Replace Jupyter Notebook With Emacs Org Mode: Unleash the Power of Literate Programming

#Emacs #Programming

Table of Contents


The popularity of Jupyter Notebook has surged in recent years as a powerful tool for interactive data analysis and visualization. However, there is an alternative that has been around for a longer time and is proving to be a valuable resource for many programmers: Emacs Org Mode. In this blog post, we will explore how you can replace Jupyter Notebook with Emacs Org Mode for a seamless and efficient literate programming experience.

What is Emacs Org Mode?

Emacs Org Mode is an extension of the versatile Emacs text editor, offering a powerful platform for note-taking, project management, and literate programming. Literate programming is an approach in which code and documentation are intertwined, allowing you to create executable documents that can be easily understood by others. Org Mode excels at this by providing a simple and intuitive markup language that supports rich text formatting, embedded code, and exporting to various formats, such as HTML, PDF, and more.

Why Replace Jupyter Notebook with Emacs Org Mode?

  • Unified Environment: Emacs provides a unified environment for all your programming and text editing needs. With Org Mode, you can manage code, documentation, and project planning all within a single tool. This eliminates the need to switch between multiple applications, streamlining your workflow.

  • Extensibility: Emacs is known for its extensibility, and Org Mode is no exception. There are countless plugins and extensions available that can enhance your literate programming experience, such as org-babel for code execution, org-ref for bibliography management, and org-present for presentation support.

  • Version Control: Emacs integrates seamlessly with version control systems like Git, allowing you to track changes and collaborate with others easily. This is particularly useful for literate programming, as both code and documentation can be managed in the same repository.

  • Customization: Emacs and Org Mode can be tailored to suit your needs, from key bindings and appearance to functionality. This flexibility allows you to create a personalized environment that aligns with your preferences and workflow.

Getting Started with Emacs Org Mode for Literate Programming

Installing Emacs

  1. Choose your platform:

    • Linux: Use your distribution’s package manager to install Emacs (e.g., sudo apt-get install emacs for Ubuntu)
    • macOS: Install Emacs using Homebrew ( with the command: brew install --cask emacs
    • Windows: Download the installer from the official GNU Emacs website (
  2. Launch Emacs and familiarize yourself with the interface.

Configuring Org Mode

  1. Ensure Org Mode is installed and up-to-date by checking your Emacs package list (M-x list-packages) or manually updating it.

  2. Add Org Mode configuration settings to your Emacs init file (usually .emacs or init.el). For example:

    (require 'org)
    (setq org-src-fontify-natively t)
    (setq org-confirm-babel-evaluate nil)

Installing essential packages for data science

Install the following packages using the built-in Emacs package manager (M-x list-packages):

  • org-babel: For code block execution and literate programming
  • ess: For R programming language support
  • elpy: For Python programming language support

Configure the installed packages by adding appropriate settings to your Emacs init file.

Setting up a Python environment in Emacs

  1. Ensure Python is installed on your system and available in your PATH.

  2. Install the ipython packages using pip:

    pip install ipython
  3. Configure Emacs to use IPython as the default Python interpreter by adding the following to your Emacs init file:

    (setq python-shell-interpreter "ipython"
        python-shell-interpreter-args "-i --simple-prompt")

Creating and organizing Org files for literate programming

  1. Create a new Org file with the extension .org (e.g.,

  2. Learn the basics of Org Mode markup, such as headings, lists, and links.

  3. Write and execute code blocks within your Org file:

    • Inline code execution: Use src_<language>{<code>} to insert inline code (e.g., src_python{2 + 3}).

    • Code block execution: Use the following syntax to create a code block:

      #+BEGIN_SRC <language>

For example:

#+BEGIN_SRC python
print("Hello, Emacs Org Mode!")
  • Execute code blocks using C-c C-c and display the results directly in your Org file.
  • Export your Org file to various formats (e.g., HTML, PDF) for sharing and publishing.

Advanced Features of Emacs Org Mode for Data Science

Working with multiple languages in a single Org file

Org Mode’s support for various programming languages allows you to work with multiple languages in a single document.

Configure additional languages in your Emacs init file by adding the appropriate org-babel settings, such as:

 '((python . t)
   (R . t)
   (shell . t)
   ;; Add other languages here

Integrating with external tools and libraries

Use Org Mode’s #+CALL syntax to integrate external tools or libraries into your Org document.

Example: Integrating Pandoc for document conversion:

#+NAME: pandoc
#+BEGIN_SRC sh :results output :var input="" output="output.pdf"
pandoc $input -o $output

#+CALL: pandoc(input="", output="my_converted_file.pdf")

Debugging and profiling code within Org Mode

Leverage the debugging and profiling capabilities of your programming language within Org Mode.

Example: Debugging Python code with pdb:

#+BEGIN_SRC python :results output
import pdb

def my_function(a, b):
    return a + b

my_function(3, 5)

Customizing code block execution and display options

Customize code block execution with header arguments.

Example: Exporting code block results as a separate file:

#+BEGIN_SRC python :results file :file output.png
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

x = [1, 2, 3, 4]
y = [2, 4, 6, 8]

plt.plot(x, y)

Utilizing Org Mode for project management and collaboration

  • Take advantage of Org Mode’s task management and agenda features to manage data science projects.

  • Create TODO items, set deadlines, and track progress using Org Mode.

  • Collaborate with teammates by sharing Org files and using Git for version control.

  • Example: Project management in Org Mode:

    * TODO Prepare dataset
      DEADLINE: <2023-04-01>
    * TODO Train machine learning model
      DEADLINE: <2023-04-15>
    * DONE Write report
      CLOSED: [2023-03-25]

Tips and Tricks for Optimizing Your Emacs Org Mode Workflow

Keyboard shortcuts for Org Mode

Learn and utilize Org Mode’s keyboard shortcuts to improve your productivity:

  • C-c C-t: Toggle TODO states
  • C-c C-s: Schedule a task
  • C-c C-d: Set a deadline
  • C-c C-o: Open a link
  • TAB: Fold/unfold headings
  • S-TAB: Fold/unfold all headings

Customize your own keyboard shortcuts in your Emacs init file, if needed.

Customizing your Emacs theme

Choose from various built-in and community-provided Emacs themes to personalize your workspace.

Install a new theme using the Emacs package manager (M-x list-packages), and activate it by adding the following to your Emacs init file:

(load-theme 'theme-name t)

Adjust the appearance of Org Mode elements (e.g., headings, links, and code blocks) by customizing their faces.

Integrating with other Emacs packages for productivity

Enhance your Org Mode experience by integrating it with other Emacs packages:

  • org-ref: Manage citations and references within Org documents
  • org-brain: Create a personal wiki or knowledge base using Org Mode
  • magit: Integrate Git version control with your Org workflow
  • org-present: Create presentations using Org Mode

Install and configure these packages according to their respective documentation.

Using Org Mode for note-taking and knowledge management

Use Org Mode as a powerful note-taking tool to complement your data science projects.

Organize and search your notes using Org Mode’s hierarchical structure and built-in search capabilities.

Example: Organizing notes in Org Mode:

* Data Science Concepts
** Supervised Learning
*** Regression
- Linear Regression
- Polynomial Regression
*** Classification
- Logistic Regression
- Decision Trees
** Unsupervised Learning
*** Clustering
- K-means Clustering
- Hierarchical Clustering

Transitioning from Jupyter Notebook to Emacs Org Mode

Importing existing Jupyter Notebooks into Org Mode

Use jupytext to convert Jupyter Notebooks to Org Mode files:

  • Install jupytext with the command: pip install jupytext
  • Convert your Jupyter Notebook (.ipynb) to an Org Mode file (.org) using the following command:
    jupytext --to org my_notebook.ipynb

-Review the converted Org Mode file to ensure proper formatting and correct any issues.

Exporting Org files to Jupyter Notebook format

  • Use jupytext to convert Org Mode files back to Jupyter Notebooks, if needed:
  • Convert your Org Mode file (.org) to a Jupyter Notebook (.ipynb) using the following command:
    jupytext --to ipynb
  • Open the converted Jupyter Notebook with your preferred Jupyter environment (e.g., JupyterLab, Jupyter Notebook) and verify its contents.

Overcoming common challenges during the transition

  • Familiarize yourself with Emacs key bindings and commands, which may differ significantly from traditional text editors.
  • Take the time to explore and customize your Emacs settings to create a comfortable and productive workspace.
  • Seek help from the Emacs and Org Mode communities through online forums, mailing lists, and chat rooms. Many users are happy to share their experiences and offer support.


Recap of the benefits of using Emacs Org Mode for data science

  • Emacs Org Mode offers a powerful, flexible, and customizable environment for data science tasks, addressing many limitations of Jupyter Notebook.
  • Org Mode’s support for literate programming enables seamless integration of code, results, and documentation, promoting reproducible research and collaboration.
  • The extensible nature of Emacs allows users to tailor their workflow to their specific needs, integrating various programming languages, tools, and productivity-enhancing packages.

Emphasizing the flexibility and customizability of Emacs Org Mode

  • One of the most significant advantages of Emacs Org Mode is its customizability, allowing users to create a personalized workspace that suits their needs and preferences.
  • Users can choose from a wide variety of packages, themes, and settings to create an environment that enhances their productivity and enjoyment of the data science process.

Encouragement for readers to give Emacs Org Mode a try

  • If you’re intrigued by the benefits of Emacs Org Mode for data science, consider giving it a try and experiencing its capabilities firsthand.
  • Transitioning from Jupyter Notebook to Emacs Org Mode may require some initial effort, but the long-term gains in productivity and flexibility can be well worth the investment.

Invitation to join the Emacs Org Mode community and share experiences

  • As you embark on your journey with Emacs Org Mode, don’t hesitate to reach out to the vibrant community of users and developers for help, support, and inspiration.
  • Share your experiences, tips, and tricks with others, contributing to the collective knowledge and strengthening the community of Emacs Org Mode enthusiasts in the data science world.