Modus themes 1.4.0 for GNU Emacs

Published version 1.4.0 of the Modus themes. The detailed release notes are provided below. For a general overview of the project watch the status update of 2021-05-19. For any questions pertaining to this publication feel welcome to contact me.

A patch to update the version of the themes that are shipped with Emacs will be prepared right after this announcement is published. GNU ELPA syncs from emacs.git, so expect an update shortly thereafter.

Modus themes version 1.4.0

By Protesilaos Stavrou on 2021-05-25

This entry records the changes made to the project since the release of version 1.3.0 on 2021-04-17. There have been around 100 commits in the meantime, as is the norm.

If you are coming from older versions, please consult the change log entry for version 1.0.0 with regard to the breaking changes that were introduced.

Every colour-related modification is always done in accordance 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 (the WCAG AAA standard).

URL of the official manual: Or read it with Emacs’ Info reader by evaluating this form:

(info "(modus-themes) Top")

Remember that the themes are built into Emacs version 28 (current development target), and are available on GNU ELPA, as well as other archives.

Customisations variables

  • Redefined the style of fg-only that modus-themes-diffs accepts, so that it no longer uses a red-green colour coding, but applies a red-blue distinction instead. The symbol fg-only is a deprecated alias for the more descriptive fg-only-deuteranopia.

    This is done because green text on a light background is one of the worst combinations for the purposes of legibility, as it does not stand out in its context and thus forces undesirable compromises. Whereas red and blue work well in this case, while making the style accessible to users with red-green colour deficiency (deuteranopia). To avoid inconsistencies between Modus Operandi and Modus Vivendi, we replace green with blue in both themes. A full report is available in issue 183 which was created on April 21, 2021:

  • Introduced the boolean modus-themes-success-deuteranopia which replaces all instances of green with blue in contexts where a red-green colour coding is in effect (e.g. Org TODO vs DONE keywords, isearch current match…).

  • Implemented modus-themes-mail-citations to control the colouration of cited text in email-related buffers, such as Gnus or message.el. It accepts values nil, faint, and monochrome. By default (the nil value) the text of citations cycles through blue, green, red, yellow depending on the level of depth.

  • Expanded the set of options for modus-themes-mode-line to encompass the values borderless-accented, borderless-accented-3d, and borderless-accented-moody. Those are variations of existing styles. The complete list:

    • nil (default)
    • 3d
    • moody
    • borderless
    • borderless-3d
    • borderless-moody
    • accented
    • accented-3d
    • accented-moody
    • borderless-accented
    • borderless-accented-3d
    • borderless-accented-moody
  • Renamed the non-nil values that modus-themes-org-blocks accepts from grayscale, rainbow to gray-background and tinted-background, respectively. The new symbols better describe their effect on Org source blocks, namely, that they affect the background of the block rather than the foreground. The old symbols will still work but are considered deprecated aliases of the newer ones.

  • Altered the intensity of the modus-themes-hl-line option accented-background to a more noticeable shade of cyan/teal. The old style was too subtle to have the desired effect. The value underline-accented is not affected by this change, as it still uses the same subtle background it did before in combination with a more pronounced underline colour.

  • Deleted all deprecation warnings that concerned the transition from version 0.13.0 of the themes to 1.0.0. Those had been in effect for several months, spanning four tagged releases.

Faces or face groups

  • Reconsidered the use of colour in all email-related citation faces to avoid exaggerations and reduce complexity. Colour values have been tweaked to tone down their overall intensity, while the number of colours has been reduced to four. Gnus and Mu4e have faces for more levels of citation depth, though those will simply repeat the four-colour cycle.

  • Made the message-mml face look consistent with the rest of the buffer while composing an email by changing its foreground colour from a yellow to a cyan variant.

  • Refined several faces in the Notmuch group in the interest of harmony:

    • Individual message headers in notmuch-show-mode use bold text in addition to their existing subtle background to better stand out in their context. The face is notmuch-message-summary-face.

    • Tags are no longer set unconditionally to a bold typographic weight. They become such for unread threads in notmuch-search-mode buffers, as well as for headers of notmuch-show-mode.

    • Removal and addition of tags is now denoted by a strike-through and an underline effect, respectively, whereas before they both used underlines with the only difference being their colour.

    • The subject line in notmuch-search-mode buffers uses the main foreground instead of a dimmed one. The field of matching authors has a tweaked foreground to keep the tabular view easy to read.

    • All cryptography-related faces are simplified to not show a coloured background but only use a foreground colour instead.

  • Removed direct support for counsel-notmuch as it already inherits from the relevant notmuch faces. The package is thus considered indirectly supported.

  • Refrained from setting a background to the csv-separator-face as it would inevitably colourise the negative space in the tabular view created by csv-align-mode. A red text colour is used instead, even though this is not common practice: it is easier to spot for small, single characters, such as a comma or a semicolon that is meant to have a special meaning. Thanks to Kevin Fleming for reporting the problem and for offering feedback on the choice of colour in issue 194:

  • Distinguished between ordinary links and widget buttons by removing the underline from the latter (the widget-button face) and altering the shade of its foreground colour. Such widgets are used in Emacs’ Custom interfaces and can also be found in the default Notmuch “hello” buffer that runs notmuch-hello-mode.

  • Tweaked the Ediff current faces to be consistent with diff-mode and related. In practice, this only applies when modus-themes-diffs is set to a value of fg-only-deuteranopia, as it adds a dim background to the current diff hunk. All other styles of modus-themes-diffs look the same as before while using Ediff.

  • Simplified the faces of corfu to match the current state of the upstream project. Thanks to Daniel Mendler (its developer) for reporting this in issue 184:

  • Refined all Eshell faces so that the output of ls is consistent with the overall aesthetic of the themes. Also made eshell-prompt inherit from comint-highlight-prompt to look the same as other such prompts (all are configurable by modus-themes-prompts).

  • Revised eshell-prompt-extras and eshell-git-prompt to use colours and typographic weight that better match the style of the various configurations they offer.

  • Simplified eshell-syntax-highlighting to inherit from the standard Eshell faces, where appropriate.

  • Adjusted the colour of centaur-tabs-active-bar-face and removed the bespoke fg-tab-accent colour from modus-themes-operandi-colors and modus-themes-vivendi-colors that was only used by it (and which should have never been introduced to begin with).

  • Updated the tab-bar-groups faces to match changes upstream. Thanks to Fritz Grabo (its developer) for the patch in merge request 35:

  • Changed the Ibuffer title and group faces to better differentiate between group titles and special or non-file-visiting buffers. Thanks to Nicolas De Jaeghere for the patch in merge request 37:

  • Ensured that all faces that denote a “success” state, or which are expected to be coloured in green in a red-green binary, can use an appropriate blue colour (or colour combination that involves blue) instead when modus-themes-success-deuteranopia is set to a non-nil value.

  • Added support for the new bookmark-face in Emacs version 28. This means that the built-in bookmark.el library is directly supported by the themes. This face can be disabled by setting bookmark-fontify to nil. Thanks to Mark Barton for reporting the presence of this new face and for providing feedback on its style in issue 189:

  • Aligned hes-mode (highlight-escape-sequences) with the standard font-lock faces for regexp grouping. This means that it conforms with changes to the modus-themes-syntax variable.

  • Reconfigured the org-quote face to adapt its style depending on the value of modus-themes-org-blocks. The default is a subtle blue/cold foreground colour against the main background. When a value of gray-background is assigned to modus-themes-org-blocks, the text’s colour becomes that of the main foreground in order to maintain a good level of legibility. Thanks to Rudolf Adamkovič for the feedback in issue 190:

  • Refashioned the show-paren-match-expression face to make it apply a bespoke background colour and not override the expression’s foreground colours. This face is used by show-paren-mode when the customisation variable show-paren-style is set to the expression value. Thanks to Rudolf Adamkovič for the feedback in issue 191:

  • Made headings level 8 use a fine shade of magenta by default instead of gray (notwithstanding user changes to modus-themes-headings). This should have a negligible difference in Org or Outline buffers, but is more noticeable when editing Elisp in Emacs28 while also using outline-minor-mode and with outline-minor-mode-highlight set to override. That is because several top-level forms use that heading level with those configurations.

Documentation (the manual)

  • Incorporated a sample configuration block with all customisation variables and with comment annotations of their available options, in an attempt to make it easier for users to discover what the themes provide.

  • Replaced all instances of “modeline” with “mode line” for consistency with the Emacs style. Thanks to Rudolf Adamkovič for the patch that started this process in merge request 33:

  • Wrote note on setting mode line faces that indicate the state of god-mode. Thanks to Rudolf Adamkovič for the feedback in issue 187: Also thanks to Rudolf for updating the applicable hook in merge request 34:

  • Listed org-mode variables that affect fontification in blocks: org-src-fontify-natively, org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line, and org-fontify-quote-and-verse-blocks. This complements the already documented variables org-fontify-whole-heading-line and org-fontify-done-headline that pertain to headings.

  • Included note on fontifying inline Latex expressions in Org buffers. Thanks to Rudolf Adamkovič for the feedback in issue 190:

  • Elaborated on the use of face-remap-add-relative by means of sample code that cycles through arbitrary colours for the region face. This is filed under the “Do It Yourself” (DIY) section.

  • Provided a DIY method for adapting the fontification of Org source block delimiter lines to the value of modus-themes-org-blocks.

  • Expanded the DIY entry on overriding the saturation of the active theme’s colours with a method that combines the programmatic approach with manual overrides. The user can thus specify the colour values they want to override and let the rest be handled by Elisp.

  • Introduced a section with answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the design of the themes as well as recommendations on how to ensure optimal reading conditions or start thinking about them. The questions are:

    • Is the contrast ratio about adjacent colors?
    • What does it mean to avoid exaggerations?
    • Why are colors mostly variants of blue, magenta, cyan?
    • What is the best setup for legibility?


  • Removed superfluous code from internal functions and adapted their indentation to make them easier to read.

  • Recalibrated some values in modus-themes-vivendi-colors to ensure consistency in luminance with other colours that are used in their context. Those are subtle changes that can only be discerned in side-by-side comparisons of the before and after states. Thanks to André Alexandre Gomes for the feedback in issue 193:

  • Changed the saturation and hueness of the bespoke fg-comment-yellow in modus-themes-operandi-colors and modus-themes-vivendi-colors to better contrast with its context, while still keeping its luminance consistent with its role as a colour for comments in code. This is used when modus-themes-syntax is configured appropriately (read its doc string or consult the manual).

  • Attempted to add explicit support for the faces of the built-in pulse.el library, but ultimately opted against them as the doc string of pulse-highlight-face advises against customising it, even though it is not clear from the source code in emacs.git what the problem could be. We shall reconsider this case for the next release cycle. Thanks to Gustavo Barros for the feedback on several aspects of this topic in issues 185 and 200:

  • Took the feedback of John Haman in issue 199 as a reminder to complete the set of possible values for the modus-themes-mode-line variable: