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4.1 Technical Introduction

Taking inspiration from prefix keys and prefix arguments, Transient implements a similar abstraction involving a prefix command, infix arguments and suffix commands.

When the user calls a transient prefix command, a transient (temporary) keymap is activated, which binds the transient’s infix and suffix commands, and functions that control the transient state are added to pre-command-hook and post-command-hook. The available suffix and infix commands and their state are shown in a popup buffer until the transient state is exited by invoking a suffix command.

Calling an infix command causes its value to be changed. How that is done depends on the type of the infix command. The simplest case is an infix command that represents a command-line argument that does not take a value. Invoking such an infix command causes the switch to be toggled on or off. More complex infix commands may read a value from the user, using the minibuffer.

Calling a suffix command usually causes the transient to be exited; the transient keymaps and hook functions are removed, the popup buffer no longer shows information about the (no longer bound) suffix commands, the values of some public global variables are set, while some internal global variables are unset, and finally the command is actually called. Suffix commands can also be configured to not exit the transient.

A suffix command can, but does not have to, use the infix arguments in much the same way any command can choose to use or ignore the prefix arguments. For a suffix command that was invoked from a transient, the variable transient-current-suffixes and the function transient-args serve about the same purpose as the variables prefix-arg and current-prefix-arg do for any command that was called after the prefix arguments have been set using a command such as universal-argument.

Transient can be used to implement simple “command dispatchers”. The main benefit then is that the user can see all the available commands in a popup buffer, which can be thought of as a “menus”. That is useful by itself because it frees the user from having to remember all the keys that are valid after a certain prefix key or command. Magit’s magit-dispatch (on C-x M-g) command is an example of using Transient to merely implement a command dispatcher.

In addition to that, Transient also allows users to interactively pass arguments to commands. These arguments can be much more complex than what is reasonable when using prefix arguments. There is a limit to how many aspects of a command can be controlled using prefix arguments. Furthermore, what a certain prefix argument means for different commands can be completely different, and users have to read documentation to learn and then commit to memory what a certain prefix argument means to a certain command.

Transient suffix commands, on the other hand, can accept dozens of different arguments without the user having to remember anything. When using Transient, one can call a command with arguments that are just as complex as when calling the same function non-interactively from Lisp.

Invoking a transient suffix command with arguments is similar to invoking a command in a shell with command-line completion and history enabled. One benefit of the Transient interface is that it remembers history not only on a global level (“this command was invoked using these arguments, and previously it was invoked using those other arguments”), but also remembers the values of individual arguments independently. See Using History.

After a transient prefix command is invoked, C-h KEY can be used to show the documentation for the infix or suffix command that KEY is bound to (see Getting Help for Suffix Commands), and infixes and suffixes can be removed from the transient using C-x l KEY. Infixes and suffixes that are disabled by default can be enabled the same way. See Enabling and Disabling Suffixes.

Transient ships with support for a few different types of specialized infix commands. A command that sets a command line option, for example, has different needs than a command that merely toggles a boolean flag. Additionally, Transient provides abstractions for defining new types, which the author of Transient did not anticipate (or didn’t get around to implementing yet).

Note that suffix commands also support regular prefix arguments. A suffix command may even be called with both infix and prefix arguments at the same time. If you invoke a command as a suffix of a transient prefix command, but also want to pass prefix arguments to it, then first invoke the prefix command, and only after doing that invoke the prefix arguments, before finally invoking the suffix command. If you instead began by providing the prefix arguments, then those would apply to the prefix command, not the suffix command. Likewise, if you want to change infix arguments before invoking a suffix command with prefix arguments, then change the infix arguments before invoking the prefix arguments. In other words, regular prefix arguments always apply to the next command, and since transient prefix, infix and suffix commands are just regular commands, the same applies to them. (Regular prefix keys behave differently because they are not commands at all, instead they are just incomplete key sequences, and those cannot be interrupted with prefix commands.)

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