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Are you a sys admin that uses emacs?

What tools/plugins do you find essential? In my organization the programmers tend to use emacs whereas the sys admins gravitate towards vim. Since we have 4:1 programmers:sys admins, the global emacs config has a lot more goodness but it doesn't fit nicely into my workflow since I'm used to starting/stopping vim on remote hosts 1000 times a day

Does emacs have a place in your sys admin workflow?

EDIT: and if so, how do you use it? What's an example workflow? There are many, many articles out there on how programmers use emacs, but I have neither met a sys admin who uses emacs nor read an article by a sys admin who uses emacs, so please speak up!


locked by Michael Hampton Sep 10 '14 at 19:50

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closed as primarily opinion-based by warren, Michael Hampton Sep 10 '14 at 19:50

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No, no, the world needs another emacs vs. vi debate! :) – Ward Mar 26 '10 at 19:00

Use the Emacs built-in TRAMP system to edit remote files directly instead of logging in remotely.

Org-Mode is also quite excellent.

TRAMP doesn't quite fit into my workflow. I tend to rummage around on systems via ssh for awhile first and on the occasions where I do need to edit files, I start vim, do a quick edit, exit, run something else, then maybe restart vim and repeat, etc. – mbac32768 Mar 26 '10 at 18:27
@mbac32768: You've got it inside out. If you're an emacs user, you do all that from inside emacs. – Dennis Williamson Mar 26 '10 at 18:47
As the saying goes emacs is a great operating system, lacking only a decent editor – Zoredache Mar 26 '10 at 19:22
I don't quite follow you Dennis. If you could take a moment to describe this in more detail I'd really appreciate it. – mbac32768 Mar 29 '10 at 14:29

I used to work as a sysadmin (these days, I'm a network admin) and I've used emacs since before I started working. I use emacs for any editing done "on my machine" (be that the primary server where my X display is driven from or whatever machine is on my desktop), for scripting and coding work.

I have, however, through my career, used ed or vi on remote systems (except a few, where I knew emacs would be available, due to knowing the user base), simply because it's there and in general it's only a quiestion of a few quick edits in a config file.


I am such sysadmin with emacs. Actually, I use Vim a lot in terminals and do not install Emacs on my servers, but on localhost Emacs is my main instrument.

Tool number one, top of the heap, king of the hill is Org-mode. I use it as a work log, planner, tiny hierarchical database and typesetting system. Org-mode is the kernel of my GTD-like time management system. I have also some remember-mode templates so I can quickly capture notes whatever program I'm working with.

I read mail with Wanderlust, so I can insert links to emails and news articles into my Org-mode to-do list.

Then, sometimes I write simple HTML texts with html-helper-mode. AucTeX is a perfect editor for more complicated LaTeX documents

Emacs also makes a good set of desktop utilities, from calculator to calendar.

Dired is a great file manager. Inside Dired, I can view files of different types and all they are automatically converted to plain text (using txutils).

BTW, there's an acceptable text editor in Emacs and I use it to write scripts in Bash and Perl.


I like emacs, and I've used emacs for years, but if you're an admin you really need to know vi. Vi is going to be installed on every machine you log into and emacs is not.

Never bothered with plugins with either, though. If I need an IDE I'll use Eclipse or Visual Studio or something.

If a system does not have Emacs, i use ed until I can get Emacs installed on it. You need to know ed anyway, as it and sed are quite handy in shell scripts – Teddy Mar 30 '10 at 6:46

I use the Lisp in a box distribution of Emacs because it has a good Common Lisp implementation. Makes it quicker and easier to knock out quick Lisp programs to do things than using e-lisp.


Yes, emacs has a place in my SysAdmin workflow, as does vi. I use vi for quick edits and emacs for writing scripts and other code.

As for essential tools, I find emacsclient on the command line, combined with server-start in my .emacs, makes file editing faster and easier. If I am pounding away at a command line I can launch a file into an existing emacs quickly. Yes I am aware of emacs shell buffer mode, but I find that very clunky, especially using M-p for previous line, when Ctrl-P works faster on my (remapped) keyboard. (Using xmodmap to remap the left Caps Lock key as Ctrl is another essential tool.)

I have emacsclient aliased to a function in bash like this:

# Emacs Client (ec) alias-like command
# To launch editing a file from the command line in an
# existing Emacs, place the line:
#       (server-start)
# in your .emacs file. You may run this dynamically using M-x
# (ESC key followed by lower case "X" key) server-start. If
# server is already running, it will merely restart.

function ec
    emacsclient ${1} >/dev/null 2>&1 &

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