Future-proof your Emacs Lisp customizations!
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README.md

el-patch

Future-proof your Emacs Lisp customizations!

Table of contents

TL;DR

How do I get it

From MELPA, using your package manager of choice. See Installation. Emacs 25 and later is supported, please submit an issue if you want el-patch to support Emacs 24.

What is it

Like the advice system, el-patch provides a way to customize the behavior of Emacs Lisp functions that do not provide enough variables and hooks to let you make them do what you want. The advantage of using el-patch is that you will be notified if the definition of a function you are customizing changes, so that you are aware your customizations might need to be updated.

Using the same mechanism, el-patch also provides a way to make lazy-loading packages much more easy, powerful, and robust.

Installation

el-patch is available on MELPA. It is easiest to install it using straight.el:

(straight-use-package 'el-patch)

However, you may install using any other package manager if you prefer.

Why does it exist

Emacs provides a comprehensive set of customizable variables and hooks as well as a powerful advice system. Sometimes, however, these are not enough and you must override the entire function in order to change a detail of its implementation.

Such a situation is not ideal, since the original definition of the function might change when you update Emacs or one of its packages, and your overridden version would then be outdated. This could prevent you from benefitting from bugfixes made to the original function, or even introduce new bugs into your configuration. Even worse, there is no way to tell when the original definition has changed! The correctness of your configuration is basically based on faith.

el-patch introduces another way to override Emacs Lisp functions. You can provide a patch which simutaneously specifies both the original and modified definitions of the function. When Emacs starts up, your patches act just like you had overridden the functions they are modifying. However, you can later ask el-patch to validate your patches—that is, to make sure that the original function definitions have not changed since you created the patches. If they have, el-patch will show you the difference using Ediff.

Basic usage

Consider the following function defined in the company-statistics package:

(defun company-statistics--load ()
  "Restore statistics."
  (load company-statistics-file 'noerror nil 'nosuffix))

Suppose we want to change the third argument from nil to 'nomessage, to suppress the message that is logged when company-statistics loads its statistics file. We can do that by placing the following code in our init.el:

(el-patch-feature company-statistics)
(with-eval-after-load 'company-statistics
  (el-patch-defun company-statistics--load ()
    "Restore statistics."
    (load company-statistics-file 'noerror
          (el-patch-swap nil 'nomessage)
          'nosuffix)))

Simply calling el-patch-defun instead of defun defines a no-op patch: that is, it has no effect (well, not quite—see later). However, by including patch directives, you can make the modified version of the function different from the original.

In this case, we use the el-patch-swap directive. The el-patch-swap form is replaced with nil in the original definition (that is, the version that is compared against the "official" definition in company-statistics.el), and with 'nomessage in the modified definition (that is, the version that is actually evaluated in your init-file).

Note that it is important to cause the patch to be loaded after company-statistics is loaded. Otherwise, when company-statistics is loaded, the patch will be overwritten!

You may also be wondering what el-patch-feature does. The patch will still work without it; however, until company-statistics is actually loaded, el-patch will not be aware that you have defined the patch (since the code has not been run yet). Telling el-patch that you define a patch inside a with-eval-after-load for company-statistics allows M-x el-patch-validate-all to make sure to validate all your patches, and not just the ones currently defined. See also Validating patches that are not loaded yet.

Patch directives

  • (el-patch-add ARGS...)

    Insert forms. In the original definition, the entire form is removed, and in the modified definition, each of the ARGS is spliced into the surrounding form. For example, the following patch:

    (foo (el-patch-add bar baz) quux)
    

    resolves to this in the modified definition:

    (foo bar baz quux)
    
  • (el-patch-remove ARGS...)

    Remove forms. This is just like el-patch-add, except that the roles of the original and modified definitions are exchanged.

  • (el-patch-swap OLD NEW)

    Replace one form with another. In the original definition, the entire form is replaced with OLD, and in the modified definition, the entire form is replaced with NEW.

  • (el-patch-wrap [TRIML [TRIMR]] ARGS...)

    Wrap forms in a list, optionally prepending or postpending additional forms. This is the most complicated directive, so an example will probably be helpful. The following patch:

    (el-patch-wrap 1 1
      (or
       (eq (get-text-property (point) 'face) 'font-lock-doc-face)
       (eq (get-text-property (point) 'face) 'font-lock-string-face)))
    

    resolves to this in the original definition:

    (eq (get-text-property (point) 'face) 'font-lock-doc-face)
    

    and this in the modified definition:

    (or
     (eq (get-text-property (point) 'face) 'font-lock-doc-face)
     (eq (get-text-property (point) 'face) 'font-lock-string-face)))
    

    That is, the original eq call has been wrapped in an additional list, and also it has had forms inserted before and after it. The first 1 in the call to el-patch-wrap is the number of forms to insert before it, and the second 1 is the number of forms to insert after it.

    What you provide to el-patch-wrap for ARGS is the fully wrapped form, so you can think of TRIML and TRIMR as the number of forms to trim from each end of the ARGS before removing the surrounding parentheses.

    You can omit both TRIML and TRIMR; each defaults to zero. Notice that ARGS is always a list, so the number of arguments is either one, two, or three—thus eliminating any ambiguity about which argument is which.

  • (el-patch-splice [TRIML [TRIMR]] ARGS...)

    Splice forms into their containing form, optionally removing some from the beginning and end first. This is just like el-patch-wrap, except that the roles of the original and modified definitions are exchanged.

  • (el-patch-let VARLIST ARGS...)

    Sometimes you need to restructure a form in an inconvenient way. For example, suppose you need to turn the following form:

    (if $cond
        $then
      $else)
    

    into the following form:

    (cond
     ($cond $then)
     ($new-cond $new-then)
     (t $else))
    

    where $cond, $then, $new-cond, $new-then, and $else are all long forms with many sub-expressions. You could do it in the following way:

    (el-patch-swap
      (if $cond
          $then
        $else)
      (cond
       ($cond $then)
       ($new-cond $new-then)
       (t $else)))
    

    However, this is not ideal because you have repeated the forms and violated DRY.

    You could achieve the patch without any repetition by using the basic patch directives, but that would be hard to read. Wouldn't it be great if you could just do the following?

    (el-patch-let (($cond (... long form ...))
                   ($then (... another form ...))
                   ($else (... more code ...))
                   ($new-cond (... even more ...))
                   ($new-then (... lots more code ...)))
      (el-patch-swap
        (if $cond
            $then
          $else)
        (cond
         ($cond $then)
         ($new-cond $new-then)
         (t $else))))
    

    Well, you can. Welcome to el-patch.

  • (el-patch-literal ARGS...)

    Hopefully this will never happen, but you might need to use el-patch to modify functions that use symbols like el-patch-add. In this case, you can wrap a form in el-patch-literal to prevent anything within from being interpreted by el-patch. For example, the following form:

    (foo (el-patch-literal (el-patch-add bar baz)) quux)
    

    will be replaced with:

    (foo (el-patch-add bar baz) quux)
    

    in both the original and modified definitions. Thus, you can happily write el-patches that patch other el-patch definitions :)

  • (el-patch-concat ARGS...)

    This patch directive lets you concatenate strings. It is useful for modifying long string literals. For example, let's say that you have a string

    "Pretend this is a very long string we only want to write once"
    

    in a function you are patching. To change just a small part of this string, you could use el-patch-swap directly:

    (el-patch-swap
      "Pretend this is a very long string we only want to write once"
      "Pretend this is a really long string we only want to write once")
    

    But this repeats the rest of the string, violating DRY. Imagine if you just want to add a sentence to a 40-line docstring! Here's an alternative:

    (el-patch-concat
      "Pretend this is a "
      (el-patch-swap "very" "really")
      " long string we only want to write once")
    

    Basically, el-patch-concat just resolves all of its arguments, which may contain arbitrary patch directives, and then concatenates them as strings and splices the result into both the original and modified definition.

Defining patches

To patch a function, start by copying its definition into your init-file, and replace defun with el-patch-defun. Then modify the body of the function to use patch directives, so that the modified definition is what you desire.

You can also patch other types of definitions using:

  • el-patch-defmacro
  • el-patch-defsubst
  • el-patch-defvar
  • el-patch-defconst
  • el-patch-defcustom
  • el-patch-define-minor-mode

Some warnings:

  • Patching defmacro, defsubst, and defconst forms will not affect usages of them in already-defined functions, due to macroexpansion and byte-compilation. You may need to define no-op patches of client functions to get your changes to show up. Or take a different strategy—figuring out the best way to make a particular change to an internal function is often a complex process. You may also consider using advice, dynamic binding, and just plain forking the package.

  • Patching defvar, defconst, and defcustom forms will not affect the value of the variable, if it has already been defined. Thus, they are only useful for lazy-loading by default. To override this behavior and force the patches to reset the value of the variable, even if it is already defined, set el-patch-use-aggressive-defvar.

You can patch any definition form, not just those above. To register your own definition types, use the el-patch-deftype macro. For example, the el-patch-defun function is defined as follows:

(el-patch-deftype defun
  :classify el-patch-classify-function
  :locate el-patch-locate-function
  :declare ((doc-string 3)
            (indent defun)))

See the docstrings on the macro el-patch-deftype and the variable el-patch-deftype-alist for more detailed information. See also the source code of el-patch for examples of how to use el-patch-deftype.

Inspecting patches

You can run Ediff on a patch (original vs. modified definitions) by running M-x el-patch-ediff-patch and selecting the desired patch. Note that in this context, the "original" definition is the one specified by the patch, not the actual definition that is checked when you validate the patch (see below).

Validating patches

To validate a patch, run M-x el-patch-validate and select the desired patch. A warning will be printed if there is a difference between what the patch definition asserts the original definition of the function is and the actual original definition of the function.

If there is a difference, you can visualize it using Ediff with M-x el-patch-ediff-conflict.

You can validate all the patches that have been defined so far using M-x el-patch-validate-all.

Removing patches

Use M-x el-patch-unpatch. Note that this does not technically remove the patch: instead, it sets the function or variable definition to the "original" definition as specified by the patch. These two actions will, however, be equivalent as long as the patch is not outdated (i.e., it is validated without errors by M-x el-patch-validate).

Lazy-loading packages

el-patch does not mind if you patch a function that is not yet defined. You can therefore use el-patch to help lazy-load a package.

As an example, consider the Ivy package. Ivy provides a minor mode called ivy-mode that sets completing-read-function to ivy-completing-read. The idea is that you call this function immediately, so that when a completing-read happens, it calls into the Ivy code.

Now, ivy-completing-read is autoloaded. So Ivy does not need to be loaded immediately: as soon as ivy-completing-read is called, Ivy will be loaded automatically. However, calling ivy-mode will trigger the autoload for Ivy, so we can't do that if we want to lazy-load the package. The natural thing to do is to copy the definition of ivy-mode into our init-file, but what if the original definition changes? That's where el-patch comes in. The code from Ivy looks like this:

(defvar ivy-mode-map
  (let ((map (make-sparse-keymap)))
    (define-key map [remap switch-to-buffer]
      'ivy-switch-buffer)
    (define-key map [remap switch-to-buffer-other-window]
      'ivy-switch-buffer-other-window)
    map)
  "Keymap for `ivy-mode'.")

(define-minor-mode ivy-mode
  "Toggle Ivy mode on or off.
Turn Ivy mode on if ARG is positive, off otherwise.
Turning on Ivy mode sets `completing-read-function' to
`ivy-completing-read'.

Global bindings:
\\{ivy-mode-map}

Minibuffer bindings:
\\{ivy-minibuffer-map}"
  :group 'ivy
  :global t
  :keymap ivy-mode-map
  :lighter " ivy"
  (if ivy-mode
      (progn
        (setq completing-read-function 'ivy-completing-read)
        (when ivy-do-completion-in-region
          (setq completion-in-region-function 'ivy-completion-in-region)))
    (setq completing-read-function 'completing-read-default)
    (setq completion-in-region-function 'completion--in-region)))

To enable ivy-mode while still lazy-loading Ivy, simply copy those definitions to your init-file before the call to ivy-mode, replacing defvar with el-patch-defvar and replacing define-minor-mode with el-patch-define-minor-mode. That is:

(el-patch-defvar ivy-mode-map
  (let ((map (make-sparse-keymap)))
    (define-key map [remap switch-to-buffer]
      'ivy-switch-buffer)
    (define-key map [remap switch-to-buffer-other-window]
      'ivy-switch-buffer-other-window)
    map)
  "Keymap for `ivy-mode'.")

(el-patch-define-minor-mode ivy-mode
  "Toggle Ivy mode on or off.
Turn Ivy mode on if ARG is positive, off otherwise.
Turning on Ivy mode sets `completing-read-function' to
`ivy-completing-read'.

Global bindings:
\\{ivy-mode-map}

Minibuffer bindings:
\\{ivy-minibuffer-map}"
  :group 'ivy
  :global t
  :keymap ivy-mode-map
  :lighter " ivy"
  (if ivy-mode
      (progn
        (setq completing-read-function 'ivy-completing-read)
        (when ivy-do-completion-in-region
          (setq completion-in-region-function 'ivy-completion-in-region)))
    (setq completing-read-function 'completing-read-default)
    (setq completion-in-region-function 'completion--in-region)))

(ivy-mode 1)

(featurep 'ivy) ;; => ivy is still not loaded!

It's really that simple!

Validating patches that are not loaded yet

If you want to define a patch for a function provided by an unloaded feature, it is likely that you will just put the patch in a with-eval-after-load for the feature. But then el-patch-validate and el-patch-validate-all will not be able to validate your patch, because it is not yet defined.

To get around this problem, you can add functions to el-patch-pre-validate-hook in order to make sure all your patches are defined (for instance, you might need to require some features or even enable a custom minor mode). This hook is run before el-patch-validate-all, and also before el-patch-validate when you provide a prefix argument.

Since defining some patches after a feature is loaded is such a common operation, el-patch provides a convenience macro for it: el-patch-feature. You can call this macro with an (unquoted) feature name, and it will create a function that loads that feature, and add it to el-patch-pre-validate-hook for you.

If you don't want all of your patches to be defined all the time, you can put some functions in el-patch-post-validate-hook to disable them again. For some examples of how to use these hooks, check out Radian Emacs.

Integration with use-package

You can enable the use-package integration of el-patch by toggling the global minor mode el-patch-use-package-mode, but it is more convenient to set the variable el-patch-enable-use-package-integration (defaults to non-nil) and then the mode will be toggled appropriately once el-patch and use-package have both been loaded.

The use-package integration defines two new use-package keywords, :init/el-patch and :config/el-patch. They are analogous to :init and :config, but each top-level form is converted into an el-patch form: for example, a defun will be turned into an el-patch-defun, and so on. (Definition forms that have no corresponding el-patch macro are left as is.) The resulting code is prepended to the code in :init or :config, respectively. Also, if you provide either keyword, then a call to el-patch-feature is inserted into the :init section.

Usage with byte-compiled init-file

el-patch does not need to be loaded at runtime just to define patches. This means that if you byte-compile your init-file, then el-patch will not be loaded when you load the compiled code.

For this to work, you will need to stick to defining patches with el-patch-def* and declaring features with el-patch-feature. Anything else will cause el-patch to be loaded at runtime.

Note, of course, that you must have el-patch loaded at byte-compilation time, since otherwise the macros will expand incorrectly. This is true for all packages, not just el-patch.

If you do not byte-compile your init-file, then all of this is immaterial.

But how does it work?

Magic.

But how does it actually work?

The basic idea is simple. When a patch is defined, the patch definition is resolved to figure out the modified definition is. Then that definition is installed by evaluating it (but using el-patch--stealthy-eval, so that looking up the function definition will return the original location rather than the el-patch invocation location, and also using makunbound to override a previous variable definition if el-patch-use-aggressive-defvar is non-nil).

The patch definition is also recorded in the hash el-patch--patches. This allows for the functionality of M-x el-patch-ediff-patch. Obtaining the actual original definition of a function is done using a modified version of find-function-noselect, which provides for M-x el-patch-validate and M-x el-patch-ediff-conflict.

When you call M-x el-patch-unpatch, the patch definition is resolved again and the original version is installed by evaluating it.

But does it actually work?

It doesn't seem to crash my Emacs, at least.