I've tried whitespace-mode, but I can't configure it the way I want. There are others, but some of them are obsolete and I don't want to try them all.

I always indent via tabs and can't stand trailing whitespace. I never combine tabs and spaces (which means that with tabwidth=4 I can indent only multiples of 4, that's fine). I don't want non-indenting spaces to be highlighted as it's highly disturbing. I don't want any non-indenting tabs as there are always an error.

The following pattern express it maybe more clearly

  • ^\t* + - indenting space
  • [ \t]+$ - trailing space or tab
  • [^\t\n]+\t - non-indenting tab

It should work for all buffers and ideally use some nasty color.

I'm looking for either a package allowing exactly this or a hint what could I modify to get it in the easiest way. I used to hack emacs a lot some 15 years ago, but that's too long ago.

  • @Drew My regex was "^\t* " without the quotes, but the trailing space was invisible despite using backtics. I've just fixed it by adding + (your regex would be even better, but I wanted to keep it simple). My third regex was wrong as well (I meant a tab after anything but tab or newline).
    – maaartinus
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


This should do what you want. Define regexps that match what you want, and faces.

Then match the subgroups in the function you add to font-lock-keywords. The subgroups are used to say that you want only the spaces after indenting tabs, and only non-indenting tabs.

(defface my-tab '((t (:background "LemonChiffon"))) "..." :group 'faces)

(defface my-space '((t (:background "HotPink"))) "..." :group 'faces)

(defface my-trailing-whitespace '((t (:background "Gold"))) "..." :group 'faces)

(defvar indenting-space-re "^[\t]*\\([ ]+\\)"
   "Regexp to match space chars after tab chars, at the start of a line.")

(defvar trailing-white-re "[\u00a0\040\t]+$"
   "Regexp to match trailing whitespace")

(defvar non-indenting-tabs-re "[^\n\t]+\\(\t+\\)"
   "Regexp to match bol, non-newline, non-tab chars, then tab chars.")

(defun foo ()
   `((,indenting-space-re (1 'my-space t))               ; indenting spaces
     (,non-indenting-tabs-re (1 'my-tab t))              ; non-indenting tabs
     (,trailing-white-re (0 'my-trailing-whitespace t))) ; trailing whitespace

(add-hook 'font-lock-mode-hook 'foo)
  • Perfect. I thought that it was harder, but it's very simple and clear, once you've showed me what to use (your example works as is, but I may add more stuff someday).
    – maaartinus
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 20:12

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