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The case of git-gutter, the modus-themes, and Doom Emacs

The git-gutter package (and its git-gutter-fringe extension) highlights in the margin or fringe of the window the status of affected version-controlled lines. By default, git-gutter uses a colour-coded background, such as green for additions, together with the character or bitmap of an appropriate sign, like the + for added lines.

When I test git-gutter in my capacity as the maintainer of the modus-themes for the purposes of supporting the faces it defines, I use what the upstream source provides. As such, I apply a combination of background and foreground that works the way the original package intends to. I add a colour-coded background and the correct foreground (black for modus-operandi, white for modus-vivendi). As a result, the modus-themes work as intended with git-gutter and git-gutter-fringe.

[ Colour-coding is influenced by modus-themes-deuteranopia for those who need to opt-in to it. ]

Doom Emacs, the popular configuration of our favourite computing environment, uses git-gutter (git-gutter-fringe) by default. However, it is effectively running a soft fork of the package, as it introduces changes which refashion its appearance; changes which were not anticipated upstream and, consequently, could not have been foreseen by theme developers. Doom Emacs adds its own custom bitmaps, which replace those signs with contiguous lines.

;; Copied from Doom Emacs (commit 55544200b)

;; places the git gutter outside the margins.
(setq-default fringes-outside-margins t)

;; thin fringe bitmaps
(define-fringe-bitmap 'git-gutter-fr:added [224]
  nil nil '(center repeated))
(define-fringe-bitmap 'git-gutter-fr:modified [224]
  nil nil '(center repeated))
(define-fringe-bitmap 'git-gutter-fr:deleted [128 192 224 240]
  nil nil 'bottom)

Sample of the original bitmap, as seen in git-gutter-fringe.el:

(fringe-helper-define 'git-gutter-fr:added nil

Taken in a vacuum, I like the visuals of this change: I prefer to have a contiguous, colour-coded line that has no symbols or other embellishments. It is how the diff-hl package that I use looks with one minor tweak to a relevant user option. However, Doom’s otherwise innocuous modifications have a negative effect on themes that are not designed specifically for Doom Emacs. What once was a plus sign with a black/white foreground now turns into a straight line that either covers or is adjacent to the standard colour-coded background.

2022-08-04-doom-modus-git-gutter.png sample

In other words, Doom breaks the modus-themes. There is nothing we can do about it because its soft fork of git-gutter is not a standalone package with the appropriate points of entry that we could configure.

This has been known for a while now. The manual of the modus-themes, informs users of Doom Emacs about the problem and what they can do to fix it using local tweaks: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/modus-themes#h:a195e37c-e58c-4148-b254-8ba1ed8a731a. Excerpt with just the code, while the docs explain the details:

(defun my-modus-themes-custom-faces ()
     ;; Replace green with blue if you use `modus-themes-deuteranopia'.
     `(git-gutter-fr:added ((,class :foreground ,green-fringe-bg)))
     `(git-gutter-fr:deleted ((,class :foreground ,red-fringe-bg)))
     `(git-gutter-fr:modified ((,class :foreground ,yellow-fringe-bg))))))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-custom-faces)

The user evaluates this code and then re-loads the theme for changes to take effect. An unpleasant experience for what ought to just work. What the code does is remove the black/white foreground and replace it with the same colour as the background. We cannot have such code in the themes because it breaks standard git-gutter (technically, it is git-gutter-fringe which is specifically for the fringes, but the point is the same).

Looking at the code of git-gutter, we have user options like this one:

(defcustom git-gutter:added-sign "+"
  "Added sign."
  :type 'string
  :group 'git-gutter)

Instead of dirty hacks, we can have a contiguous colour-coded presentation by replacing the character with an empty space:

(setq git-gutter:added-sign " ")

No need to use the fringes. This works for all users and with all themes that cover git-gutter. You get the idea.

Good citizenship and responsibility

I am a proponent of community building. Emacs is a fairly small space and we all know each other, more or less. As package maintainers, we contribute to the wellness of the community by writing code that does not have a negative impact on third parties; code which has a clear scope, conforms with the principle of least surprise, and can be integrated in wider workflows. Put simply, when our code breaks stuff elsewhere, we fix our code.

This is not about the technicalities of the intersection between the modus-themes, git-gutter, and Doom Emacs. Every maintainer has a responsibility towards the community.

Doom Emacs happens to be a very popular choice, especially for new users who are not yet familiar with all the minutiae of Emacs. When a soft fork breaks my package, I get to deal with the problem even though my package works correctly. This is not nice and it detracts from my other projects.

[ I keep calling the modus-themes “my package” though note that it is built into Emacs. The soft fork thus breaks standard Emacs. ]

I feel disempowered because even though I want to help users get the best experience out-of-the-box, I cannot do anything more than write documentation about the issue and hope for the best. I do that, yet I keep getting emails about it…

The manual is not the right place to fix bugs. It is there to inform the user about how to set up the package, what the customisation options are, and, for the more adventurous, provide guidance on possible do-it-yourself extensions.

Soft forks are quasi-proprietary in practice, as they are not publicly available for me as a third party to interface with them using standard mechanisms (i.e. not ad-hoc arrangements). I cannot maintain dirty hacks to accommodate soft forks: it debases the quality of my package and makes it harder to maintain it. Besides, makeshift solutions of this sort have no place in emacs.git, where I push my themes after every tagged release (I did so yesterday for version 2.5.0).

I strongly encourage maintainers of soft forks, such as Doom Emacs in this case, to upstream their changes or, at the very least, subject their feature to an opt-in toggle so that the user is informed about the matter.

More broadly, each of us must consider that there exists a wider community outside our particular milieu which is affected by our decisions. It is our duty to keep this place pleasant. The more influential and widely-used the code is, the greater the concomitant responsibility.

Why am I not reporting this in the Doom repo? Because (1) I am not a user and (2) this is not about Doom Emacs per se. It is an opportunity for me to address a general topic and raise awareness about it. Keeping the information limited to an issue tracker does not help in this regard.

Finally, a note for users who copy snippets without considering the implications: if something looks broken, consider the possibility that your custom code is the cause of it. When reporting issues, make your customisations explicit, otherwise you are unintentionally spreading misinformation.