Emacs, scripting and anything text oriented.

A Better Less?

I use emacs – with a server1 and client setup – so that I can quickly open new files in it using emacsclient. My typical setup is to have xterm + tmux on one monitor and a single emacs(client) frame on another. But there are times when I do not want to shift focus from one monitor to another, like when I just need to review some log file. So I started using an alias to emacs -nw -Q to quickly open log files, review, filter, and C-x C-c.

Of course, that’s not where this post ends. An alias was no longer adequate to do what I wanted it to do more ..

I typically do my text editing in the emacs frame, while do just non-editing actions like viewing, navigating, searching, filtering in quick emacs sessions from tmux.

I wanted that “tmux emacs” to be independent of my config, independent of the server – Just something really quick that I can launch, do, and quit. I wanted something like less, but better .. better in these ways:

  • Do syntax highlighting
  • Render Org-mode files
  • A better navigable man page viewer
  • Dired, especially wdired (batch edit symbolic links, for example?)2
  • Show colored diffs
  • Filter log files to only show or not show lines matching a regexp
  • Start auto-reverting log files when I want (like tail -f)
  • Quickly change frame and font sizes
  • .. and more; basically everything that emacs has to offer!

I call it eless and here’s a little taste of what it looks like:

Click the below image to see a GIF animation in larger size. eless

As a bonus:

Try it out and let me know how you find it. As you will see, eless is a bash script where most of it is a string containing a sane emacs configuration for view-mode. I wanted eless to be a monolithic script, and not a multi-file setup.

eless -h | eless

Update (2017/04/25)

Thanks to the PR by Iqbal Ansari, eless now supports reading piped-in data even when emacs is run in terminal mode. The solution was to:

  • Always start the emacs process in a sub-shell, and
  • Redirect /dev/tty into that emacs instance.

That way, that emacs instance would always think that it is receiving input from tty – even when the wrapper bash script is receiving input from the pipe.


  1. You can also do C-hig (emacs) Emacs Server from within emacs. [return]
  2. Do: C-hig (emacs) Wdired [return]

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