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12.10 Advising Emacs Lisp Functions

When you need to modify a function defined in another library, or when you need to modify a hook like foo-function, a process filter, or basically any variable or object field which holds a function value, you can use the appropriate setter function, such as fset or defun for named functions, setq for hook variables, or set-process-filter for process filters, but those are often too blunt, completely throwing away the previous value.

The advice feature lets you add to the existing definition of a function, by advising the function. This is a cleaner method than redefining the whole function.

Emacs’s advice system provides two sets of primitives for that: the core set, for function values held in variables and object fields (with the corresponding primitives being add-function and remove-function) and another set layered on top of it for named functions (with the main primitives being advice-add and advice-remove).

For example, in order to trace the calls to the process filter of a process proc, you could use:

(defun my-tracing-function (proc string)
  (message "Proc %S received %S" proc string))

(add-function :before (process-filter proc) #'my-tracing-function)

This will cause the process’s output to be passed to my-tracing-function before being passed to the original process filter. my-tracing-function receives the same arguments as the original function. When you’re done with it, you can revert to the untraced behavior with:

(remove-function (process-filter proc) #'my-tracing-function)

Similarly, if you want to trace the execution of the function named display-buffer, you could use:

(defun his-tracing-function (orig-fun &rest args)
  (message "display-buffer called with args %S" args)
  (let ((res (apply orig-fun args)))
    (message "display-buffer returned %S" res)

(advice-add 'display-buffer :around #'his-tracing-function)

Here, his-tracing-function is called instead of the original function and receives the original function (additionally to that function’s arguments) as argument, so it can call it if and when it needs to. When you’re tired of seeing this output, you can revert to the untraced behavior with:

(advice-remove 'display-buffer #'his-tracing-function)

The arguments :before and :around used in the above examples specify how the two functions are composed, since there are many different ways to do it. The added function is also called an advice.

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