Category Archives: ctags

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.

Generate Ctags Files for C/C++ Source Files and All of Their Included Header Files

This post is for those people who use Exuberant Ctags. If you are using other versions of ctags, this post may not be useful.

When using ctags to generate the tags file for C/C++ projects, usually we use the following command:

ctags -R .

For some users that need more info of the symbols, they may use this command instead:

ctags -R --c++-kinds=+p --fields=+iaS --extra=+q .

No matter which one you use, the generated tags file only contains the symbols in the files in your project source tree, but not any external file, such as standard header files (e.g. stdio.h, stdlib.h), etc. thus editors or IDEs that use tags files, such as Vim, are not able to locate symbols in external header files. There was a solution: generate a tags file for any external header files first, and let the editor or IDE read both the generated tags file and the tags file for the project source tree. For example, the following command will generate a tags file for all your system header files on UNIX/Linux:

ctags -R --c++-kinds=+p --fields=+iaS --extra=+q /usr/include

This command usually takes a very long time to finish, and finally it gives a quite large tags file, which causes the editor or IDE a long time to search this tags file for symbols. To solve this problem, I came up with another idea.

Why must we generate a tags file containing all the symbols in the system header? If we only generate the tags file only for the header files that are related to our projects, would it be faster? That’s the point of this idea. We could first search for the header files that are included in our projects, and then we use ctags to generate a tags file for these files and our source files, in this way, a much smaller tags file that containing all the symbols that maybe useful for the project is generated.

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