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Configurable color themes for GNU Emacs 24
Emacs Lisp
branch: master

License GPL 3 MELPA MELPA Stable


Alect is a package that provides (rather low contrast but colourful enough) configurable light, dark and black color themes for GNU Emacs 24 or later. The themes are intended to be used with GUI (see Class of terminals).

Table of Contents



Add this to your init file (~/.emacs.d/init.el or ~/.emacs):

(add-to-list 'load-path              "/path/to/alect-themes")
(add-to-list 'custom-theme-load-path "/path/to/alect-themes")


The package can be installed from MELPA (with M-x package-install or M-x list-packages).

If you want to enable (see Usage section) any theme installed with a package system on Emacs start, you should know the following: Emacs loads packages after processing the init file, so loading a theme will fail because the path to a theme is not known yet. That's why you need to initialize the package system before loading the theme:

(setq package-enable-at-startup nil)
(load-theme ...)

For further details, see (info "(emacs) Package Installation").


To activate a theme interactively use customize-themes or load-theme:

M-x load-theme RET alect-light

To load a theme on Emacs start, add this to your init file:

(load-theme 'alect-light t)

Note: For quick switching between themes (with unloading the previous one), I use utl-load-theme function from my emacs-utils.


You can find the names and values of all colors used by alect-themes in alect-colors variable. Also you can open colors file in Emacs to get an idea about the used color palette.

There are several ways for configuring the themes:

  • modifying palette (alect-colors variable);
  • ignoring faces and variables;
  • overriding face specifications;
  • configuring other alect variables.

Class of terminals

By default only graphical terminals are supported, i.e. if you enable a theme, you will see themed faces in GUI and default faces in text-only terminals. So if you use emacs --daemon, you will not be disturbed by the ugly colors when you are in a non-graphical terminal.

You can add support for other terminals by setting alect-display-class variable. For example, if you want to enable alect-themes in 256-colors terminals, use the following:

(setq alect-display-class '((class color) (min-colors 256)))

See (info "(elisp) Defining Faces") for how a class of terminals should be specified.

Modifying palette

If you don't like how some colors look, you can change alect-colors variable by customizing it or by using alect-generate-colors function (see how the variable is defined in the code).

However those methods redefine the whole variable, so if the palette will be changed in future (it happens sometimes) or a new theme will be added, you may not notice that. So you can use another approach if you want to modify only some colors.

Let's say, you don't like cyan-2 color for the light theme as it's too light and bg-1 color for the dark theme as you prefer black color for the background. You can change those colors by putting this into your .emacs (before loading an alect-theme if you use it on Emacs start):

(eval-after-load 'alect-themes
     (alect-set-color 'light 'cyan-2 "#00a8a8")
     (alect-set-color 'dark 'bg-1 "black")))

The function alect-set-color is just a convenient way for modifying alect-colors variable, so if you are playing with it, don't forget to reload an alect-theme for the changes to take effect.

Ignoring faces and variables

By default along with a lot of faces, an alect-theme customizes several variables that contain color information, e.g. ansi-color-names-vector (see also Emacs bug in themed variables). You can disable theming of faces and variables with alect-ignored-faces and alect-ignored-variables variables.

For example, if you prefer the default appearance of the titles in Info-mode and of the minibuffer prompt, and if you want to disable modifying the variables at all, use the following:

(setq alect-ignored-variables t
        info-title-1 info-title-2
        info-title-3 info-title-4))

Overriding faces

If you don't like how particular faces look, you can change those by modifying alect-overriding-faces variable. The real power here is that you can use themed color names from alect-colors along with the usual strings with hex values or defined color names (available with M-x list-colors-display).

Let's say, you want green strings, gray comments, more distinguishable mode-line, and of course you don't like those pink (magenta-1) prompts everywhere (minibuffer, comint, ...). Just set that variable like this:

 '((alect-prompt           ((t :foreground blue :weight bold)))
   (font-lock-string-face  ((t :foreground green-1)))
   (font-lock-doc-face     ((t :inherit font-lock-string-face)))
   (font-lock-comment-face ((t :foreground gray)))
   (mode-line-buffer-id    ((t :foreground "yellow" :weight bold)))
   (mode-line              ((((background light))
                             :foreground fg+1 :background "#ffaaaa"
                             :box (:line-width 2 :color bg-2 :style nil))
                            (((background dark))
                             :foreground fg+1 :background "firebrick3"
                             :box (:line-width 2 :color bg-2 :style nil))))))

See these screenshots to compare the original and modified themes.

Alternative themes

Along with 2 original light and dark themes, the package provides 2 inverted (alternative) themes (alect-light-alt and alect-dark-alt). They use the same color palettes, so they look very similar to the original ones. The difference (by default) is that dark and bright colors are reversed.

There is an additional way of configuring alternative themes: with alect-inverted-color-regexp variable (for details, see docstrings of this variable and alect-get-color function). For example, you may set this variable to invert background colors:

(setq alect-inverted-color-regexp "^\\(bg\\)\\([-+]\\)\\([012]\\)$")

See these screenshots for the result.

Other variables

Many headers and titles are themed and you may not like their height. The following 3 variables may be useful:

  • alect-header-height
  • alect-single-title-height
  • alect-multiple-titles-height

For example, if you want to have a normal height for org and markdown titles, use this (put it in .emacs before loading an alect-theme):

(setq alect-multiple-titles-height 1.0)

Note: 1.0 and 1 are different values. You can play with Height in Custom buffer (M-x customize-face RET <any-face>) to see how integers and floats are treated.

There are other settings that may affect a visual appearance. For example GNUS uses widgets in article buffers. And widget-button face looks like a real button in alect-themes. I find such buttons not very attractive in articles but I also don't want to modify widget-button face, so I use the following to get rid of button faces only in GNUS articles:

(add-hook 'gnus-article-mode-hook
          (lambda () (setq-local widget-button-face nil)))

Emacs 24.3.1 and earlier

While using any theme (not only from this package), you may meet faces that do not look how they should (intended by the theme). For example, if you enable alect-light theme, you can see ugly gray buttons and other faces in the Custom-mode (the left picture) instead of the themed colored buttons (the right picture):

This happens because Emacs applies default face settings even for a themed face. This behaviour is changed in the new versions of Emacs: since 24.4 you will always get pure themes without unintended face settings. If you use a previous version, you can try the following workaround to achieve the new behaviour:

(when (version< emacs-version "24.3.50")
  (defun face-spec-recalc-new (face frame)
    "Improved version of `face-spec-recalc'."
    (while (get face 'face-alias)
      (setq face (get face 'face-alias)))
    (face-spec-reset-face face frame)
    ;; If FACE is customized or themed, set the custom spec from
    ;; `theme-face' records, which completely replace the defface spec
    ;; rather than inheriting from it.
    (let ((theme-faces (get face 'theme-face)))
      (if theme-faces
          (dolist (spec (reverse theme-faces))
            (face-spec-set-2 face frame (cadr spec)))
        (face-spec-set-2 face frame (face-default-spec face))))
    (face-spec-set-2 face frame (get face 'face-override-spec)))

  (defadvice face-spec-recalc (around new-recalc (face frame) activate)
    "Use `face-spec-recalc-new' instead."
    (face-spec-recalc-new face frame)))

That version of face-spec-recalc (wrapped with advice) is one of the development variants from It works good except of one particular case: if you try to use that workaround and enable a theme in an unsupported (by the theme) terminal (e.g. alect-theme in a text terminal), your monitor may suddenly explode. Currently faces.el is changed a lot (comparing to 24.3) and I don't know a better workaround.

Summary: alect-themes use inheriting a lot and because of the nature of faces in Emacs 24.3, many of them look ugly. With Emacs 24.4 or with the above workaround (use it only with GUI), the themes look how they should.

Emacs bug in themed variables

Emacs has a bug (#16266) that doesn't allow to set undefined variables. For example, if a theme customizes a color for emms icon and you load the theme before emms, then emms icon will use a default color instead of the themed one. This bug takes effect only on defvar-ed variables, defcustom-ed variables are safe.

The range of such variables (effected by the bug) suitable for colorizing is very limited. For alect themes, the following variables are themed: emms-mode-line-icon-image-cache, gnus-mode-line-image-cache and gnus-logo-colors.

You can use this workaround to avoid the bug:

(defadvice custom-theme-set-variables
    (around fix-inhibit-bug activate)
  "Allow setting of undefined variables in themes."
  (let (custom--inhibit-theme-enable)


You can see the following and other screenshots in this imgur album.

C, shell, linum, ido

Themes: alect-light, alect-dark

Font: Terminus-12

Org, markdown

Themes: alect-light, alect-black

Font: DejaVu Sans Mono-12


Themes: alect-light, alect-dark

Font: Anonymous Pro-13

Elisp, ido

Themes: alect-dark (default), alect-dark (modified) – the original dark theme and a dark theme with some changed faces (see overriding faces)

Font: Liberation Mono-12

Dired, elisp

Themes: alect-light-alt (modified), alect-dark-alt (modified) – alternative themes, configured to invert background (see configuring alternative themes)

Font: Anonymous Pro-13


At first I had only a light theme – it was just a set of customized faces. Then I realized that at night it's better for eyes to use a dark theme (it was derived from zenburn-theme initially, but then the colors were modified a lot). The idea of creating two themes with different colors and the same code base came from solarized-theme. The code of solarized and zenburn themes was used hardly. Many thanks to their authors.


If you want this package to support more faces, you may send me a letter about your favourite unsupported modes.

Something went wrong with that request. Please try again.