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Emacs: modus-themes version 4.1.0

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

I will install the changes in emacs.git so please wait a little longer for the updates to trickle down to you.

Recursive semantic colour mapping

Version 4 of the Modus themes changed how all colour-related customisations are done. Instead of multiple user options with hard-coded stylistic presets, users have access to a comprehensive system of “named colours” and “semantic colour mappings”. The former is an association between a name, like blue-warmer, and a colour value such as #3548cf. While semantic colour mappings are associations between syntactic/interface constructs and named colours, such as what value level 2 headings have.

When overriding the palette users can now define semantic colour mappings whose value is another such mapping. This recursion simplifies how multiple overrides are defined.

The manual offers extensive guidance on the topic of palette overrides. There are many sections that include code samples that are ready for use.

The addition of recursive semantic colour mappings solves a problem reported by Imran Khan on the mailing list where they were trying to do what made sense (recursion) but the old code did not permit as much: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/modus-themes/%3Cb7ca4702162fd575593f8ded28d9a888.contact%40imrankhan.live%3E.

I was aware of that constraint from before the release of version 4.0.0 but was hesitant to implement recursion prior to getting some feedback on the new palette overriding feature.

Also thanks to Christian Tietze for participating in that discussion on the mailing list.

Extract an arbitrary colour from a given theme’s palette

I formalised the function modus-themes-get-color-value and documented it at length. It accepts a COLOR argument, which represents an entry in the palette (named colour or semantic colour value), as well as optional OVERRIDES and THEME arguments. When OVERRIDES is non-nil, modus-themes-get-color-value will read from the overrides, otherwise it will only consult the default palette value. The THEME argument specifies which theme’s palette to use. In the absence of THEME, the current one is used.

I already had the “get colour” functionality internally, but was inspired to make it public after checking Sacha Chua’s blog post “Making highlight-sexp follow modus-themes-toggle”: https://sachachua.com/blog/2023/01/making-highlight-sexp-follow-modus-themes-toggle/. Sacha was using a private function from the themes, which would have been problematic if I would ever move things around.

Remember to read the documentation of modus-themes-list-colors. That command shows a preview of the named colours. When called with a prefix argument (C-u by default), it shows a preview of the semantic colour mappings.

Option to disable other themes while loading Modus

In the past, we used to disable all other themes while loading a Modus theme. I revised this for version 4 because I learnt that some users use “themes” as bundles of arbitrary configurations.

With the addition of the modus-themes-disable-other-themes user option, which is non-nil by default, I am restoring the old behaviour: when loading a Modus theme all other themes are disabled.

This happens when the theme is loaded with the commands modus-themes-toggle and modus-themes-select, or via Lisp with the function modus-themes-load-theme.

Users who need to run multiple themes can set this option to a nil value. (Personally, I use minor modes for such stylistic bundles and never have to worry about (mapc #'disable-theme custom-enabled-themes).)

Thanks to Tony Zorman for the feedback on the mailing list, which led me to the introduction of this user option: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/modus-themes/%3C874jtew0gp.fsf%40hyperspace%3E#%3C87bkne84d2.fsf@hyperspace%3E.

Renamed the named colours for bg-{added,changed,removed}-intense

They are now called bg-added-fringe, bg-changed-fringe, bg-removed-fringe. Please update any palette overrides to reflect this renaming.

Documented how to override diffs for more optional combinations

The manual includes details (with copy-pastable code) on how to achieve foreground-only diffs and/or how to have red+blue diffs instead of the default red+green or the deuteranopia yellow+blue.

Thanks to Andrew Tropin for requesting this feature. We used to provide this style in earlier versions of the themes, but now it is much more flexible. Andrew’s request was done via a private channel and the information is shared with permission.

[ Since we are here, also thanks to Andrew for keeping the Guix package of the Modus themes up to date. ]

Stylistic changes

  • Guaranteed consistency between all of the line-related faces of the consult package. We use the shadow face in all interfaces where line numbers are contextual information (Occur, Grep,…). With Consult, this was not the case for commands like consult-line.

    Thanks to Daniel Mendler (also known as @minad) for bringing this matter to my attention: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/ef-themes/%3Cb03413a6-cb77-615d-145d-db4eb710bfca%40daniel-mendler.de%3E.

  • Refined all diff colours for fringes and reduced the saturation for added lines in modus-operandi-deuteranopia, modus-vivendi-deuteranopia-theme. Thanks to Andrew Tropin for showing me some usability issues with the previous styles. This was done via a private channel and the information is shared with permission.

  • Instructed the dashboard icons to retain their underlying colour. The default value of the dashboard-items-face made all icons use the same colour, detracting from their distinctiveness. Thanks to Thanos Apollo for bringing this matter to my attention. It was done via a private channel and the information is shared with permission.

  • Amplified the intensity of the #+begin_src text when the user option opts for (setq modus-themes-org-blocks 'gray-background). The text is now easier to discern. That user option makes the inside of the block have a gray background and the begin/end lines to have a more intense gray, giving off a “blocky” impression.

  • Made the compilation-warning face also inherit the modus-themes-bold face. This means that it responds to the value of the user option modus-themes-bold-constructs, the same way the other compilation-related mode line faces do. Thanks to Manuel Giraud for informing me about the inconsistency in compilation-warning. This was done via a private channel and the information is shared with permission.

  • Calibrated the hueness of the “nuanced” backgrounds in the modus-operandi-tinted and modus-vivendi-tinted themes. These tweaks are necessary to retain thematic consistency.

  • Reset mu4e-header-highlight-face to its intended style. I made a mistake before: I did not want the highlight face to be used in this case as it is too intense. Sorry!

  • Toned down the highlight line of the ctrlf and swiper packages. I mistakenly used the highlight before, which is too intense for the purposes of an ancillary background colour.

  • Applied “nuanced” backgrounds to the tinted Org blocks. This fixes an error of mine where I amplified the background colouration of Org blocks. This concerns the case where the user option modus-themes-org-blocks has a tinted-background value. Thanks to Mark Bestley for informing me about this in issue 60 on the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/issues/60#issuecomment-1374530488.

  • Removed the hardcoding of the italic style in three faces, opting instead to make them subject to the user option modus-themes-italic-constructs. The faces are marginalia-documentation, markup-attribute-face, and org-agenda-calendar-sexp.

  • Tweaked the Org agenda deadline and today schedule to use a bold weight only when the user option modus-themes-bold-constructs is set to a non-nil value. Thanks to Marko Kocic for reporting an issue that brought this matter to my attention:
  • Enforced the main foreground colour in the faces highlight and secondary-selection. This should have always been there to avoid awkward colour combinations. I realised it was missing after corresponding with Edgar Vincent on a relevant topic: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/modus-themes/%3C878ri95h1q.fsf%40posteo.net%3E#%3C87ilhc7usc.fsf@posteo.net%3E.

  • Made the eglot-mode-line face conditionally bold, by subjecting it to the user option modus-themes-bold-constructs.

  • Ensure that the background of the company package’s popup is the same as that of the corfu package. This is a subtle neutral value.

  • Fixed the hue of the org-habit “ready” faces. It should be green and I made a mistake here. The modus-operandi-deuteranopia and modus-vivendi-deuteranopia themes do change the underlying hues though, as green is not suitable for them.

  • Simplified the keycast faces so that (i) they do not use a :box attribute that can look awkward in some cases and (ii) the name of the given command is not colourised to avoid exaggerations with the use of colour.

  • Made the powerline-active1 face inherit from mode-line instead of mode-line-active. The latter only exists in newer versions of Emacs and we do not want to make the themes break in older versions. Thanks to TitusMu for identifying this and reporting it in issue 64 on the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/issues/64.

  • Decoupled all ediff faces from their diff-mode counterparts. Ediff does not depend on diff-mode, so we want to make each set of faces stand on its own. Thanks to Bernd Rellermeyer for pointing out this implicit dependency in issue 68 on the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/issues/68.


  • Improved the clarity and robustness of the code that does the work of modus-themes-list-colors.

  • Refined the colour value of the blue-warmer named colour for all the light themes. It is a tiny bit darker than before.

  • Introduced a t fallback value for the user option modus-themes-completions. It makes it easier to apply the same styles for the selection line and matching characters.

  • Documented how to not extend the active region background.

  • Explained how to make tabs more or less colourful by using palette overrides.

  • Removed obsolete and redundant statements from the documentation the user option modus-themes-completions. There was (i) an outdated reference to the background value, which is no longer supported, and (ii) a statement about the standard Completions’ buffer that was not useful. Thanks to Rudolf Adamkovič for informing me about this: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/modus-themes/%3Cm2tu1211qz.fsf%40me.com%3E.

  • Rephrase the statement "*Completions* buffer" in the documentation in the interest of clarity. Thanks to Rudolf Adamkovič for the suggestion: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/modus-themes/%3Cm2tu1211qz.fsf%40me.com%3E#%3Cm2eds43htz.fsf@me.com%3E.

  • Updated the sample configuration of the themes with use-package in the interest of simplicity. Thanks to Sergey Nichiporchik for the contribution. Sergey’s contribution is within the ~15 line limit and thus does not require copyright assignment to the Free Software Foundation.

    This was done in merge request 59 on the GitLab mirror: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/merge_requests/59.

    The prepatory discussion took place in issue 310 on the same mirror: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/310.

    Weeks later I further simplified the relevant samples for the sake of uniformity with the generic package setup. Thanks to Zoltan Kiraly for informing me about the fact that the :bind keyword delays the load of the package until the given command is invoked: https://github.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/pull/67.

    Streamlining the configuration makes it easier for me to propose one set of basic configurations without the need to know what a configuration macro is doing behind the scenes.

  • Fixed an example colour in the documentation. Thanks to Russell Sim for spotting the error of me using bg-blue instead of bg-blue-intense: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/modus-themes/%3Cyger0wa9gsn.fsf%40simopolis.xyz%3E.

  • Defined the missing modus-themes-nuanced-{red,green,yellow,blue,magenta,cyan} faces. Those are used internally to avoid repetition, though users can also rely on them for their personal configurations (same for all other Modus faces).

  • Improved the documentation on how to have a borderless mode line style by using the palette overrides.

  • Updated the manual’s entry on the pdf-tools backdrop to make it use the new conventions that have been in place since version 4 of the themes. Thanks to Utkarsh Singh for the patches: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/modus-themes/patches/37902.

  • Add an explicit notice that the version of the themes that is built into Emacs must use the require-theme function instead of the familiar require. Built-in themes are not considered “code”, due to old conventions, and are not part of the load-path that require reads from. This is not up to the theme to decide. Interested users must simply know about this important technicality. Thanks to Koen van Greevenbroek for reporting the problem that helped me identify this issue: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/modus-themes/%3C31038fd76868fa3d07c9a429dfed8fd6ac374bb8.camel%40posteo.net%3E.

  • Clarified the wording of the modus-themes-with-colors setup for custom faces. It explains when this macro should be called. Thanks to user bangedorrunt for the feedback in issue 59 on the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/issues/59.