Emacs: Org heading faces now adapt to their context

As of commit 979e82fc3, upstream Org mode now contains a patch that allows faces that are combined with headings, such as to-do keywords and priority cookies, to inherit from the underlying heading’s properties. The code will become widely available in Org version 9.5.1

This practically means that if you (or your theme) use a :background, :overline, :height, or :weight for Org’s heading levels, those attributes will also be passed on to elements that do not have them. Overall, it makes for a visually consistent experience.

The following screenshots on emacs -Q show the before and after states, while also highlighting the inconsistency of some faces actually adapting to their context even prior to the patch.

Org headings before

Org headings after

A collective effort

The author of the patch is Ihor Radchenko, to whom I am most thankful. Special thanks to Org’s maintainer, Bastien Guerry who made this a goal for Org 9.5.

The fix comes as a response to a thread that I initiated in late April 2020, in which I initially documented the inconsistencies and then, with advice from Bastien, shared reproducible recipes for testing them.

Ihor’s patch ties together feedback from various sources, which I helped put together. In particular, I conveyed information and insights gathered from issue 37 on my Modus themes’ Gitlab repo. Anders Johansson’s contribution was instrumental in identifying the source of the problem in Org’s code base, namely, how font-lock was configured to work for some faces.

I had experienced the problem while developing the Modus themes, which have comprehensive customisation options for headings (see their manual).

Being pro-active and working with upstream

On the mailing list I was informed that a partial fix for this issue already existed in Doom Emacs, specifically the themes packaged for it. Bastien informed me that it was never communicated to them, which I consider a missed opportunity.

As such, it is pertinent to remind ourselves that Emacs is a community that thrives on feedback loops of communication. These presuppose a pro-active disposition to report findings to the relevant sources as soon as they arise. When we share know-how, we help grow our stock of knowledge and thus refine the tools derived from it. When we contribute a bug fix upstream, we ensure that everyone is better off as a result. Whereas when we maintain uncoordinated patches we set ourselves up for longer term trouble, in the form of non-reproducible maintenance burdens and unnecessary heterogeneity.

Please be reminded that people contribute to Emacs in their free time. While some notable exceptions do raise an income from their contributions (which is consistent with free software values), the fact is that the community at-large operates on a voluntary basis.

You must be prepared to make an effort if you wish to see things move forward. Learn who the maintainers are and what is their preferred medium of communication. The best way to help is to elucidate your ideas and share them accordingly. For bug reports, this often means that you need to write down the steps necessary to reproduce your issue in an emacs -Q session. Or you may have to include a visual representation of your case while using the offending package. Adapt to the specifics of the case, while remaining faithful to the spirit of pro-action and collaboration.

When in doubt, do not hesitate to ask. Be humble about it, remain prepared to do some work, and do not expect anyone to spoon-feed you because of some misplaced sense of entitlement (i.e. don’t go on some forum and complain about how this or that is “garbage”—petulance is not helpful). Everyone starts off as a beginner. We are all in this together.

  1. Emacs 28, the development branch which currently is just part of master, ships Org 9.3, so you must install Org from source if you cannot wait for an update. Same principle for the latest stable version of Emacs: 27.1. [^]