(Please see what is letrec first.)

The following code is obviously fine and self-explanatory:

;; -*- lexical-binding: t; -*-
(setq post-self-insert-hook `(,@(when (boundp 'post-self-insert-hook)
                              ,(letrec ((_ (lambda ()
                                             (message ":P")
                                             (remove-hook 'post-self-insert-hook _))))

But if I use custom-set-variables,

;; -*- lexical-binding: t; -*-
 '(post-self-insert-hook `(,@(when (boundp 'post-self-insert-hook)
                           ;; Manual says `letrec' is
                           ;; only useful when lexical
                           ;; binding is in effect.
                           ;; But `custom-set-variables'
                           ;; evaluates these forms by
                           ;; calling `eval', which uses
                           ;; dynamic scope by default.
                           ,(let ((lexical-binding t))
                              (letrec ...)))))

Emacs will complain that Symbol’s value as variable is void: _.

Why the above code snippet doesn't work?

Irrelevant to This Question

For those who are not quite familiar with backquote:

 '(post-self-insert-hook `(,@(when (boundp 'post-self-insert-hook)
                           ,(let ((_ (lambda () "123")))
;; => nil

;; => (... (lambda nil "123"))

As you can see, the forms that are expected to be evaluated are indeed evaluated.

  • What exactly is the question? Seems like you started with a question, but you answered it in the question. Maybe you want to post that part as an answer instead, explaining a bit about it to help readers understand easier?
    – Drew
    Jun 24, 2023 at 13:52
  • @Drew: Alright, instead of explaining more, it might be more straightforward to just delete the sentence following 'why'. I will do that
    – shynur
    Jun 24, 2023 at 14:42
  • It is not really surprising, is it? In the first custom-set-variables, the expression is quoted, so nothing inside it gets evaluated. Am I missing something?
    – NickD
    Jun 24, 2023 at 18:57
  • @NickD: Perhaps you missed something. custom-set-variables uses eval to evaluate [backquote](,@(...) ,(letrec ...)) and then set the result as the value of post-self-insert-hook.
    – shynur
    Jun 24, 2023 at 19:24
  • 1
    @Drew: I think this question is about elisp now. Can I add this tag? :P
    – shynur
    Jun 24, 2023 at 20:04

1 Answer 1


Op missed the expected behavior of the code snippet, and does not provide the full code to reproduce the issue, which seriously obscurified the problem.

Short answer is, custom-set-variables used eval without setting the optional argument that enabled lexical scoping, so the arguments of custom-set-variables is eval in dynamic scope, thus letrec would not produce a closure as expected.

Switching between lexical/dynamic scoping should be done before parsing the program and cannot be changed by binding lexical-binding inside the program.

For example, in a new buffer using dynamic scope by default,

(let ((lexical-binding t))
  (lambda ()))
;; => (lambda nil)

then if you enable lexical binding and evaluate

(let ((lexical-binding nil))
  (lambda ()))
;; => (closure (t) nil)

It's obvious that (let ((lexical-binding nil/t)) ...) doesn't take effect.

Besides, just don't assume one who knows letrec can read your intension. As a punishment to Op, try explain how yin-yang puzzle works.

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