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Emacs Prelude

Emacs is probably the best text editor in the world. However, the process of coming up with a useful Emacs configuration is long and difficult. It's this process that separates you from truly taking advantage of Emacs's power. I like to refer to this process as the Prelude. Emacs Prelude has the goal to ease the initial Emacs setup process and to provide you with a much more powerful and productive experience than the one you get out of the box. By using Emacs Prelude you're basically getting a "Get me out of the Prelude, I just want to use Emacs" card.

Emacs Prelude is compatible ONLY with GNU Emacs 24.x.

Fast Forward

Assuming you're using an Unix-like OS (*BSD, GNU/Linux, OS X, Solaris, etc), you already have Emacs 24 installed, as well as git & curl you can skip the whole manual and just type in your favorite shell the following command:

$ curl -L | sh

You can now power up your Emacs, sit back and enjoy Prelude, forgetting about the rest of this manual.

There are two environment variables you can use to control the source repository and the installation directory. To change the installation directory:

$ PRELUDE_INSTALL_DIR="$HOME/.emacs.d" && curl -L | sh

To change the source repository:

$ PRELUDE_URL="" && curl -L | sh

Note that the installer will back up any existing .emacs file or .emacs.d since it will unpack Prelude's code in .emacs.d. If you're doing a manual install make sure you don't have a .emacs file or back up your existing .emacs.d directory manually.

More goodies

The Prelude Modules project contains a lot of additional packages for Prelude (install-able via the package-list-packages command) - enhanced programming mode configs, latex config, erc config, etc.

Installing Emacs 24

Obviously to use the Emacs Prelude you have to install Emacs 24 first. Have a look at the WikEmacs articles on installing Emacs.



You can install Emacs Prelude via the command line with either curl or wget. Naturally git is also required.

Via Curl

If you're using curl type the following command:

$ curl -L | sh

Via Wget

If you're using wget type:

$ wget --no-check-certificate -O - | sh


$ git clone git:// path/to/local/repo
$ ln -s path/to/local/repo ~/.emacs.d
$ cd ~/emacs.d

You'd do well to replace ~/.emacs.d with the value of user-emacs-directory for your OS. You can check the value by doing C-h v user-emacs-directory inside Emacs.


Nothing fancy here. Just start Emacs as usual. Personally I run Emacs in daemon mode:

$ emacs --daemon

Afterwards I connect to the server with either a terminal or a GUI client like this:

$ emacsclient -t
$ emacsclient -c

You'd probably do well to put a few aliases in your .zshrc (or .bashrc):

alias e=emacsclient -t
alias ec=emacsclient -c
alias vim=emacsclient -t
alias vi=emacsclient -t

The last two aliases are helpful if you're used to editing files from the command line using vi(m).

Getting to know Prelude

Certainly the best way to understand how Prelude enhances the default Emacs experience is to peruse Prelude's source code (which is obviously written in Emacs Lisp). Understanding the code is not necessary of course. Prelude includes a prelude-mode minor Emacs mode which collects some of the additional functionality added by Prelude. It also adds an additional keymap that binds many of those extensions to keybindings.

Automatic package installation

The default Prelude installation comes with a bare minimum of functionality. It will however install add-ons for various programming languages and frameworks on demand. For instance - if you try to open a .clj file clojure-mode, nrepl.el and prelude's enhanced Lisp configuration will be installed automatically for you.

You can, of course, install anything you wish manually as well.

Color Themes

Emacs 24 ships with a new theming facility that effectively renders the old color-theme package obsolete. Emacs 24 provides a dozen of built-in themes you can use out-of-the-box by invoking the M-x load-theme command.

Zenburn is the default color theme in Prelude, but you can change it at your discretion. Why Zenburn? I (and lots of hackers around the world) find it pretty neat for some reason. Personally I find the default theme pretty tiresome for the eyes, that's why I took that "controversial" decision to replace it. You can, of course, easily go back to the default (or select another theme entirely).

To disable Zenburn just put in your personal config the following line:

(disable-theme 'zenburn)

Or you can use another theme altogether by adding something like:

(load-theme 'solarized-dark t)

P.S. Solarized is not available by default - you'll have to install it from MELPA first.


Fork the official Prelude repo and add your own touch to it. You're advised to avoid changing stuff outside of the personal folder to avoid having to deal with git merge conflicts in the future.

Disable whitespace-mode

Some people find whitespace-mode too intrusive and might want to disable it. It come be done from your personal config with the following bit of code:

(add-hook 'prog-mode-hook 'prelude-turn-off-whitespace t)

Disable flyspell-mode

If you're not fond of spellchecking on the fly:

(add-hook 'text-mode-hook 'turn-off-flyspell t)
(add-hook 'prog-mode-hook 'turn-off-flyspell t)

Prelude Modules

Additional settings for various programming languages are available for installation via MELPA. You might take a look at the Prelude Modules project for further info.

Caveats & Pitfalls

Problems with flyspell-mode

Prelude makes heavy use of the flyspell-mode package for spell checking of various things. The proper operation of flyspell depends on the presence of the aspell program and an en dictionary on your system. You can install aspell and the dictionary on OS X with homebrew like this:

$ brew install aspell --lang=en

On Linux distros - just use your distro's package manager.

Ugly colors in the terminal Emacs version

If your Emacs looks considerably uglier in a terminal (compared to the GUI version) try adding this to your .bashrc or .zshrc:

$ export TERM=xterm-256color

Source the .bashrc file and start Emacs again.

MELPA error on initial startup

If you get some http connection error related to the MELPA repo just do a manual M-x package-refresh-contents and restart Emacs afterwards.

No arrow navigation in editor buffers

This is not a bug - it's a feature! I firmly believe that the one true way to use Emacs is by using it the way it was intended to be used (as far as navigation is concerned at least). That's why I've disabled all movement commands with arrows (and keys like page up, page down, etc) - to prevent you from being tempted to use them.

If you'd still like to use the arrow keys just invoke M-x guru-mode to enable them for the duration of your current Emacs session or add the following snippet to your personal Emacs customization to enable them permanently:

(add-hook 'prog-mode-hook 'turn-off-guru-mode t)

Windows compatibility

While everything in Prelude should work fine in Windows, I test it only with Linux & OSX, so there are Windows related problems from time to time. This situation will probably improve over time.

Share the knowledge

WikEmacs collects useful resources for working with GNU Emacs. Please, take the time to peruse and improve them as you accumulate knowledge about Emacs. Prelude makes this especially easy, since it bundles MediaWiki support + the settings required to access WikEmacs right away.

Known issues

Check out the project's issue list a list of unresolved issues. By the way - feel free to fix any of them and send me a pull request. :-)


Support is available via the Prelude Google Group


Here's a list of all the people who have contributed to the development of Emacs Prelude.

Bugs & Improvements

Bug reports and suggestions for improvements are always welcome. GitHub pull requests are even better! :-)


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