A Better ls Command

The ls command is a command to list files on a UNIX-like system. It is probably one of the most used command. However, a plain ls command without any polishing may look really “plain”. Here, we will slightly configure this command to make it more usable:

  • More colorful output
  • Automatic pagination for long file lists
  • File type indication
  • Human readable sizes
  • Natural ordering of files


Output of ls before configuration

Output of ls before configuration

Output of ls after configuration

Output of ls after configuration

ls pagination

Pagination for ls

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Prevent Browser Processes Started by Emacs from Being Killed When Emacs Exits on GNU/Linux

The function browse-url in Emacs can be used to start a browser process to visit a given URL. It is used by many packages such as org-mode, mu4e, etc. However, on GNU/Linux, by default a new browser process started by browse-url will be killed if the Emacs process exits. To prevent the browser process from being killed, add the following code to your Emacs init file:

(when (and (executable-find "setsid") (executable-find "gnome-open"))
  (setq browse-url-browser-function
        (lambda (url &optional ignored)
          (start-process "" nil "setsid" "gnome-open" url))))

You will need both the setsid and gnome-open commands available. Note that replacing gnome-open with xdg-open is not guaranteed to work.

Installing Emacs from Source: Avoid the Conflict of ctags

If installing Emacs from source, an executable named ctags will be installed by default. However, many systems such as GNU/Linux, FreeBSD and macOS often already have an executable named ctags installed, such as Exuberant Ctags or Universal Ctags, which then causes conflict. To avoid this conflict, we can use the switch --program-transform-name='s/^ctags$/ctags.emacs/' when running configure to rename ctags to ctags.emacs. For example:

cd /path/to/emacs-source
mkdir build && cd build
../configure --program-transform-name='s/^ctags$/ctags.emacs/'

After that, running make install will install the Emacs ctags executable as ctags.emacs.

Speed Test: Check the Existence of a Command in Bash and Zsh

In both bash and zsh, there are multiple methods to check whether a command exists. In this post, a set of speed tests will be performed on them to find the fastest way in each of the two shells (NOT to compare the two shells). We will test 5 different methods (foobar is the command to test for existence in the list):

  • type foobar &> /dev/null
  • hash foobar &> /dev/null
  • command -v foobar &> /dev/null
  • which foobar &> /dev/null
  • (( $+commands[foobar] )) (zsh only)

All the methods listed above will have a return status of zero if the command foobar exists, otherwise non-zero. That is, after replacing testing-command by any of the commands listed above, you can test the existence of the command foobar by executing testing-command && echo exist || echo non-exist.

Throughout this post, ls will be the command that is used for testing existence, which does exist on the system which runs the tests. The test environment is Debian Jessie with bash 4.3.30 and zsh 5.0.7 on Intel Xeon processor E3-1240 v3 (8 MB Cache, 3.4 GHz). The test scripts are also available at the end of the post.

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