(or emacs irrelevant)

Quitting to command loop in Elisp

Today I'd like to share an interesting bit of Elisp that comes up every now and then for me. Imagine that you have this:

(defun useful-command ()
  (do-thing-2 (funcall callback-function))

Sometimes, when you are in callback-function, you might want to abandon the function that called you, useful-command in this case, and call a different function, with the current context.

Here's what I've come up with to do just that:

(defmacro ivy-quit-and-run (&rest body)
  "Quit the minibuffer and run BODY afterwards."
     (put 'quit 'error-message "")
     (run-at-time nil nil
                  (lambda ()
                    (put 'quit 'error-message "Quit")

To break it up into parts:

  • minibuffer-keyboard-quit will unwind the call stack all the way to the command loop, preventing e.g. do-thing-3 from being called. Note that the call stack can be as deep as you like, e.g. useful-command might be called by utility-command etc.

  • run-at-time with the argument nil will run the code as soon as possible, which is almost exactly after we're back into the command loop.

  • The final trick is to prevent Quit from being displayed in the minibuffer.

Sample application

Suppose that I've called find-file when ivy-mode is active. Typically, I'd select a file and press C-m to open it. However, sometimes I just want to see the selected file in dired instead of opening it. This code is from before ivy multi-action interface, it plainly binds a command in ivy-minibuffer-map:

(define-key ivy-minibuffer-map (kbd "C-:") 'ivy-dired)

(defun ivy-dired ()
  (if ivy--directory
       (dired ivy--directory)
       (when (re-search-forward
               (substring ivy--current 0 -1)) nil t)
         (goto-char (match-beginning 0))))
     "Not completing files currently")))

So at the moment when C-: is pressed, the call stack is:

  • C-x C-f called find-file.
  • find-file called completion-read-function which is set to ivy-completing-read.
  • ivy-completing-read called ivy-read.
  • ivy-read called read-from-minibuffer.

Thanks to the new macro, I can unwind all of that stuff, making sure nothing extra will be executed that was supposed to be executed after read-from-minibuffer had returned. In other words, the file will not be opened. Instead, a dired buffer will be opened, centered on the selected candidate.

What I described above can actually be a pretty common scenario, you could adapt it to helm or avy or projectile. Basically to anything that includes some form of completion (i.e. commands that wait for input) and offers you a customizable keymap. Small disclaimer: the above code falls into the quick-and-dirty category, I don't recommend it if you can do something smarter instead. But if you can't do anything smarter due to being constrained by an interface you don't control, this macro could help you out.