This is partly an inverse to the question Are questions about getting emacs-like behavior in other things on topic?

In particular, I'm looking at the remark in one of the answers there:

What makes Emacs what it is is primarily its extensibility through Emacs Lisp, both in the ability to solve a problem by writing code and in the availability of a wide range of packages that do things beyond basic editing capabilities.

It is worth mentioning that Emacs is also extensible via SLIME and other similar interfaces to work with other languages, for example R, Python, and so on. It's somewhat rarer for these interfaces to be used programmatically, but it happens, and there are other extensions, like Memacs that enlarge Emacs's sphere of influence. No doubt user-level questions about these sorts of things are on topic in some form or another.

But what about more theoretical questions, e.g. about how closures work in Emacs Lisp? Or the more polemical claim that "those who don't know Lisp are doomed to reinvent it, badly"? Much in the way Emacs is like the kitchen sink for an OS (or, an OS itself, as some claim, and has at least been partially demonstrated), is this forum destined to deal with everything that forms part of the Emacs Way, insofar as the Emacs way is the Lisp way?

And if so, that is probably not a good thing or a bad thing, but the question becomes: is there a way to distinguish between Emacs-as-OS questions and Emacs-as-IDE questions?

update: example

Here is one question that seems like a typical "OS" question:

  • I don't understand your question. This site is for questions about Emacs, it doesn't really matter whether you view it as an OS or an IDE. It can be either or both, it's still on topic. Is there a need to clearly demarcate these two pseudo-categories?
    – Tyler
    Jun 2, 2015 at 14:04
  • OK, sure if Emacs is the OS, that doesn't mean that all questions about, say, the intricacies of Ruby development are relevant here. But what I'm getting at is that many questions here will be about "how can I configure Emacs to do XYZ" -- for example, mail -- and I'm somewhat concerned that more technical questions about OS-level technicalities either won't get asked, won't be answered, or will be lost amidst the other kind of question. Perhaps premature -- I can write a tester question to see. Jun 4, 2015 at 10:30

2 Answers 2


The letters DE in IDE stand for development environment. So tasks such as reading mail, listening to music, organizing your life... are OS tasks rather than IDE tasks. On the other side of the river, anything that can be used for programming (reading manuals, running a shell, browsing tickets, navigating a filesystem...) can be considered IDE tasks.

In my opinion, this is the main difference between emacs-as-an-OS and emacs-as-an-IDE (and it is not a black-or-white dichotomy). Maybe you meant to ask about emacs-as-a-religion instead?

Then I wouldn't have a general opinion, but for the examples you mention, I'd say that:

  • extending emacs, with elisp or not, is on-topic
  • specifics of the emacs-lisp language are on-topic both here and on stackoverflow
  • claims about lisp in general (not emacs-lisp) are off-topic here

What questions about the "emacs way" do you have in mind? I believe that "how can I stop dreaming of parentheses at night?", or "what height should my RMS statue be?", should probably be asked respectively on health.stackexchange and religion.stackexchange. Though they'd probably be closed there as well. ;p

  • 1
    I mostly am wondering about questions like "What are the major points of incompatibility between Emacs Lisp and Common Lisp?" or "Can I really use Emacs as an OS?" or "Can I write Emacs extensions in other languages besides Emacs Lisp?" I'm assuming these questions are basically OK to ask here. I do worry that they would get lost among "IDE" style questions. May 29, 2015 at 11:40

Your linked question is certainly on-topic. It is also a bit vague, and might get negative attention on that score.

If I follow your argument, you are worried that day-to-day use questions: how to I set up Gnus, how do I bind keys etc., are going to swamp more esoteric questions about developing novel applications for Emacs. The answer is yes, they will. Not because of any qualitative difference between OS and IDE, but because the the kinds of questions you are interested in are inherently rare. They're still good questions. (or could be, if the actual question is clearly stated).

This is a community site, so if you want to see more of a certain kind of question, the solution is to ask more of that kind of question. Giving them useful tags is a way to encourage more people to pay attention to them. However, the OS vs IDE dichotomy, in my opinion, is not a clear-enough distinction to be useful as tags.

Useful tags in this context might be package-development, emacs-development, foreign-function-interface. There must be better ones to be developed, but I think we need a body of questions to categorize before we get too far along making tags.

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