02Credits Blog

Day64 - Spacemacs Chrome Debugging

Added chrome debugging layer to my spacemacs config


Today I spent some time researching and configuring a chrome debugging package in my emacs config. The particular package I went with is called indium and adds support debugging javascript applications from within emacs. It achieves this using the chrome debugger protocol which allows applications outside of chrome to manipulate the chrome debugger by steping, navigating frames, and accessing local variables.


In emacs I use the spacemacs project to initialize sane defaults for languages, setup vim emulation, and in general make emacs a better environment to live in. Spacemacs configures itself using "layers" which are small snippets of emacs lisp code which specify packages to pull down and install as well as configuration for the keybindings and functionality of said packages.

To add support for Indium I created a new Indium layer by creating an indium in my ~/.spacemacs.d/layers folder and adding a packages.el file to it. In it I added this lisp:

  (defconst indium-packages
(defun indium/init-indium ()
  (use-package indium
      (spacemacs/declare-prefix-for-mode 'indium-debugger-mode "d" "debugger")
      (spacemacs/set-leader-keys-for-minor-mode 'indium-debugger-mode
        "dy" 'indium-debugger-previous-frame
        "do" 'indium-debugger-next-frame
        "dl" 'indium-debugger-step-into
        "dj" 'indium-debugger-step-over
        "dh" 'indium-debugger-step-out
        "dr" 'indium-debugger-resume)
      (spacemacs/set-leader-keys-for-major-mode 'js2-mode
        "l" 'indium-launch
        "br" 'indium-repl-switch-from-buffer))))

In short this specifies that my layer depends on a package called "indium" and adds some keybinding support for the various functions I use in Indium. In practice the main places I use the package are for jumping to the correct source file in spacemacs when a breakpoing or error is thrown, navigating the debugger when paused, and accessing the repl.

Then to add this layer to spacemacs, I just added indium to my layer list in my ~/.spacemacs.d/init.el file.

  (defun dotspacemacs/layers ()
   dotspacemacs-distribution 'spacemacs
   dotspacemacs-enable-lazy-installation 'unused
   dotspacemacs-ask-for-lazy-installation t
   dotspacemacs-configuration-layer-path '()

A Note About Editors

Unfortunately I wasted a bunch of time today also trying to chase down a weird bug in my emacs configuration related to the portable dumper and it's interaction with spacemacs. As some background, emacs is a huge monstrosity of a program with a ton of legacy. The vast majority of it's source code is written in emacs-lisp, a dialect of lisp with a ton of warts and cruft. As a result, it tends to be pretty slow unless some crazy hacks are used. One that might not immediately be obvious is that emacs runs a ton of configuration in the default which gets dumped into a memory snapshot and reloaded on startup every time. This works great for the base configuration but gets slow again if you use a huge configuration file like spacemacs.

To get around this I use an experimental feature in spacemacs which adds support for dumping a personalized version of emacs with all of my configuration and loading that instead of the distributed one. Achieving this requires a bunch of bending over backwards including recompiling emacs to support larger dump files, reworking the init.el to manually force load all of the configuration before dumping, and fiddling with various spacemacs settings to fix everything that gets broken when you fly too close to the sun like I have. Things start breaking in weird ways. Various parts of emacs think they are running in a terminal when they aren't, https calls cause emacs to crash without recovery, and some things reload themselves on file open no matter how hard I try.

The fact that this affront to humanity is required to make emacs usable is sad and concerning. I love the premise behind emacs, but I worry about how much work is required to make the experience anywhere close to plug and play. When paired with the fact that relatively few people go through the effort to get emacs fully configured, I begin to wonder if there are better options. I love the culture of absolute reconfigurability that emacs users seem to cherish, but I worry that emacs is just too old and has too much baggage. Here are some other options I am eyeing in a post emacs world:

Before using emacs I tried for a while to use vim. I switched to emacs after getting incredibly frustrated with vim's configuration and performance characteristics. These days however Neovim has fixed most of these issues by adding a async-first plugin api that uses messagepack to allow any language as a plugin language. I may spend some time playing around with neovim soon.

On the rust side of things, Xi is incredibly promising. The project has been around for a while with relatively little outward progress, but the core of the editor is nothing short of incredible. I don't claim to understand the datastructures at Xi's core at all, but what I do understand is fascinating. Xi's team is clearly very invested in making a performance oriented text editor which should help solve some of the problems I encounter in emacs with performance. Xi also has a strong focus on cross platform support which is refreshing. As an example of the crazyness going on over there, the main developer has developed an entire UI framework for building fast applications on windows and has spent countless hours ensuring that the resize logic is flawless. The guy is nuts. The Xi folks claim that they are building an editor for the next 25 years, and I believe them.

Lastly, the front runner among my peers seems to be Visual Studio Code. I've spent some time with Visual Studio Code, but was turned off by it's configuration scheme which reminded me too much of Atom where configuration is highly constrained. Since that time however they have continued to improve the story and add support for language after language becoming best in class in each. Visual Studio Code feels like a fresh start from the old legacy of Visual Studio while preserving their attention to detail and engineering rigor.

The point I'm trying to make with this list is that these new editors are making bold steps while emacs seems to be plodding along. Emacs has been around for decades, but instead of being decades ahead I feel as though emacs is falling behind. I switched to emacs with the hope that since it has survived this long, maybe it will continue to survive longer. I'm beginning to realize that Emacs is doing just that: Surviving. It is not however Thriving and that makes me sad.

Book Keeping

Weird post today with a stronger focus on writing. I'm interested in using this blog as a place to talk about what I'm passionate about as well as my coding projects. I spend a ton of time in my editors and am never quite satisfied with them. Maybe writing about it will help me get a clear idea of what needs done next.

Today is also the first day back from my first 3 day break. I was unable to write the past 3 days because I was attending a friend's wedding. Hopefully breaks like that won't be too frequent.

Till tomorrow,