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Helm System Packages

This package is no more maintained and not fully working.


Helm System Packages is an Emacs-based interface to the package manager of your operating system and remote systems as well.

Emacs’ knowledge is not required: see the stand-alone folder for a version targeted at non-Emacs users. Run the script and everything should be self-explanatory. If not then it’s a bug, please report it.

Start helm-system-packages to list all available packages (with installed packages as well as dependencies displayed in their own respective face). Fuzzy-search, mark and execute the desired action over any selections of packages:

  • Install.
  • Uninstall.
  • Display packages details (in Org Mode!) or insert details at point.
  • Find files owned by packages.
  • And much more, including performing all the above over the network!

Helm System Packages provides a uniform interface over the following package managers:

  • brew (macOS)
  • dnf
  • dpkg (apt & friends)
  • guix
  • pacman
  • portage (emerge & friends)
  • xbps
  • And (hopefully) more to come! Contributions are welcome.

Some package managers come with their specific actions and even specific Helm sources, e.g. Portage’s USE flags.


There is only one entry point: helm-system-packages.

Use the persistent action to view the details of the marked packages.

Most actions can be called with a prefix argument to insert the result at point.

If started from a remote TRAMP buffer (e.g. dired, Eshell or just any remote file), helm-system-packages automatically switches to the packages of the remote system. The remote package manager can be different from the local one.

Maintenance & other operations

Helm System Packages only works over lists of packages. It does not feature any maintenance-related operations such as cleaning the cache or synchronizing the database.

system-packages is an Emacs package providing Emacs with universal commands for such operations. It is unrelated to Helm System Packages but both work well together.


Transactions such as installing and removing packages are run via the `sudo` command in Eshell. If you’d like to cache the password for, say, an hour, you can configure Eshell to use its own version of sudo via TRAMP:

(require 'em-tramp)
(setq password-cache t)
(setq password-cache-expiry 3600)


Most of the package managers GUIs out there do not provide much efficiency over their commandline counterparts.

The commandline workflow is centered around a cumbersome try-repeat loop:

  1. Search for local packages.
  2. Package missing? Search for remote packages.
  3. List is too long? Pipe through a pager.
  4. (Un)install the desired package by writing the searched package names again.

With Helm all those actions get factored into one. Helm sessions can also be resumed.


  • Display information of multiple packages in an Org buffer, resume the search and finally install.


  • Use Helm to find files of multiple packages across different sources.


  • Use Helm to explore the graph of the (reverse) dependencies.



WARNING: The programming interface is still under development and is prone to change.

Each module is rather straightforward, it only needs to define the following:

  • A helm-system-packages-FOO function that starts a Helm session.
  • An interactive helm-system-packages-FOO-refresh function to refresh the package list either manually or after transactions.

The helm-system-packages.el file provides some helper functions for Helm actions.


Strengthen the interface with structures

Factor all “info” actions?

We can add Org subsections for files, dependencies, etc. Those sections should be folded by default.

We probably still need specific “info” actions to insert at point.

Use bindings reflecting helm-list-elisp-packages

[#A] Port factorization to dpkg, portage

[#A] Port TRAMP support to brew

Add option to display multiline candidates for long descriptions.

With filtering, the displayed condidates won’t include those above the candidate limit

Can we include as many filtered candidates as possible?