Modus themes 1.0.0 (backward-incompatible changes)

Just published version 1.0.0 of the Modus themes. The release notes are reproduced below. Please read them carefully as there are some breaking changes that require manual intervention in user init files.

Feel welcome to contact me if you need to.

Modus themes version 1.0.0

By Protesilaos Stavrou on 2020-12-05

This entry documents the changes since version 0.13.0 (2020-10-08). They constitute a major release with backward-incompatible additions which are described below.

As always, every colour-related modification documented herein conforms with the overarching accessibility objective of the themes for a minimum contrast ratio of 7:1 between background and foreground values in their given combination (conformance with the WCAG AAA standard).

Expect to find examples of basic and advanced customisations in the comprehensive Info manual bundled with the themes, which is also available at:

Overview of major changes

  1. The option that was present in earlier releases to override the colour palette has been removed. It cannot work with byte compilation. We must not compromise on performance, especially in light of the fairly high line count of the themes (broad face coverage combined with a multitude of customisation options).

  2. The code base has been refactored. The two themes, Modus Operandi (light) and Modus Vivendi (dark), derive from the same source.

  3. The refactoring makes it possible to distribute the two themes as part of a single package. You can find modus-themes on MELPA, with other archives and core Emacs following suit soon thereafter (the Modus themes are built into Emacs since their version 0.12.0).

  4. The modus-operandi-theme and modus-vivendi-theme packages in MELPA and GNU ELPA are obsolete. MELPA has already deleted them and now only provides modus-themes, while GNU ELPA shall do so soon enough.

    • Package providers of GNU/Linux distros, or other archives, are encouraged to update their sources so that they only deliver a single package that covers both themes.
  5. To avoid surprises, the refactored code is in the main branch which becomes the default henceforth. The master branch, from where all prior releases were built, is thus deprecated. Existing installs of modus-operandi-theme and/or modus-vivendi-theme must manually switch to the new package sources, which offer a certain guarantee that they are informed of the breaking changes documented herein.

    • Users of straight.el must make sure that they pull from the main branch. This may also be the case for other such tools, though I have not had the time to test them all.
  6. The refactoring introduces a unified customisation framework. Now all user-facing variables are named modus-themes-* instead of modus-operandi-* and modus-vivendi-*. Users of both items can thus cut down on duplicate code or inelegant workarounds on their end. Example:

       |   |   |   |   |   |   |   ====> modus-themes-bold-constructs
  7. The themes now provide common user-facing functions.

    • modus-themes-load-operandi and modus-themes-load-vivendi can be used in Lisp to load the theme they name, while disabling their counterpart and running modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook. The hook can be used to override or further customise faces (examples are furnished in the manual).

    • modus-themes-toggle interactively switches between Modus Operandi and Modus Vivendi or opens a minibuffer prompt to select between the two if none of them is active. It ultimately calls the aforementioned functions to load the themes, so it also triggers the hook. Bind this command to a key of your convenience (the author uses F5).

    • modus-themes-color returns the colour value of a symbol in the alists that hold the themes’ palettes. The alists are modus-themes-colors-operandi and modus-themes-colors-vivendi. modus-themes-color always operates on the active theme, making it suitable for post-theme-load customisations (via the hook we covered earlier). Its usage is documented in the manual and is meant to be employed by those who are prepared to assume responsibility for face-related changes they introduce on their setup.

    • modus-themes-color-alts occupies the same niche as the one right above, with the exception that it takes two arguments. The first is the alist key to be used by modus-operandi and the second is for modus-vivendi.

    • modus-themes-wcag-formula implements the WCAG formula to measure a colour value’s relative luminance. While modus-themes-contrast applies the formula to derive the contrast ratio between two colour values in hexadecimal RGB notation. This can be used to verify the accessibility of colour combinations provided by the themes or new ones defined at the user level (the Modus themes conform with the WCAG AAA standard which means that this kind of contrast is 7:1 or higher for all applicable background+foreground combinations).

Customisation options

This is the complete list with all the customisation options:

modus-themes-slanted-constructs             (boolean)
modus-themes-bold-constructs                (boolean)
modus-themes-variable-pitch-headings        (boolean)
modus-themes-no-mixed-fonts                 (boolean)
modus-themes-headings                       (alist)
modus-themes-scale-headings                 (boolean)
modus-themes-fringes                        (choice)
modus-themes-org-blocks                     (choice)
modus-themes-prompts                        (choice)
modus-themes-mode-line                      (choice)
modus-themes-diffs                          (choice)
modus-themes-syntax                         (choice)
modus-themes-intense-hl-line                (boolean)
modus-themes-paren-match                    (choice)
modus-themes-region                         (choice)
modus-themes-links                          (choice)
modus-themes-completions                    (choice)

Plus those which are contingent on modus-themes-scale-headings:


Consult the manual for each of them and please verify that none of the older options remains in your init file.

Customisation options that did not exist in earlier versions

New entries and their possible values:

  1. modus-themes-syntax

    • nil (default)
    • faint
    • yellow-comments
    • green-strings
    • yellow-comments-green-strings
    • alt-syntax
    • alt-syntax-yellow-comments

    (supersedes options for “faint syntax” and “comments”)

  2. modus-themes-links

    • nil (default)
    • faint
    • neutral-underline
    • faint-neutral-underline
    • no-underline

    (supersedes options for “no underlines”)

  3. modus-themes-paren-match

    • nil (default)
    • intense
    • subtle-bold
    • intense-bold

    (supersedes options for “intense paren match”)

  4. modus-themes-region

    • nil (default)
    • no-extend
    • bg-only
    • bg-only-no-extend

Furthermore, the modus-themes-diff has a new option to choose from: the symbol bg-only. It applies colour-coded backgrounds but does not override any syntax highlighting that may be present. This makes it suitable for use with a non-nil value for diff-font-lock-syntax (which is the default for diff-mode buffers in Emacs 27 or higher).

Support for new faces or face groups

  • consult
  • macrostep
  • make-mode
  • pdf-tools
  • popup
  • shr
  • sieve-mode

(remember that the list of supported packages is already comprehensive)

Thanks to:

Refinements to existing faces

  • The diary and holiday marks in M-x calendar are displayed using a slightly tinted background in order to improve their contrast. Holidays are also rendered in a bold font. Thanks to Nicolas De Jaeghere for reporting the issue and following it up with valuable feedback:

  • Code blocks in markdown-mode now have a subtle background that extends to the edge of the window. Thanks to Roman Rudakov for the suggestion and Hörmetjan Yiltiz for further testing:

  • Inline code in markdown-mode has a subtle background that covers the length of the construct. Refer to issue #115 as above.

  • Ivy’s main pattern-matching faces are slightly adjusted to work more effectively when users opt for “modus-themes-completions ‘moderate” or “modus-themes-completions ‘opinionated”.

  • Swiper’s swiper-isearch command defaults to a more colourful presentation that clearly disambiguates matching pattern groups between themselves as well as their own active and inactive states. Thanks to John Haman for reporting the problem:

  • Swiper’s remaining faces are tweaked to better convey the intent of this tool.

  • The border of ivy-posframe is more noticeable. Thanks to Pete Kazmier:

  • The fringe face no longer returns a nil background, which allows dap-ui-controls-mode to display things properly. Thanks to Simon Pugnet:

  • Tags and priority cookies in Org mode no longer have a box property. This is because of changes in upstream Org that we helped solve and that are covered in the previous CHANGELOG entry (in short: Org heading constructs inherit the underlying heading’s properties that are not part of their own specs, while they retain those that are explicitly defined for them—adaptive headings). Properly solves the following issues:

  • The faces of M-x re-builder are less intrusive.

  • All the following now inherit from basic font-lock faces and thus benefit from options such as modus-themes-syntax:

    • geiser
    • nxml-mode
    • tuareg
    • web-mode
    • xah-elisp-mode
  • Diff headers have a subtle grey background that extends to the edge of the window.

  • The faces of log-view and change-log use colour combinations that better differentiate the various objects on display.

  • font-lock-type-face uses a cyan hue instead of magenta.

  • magit-header-line-key uses a blue foreground colour instead of red.

  • Doc strings in code syntax are rendered in a new dedicated colour. The change is fairly subtle and should practically go unnoticed.

  • org-date now respects the modus-themes-no-mixed-fonts option. Thanks to user “fleimgruber” for reporting the issue:

  • org-property-value uses a slightly different shade of cyan.

  • dim-autoload will always look like a regular comment.

  • The italic face is inhereted by all relevant faces instead of hard-wiring a slant property. This offers the potential advantage of specifying a distinct family (or other properties) for constructs that are meant to be rendered in italics (the manual has an example in its DIY sections for this scenario though it uses the bold face—just apply the same idea to the italic face).

  • dictionary-reference-face inherits from button (as with all links).

  • Several comment-related faces beyond the basic ones work with modus-themes-syntax when that has an effect on the colour of comments. The faces are:

    • git-commit-comment-file
    • git-commit-comment-heading
    • git-rebase-comment-hash
    • git-rebase-comment-heading
  • transient-value is more noticeable and fits better in its context.

  • All remaining Org metadata-related faces are refined for consistency between them in an attempt to make them unobtrusive. More subtle colouration is applied. Affected faces:

    • org-drawer
    • org-property-value
    • org-special-keyword

Theme-related contributions to the wider community


  • The new default main branch of the Modus themes’ git repo is an idea that was presented by user “Emacs Contrib” in issue 112: Raising awareness about the negative impact of potentially, tacitly, or explicitly offensive language is a goal worth pursuing. Plus “main” is a more appropriate name for the primary branch of a project and we do not lose anything by introducing this change as part of version 1.0.0, which anyhow requires manual interventions in user configurations.

  • Thanks to Manuel Uberti, Jeremy Friesen, and Gitlab user “Eugene” for their feedback during the process that eventually led to the development of the modus-themes-syntax customisation option:

  • Thanks to André Alexandre Gomes for the feedback in issue 111, which led to the simplification of the manual’s references to Guix:

  • Thanks to Nicolas De Jaeghere for noting that BBDB is indirectly supported:

Between the refactoring of the code base and all other changes, this has been yet another period of hard work to deliver on the promise of themes that are (i) highly accessible and (ii) comprehensive in both their face coverage and customisation options, while always conforming with the highest accessibility standard for legible text.

Special thanks to the MELPA maintainers for all their contributions. MELPA is an integral part of the wider Emacs community. Thanks, in particular, to Chris Rayner who has reviewed all my pull requests hitherto, and to Jonas Bernoulli for checking the latest one (and its concomitant issue) that introduced the new modus-themes package.

Thank you, the reader, for your attention and for understanding the longer term benefits of the refactoring, despite the short term friction it may have introduced.