Working with Emacs on a remote connection can be annoying due to the lack of a GUI, and the fact you have to replicate your settings on the server-side copy of Emacs to have access to them. Luckily you can use X11 forwarding to connect your local Emacs to a remote connection. While this is super simple on Linux, it requires a little more effort on a Mac. First off, download and install XQuartz to enable the X Window System on OS X. Download the Emacs source code from the Emacs website and extract the archive. Navigate to the Emacs directory and run the configure file with the --with-ns=no --with-x flags to compile without support for the OS X NS windows system, and with support for the X window system.

./configure --with-ns=no --with-x

Now we can compile our X11 compatible Emacs. However, compiling Emacs without support for NS results in an application that looks decidedly less…Mac-y. For one thing, it doesn’t support Retina displays, and while it has a GUI that the default Emacs on OS X lacks, it looks jarring on a Mac screen. For this reason, I like to compile X11 compatible Emacs with a different name so that I can still use the GUI-less default Emacs when I’m working locally (XQuartz also takes a couple seconds to start up, which can be annoying if you’re just making a quick change to a file). To do this, open up the Makefile generated by configure, and replace the EMACS_NAME variable definition with your preferred name.

EMACS_NAME = echo emacs | sed '$(TRANSFORM)' I like to call this application emacsx, and you can see this modified line below: EMACS_NAME = echo emacsx | sed '$(TRANSFORM)'

Now you can just compile and install Emacs like normal

make -j4
sudo make install

Finally, you have to modify the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file to actually enable X11 forwarding. The line below will do so on modern OS X installations and preserve the original file as /etc/ssh/sshd_config~orig.

sudo sed -i ~orig 's/#X11Forwarding\ no/X11Forwarding\ yes/' /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Now connect to your remote using ssh -Y and when you launch Emacs, the X11 compatible Emacs will launch.

ssh -Y <username>@<hostname>
emacs

Note that if you want to invoke the X11 compatible Emacs directly on your system you will have to use the different name that you gave it above e.g.

emacsx