1. js2-refactor

This is one of the simplest refactoring library for Emacs. It is written entirely in Emacs and does not require any external program to work with. It is also designed for working with js2-mode, one of the best Javascript IDE for Emacs. If you haven’t known about js2-mode yet, take a look at this post Set up Javascript development environment in Emacs. Some noteworthy features of js-refactor are expand/contract functions, objects or arrays, lexical scope variable renaming,… You can easily install it using package.el.

M-x package-install js2-refactor

All the available functions of js2-refactor is available on github. Spend about 5 minutes to familiarize yourself with it https://github.com/magnars/js2-refactor.el.

2. Tern.js - Intelligent Javascript tooling

2.1 Tern.js basic

Tern is a stand-alone code-analysis engine for JavaScript. You can use Tern.js for these tasks

  • Auto completion on variables and properties
  • Function argument hints
  • Querying the type of an expression
  • Finding the definition of something
  • Automatic refactoring

There is an online demo that you can try at this link.

To use it, you need to install Tern binary executable using npm

$ npm install -g tern

The next thing you need to do is to install Tern packages for Emacs. The auto completion feature uses auto-complete so make sure you are familiar with auto-complete.

M-x package-install tern
M-x package-install tern-auto-complete

Add this to your .emacs to initialize tern and tern-auto-complete

(add-hook 'js-mode-hook (lambda () (tern-mode t)))
(eval-after-load 'tern
      (require 'tern-auto-complete)

For the auto completion to work properly in your Node.js project, you need to do some config. Open your project directory and create a file named .tern-project with the content like this

  "plugins": {
    "node": {

For more details on the .tern-project file as web as how to include some plugins like AngularJS or RequireJS, visit the Tern Docs. In my case, just the above file is enough.

By default, Tern binds . to tern-ac-dot-complete if tern-ac-on-dot is non-nil. Typing . after a variable will cause Tern to read that object’s properties and show the suggestion. This can be a bit slow when you first open the file since it have to start the Tern server but the next time when you invoke tern-ac-dot-complete, it will be much faster. A file named .tern-port will also be created automatically in your project’s root folder.

There are some other important keys that are bound already by default

  • M-. Jump to the definition of the thing under the cursor.
  • M-, Brings you back to last place you were when you pressed M-..
  • C-c C-r Rename the variable under the cursor.
  • C-c C-c Find the type of the thing under the cursor.
  • C-c C-d Find docs of the thing under the cursor. Press again to open the associated URL (if any).

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2.2 Fix error when Tern does not auto refresh

Sometimes when you have just added .tern-project file or edit the file but Tern does not auto reload, you need to manually kill Tern server. This little piece of code does the trick

(defun delete-tern-process ()
  (delete-process "Tern"))

When you encounter that problem, just activate the command delete-tern-process via M-x and then continue using as normal. Tern server will be launched automatically.

3. Emacs Tags with Exuberant Ctags

If you are happy with Tern.js, stick with it, you probably don’t need Ctags.

Ctags is a program for generating an index file of language objects found in source files. You can then use that file for quickly searching and locating those language objects using a text editor. Ctags supports more than 40 languages include C, C++, C#, Javascript,… You can visit this link for the full list of supported programming languages. Every time you changes your source file, you need to regenerate the tag file. Ctags can be installed easily using your package manager, for example with Macports

$ port install ctags

To build the tag for your project, activate ctags with -e and -R flags

$ cd /path/to/project
$ ctags -e -R --exclude=node_modules --exclude=public

A file named TAGS will be created inside the project root folder containing all the information about the project source code. Now open any .js file in your project, put the cursor on any function or variable name and activate etags-select-goto-tag to quickly jump to that function definition. However, the default Emacs’ etag feature is not quite good. You should use etags provided by helm (can be installed via package.el). Instead of activating etags-select-goto-tag, try helm-etags-select. If the project is big, It take some time to load tag file. But when it is done, the next search will be very fast.

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