When editing Lisp code it is often useful to highlight matching parentheses either when point is on or near a parenthesis or when it is not even close to one.

The following packages all provide such highlighting but differ in functionality.



ShowParenMode highlights matching parens before and after point. The library is called paren.el and is part of Emacs.


This library provides the same functionality as ShowParenMode. Since that is already part of Emacs installing this might just be confusing when you turn of one of the modes but forget that another mode providing the same functionality is still enabled.



MicParen extends the functionality of the two libraries above in multiple ways. Among other things it shows the matching paren in the EchoArea if it is outside the visible screen.


The nesting of sexps can also be made more apparent by highlighting delimiters based on their depth, either buffer-wide or for the group of parens surrounding point.


RainbowDelimiters is a “rainbow parentheses”-like mode which highlights parentheses, brackets, and braces according to their depth. Each successive level is highlighted in a different color. This makes it easy to spot matching delimiters, orient yourself in the code, and tell which statements are at a given depth.

It highlights all delimiters in the buffer. Great care has been taken to make this mode FAST. You shouldn’t see any change in scrolling or editing speed when it’s on, even when working in delimiter-rich languages like Clojure, Lisp and Scheme.

You can customize the colors RainbowDelimiters uses. The default colors are intentionally subtle; they are unobtrusive enough to make the mode worth looking at even if you usually don’t like rainbow parentheses modes.



HighlightParentheses highlights the parens surrounding the cursor, showing nesting structure.


HighlightSexps is based on HighlightParentheses but rather than highlighting only the parens, it highlights the whole s-expression(s) around point.

General Appearance

It is also possible to change the appearance of all parens possibly to make them less visible.