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Don't kill my xref buffers

Published: 2023-02-12


I like buffers.

When I first started using Emacs, I used to feel paranoid about keeping too many buffers. Nowadays, I don't even notice the hundreds or thousands of buffers buried in Emacs.

I like xref.

The built-in package, xref, is an essential part of my workflow at Kira Systems (now acquired by Litera). We use a monorepo setup for our flagship Machine Learning contract analysis SaaS product written in Clojure and Go. It's crucial for my day-to-day work to be able to do project-wide searches for references. I use the project-find-regexp (a command from the built-in package, project.el, bound to C-x p g) to find matches for references in both Clojure and Go code. If I'm only interested in the Clojure source code, I can use xref-find-references (bound to M-?) to find all references with eglot.

There's one problem. xref doesn't like buffers.

Or every time the commands invokes xref, they reuse the *xref* buffer and effectively destroyed the results of the previous reference search.

Of course, this is Emacs. We can configure it ourselves. All it requires is a little gentle advice:

(with-eval-after-load 'project
  (defun project-find-regexp-with-unique-buffer (orig-fun &rest args)
    "An advice function that gives project-find-regexp a unique buffer name"
    (require 'xref)
    (let ((xref-buffer-name (format "%s %s" xref-buffer-name (car args))))
      (apply orig-fun args)))

  (advice-add 'project-find-regexp :around
(with-eval-after-load 'eglot
  (defun xref-find-references-with-eglot (orig-fun &rest args)
    "An advice function that gives xref-find-definitions a unique
buffer name when eglot is enabled."
    (if (bound-and-true-p eglot--managed-mode)
        (let ((xref-buffer-name (format "%s %s"
          (apply orig-fun args))
      (apply orig-fun args)))

  (advice-add 'xref-find-references :around

By leveraging Emacs's advice-function facility and dynamic scoping, the Elisp code above customize the existing project-find-regexp and xref-find-references to use a more descriptive buffer name for each invocation. The result is that I get to keep multiple xref reference buffers till I finish using those.

The configurability of Emacs is often brought up as the top reason to use Emacs. Yes, it took some time to traverse the source code of eglot.el, package.el, and xref.el. Still, the customization described in this article can be done without a deep knowledge of the Emacs source code or individual packages.

To me, this article is a perfect example of how Emacs adapts to the user's workflows instead of forcing the user to adapt to the editor's (or package authors') ideology. I hope this short article inspires you to start customizing your Emacs experience. Cheers! :)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.