Typical Technological Trickery

jshint and emacs' compile command

22 Jun 2014

jshint is a helpful static code checker for finding potentially problematic code in javascript. This post explains how to run jshint from emacs and easily jump to the errors using emacs’ compile command. The setup required is not especially complex but could be mildly tricky to figure out for people new to emacs.

The code

The additional emacs lisp code needed is simply:

;; Add parsing of jshint output in compilation mode
(add-to-list 'compilation-error-regexp-alist-alist '(jshint "^\\(.*\\): line \\([0-9]+\\), col \\([0-9]+\\), " 1 2 3))
(add-to-list 'compilation-error-regexp-alist 'jshint)

(Add this code to a config file that is loaded by emacs, typically .emacs or .emacs.d/init.el.)

To “compile” with jshint run the emacs command compile in a buffer in your javascript directory with the compilation command:

jshint *.js

(or use an alternative shell glob to select the files you want to check). The compilation buffer should appear and should allow you to step through errors just like using a real compiler.


Compilation mode extracts error location information using a simple parser consisting of a regular expression and a few other bits of information. In the commands above we added a parser for the error messages from jshint.

New parsers are defined by a list as specified in the documentation for compilation-error-regexp-alist. Our jshint parser is as follows:

(jshint "^\\(.*\\): line \\([0-9]+\\), col \\([0-9]+\\), " 1 2 3)

The first element is the name of the parser. The second argument is a string containing the regex itself. The final arguments are the numbers of the matches (the first match is numbered 1) which specify the file, the line number and the column number respectively.

In fact emacs stores the parser information in a slightly more complex way. There are two lists: a list of available parsers (compilation-error-regexp-alist-alist) and a list of which parsers to use (compilation-error-regexp-alist). In the code above the first line defines the parser and adds it to the list of available parsers. The second line adds our new parser to the list of parsers to use.

Related tips/gotchas

  • The command to step through errors is next-error, you should bind it to a key in both javascript mode and compiliation mode.

  • Also bind the commands compile and recompile to easy to press keys for best effect.

  • If you’re installing jshint on a Debian-based system via npm you may need the additional package nodejs-legacy to deal with name clashes (there are multiple Debian packages with binaries named node. So the node binary installed by the standard nodejs package is called nodejs instead. Not many npm packages handle this correctly. The nodejs-legacy package adds a binary named node.).