I’ve been pretty quiet on here since I last wrote about how I’d done a further revamp of my Emacs config, so I thought that subject would be a good reason to write another blog post.

It’ll be a mostly short one, and one to muse over something that’s been bugging me for a while now: my decision to lean heavily on customize to set all sorts of settings.

Initially, when I nuked my original config over a year ago, it seemed to make a lot of sense. Let all the tweaks and set values “hide” in a file of their own and try and keep the hand-edited config files as small and as clean as possible. Recently though I’ve got to thinking that this obscures too much, hides too much detail, and removes the ability to actually document what I’m doing and why. It also does make it tricky to adapt some settings to different platforms or even environments on a single platform.

Another problem I’ve run into is this: when I made the second round of changes and decided to lean heavily on use-package, I soon ran into the minor issue of some packages not making sense, or even being needed, on some platforms (stuff that’s useful on my macOS machines isn’t always useful on my Windows machines, that sort of thing). While use-package can handle this easily thanks to the :if keyword, I’m still left with the fact that package-selected-packages still gets populated.

Having package-selected-packages contain a list of installed packages likely makes sense if you’re using just the Emacs package system and you’re not doing the installing with use-package and :ensure. But with use-package and :ensure I feel like I’ve got far more control over things and can adapt what gets installed when depending on which Emacs I’m running where.

But, because I’m syncing my ~/.emacs.d/.custom.el to all my machines too, any use-package that has a :if to not bother using a package has little effect because the package still ends up being listed/loaded/seen as part of the installation.

Ideally, I think, I’d like to be able to have package-selected-packages held in its own file, or I’d only ever use ~/.emacs.d/.custom.el for local stuff (and so stop syncing it).

Starting today I’m going about a process of moving as much as I can out of ~/.emacs.d/.custom.el and into hand-edited files. In some respects I guess I am going back to how I used to manage Emacs configuration, but this time it’s not a massive monolithic file-of-Lisp, it’s neatly broken down into sensible sections and it’s also biased towards a “grab and config this package” approach.

Meanwhile, I’ve not seen any good discussions online about customize vs “hand-edit”, which strikes me as a little odd as it feels like the perfect “religious issue” for people to have endless disagreements over. I guess, over the next couple or so weeks, I’ll find out if switching back was a good idea.