Modus themes 2.5.0 for GNU Emacs

I just published the latest stable release of the Modus themes. The change log entry is reproduced below. For any questions, feel welcome to contact me.

I will now prepare the patch for emacs.git which will then trickle down to GNU ELPA (the modus-themes is a :core package). Thank you for your patience!


This entry documents the changes made to the project since the publication of version 2.4.0 on 2022-06-01. It spans more than 60 commits to an already stable project.

The modus-operandi and modus-vivendi themes are built into Emacs-28 (latest stable release) or later, and are available on GNU ELPA as well as other archives. Emacs-28 ships version 1.6.0, while the current master branch (i.e. Emacs-29) and, by extension, GNU ELPA include the latest tagged release. The packaged version is available as modus-themes.

Read the manual inside Emacs by evaluating:

(info "(modus-themes) Top")

Or visit: (the website only documents the latest version).

Enhancement to the user option ‘modus-themes-headings’

The user option modus-themes-headings now reads a level 0 heading in addition to numbers 1–8. Heading 0 accepts the same list of properties as all other levels (please consult the doc string of the user option or the corresponding entry in the manual). Currently only the value of the Org #+title is affected (face is org-document-title), but we may cover more faces if needed.

Sample configuration:

;; The `modus-themes-headings' is an alist with lots of possible
;; combinations, including per-heading-level tweaks: read the
;; manual or its doc string.
(setq modus-themes-headings
      '((0 . (variable-pitch light (height 2.2)))
        (1 . (rainbow variable-pitch light (height 1.6)))
        (2 . (rainbow variable-pitch light (height 1.4)))
        (3 . (rainbow variable-pitch regular (height 1.3)))
        (4 . (rainbow regular (height 1.2)))
        (5 . (rainbow (height 1.1)))
        (t . (variable-pitch extrabold)))

Given this change, I am also tweaking the default foreground value of the org-document-title. It is a bit more saturated than before, but remains close to the spirit of the previous one.

Thanks to Rudolf Adamkovič for proposing the idea on the mailing list:

Stylistic tweak to the user option ‘modus-themes-syntax’

Prevented the alt-syntax property from desaturating the effect of the yellow-comments property when the two would be combined. Such as:

(setq modus-themes-syntax '(alt-syntax yellow-comments))

The previous design was incorrect because it was always using the faint variant of the yellow comments, as if the user had specified:

(setq modus-themes-syntax '(alt-syntax faint yellow-comments))

[ Read the doc string of modus-themes-syntax or the manual for an explanation of all properties and their combinations. ]

Review of the Isearch (and related) colours

Emacs’ standard search has a face for the currently matched query and all its inactive matches. The faces are isearch and lazy-highlight, respectively. Before, we were using a green background by default for the isearch face and a cyan background for the lazy-highlight. This was a choice that was made in the early days of the project when the palette was not yet fully realised.

Green and cyan do not always contrast well side-by-side (subject to hardware capabilities and environmental lighting), so the isearch face also had an added bold weight. This was not my preference, but it was necessary under the circumstances. The previous combinations were also not ideal when the user option modus-themes-deuteranopia was set to a non-nil value: the blue background which was used instead of the green one could be conflated with the subtle teal of the lazy-highlight under certain circumstances, such as poor colour reproduction at the monitor level or in terminal emulators with limited colour support.

The new colours (intense yellow for active matches and subtle cyan for lazy ones) are complementary, meaning that they are naturally easy to tell apart.

[ Read “Colour theory and techniques used in the Modus themes”: ]

These specific hues are also well-suited for users with red-green colour deficiency: yellow stays as-is, while the cyan colour becomes a bit more grey though remains distinct. As such, we do not need to run the helper function modus-themes--deuteran to set the style based on the value of modus-themes-deuteranopia.

The new colours do not clash with the style of the relevant match face (used by M-x occur, M-x grep, and related), nor with the various permutations of the region face (subject to the user option modus-themes-region).

Finally, the bold weight has been removed from the isearch face. It was always a kludge. Also, it would make paragraphs rendered in the variable-pitch face (or proportional fonts in general) jump around as the user would move between the matches, because bold letters occupy more space than their regular weight counterparts so they affect the length of the line. This problem was reported by Augusto Stoffel on the mailing list:

Rewrote parts of the colour preview commands

The modus-themes-list-colors, modus-themes-list-colors-current are commands that produce a buffer which shows previews of every entry in the palette. Their code has been simplified and they now produce a warning when the display terminal has limited colour support. Furthermore, they read any overrides as specified in the user options modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides, modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides.

The “summertime” re-spin of colour overrides

The manual now includes a complete hand-crafted example of a pair of themes that override the default palette. This is done as a technology demonstration. It is not considered an “official” extension of the Modus themes and will never be part of the code base as it does not conform with our lofty accessibility standards. However, I took great care in picking the colour overrides in the hope that users will (i) have a usable theme, should they opt for it, and (ii) they recognise the potential of our colour-overriding feature.

Screenshots and related information:

Thanks to user “Summer Emacs” for (i) suggesting the name “summertime”, (ii) testing variants of this in her setup, and (iii) sending me feedback on possible tweaks and refinements. All errors are my own.

The idea for this project came from an exchange where Summer discovered an old theme of mine (from my pre-Emacs days) and asked if I had anything like it for Emacs. Voilà!

[ This information is shared with permission. ]

As for whether I have more plans… “Perhaps!” ;)

Removed support for certain packages or face groups

I periodically install and use the packages we support to see if they have any updates we need to cover but also to confirm that they work. Usually, the user does not learn about this work, as I don’t need to make any changes or will make some minor tweaks. When I think that the package is not in a good shape, I remove it from the list of explicitly supported packages, meaning that the modus-themes no longer cover the faces it defines. The removal of any package is done on a case-by-case basis. If you disagree with this decision, please inform me about and I shall reconsider.

  • centaur-tabs :: Those of you who have been reading these release notes are aware of a bug in centaur-tabs which basically prevents us from using the standard :inherit attribute to style the centaur-tabs faces. I have sent a patch to fix it, but have received no response since February: To me, this gives the package the “unmaintained” status, though I am happy to revert the change as soon as it gets the maintenance it needs.

    Relevant reports (and I got many others in my private inbox):

  • cursor-flash :: its default face should be visible enough.

  • dynamic-ruler :: The package does not build on my Emacs 29. Also, its default faces are usable even without our recolouring.

  • emacs-dashboard :: Its default faces inherit from basic faces that we already support.

  • frog-menu :: I have not seen this package being used anywhere. I suspect it is because it has not found a niche between transient, hydra, and embark.

  • mct :: A few months ago I announced that its development is discontinued. Either use vertico or switch to what Emacs provides as a built-in option:

  • org-treescope :: The package points to a GitHub repo, which is archived. The current source is on GitLab, but the package is not updated accordingly. This makes me believe it is not actively maintained and am thus removing it from the list.

  • paradox :: When I tried paradox, it took over my C-c g binding which I have for Magit. As an Emacs user, I consider this an unacceptable transgression. Looking at paradox’s git repo, the project is not maintained. If things change, I am happy to reinstate support for it.

  • vc-annotate (built-in) :: It has not been working properly for a long time now. Colours are unset and are not re-applied when switching between the modus-operandi and modus-vivendi themes.

    Furthermore, the way vc-annotate-color-map intersects with vc-annotate-background-mode puts us in an awkward spot: when the mode is non-nil, the mapped values are used as backgrounds WITHOUT giving us the chance to make the appropriate adjustments to the foreground (so we end up with inaccessible colour combinations). This means that we must fix a problem which is not ours by overriding the user option of the background altogether. A theme outright disabling user options is bad form.

    Even documenting a user-level set of configurations will not suffice, as the results are unreliable. I tried the code which I copy further below to test annotation with/without background, plus the change in values when switching between modus-operandi and modus-vivendi. Again, colours are not updated properly (I know the buffer of M-x vc-annotate needs to be generated again), as modus-operandi may retain the values set by modus-vivendi or vice-versa.

    Ultimately, I feel vc-annotate needs to be refactored to use ordinary faces in ordinary ways. Or, at least, not try to outsmart the user/theme about the choice of colours.

    Thanks to Philip Kaludercic for starting the thread about the vc-annotate-background-mode which reminded me about this problem:

    The code I alluded to:

    (setq vc-annotate-background-mode nil)
    (defun my-modus-themes-vc-annotate ()
      ;; Actual values are for demo purposes
        (if vc-annotate-background-mode
            (setq vc-annotate-background bg-alt
                  `((20 .  ,red-intense-bg)
                    (40 .  ,red-subtle-bg)
                    (60 .  ,red-refine-bg)
                    (80 .  ,yellow-intense-bg)
                    (100 . ,yellow-subtle-bg)
                    (120 . ,yellow-refine-bg)
                    (140 . ,magenta-intense-bg)
                    (160 . ,magenta-subtle-bg)
                    (180 . ,magenta-refine-bg)
                    (200 . ,cyan-intense-bg)
                    (220 . ,cyan-subtle-bg)
                    (240 . ,cyan-refine-bg)
                    (260 . ,green-intense-bg)
                    (280 . ,green-subtle-bg)
                    (300 . ,green-refine-bg)
                    (320 . ,blue-intense-bg)
                    (340 . ,blue-subtle-bg)
                    (360 . ,blue-refine-bg)))
          (setq vc-annotate-background nil
                `((20 . ,red)
                  (40 . ,magenta)
                  (60 . ,magenta-alt)
                  (80 . ,red-alt)
                  (100 . ,yellow)
                  (120 . ,yellow-alt)
                  (140 . ,fg-special-warm)
                  (160 . ,fg-special-mild)
                  (180 . ,green)
                  (200 . ,green-alt)
                  (220 . ,cyan-alt-other)
                  (240 . ,cyan-alt)
                  (260 . ,cyan)
                  (280 . ,fg-special-cold)
                  (300 . ,blue)
                  (320 . ,blue-alt)
                  (340 . ,blue-alt-other)
                  (360 . ,magenta-alt-other))))))
    (add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-vc-annotate)

Revised supported faces or face groups

  • Enhanced the default background colour of the current date in the Org agenda. This is a subtle change, all things considered, which makes it easier to discern where the highlight is while it remains close to the spirit of the previous design. The idea is to not add too much saturation here, because the buffer is already “busy” with lots of highlights. Thanks to Daniel Mendler for the feedback on the mailing list:

  • Restyled the M-x man and M-x woman faces to have a bit more saturation. A while ago I desaturated the Man-overstrike and woman-bold faces on the premise that the added bold weight would be sufficient. However, the bold weight may sometimes not draw the desired attention, such as at small point sizes or with certain font configurations. As such, the added intensity in colour is necessary.

  • Changed the Selectrum quick key faces (selectrum-quick-keys-match and selectrum-quick-keys-highlight) to have the same style as Avy, Vertico’s own “quick keys”, and related. For a technical analysis, read “Modus themes: case study on Avy faces and colour combinations”:

  • Made internal adjustments so that M-x list-packages inherits from the standard success, warning, and error faces instead of adding its own face attributes. In practice, the user will notice a change for new packages in the listing if modus-themes-deuteranopia is non-nil.

  • Introduced the same inheritance rules as above for the syslog package (mutatis mutandis).

  • Increased the saturation of the package-status-available face, which is shown in the M-x list-packages buffer. The overall effect is subtle, though sufficiently noticeable.

  • Revised the faces of the deft package to make it look consistent with the rest of the theme’s relevant interfaces (to the extent possible as Deft uses a non-standard presentation).

  • Aligned the speedbar-highlight-face with the user option modus-themes-intense-mouseovers.

  • Refined the highlight-thing face (see package of the same name). This makes it stand out more and it also aligns it with the standard match face, which is pertinent here.

  • Amplified the saturation of the dired-git-info face. Makes it easier to differentiate the Git commit text from the Dired listing, without drawing too much attention to itself.

  • Adjusted the hue of the easy-jekyll-help-face from teal to blue. This makes it look more like the standard help-key-binding face, although easy-jekyll does not align with upstream Emacs in this regard.

  • Intensified the background of rectangle-preview to work even in cases where a grey background is already on display. This face is used for the string-rectangle command (e.g. C-x SPC to draw a rectangle and C-t to insert text in its stead—works as a simple “multiple cursors” on a straight line).

Support for new faces or face groups

  • chart (built-in)
  • denote
  • edmacro-label (Emacs 29)
  • info+
  • leerzeichen

A comment on info+. As is the case with PACKAGE+ packages from the Emacs Wiki, info+ defines lots of faces that hardcode colour values instead of inheriting from basic faces. It does so for no good reason and the results will likely not look decent in any theme. Furthermore, these faces colourise too much even when the colour values can be appropriately combined (ceteris paribus), making the buffer harder to read.

The support I add for info+ is consistent with the design principles of the modus-themes, one of which is to avoid exaggerations as those indirectly affect legibility. As such, some of the changes I introduce here outright remove colouration, while others align the various constructs with the overall aesthetic of the themes.

Note that, by default, info+ adds clickable buttons to glossary terms. This produces awkward combinations such as by buttonising the “string” component inside of what actually is a function’s argument. So you have, say, FORMAT-[STRING] where “[]” represents the button: the FORMAT gets one face and the [STRING] another, even though they are part of a single argument. To me this looks broken and is counter-productive, though it is not up to the theme to decide how packages fontify the various constructs. At any rate, button styles at the theme level are controlled by the user option modus-themes-box-buttons.

Thanks to Jonas Collberg for the feedback in issue 33 over at the GitHub mirror:


  • Named the mailing list address as the =Maintainer:= of Denote. Together with the other package headers, they help the user find our primary sources and/or communication channels. This change conforms with work being done upstream in package.el by Philip Kaludercic. I was informed about it here:

  • Addressed byte compilation warnings in doc strings pertaining to the use of literal quotes. Thanks to Matt Armstrong and Rudolf Adamkovič for the feedback on the mailing list:

  • Fixed the :link value in the declaration of the user options modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides, modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides. It once again directs to the correct heading in the manual.

  • Documented all the aforementioned, where necessary.

  • Mentioned my fontaine and lin packages in the relevant sections of the manual. The former helps set fonts and switch between font presents. The latter is a stylistic variant of hl-line (its documentation explains its raison d’être).