Elisp Posts

org-store-link... powerful and flexible | THIS IS EMACS

/Tony Aldon/
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org-mode revision: af6f1298b6f6

Hey org-mode fans,

In this post we saw that we can open org-mode links everywhere, not only in org-mode buffers, thanks to the command org-open-at-point-global.

Specifically, we demonstrated it with:

  1. the link [[help:pcase]] which links to the help buffer describing the macro pcase and,

  2. the link [[info:elisp#Current Buffer]] which to the elisp info node "Current Buffer".

We left aside two things:

  1. How can we store a link in the org syntax to the specific "place" (in Emacs) we are visiting?

  2. When we've stored an org mode link with the command provided by org-mode, how can we insert that link in our current buffer?

The answers to those questions are:

  1. using the command org-store-link (everywhere) to store the link,

  2. using either the command org-insert-link if we want to insert the link in an Org buffer or the command org-insert-link-global if we want to insert the link in a any buffer.

For the rest of this post, we assume that we have cloned the org-mode repository under the directory /tmp/org-mode/.

Let's go!

org-store-link and org-link-keep-stored-after-insertion

The command org-store-link is "smart enough" to know what to do in many cases (dired-mode, visiting an org-mode file, visiting other type of files).

For instance, if we are visiting the directory /tmp/org-mode/ in dired-mode with the point under the the file CONTRIBUTE:


calling M-x org-store-link stores the link file:/tmp/org-mode/CONTRIBUTE in the variable org-stored-links like this (assuming org-stored-links was nil before calling org-store-link)

(("file:/tmp/org-mode/CONTRIBUTE" "file:/tmp/org-mode/CONTRIBUTE"))

Now, let's say we want to insert that link into an org-mode buffer.

We call the function org-insert-link (bound to C-c C-l by default), and we select the stored link file:/tmp/org-mode/CONTRIBUTE which insert the following in our org buffer:

- file:/tmp/org-mode/CONTRIBUTE

Let's try to insert it again. We call the command org-insert-link but the link file:/tmp/org-mode/CONTRIBUTE is no longer stored.

We can inspect the variable org-stored-links and see that its value is nil. This is normal because by default the variable org-link-keep-stored-after-insertion is set to nil and so once a link that was in org-stored-links is inserted, it is removed from org-stored-links.

If we prefer to keep the links stored even after inserting them, we can set org-link-keep-stored-after-insertion to t (default is nil) like this:

(setq org-link-keep-stored-after-insertion t)

org-store-link and org-link-context-for-files

Let's continue with the default value.

Another example.

If we are visiting the file ol.el with the point on the line defining the variable org-link-context-for-files:

(defcustom org-link-context-for-files t
  "Non-nil means file links from `org-store-link' contain context.

calling M-x org-store-link stores the link "file:~/work/tmp/org-mode/lisp/ol.el::(defcustom org-link-context-for-files t" with its description being nil in the variable org-stored-links like this

((#("file:~/work/tmp/org-mode/lisp/ol.el::(defcustom org-link-context-for-files t" ...)

Now, in the same Org buffer as above, in another list item, we call the function org-insert-link (bound to C-c C-l by default):

  1. then we select the stored link "file:~/work/tmp/org-mode/lisp/ol.el::(defcustom org-link-context-for-files t"

  2. then we are asked in the minibuffer to provide a description for the link and we provide the description org-link-context-for-files

  3. finally the link is inserted as follow:

- file:/tmp/org-mode/CONTRIBUTE
- org-link-context-for-files

At the previous step 1) we could have remove the search option (everything after the two colons ::) and the two colons :: if we only wanted to link to the file.

If we never want the search option (the context) when storing a link to a file, we can set the variable org-link-context-for-files to nil (default value is t) like this:

(setq org-link-context-for-files nil)

Note that in that case when we insert the file, we are not asked to provide a description.

org-store-link in org-mode files

If we use org-store-link in an org-mode file, the search option of the link to that file is picked "wisely" by the command depending of the position of the point (see org#Search Options).

built-in link types

The support of org-store-link for the links we've described so far are hard coded in org-store-link.

Beside the hard coded support for storing link, org-mode provides a mechanism to add new link types via the function org-link-set-parameters (we already talk about that subject in the post Link to a git commit from Org mode using Magit).

And by providing a specific function for storing links depending on the Emacs context we can use the function org-store-link to store those new link types.

Org provides various built-in link types with support for storing them.

We can list them (if you have added other link types with store functions, they will be listed too) by evaluating the following s-exp (which is just a variant of the function org-store-link-functions):

(cl-loop for link in org-link-parameters
         if (org-link-get-parameter (car link) :store)
         collect (car link))
;; ("eww" "rmail" "mhe" "irc" "info" "gnus" "docview" "bibtex" "bbdb" "w3m" "help")

help link type and the mechanism of org-store-link

Now we focus on the help link type.

It is define using the function org-link-set-parameters like this:

(org-link-set-parameters "help"
                         :follow #'org-link--open-help
                         :store #'org-link--store-help)

Specifically org-link--store-help is the function responsible to produce the links to help buffers when we call org-store-link in help buffers.

How does this work?

Let's say we are visiting the following help buffer of the macro pcase and we call M-x org-store-link:

pcase is a Lisp macro.

(pcase EXP &rest CASES)

  Probably introduced at or before Emacs version 24.1.

Evaluate EXP to get EXPVAL; try passing control to one of CASES.


As we call the command org-store-link without 2 or 3 universal arguments (C-u C-u nor C-u C-u C-u), the command org-store-link does the following.

First, org-store-link calls all the defined store functions ((org-store-link-functions)) and then

  1. if they all return nil, try to store the link with the hard coded support,

  2. if only one, which we call F, returns a non-nil value, use the :link value and :description value of the variable org-store-link-plist (which has been set by the call to F) to set the local variable link and desc,

  3. if more than one returns a non-nil value (that means that various functions can handle/produce the link for the buffer (Emacs context) we are visiting), ask us via the minibuffer to choose the one we want to use and then use it to set the local variable link and desc.

As we are visiting the help buffer of the macro pcase (and we only use the built-in link type offer by org-mode) we are in the second case.

Specifically, the function org-link--store-help is the only one that returned a non-nil value.

So the values of the variable link and desc is produced by the function org-link--store-help by setting the variable org-store-link-plist.

Finally, as we've never stored that link before, the function org-store-link add it to the global variable org-stored-links evaluating the following s-exp:

(push (list link desc) org-stored-links)

Here are the parts of org-store-link we've just discussed:

(defun org-store-link (arg &optional interactive?)
  (interactive "P\np")
  (if (and (equal arg '(64)) (org-region-active-p))
    (setq org-store-link-plist nil)
    (let (link cpltxt desc search custom-id agenda-link)
       ((and (not (equal arg '(16)))
             (let ((results-alist nil))
               (dolist (f (org-store-link-functions))
                 (when (funcall f)
                   (push (cons f (copy-sequence org-store-link-plist))
               (pcase results-alist
                 (`nil nil)
                 (`((,_ . ,_)) t)  ;single choice: nothing to do
                 (`((,name . ,_) . ,_)
                  (apply #'org-link-store-props
                         (cdr (assoc-string
                                (format "Store link with (default %s): " name)
                                (mapcar #'car results-alist)
                                nil t nil nil (symbol-name name))
        (setq link (plist-get org-store-link-plist :link))
        (setq desc (if (plist-member org-store-link-plist :description)
                       (plist-get org-store-link-plist :description)
       (t (setq link nil)))
      ;; Store and return the link
      (if (not (and interactive? link))
        (if (member (list link desc) org-stored-links)
            (message "This link has already been stored")
          (push (list link desc) org-stored-links)
          (message "Stored: %s" (or desc link))
        (car org-stored-links)))))

Now we just have to look at the function org-link--store-help which returns a non-nil value only if we call it when we are in help-mode buffers as we can see below:

(defun org-link--store-help ()
  "Store \"help\" type link."
  (when (eq major-mode 'help-mode)
    (let ((symbol
             (goto-char (point-min))
             ;; In case the help is about the key-binding, store the
             ;; function instead.
             (search-forward "runs the command " (line-end-position) t)
             (read (current-buffer)))))
      (org-link-store-props :type "help"
                            :link (format "help:%s" symbol)
                            :description nil))))

What is important to note is the call to the function org-link-store-props which set the variable org-store-link-plist (by side effect) which is then used in the body of org-store-link.

Specifically, calling org-link--store-help in the help buffer of the macro pcase set the variable org-store-link-plist to the following plist:

(:type "help"
 :link "help:pcase"
 :description nil)

Finally to to store the link in the same Org buffer as above, in another list item, we call the function org-insert-link selecting the link to the pcase help buffer leaving blanck the description, and we get:

- file:/tmp/org-mode/CONTRIBUTE
- org-link-context-for-files
- help:pcase

Browse all the built-in link types that provide a store function

If we want to look at the implementation of all the built-in link types that provide a store function, we can use the built-in command rgrep in org-mode repository (in our case cloned under the directory /tmp/org-mode/) searching for the regexp :store which pops up the following grep buffer that we can navigate with the keys n and p:

-*- mode: grep; default-directory: "/tmp/org-mode/" -*-
Grep started at Fri May  6 16:17:31

find [...] -exec grep --color=auto -nH --null -e \:store \{\} +
./lisp/ol.el:98:are, in this order, `:follow', `:export', and `:store', described
./lisp/ol.el:1012:The functions are defined in the `:store' property of
./lisp/ol.el:1033:     do (setq store-func (org-link-get-parameter (car link) :store))
./lisp/ol.el:1389:                         :store #'org-link--store-help)
./lisp/ol-w3m.el:49:(org-link-set-parameters "w3m" :store #'org-w3m-store-link)
./lisp/ol-eww.el:55:       :store #'org-eww-store-link)
./lisp/ol-irc.el:78:       :store #'org-irc-store-link
./lisp/ol-bibtex.el:487:       :store #'org-bibtex-store-link)
./lisp/ol-docview.el:56:       :store #'org-docview-store-link)
./lisp/ol-eshell.el:34:      :store #'org-eshell-store-link)
./lisp/ol-mhe.el:77:(org-link-set-parameters "mhe" :follow #'org-mhe-open :store #'org-mhe-store-link)
./lisp/ol-rmail.el:48:       :store #'org-rmail-store-link)
./lisp/ol-bbdb.el:222:       :store #'org-bbdb-store-link)
./lisp/ol-info.el:46:      :store #'org-info-store-link)
./lisp/ol-man.el:32:       :store #'org-man-store-link)
./lisp/ol-gnus.el:84:      :store #'org-gnus-store-link)

Grep finished with 17 matches found at Fri May  6 16:17:31