Switching from Helm to Ivy

Switching from Helm to Ivy

13 Dec 2019

Yet again, I’ve tweaked my emacs configuration. The big change this time is switching to Ivy from Helm.

I’d like to say right off the bat that Helm is a great tool. I used it for several months and enjoyed it. Once thing that I love about helm is how discoverable it makes commands and functions. helm also got me into using bookmarks. I don’t keep many bookmarks; I tend to collect a few when working on a multi-file project long-term. The bookmark that I use most consistently is to my .emacs file; these days I’m fiddling constantly with my settings.

I switched to Ivy because I found its completion options to be killer when using Magit: being able to fuzzy match branch names was sooo nice. I’ve also liked how Ivy handled completing file names. I feel faster. I’m not sure if I’m that much faster navigating around my file tree with it, but it does feel nice. There’s so much that Ivy makes better: any function using completing-read benefits from Ivy’s fuzzy matching.

It’s been a gradual process; there’s a lot that Helm does out-of-the-box that Ivy took some tweaking to get right. For example, sorting candidates for M-x by most recently used was one of my favorite features of Helm. I had to install Ivy Prescient to get the behavior I wanted. On top of that, I needed Counsel to show the key bindings next to their functions in M-x. Finally, I like to be able to fuzzy match anywhere within the command name, so I took out the leading ^ in counsel with this:

(use-package counsel
  (ivy-configure 'counsel-M-x :initial-input ""))

Conclusion #

Both Helm and Ivy are fantastic packages. They’ve changed the way I use Emacs and I feel like they’ve made me substantially more productive and happy. If you haven’t used either, you might want to start off with Helm for a nice out-of-the-box experience with loads of features and sensible defaults. However, if you just would like to be able to fuzzy-match things, Ivy is your library. It’s fast, clean, and configurable. The only problem is that it sometimes requires configuration before it’s exactly how you like it.