Perspective for Emacs
The Perspective package provides multiple named workspaces (or "perspectives") in Emacs, similar to multiple desktops in window managers like Awesome and XMonad, and Spaces on the Mac.
Each perspective has its own buffer list and its own window layout, along with some other isolated niceties, like the xref ring. This makes it easy to work on many separate projects without getting lost in all the buffers. Switching to a perspective activates its window configuration, and when in a perspective, only its buffers are available (by default).
Each Emacs frame has a distinct list of perspectives.
Perspective supports saving its state to a file, so long-lived work sessions may be saved and recovered as needed.
Sample Use Cases
Working on multiple projects can become difficult to organize as their buffer lists mix together during a long-running Emacs session. Searching for a buffer by name works well if you know what to search for, but sometimes picking from a list is easier — in which case, keeping the list well-pruned for relevant buffers becomes an important source of efficiency in file and buffer management. Perspective helps out by letting you keep separate named buffer lists and window layouts.
This use case works really well in conjunction with
Projectile. Projectile helps with
buffer navigation (and other project-specific tasks) in cases when a project has
a well-defined root directory. Perspective then steps in to help manage
unrelated buffers: shells, REPLs,
dired buffers visiting directories outside
the project, or files relevant to the project not under the same root as the
rest of the source. It also helps deal with the situation of one project with
multiple source repositories where having a shared window layout or buffer list
Suppose you're developing feature X in perspective
feature-X. This keeps you
working with one set of files and windows. You then realize that this feature
requires you to fix a bug in an unrelated set of files. You don't want to lose
all the context you have built up for feature X, so you open a new perspective,
bugfix-Y, letting you open new files and buffers without disturbing your work
feature-X. Then you are asked to urgently look into something related to
development of feature Z, but again: you don't want to lose context. So you open
a new perspective
feature-Z, and fill it with a whole bunch of new files and
windows — all without losing any of the context for your work on bug Y or
When you finish looking at Z, you close perspective
feature-Z, and return to
bugfix-Y, and restore its window layout and buffer list. When you finish with
Y, you close perspective
bugfix-Y and return to
(Hint: this workflow works best with the
persp-sort variable set to
— see documentation below.)
The following Emacs packages implement comparable functionality:
- persp-mode: A Perspective
fork, which implements perspective sharing between Emacs frames. It also has a
different approach to saving state and different configuration options. There
has been some
expressed in merging the
two projects. Due to conflicting function names,
persp-mode.eland Perspective cannot be installed simultaneously.
- Workgroups 2: Similar to Perspective in terms of features. Its original codebase seems to predate Emacs acquiring a native ability to serialize window layouts, so it has custom serialization code.
- eyebrowse: Supports window layouts but not buffer lists.
- wconf: Supports window layouts but not buffer lists.
- ElScreen: Supports window layouts but not buffer lists; seems unmaintained.
- Burly: An approach to persisting window and frame configurations using Emacs bookmarks.
Emacs 27 includes two new buffer and window organizing features: Tab Line
global-tab-line-mode) and Tab Bar (
- Tab Line maintains a list of buffers which had been opened in a given window, and anchors it to that window. It is analogous to tabs as used in web browsers and other text editors, and therefore orthogonal to Perspective.
- Tab Bar maintains window layouts (with optional names). In this, it is similar to Perspective. Unlike Perspective, it does not support buffer lists. Using Perspective and Tab Bar at the same time is not recommended at this time, since the tab list is global (i.e., will show up in all perspectives) and is likely to cause confusion. It would be an interesting future feature for Perspective to adopt the tab bar and allow keeping a distinct set of tabs per-perspective.
Perspective does not work with Emacs
This is because Perspective state stores buffer and window information in frame
desktop-save-mode does not support saving those types of data.
Instead, Perspective provides its own disk save and load feature, which cleanly saves perspectives.
use-package can install Perspective as follows:
(use-package perspective :bind ("C-x C-b" . persp-list-buffers) ; or use a nicer switcher, see below :config (persp-mode))
Replace the binding for
C-x C-b, the default Emacs buffer switcher, with one
of the nicer implementations described in the Buffer
perspective.el from this source repository in your load path
Users of Debian 9 or later or Ubuntu 16.04 or later may simply
apt-get install elpa-perspective, though be aware that the stable version provided in these
repositories is likely to be (extremely) outdated.
To activate perspective use
(persp-mode). This creates a single default
Commands are all prefixed by
C-x x by default. To change the prefix key,
persp-mode-prefix-key. Additionally, creating a key binding for
persp-mode-map will also activate the prefix.
Here are the main commands defined in
persp-switch: Query a perspective to switch to, or create
persp-switch-by-number: Switch to perspective by number, or switch quickly using numbers
1, 2, 3.. 0as prefix args; note this will probably be most useful with
persp-remove-buffer: Query a buffer to remove from current perspective
persp-kill: Query a perspective to kill
persp-rename: Rename current perspective
persp-add-buffer: Query an open buffer to add to current perspective
persp-set-buffer: Add buffer to current perspective and remove it from all others
switch-to-buffer; includes all buffers from all perspectives; changes perspective if necessary
persp-import: Import a given perspective from another frame.
persp-next: Switch to next perspective
persp-prev: Switch to previous perspective
persp-state-save: Save all perspectives in all frames to a file
persp-state-load: Load all perspectives from a file
Since Perspective maintains distinct buffer lists for each perspective, it helps to use a Perspective-aware buffer switcher.
Ido: Interactive Do (Ido,
in particular its
ido-switch-buffer command, is automatically
persp-mode is enabled.
list-buffers / buffer-menu: Perspective provides wrappers for the similar
persp-buffer-menu. (Note that Emacs binds
list-buffers by default.) When these functions are called normally, they
show the buffer menu filtered by the current perspective. With a prefix
argument, they show the buffer menu of all the buffers in all perspectives. (The
buffer-menu: the former calls
display-buffer, i.e., may split windows depending on
and the latter calls
switch-to-buffer, i.e., flips the current window to the
buffer list buffer.)
bs.el: Perspective provides a wrapper for
persp-bs-show. When this function is called normally, it shows a list of
buffers filtered by the current perspective. With a prefix argument, it shows a
list of buffers in all perspectives.
IBuffer: Perspective provides a wrapper for
persp-ibuffer. When this function is called normally, it shows a list of
buffers filtered by the current perspective. With a prefix argument, it shows a
list of buffers in all perspectives.
If you want to group buffers by persp-name in ibuffer buffer, use
persp-ibuffer-set-filter-groups. Or, make it the default:
(add-hook 'ibuffer-hook (lambda () (persp-ibuffer-set-filter-groups) (unless (eq ibuffer-sorting-mode 'alphabetic) (ibuffer-do-sort-by-alphabetic))))
Helm: Perspective ships with buffer-listing advice for Helm, so Helm's
buffer listing code should be automatically Perspective-aware when
is enabled. (Older versions of Helm relied on the machinery of
listing buffers, so they did not require this advice; see
this Helm commit
this Perspective commit
Ivy / Counsel: Perspective provides two commands for listing buffers using
Ivy and Counsel:
When these functions are called normally, they show a list of buffers filtered
by the current perspective. With a prefix argument, they shows a list of buffers
in all perspectives. The distinction between the
counsel versions is
the same as between
counsel-switch-buffer: the latter
shows a preview of the buffer to switch to, and the former does not.
It is a good idea to bind one these helper functions with the
:bind form of
use-package. Or, if you do not use
use-package, it can also be bound
(global-set-key (kbd "C-x C-b") (lambda (arg) (interactive "P") (if (fboundp 'persp-bs-show) (persp-bs-show arg) (bs-show "all"))))
Users of a
completing-read enhancement framework (such as Ivy or
Selectrum) may wish to use the
following two functions:
Both these functions behave like the built-ins, but use
directly. When called normally, they list buffers filtered by the current
perspective. With a prefix argument, they list buffers in all perspectives.
The following sample
use-package invocation changes Emacs default key bindings
to use the replacements:
(use-package perspective :bind (("C-x b" . persp-switch-to-buffer*) ("C-x k" . persp-kill-buffer*)) :config (persp-mode))
Saving Sessions to Disk
A pair of functions,
perspective durability on disk. When called interactively, they prompt for files
to save sessions to and restore from.
A custom variable,
persp-state-default-file, sets a default file to use for
saving and restoring perspectives. When it is set,
persp-state-save may be
called non-interactively without an argument and it will save to the file
referenced by that variable. This makes it easy to automatically save
perspective sessions when Emacs exists:
(add-hook 'kill-emacs-hook #'persp-state-save)
A limitation of
persp-state-load is that they do not
attempt to deal with non-file-visiting buffers with non-trivial state. Saving
shell, REPL, and
compilation-mode buffers is not supported. When saved to a
file, any windows pointing to them are changed to point to the perspective's
*scratch* buffer. (Live windows are, of course, left alone.)
Perspective supports several custom variables (see its section in
M-x customize). The following are likely to be of most interest:
persp-sort: Select the order in which to sort perspectives when calling
persp-switch. Defaults to
'access(by most recently accessed) and
'created(by order created) are available. Note that
persp-switch-by-numberis likely to be confusing when this is set to
'access, as the numbers associated with a perspective will change all the time.
persp-interactive-completion-function: Used for prompting for a perspective name.
completing-readis the default, with
ivy-completing-readis broadly compatible, but unfortunately sorts alphabetically and therefore breaks the
persp-sortsetting. Helm, unfortunately, does not have a
completing-readcompatible implementation out of the box (
helm-completing-read-default-1purports to be this but does not have the same
ido-completing-readis the recommended setting here unless a
completing-readenhancement framework is used.
persp-mode-prefix-key: Changes the default key prefix for Perspective commands.
persp-state-default-file: Changes the default file to use for saving and loading Perspective state.
persp-show-modestring: Determines if Perspective should show its status in the modeline. It defaults to
t, but can also be
nil(turning off the modeline status display) or
'header(which uses the header line instead of the modeline).
persp-modestring-short: When set to
t, show a shortened modeline string with only the current perspective instead of the full list. Defaults to
To change keys used after the prefix key, with
use-package you can do:
;; remap n to N to switch to next perspective (use-package perspective :bind ( :map perspective-map ("n" . nil) ("N" . persp-next)))
(define-key perspective-map (kbd "n") nil) (define-key perspective-map (kbd "N") 'persp-next)
Some Musings on Emacs Window Layouts
The following discussion exceeds the needs of documenting Perspective, but it falls in the category of helping users learn to manage Emacs sessions, and therefore will likely help potential users of Perspective make the experience smoother.
Emacs has bad default behavior when it comes to window handling: many commands and modes have a habit of splitting existing windows and changing the user's carefully thought-out window layout. This tends to be a more serious problem for people who run Emacs on large displays (possibly in full-screen mode): the greater amount of screen real estate makes it easy to split the frame into many smaller windows, making any unexpected alterations more disruptive.
As a result of indiscriminate-seeming window splits and buffer switching in
existing windows, new Emacs users can get into the habit of expecting Emacs and
its packages to lack basic respect for their layouts. Hence the popularity of
winner-mode, and packages like
This may make the value of Perspective seem questionable: why bother with
carefully preserving window layouts if Emacs just throws them away on a
M-x compile? The answer is to fix the broken defaults. This is fairly easy:
(setq display-buffer-alist '((".*" (display-buffer-reuse-window display-buffer-same-window) (reusable-frames . t)))) (setq even-window-sizes nil) ; display-buffer hint: avoid resizing
The Emacs framework responsible for "pop-up" windows is
relevant section of the Emacs
is dense and difficult to read, so there have been attempts to summarize the
most important bits:
The suggested settings above do the following:
display-bufferto reuse existing windows as much as possible, including in other frames. For example, if there is already a
*compilation*buffer in a visible window, switch to that window. This means that Emacs will usually switch windows in a "do what I mean" manner for a warmed-up workflow (one with, say, a couple of source windows, a compilation output window, and a Magit window).
- Prevent splits by telling
display-bufferto switch to the target buffer in the current window. For example, if there is no
*compilation*buffer visible, then the buffer in whichever window was current when
compilewas run will be replaced with
*compilation*. This may seem intrusive, since it changes out the current buffer, but keep in mind that most buffers popped up in this manner are easy to dismiss, either with a dedicated keybinding (often
q) or the universally-applicable
kill-buffer. This is easier than restoring window arrangements. It is also easier to handle for pre-arranged window layouts, since the appropriate command can simply be run in a window prepared for it in advance. (If this is a step too far, then replace