Using default-frame-alist to specify Emacs window size, position and font (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 14 Jul 2011

Using default-frame-alist to specify Emacs window size, position and font

Seems like every few years I need to change the way I specify my preferred emacs fonts and window sizes.

Historically this all used to happen from one file, ~/.Xdefaults, where you set up your defaults for all X programs. In a way that was nice, since you could set up defaults and see the same font everywhere. On the other hand, it made for a huge, somewhat hard to read file, and it's increasingly out of favor on modern desktops, with modern toolkits like GTK just ignoring it.

Emacs still reads Xdefaults -- but only sort of. A lot of the values I used to set there no longer work properly. Some time ago I commented out my various attempts at setting emacs font, like

Emacs*font: -*-clean-bold-*-*-*-13-*-*-*-c-*-*-*
Emacs*font: DejaVu Sans Mono-10:bold
Emacs*font: clean-13:bold
Wmacs*font: Liberation Mono-10:bold
Emacs.font: 7x13bold
Emacs.faceName: Dejavu-10:style=bold
since none of them worked, and worked out a way of setting fonts inside my .emacs file:
(set-face-attribute 'default nil :font "Terminus-12:bold")

That worked to set the font, but it had another annoying attribute: it doesn't happen at startup, so it messed up my window size. See, emacs would start up, see the size I specified in .Xdefaults:

Emacs*geometry: 80x45
and try to set that. But it hadn't read .emacs yet, so it was still using whatever its default font and size is, and that's huge -- so 45 lines made a window too tall to fit on my laptop screen. Emacs would then shrink its window to fit the screen (41 lines). Only then would it open .emacs, whereupon it would see the set-face-attribute, change the font, and resize the window again, much, smaller, still 41 lines.

What a pain!

The emacs manual, in addition to talking about these various Xdefaults properties and command-line options, does mention a couple of variables, set-screen-height and set-screen-width, that looked promising. I tried putting (set-screen-height 45) in my .emacs right after I set the font -- no dice. Apparently that doesn't work because by the time those are read, emacs has already decided that 41 lines is as big as the window can possibly be.

Here's the answer: another variable that goes inside .emacs, default-frame-alist, but this one can override that maximum-height decision that emacs has already made. Here's an example of it in some useful defaults for emacs, and based on that, I was able to come up with this:

(setq default-frame-alist
      '((top . 10) (left . 2)
        (width . 80) (height . 53)
        (font . "terminus-iso8859-1-bold-14")

Curiously, that height setting, 53, needs to be 3 more than what I actually want according to the size emacs reports to the window manager. So don't take the number too seriously; just try numbers a little bigger than what you actually want until you get the size you're after. The font setting is the X font specifier: I ran xlsfonts | grep -i terminus | grep 14 then picked one of the simpler of the lines it printed out, but you can use a full specifier like -xos4-terminus-bold-r-normal--14-140-72-72-c-80-iso8859-1 like you get from xfontsel, if you prefer.

Startup still isn't pretty -- emacs still shows a big window at one place on the screen, resizes it several times then jumps it over to the top/left coordinates I specified. Of course, I could tell my window manager to start it in the right place so the jumping-around would be minimized; but that wouldn't help the visible resizing. Just a minor irritation.

I'm sure there's lots more useful stuff buried in that sample emacs config file (it was suggested to me when I asked about this on the #emacs IRC channel), so I'll be reading it to see what else I can glean.

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[ 12:24 Jul 14, 2011    More linux/editors | permalink to this entry | ]

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