Emacs: With ace-window and link-hint, open links exactly where you want them
This post describes how the Emacs package link-hint can be combined with ace-window to allow you to select, on-the-fly, which window a link will open in—instead of letting fate, or custom, or Emacs decide for you.
Ace-window is (more than) a fancy window-switcher
The ace-window package, written by abo-abo, offers a handy, full-featured
alternative to the built-in window-switching function
package’s primary function—the titular
ace-window—overlays a different
character (letter or number) over each visible Emacs window, so you can
switch to the desired window by simply pressing its assigned character. Very
useful, very sleek.
But ace-window is more than just a handy way to switch windows.
The package also offers the ability to perform an action in the selected window before switching to it. In this regard, it follows the design of its parent package avy—also by abo-abo. Instead of simply switching to a window, you can split it first, call switch-to-buffer in it, or even close it. For a demonstration of this aspect of ace-window, see this video from Protesilaos Stavrou.)
The greatness of ace-window truly comes through, however, when it is combined with other packages.
With ace-window and Embark, open files/buffers in specified windows
In his detailed write-up on using Embark, Karthik Chikmagalur showcases a killer mash-up of ace-window and Embark, demonstrating how ace-window can be used for more than just switching windows.
Briefly put, Karthik shows how to incorporate ace-window’s window-selection function into the opening of a file or buffer from the minibuffer so that, as he writes, “any buffer/file/bookmark I open is always placed exactly where I want it to be on the screen.”
An example usage would be:
embark-acton file you wish to open
my/embark-ace-action-find-file(this is the slightly unwieldy name Karthik gives to the embark/ace-window function)
- select desired window with
With ace-window and link-hint, follow links in specified windows
Inspired by what Karthik showed was possible, I wanted to incorporate
ace-window with link-hint, so that I could choose which window a link
would open in. The result is a function called
If you’re unfamiliar, link-hint is a package that is conceptually similar to ace-window: it puts a character overlay on visible links in a buffer so that you can choose a link to follow by typing its assigned character. (The conceptual similarity of link-hint and ace-window is not surprising, since both are based on avy.)
Link-hint can identify a lot of different type of links, such as urls, file paths, mailto links, org-links, buttons, and dired filenames. New link types can also be defined by the user. (More on that later.)
As with avy and ace-window, link-hint allows for different actions to performed on the chosen link. However, there are only two default actions for acting on links: open link and copy link.
Defining a new action is done by defining a new function, in this case the
link-hint-aw-select, which will be entry-point command for all link types:
(defun link-hint-aw-select () "Use avy to open a link in a window selected with ace-window." (interactive) (unless (avy-with link-hint-aw-select (link-hint--one :aw-select)) (message "No visible links")))
Things get more complicated very quickly, however.
Each action must be tailored to each different link type. Take the case of the “open” action, for examples: urls open one way—in a browser—and filepaths open another way—in a relevant application—and email addresses open another way—in a new draft email. Each action is actually many different actions, all roughly similar.
When creating a new action, then, it is necessary to make sure that each link type is associated with a function that will perform the new action in the appropriate way.
aw-select action for file links is quite simple:
(defun link-hint--aw-select-file-link (link) (with-demoted-errors "%s" (aw-switch-to-window (aw-select nil)) (find-file link)))
To make the link-hint ecosystem aware of this new association of link-type, action, and function, there is a handy macro:
(link-hint-define-type 'file-link :aw-select #'link-hint--aw-select-file-link)
If different link-types behave similarly, it is possible to create a macro of our own that will do all of the above very efficiently. This is the case with buttons and dired-filenames, for example:
(defmacro define-link-hint-aw-select (link-type fn) `(progn (link-hint-define-type ',link-type :aw-select #',(intern (concat "link-hint--aw-select-" (symbol-name link-type)))) (defun ,(intern (concat "link-hint--aw-select-" (symbol-name link-type))) (_link) (with-demoted-errors "%s" (if (> (length (aw-window-list)) 1) (let ((window (aw-select nil)) (buffer (current-buffer)) (new-buffer)) (,fn) (setq new-buffer (current-buffer)) (switch-to-buffer buffer) (aw-switch-to-window window) (switch-to-buffer new-buffer)) (link-hint-open-link-at-point)))))) (define-link-hint-aw-select button push-button) (define-link-hint-aw-select dired-filename dired-find-file)
The same is almost the case with org-links as well, except that by default
org-links are opened using
find-file-other-window instead of
meaning that the above macro wouldn’t work properly.
I prefer to change this setting globally, so that org-links are opened in the current window, by evaluating the following:
(setf (cdr (assoc 'file org-link-frame-setup)) 'find-file)
This allows me to use the macro:
(define-link-hint-aw-select org-link org-open-at-point)
To leave org’s default behavior in place globally, it is necessary to define a function specifically for org-links, in which the behavior is changed locally in a let-binding:
(defun link-hint--aw-select-org-link (_link) (let ((org-link-frame-setup '((file . find-file)))) (with-demoted-errors "%s" (if (> (length (aw-window-list)) 1) (let ((window (aw-select nil)) (buffer (current-buffer)) (new-buffer)) (org-open-at-point) (setq new-buffer (current-buffer)) (switch-to-buffer buffer) (aw-switch-to-window window) (switch-to-buffer new-buffer)) (link-hint-open-link-at-point))))) (link-hint-define-type 'org-link :aw-select #'link-hint--aw-select-org-link)
Things are actually even a bit more complicated than this with org-links.
Since org handles different link-types internally, the function
link-hint--aw-select-org-link can also be made to handle certain org
link-types differently. For example, if you want http/https links to be
opened externally, there is no reason to call the
aw-select behavior for
that type of org-link. This could be accomplished by including something like
the following in the function’s “if” conditional:
(not (member (org-element-property :type (org-element-context)) '("http" "https")))
The whole function would be:
(defun link-hint--aw-select-org-link (_link) (let ((org-link-frame-setup '((file . find-file)))) (with-demoted-errors "%s" (if (and (> (length (aw-window-list)) 1) (not (member (org-element-property :type (org-element-context)) '("http" "https")))) (let ((window (aw-select nil)) (buffer (current-buffer)) (new-buffer)) (org-open-at-point) (setq new-buffer (current-buffer)) (switch-to-buffer buffer) (aw-switch-to-window window) (switch-to-buffer new-buffer)) (link-hint-open-link-at-point)))))
Example use-case: note-taking, zettelkasten, etc.
I find this functionality really useful in my note-taking environment, where
each of my notes contains several links to other notes. I rarely want to
follow a link in the same window as the note where the link appears. I
typically want to leave that note where it is and open a link somewhere else.
If I have several windows arrayed around my screen, I can use
link-hint-aw-select to open the linked note exactly where I want it to be.
To use this with org, the above configuration is enough. If you use another note-taking environment, you may need to define a new link type.
For example, for use with my own Zettelkasten package zk, I define a new link
zk-link and a function
zk-link-hint-aw-select, along with other
functions necessary to fully incorporate a new link type into the link-hint
(defun zk-link-hint--zk-link-at-point-p () "Return the ID for the zk-link at the point or nil." (and (zk--id-at-point) (thing-at-point-looking-at zk-link-regexp))) (defun zk-link-hint--next-zk-link (bound) "Find the unext zk-link. Only search the range between just after the point and BOUND." (link-hint--next-regexp zk-id-regexp bound)) (defun link-hint--aw-select-zk-link (id) (with-demoted-errors "%s" (if (> (length (aw-window-list)) 1) (let ((window (aw-select nil)) (buffer (current-buffer)) (new-buffer)) (zk-follow-link-at-point id) (setq new-buffer (current-buffer)) (switch-to-buffer buffer) (aw-switch-to-window window) (switch-to-buffer new-buffer)) (link-hint-open-link-at-point)))) (link-hint-define-type 'zk-link :next #'zk-link-hint--next-zk-link :at-point-p #'zk-link-hint--zk-link-at-point-p :open #'zk-follow-link-at-point :copy #'kill-new :aw-select #'link-hint--aw-select-zk-link) (push 'link-hint-zk-link link-hint-types)
Even though link-hint can be a bit complex under the hood, it is quite effortless, even elegant, when put in combination with ace-window. Give it a try and puzzle over what you had done so long without it.