Editors available in Astrophysics

The following are added to MacOS X systems as part of the standard Astrophysics setup, over and above those shipped with OS X itself, or are available from the Utilities section of Self-Service. Please note that TextEdit, vim (an updated version of the venerable vi) and even the good ol' UNIX ed are part of the MacOS X distribution; and that the Apple-supplied /usr/bin/emacs is not graphics-aware.

Geek Warning: GNU EMACS ("EMACS Classic") is MaJoC's weapon of editing choice, which will usually be more than enough for most users to condemn it out of hand.

Please see also:


What's with all these different versions of EMACS?

These are all basically versions of GNU-EMACS. By design, EMACS is mutable, and evolves over time; the various forms, which were "forked off" from the GNU original to serve different purposes in a variety of circumstances, have by now diverged enough that they basically represent different species within the genus EMACS.

When one is editing a file, having to pause to think how to do some editing action will get in the way of thinking about what one is writing, and the editor fails the "transparent tool" test. Inevitably, users' accustomed keystrokes for certain actions, and the details of the actions themselves, have diverged over time between different EMACSen.

Upshot: Those who are used to (eg) XEMACS cannot comfortably use GNU-EMACS, nor vice versa. Of such things are flamewars made.

Aquamacs Emacs

This is a version of GNU EMACS tailored to suit Apple's graphics interface. It is installed into /Applications/Physics as part of the standard Astro build. The entry "Aquamacs Command Line Tool" in the Utilities section of Self-Service makes the wrapper script aquamacs available at the command line, after which you can say either of the following to launch AquaMacs:

aquamacs filename

Please note: There is advice "out there" on the Net about customising one's EMACS startup files to make AquaMacs behave more like EMACS Classic. Sadly, some versions of these mods will cause an inadvertently-started EMACS Classic to forget how to exit cleanly. This is Not Good.


Another version of GNU EMACS tailored to Apple's interface, and whose defaults are preferred by some users. Appears as /Applications/emacs.app after installation from Self-Service.

GNU EMACS (command line), alias emacs-x:

An X11-literate version of GNU EMACS, now available via MacPorts. Invoke from the command line as either of:

emacs-x filename

This should automatically launch EMACS in an X11 session, and immediately return you to your command-line prompt in the Terminal or xterm from which you invoked it without needing to "ampersand it off" into the background. If you launched an X11 session, EMACS can take a wee while fiddling with fonts before it launches itself (this is agreed to be annoying); and if you haven't, X11 itself can take Simply Ages to start up first (this is agreed to be even more annoying).

TextEdit, and TextWrangler:

Another pair of text editors, neither of which happens to be EMACS. Both live in /Applications. Part of all Physics MacOS X builds; also available for update from Self-Service.

XEmacs, alias xemacs-x:

This is a freestanding copy of XEmacs. Install from the Utilities category of Self-Service. Invoke by xemacs-x or xemacs-x filename at the command prompt, which will launch an X window in the background, and run XEmacs within it.

Categories: Apple | Astro software | Astrophysics | Mac | OS X