-buffer will yield a parse tree composed of nodes. Nodes have types and properties associated with them. See the org-element API documentation for a list of all node types and their properties (also see the terminology conventions and property omissions used in this package).

Each node is represented by a list where the first member is the type and the second member is a plist describing the node's properties:

(type (:prop1 value1 :prop2 value2 ...))

Node types may be either leaves or branches, where branches may have zero or more child nodes and leaves may not have child nodes at all. Leaves will always have lists of the form shown above. Branches, on the other hand, have their children appended to the end:

(type (:prop1 value1 :prop2 value2) child1 child2 ...)

In addition to leaves and branches, node types can belong to one of two classes:

  • Objects: roughly correspond to raw, possibly-formatted text
  • Elements: more complex structures which may be built from objects

Within the branch node types, there are restrictions of which class is allowed to be a child depending on the type. There are three of these restrictions:

  • Branch element with child elements (aka 'greater elements'): these are element types that are generally nestable inside one another (eg headlines, plain-lists, items)
  • Branch elements with child objects (aka 'object containers'): these are element types that hold textual information (eg paragraph)
  • Branch objects with child objects (aka 'recursive objects'): these are object types used primarily for text formating (bold, italic, underline, etc)

Note: it is never allowed for an element type to be a child of a branch object type.



This package takes several deviations from the original terminology found in org-element.el.

  • 'node' is used here to describe a vertex in the parse tree, where 'element' and 'object' are two classes used to describe said vertex (org-element.el seems to use 'element' to generally mean 'node' and uses 'object' to further specify)
  • 'child' and 'children' are used here instead of 'content' and 'contents'
  • 'branch' is used here instead of 'container'. Furthermore, 'leaf' is used to describe the converse of 'branch' (there does not seem to be an equivalent term in org-element.el)
  • org-element.el uses 'attribute(s)' and 'property(ies)' interchangeably to describe nodes; here only 'property(ies)' is used


All properties specified by org-element.el are readable by this API (eg one can query them with functions like om-get-property).

The properties :begin, :end, :contents-begin, :contents-end, :parent, and post-affiliated are not settable by this API as they are not necessary for manipulating the textual representation of the parse tree. In addition to these, some properties unique to certain types are not settable for the same reason. Each type's build function describes the properties that are settable.

See org-ml-remove-parent and org-ml-remove-parents for specific information and functions regarding the :parent property, why it can be annoying, when you would want to remove it.


Each function that operates on an element/object will take the element/object as its right-most argument. This allows convenient function chaining using dash.el's right-threading operators (->> and -some->>). The examples in the API reference almost exclusively demonstrate this pattern. Additionally, the right-argument convention also allows convenient partial application using -partial from dash.el.

Higher-order functions

Higher-order functions (functions that take other functions as arguments) have two forms. The first takes a (usually unary) function and applies it:

(om-map-property :value (lambda (s) (concat "foo" s)) node)
(om-map-property :value (-partial concat "foo") node)

This can equivalently be written using an anaphoric form where the original function name is appended with *. The symbol it carries the value of the unary argument (unless otherwise specified):

(om-map-property* :value (concat "foo" it) node)

Side effect functions

All functions that read and write from buffers are named like om-OPERATION-THING-at where OPERATION is some operation to be performed on THING in the current buffer. All these functions take point as one of their arguments to denote where in the buffer to perform OPERATION.

All of these functions have current-point convenience analogues that are named as om-OPERATION-this-THING where OPERATION and THING carry the same meaning, but OPERATION is done at the current point and point is not an argument to the function.

For the sake of brevity, only the former form of these functions are given in the API reference.


For comprehensive documentation of all available functions see the API reference.


By default, the org-element API does not parse timestamp habits. This means that if you parse an org-mode buffer with timestamp habits and try to convert it back to a string, the habits will be lost. org-ml has a wrapper function to add this functionality; enable it by setting org-ml-parse-habits to t. Since habits are an extension of timestamp repeaters, this option will also impact the behavior of org-ml-timestamp-get-repeater, org-ml-timestamp-set-repeater, and org-ml-timestamp-map-repeater (see their docstrings for details).


Benchmarking this library is still in the early stages.

Intuitively, the most costly operations are going to be those that go back-and-forth between raw buffer text (here called "buffer space") and its node representations (here called "node space") since those involve complicated string formating, regular expressions, buffer searching, etc (examples: org-ml-parse-this-THING, org-ml-update-this-THING and friends). Once the data is in node space, execution should be very fast since nodes are just lists. Thus if you have performance-intensive code that requires many small edits to org-mode files, it might be better to use org-mode's built-in functions. On the other hand, if most of the complicated processing can be done in node space while limiting the number of conversions to/from buffer space, org-ml will be much faster.

To be more scientific, the current tests in the suite (see here) seem to support the following conclusions when comparing org-ml to equivalent code written using built-in org-mode functions (in line with the intuitions above):

  • reading data (a one way conversion from buffer to node space) is up to an order of magnitude slower, specifically when the data to be obtained isn't very large (eg, reading the TODO state from a headline)
  • manipulating text (going from buffer to node space, then modifying the node, then going back to buffer space) is several times slower for single modifications (eg setting the TODO state of a headline)
  • larger numbers of manipulations on one node at once are faster (eg changing the TODO state, setting a property, and setting a SCHEDULED timestamp on a headline)

To run the benchmark suite:

make benchmark


For all pattern-matching functions (eg org-ml-match and org-ml-match-X), the PATTERN parameter is processed into a lambda function which computationally carries out the pattern matching. If there are many calls using the same or a few unique patterns, this lambda-generation overhead may be memoized by setting org-ml-memoize-match-patterns. See this varible's documentation for details.

Version History

See changelog.



(formerly om.el) A functional library for org-mode







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