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Fast and robust Emacs setup.
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Type Name Latest commit message Commit time
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githooks githooks setup Apr 24, 2019
lisp upgrade wucuo Jun 1, 2020
localelpa upgrade undo-tree Mar 30, 2020
misc ispell-word and fallback english dictionary Mar 30, 2015
site-lisp upgrade mybigword Jun 1, 2020
snippets upgrade advice system May 21, 2020
.gitignore gitignore May 20, 2020
Makefile githooks setup Apr 24, 2019 use my patched langtool May 30, 2020
demo.png add screeshot and workgroup hotkeys Nov 18, 2018
init.el clean package manager related code May 22, 2020

A fast and robust Emacs setup

  • Fast. Only one second to start up
  • Robust. Never crash after package upgrade. Packages could be installed without network
  • Support Windows. You can find&grep files on Windows with minimum setup
  • Tested with Emacs 25.3, 26.1, 27 on Linux/Windows/Cygwin/macOS/WSL(Windows Subsystem for Linux)
  • Emacs vanilla key bindings and directory layout is respected
  • Usable in emacs-nox and works in PuTTY


Table of Content


  • Emacs 26.1 is strongly recommended. It is faster and easier to set up
  • Please read FAQ to disable Vim key bindings
  • Please read section “Key bindings” to learn key bindings
  • If you use Windows Emacs, you have to install GnuTLS Dlls manually to install packages from remote repositories. Or else you got error message like error: Package `async-' is unavailable on Windows. Please note since Emacs 26.1, you can download full version which works out of box
  • Most packages from MELPA are invisible but packages from MELPA Stable are visible. You can modify variable melpa-include-packages in lisp/init-elpa.el to install unstable packages. Please choose stable packages if possible. Even advanced user could under-estimate the risk of unstable packages
  • Emacs 25 support will be dropped on January 2021. Check “Support legacy Emacs versions” if you use old versions
  • Other issues are covered in FAQ


Most users should follow the section “Install in normal way”.

You need the section “Install stable version” if and only if,

  • You don’t have network access
  • You have never used any command line program

Please remove ~/.emacs. ~ means Home directory first.

Install in normal way

There are two ways to install this setup (I recommend the first way):

First way is to download latest setup and extract its content into ~/.emacs.d, OR run command cd ~; git clone .emacs.d in shell.

Second way is to use stable setup, or run command cd ~; git clone .emacs.d; cd .emacs.d; git reset --hard stable in shell.

By default, packages are installed automatically during Emacs startup.

Someone reported that package repository is not responsive in China.

No worries. You could answer “YES” to the question “Switch to faster package repositories in China temporarily?” when firing Emacs. Please note after startup you could change variable package-archives in init-elpa.el to permanently switch to Chinese repositories.

Install stable version (OPTIONAL)

Now you are using local package repository ~/myelpa.

You can switch to online repositories like or by modifying lisp/init-elpa.el.

Third party programs (OPTIONAL)


Most command line programs can be installed through default package manager.

Default package manager could be:

  • apt-cyg at Cygwin
  • homebrew at macOS
  • any package manager at Linux (apt on Debian/Ubuntu, yum on Redhat, pacman on Arch, emerge on Gentoo …)

Some package managers allow you to install the program for current user. For example, python package manager pip has the option ”–user”.

List of programs

These programs are OPTIONAL.

Please ignore error message related to command line programs. For example, if aspell and hunspell are not installed, you can ignore all the flyspell error messages.

fortune-zh or fortune

  • Show ancient Chinese poem or quotes from random sources

Please note you can’t install fortune-zh through homebrew on macOS but there is a simple workaround:

  • install fortune
  • Download fortune-zh code from
  • Extract code and run make in its folder
  • copy data files and the script named fortune-zh into corresponding folders which fortune is using. You may need edit the file fortune-zh before copying

w3m (web browser)

  • Required by emacs-w3m

You can insert (setq mm-text-html-renderer 'w3m) in ~/.gnus.el to force HTML mail be rendered by w3m instead of the default HTML rendering engine shr.

shr supports colored text while w3m not.

But my w3m based utilities can open video/audio/image with the help of w3m.


  • Required by flymake-lua

aspell or hunspell

  • Required by flyspell
  • hunspell is the alternative of aspell. You need only one of them.
  • For aspell, you may need its dictionary aspell-en
  • Default language for spell check is “en_US” in init-spelling.el. It can be changed
  • I recommend aspell for programmers. Non-programmers find hunspell is better on typo correction

If you use hunspell, check my article. Please note the hunspell executable understands either unix format path or windows format path but not both. You need figure out hunspell version you are using.

You can set my-force-to-use-hunspell in init-spelling.el if you prefer hunspell.

This setup use wucuo to spell check camel case words. It supports both aspell and hunspell. Run M-x wucuo-start and M-x flyspell-buffer to check camel case words.

Aspell’s default personal English dictionary is $HOME/.aspell.en.pws. Its content is like:

personal_ws-1.1 en 4

The content of personal dictionary can be cleaned by M-x my-clean-aspell-dict.

Hunspell’s default personal English dictionary is $HOME/.hunspell_en_US. The file format is same as aspell.

Flyspell configuration is actually simple. Aspell uses ispell-extra-args. Hunspell uses ispell-local-dictionary and ispell-local-dictionary. That’s it.


  • Required by web-mode for syntax check.

identify from ImageMagick

  • Required by org-mode to export org file to odt contain images

zip and unzip

  • Required by org-mode to export org file to odt file


  • Install node.js through OS package manager, then npm install -g jshint
  • Required by js-mode
  • I use js2-mode which does NOT need jshint

xsel or xclip

  • Required by my clipboard command copy-to-x-clipboard and paste-from-x-clipboard under Linux



  • Required by cpputils-cmake, company-clang from company-mode
  • If you use cpputils-cmake and cmake, cpputils-cmake will do all the setup for you. You need not read next item! But please spend a few minutes to learn the basics of cmake! There is a one minute step-by-step-guide in README of cpputils-cmake to teach you how to use cmake.
  • If you use company-clang, add (setq company-clang-arguments '("-I/example1/dir" "-I/example2/dir")) into init.el


  • Required by markdown-preview from markdown-mode


  • Required by flymake

Universal Ctags (recommended) or Exuberant CTags

  • It creates tags file for code navigation and code completion
  • Required by many tags related packages (xref, counsel-etags, company-ctags from company-mode, etc)
  • See How to use ctags in Emacs effectively

GNU Global

  • Required by counsel-gtags and company-gtags from company-mode
  • It creates index files for code navigation and auto-completion
  • Please read GNU Global manual about environment variables GTAGSLIBPATH and MAKEOBJDIRPREFIX


  • Only its executable soffice is used for converting odt file into doc/pdf
  • Conversion happens automatically when exporting org-mode to odt
  • The conversion command is defined in variable org-export-odt-convert-processes


  • Beautify javascript code
  • Install pip through OS package manager, then pip install jsbeautifier


sdcv (console version of StarDict)

  • Required by sdcv.e
  • Run curl | tar jx -C ~/.stardict/dic to install dictionary


  • Optionally used by M-x counsel-etags-grep to search text in files
  • Run curl -sSf | sh in shell to install Rust then cargo install ripgrep
  • Tweak environment variable PATH so Emacs can find ripgrep



  • Some dired commands use ffmpeg to process video/audio


It’s Grammar, Style and Spell Checker


  • Check syntax of shell script
  • Required by flymake-shellcheck

Edit browser’s text area with Emacs

Please install corresponding Chrome/Firefox addons.


  • Used by hydra command in dired

Tutorial (OPTIONAL)

Knowledge of Linux/Unix is required. At least you should know the meanings of “environment variable”, “shell”, “stdin”, “stdout”, “man”, “info”.

Basic tutorial

Please read this tutorial at least for once.

Step 1, learn OS basic

At minimum you need know how Emacs interacts with other command line programs,

Step 2, read official tutorial

Press C-h t in Emacs (“C” means Ctrl key, “M” means Alt key) to read bundled tutorial.

At minimum, you need learn:

  • How to move cursor
  • C-h v to describe variable
  • C-h f to describe function
  • C-h k to describe command key binding

Step 3, know org-mode basics

Org-mode is for notes-keeping and planning.

Please watch Carsten Dominik’s talk. It’s really simple. The only hot key to remember is Tab.

Step 4, start from a real world problem

You can visit EmacsWiki for the solution. Newbies can ask for help at

Evil-mode tutorial

Required for vim user,


See Master Emacs in One Year.


I avoid overriding the original setup of third party command line program.

Quick start

On Windows, you need install Cygwin which provides command line programs to Emacs. Cygwin could be installed on any hard drive but it’s highly recommended don’t change it relative path to the root driver.

Install Ctags (Universal Ctags is better. Exuberant Ctags is fine). On Windows, you could install Ctags through Cygwin.

Run M-x counsel-etags-find-tag-at-point from counsel-etags to navigate code. It uses tags files created by ctags. Tags file will be automatically created/update when you start using `counsel-etags`.

Run M-x counsel-etags-grep to search text (grep) in project. Project root is automatically detected.

Run M-x find-file-in-project-by-selected from find-file-in-project to find file in project. Project root is automatically detected. You can also add one line setup in .emacs like (setq ffip-project-root "~/proj1/").

Code auto-completion works out of box by using tags file created by Ctags. You need run counsel-etags at least once to fire up Ctags. company-ctags from company-mode provides the candidates for auto completion. No manual setup is required.

Please grep in the directory lisp if you have any further questions on setup.

Key bindings

Don’t memorize any key binding. Try =M-x any-command-in-emacs and key binding hint is displayed.

Most key bindings are defined in lisp/init-evil.el, a few key in lisp/init-hydra.el which uses Hydra.

Press C-c C-y anywhere to bring up default hydra menu.

The tutorials I recommended have enough information about commands.

Besides, ”How to be extremely efficient in Emacs” lists my frequently used commands.

Press kj to escape from evil-insert-state and everything else in Emacs. It’s much more efficient than ESC in Vim or C-g in Emacs. Search evil-escape in init-evil.el for details.


Locked packages

Some packages are so important to my workflow that they are locked.

Those packages are placed at site-lisp/.

They will not be upgraded by package system.

Please make sure same package is not installed through elpa. Please check the content of directory “elpa/” in .emacs.d root.

How to install new packages?

I only use two package repositories,

If a package named MY-PKG exists in the stable repository, you only need one line setup,

(require-package 'MY-PKG)

This line could be placed in lisp/init-elpa.el or ~/.custom.el.

You’d better place everything related to MY-PKG into ~/.custom.el so the main stream change won’t impact your own configuration.

If the package does not exist in the stable repository, modify melpa-include-packages in lisp/init-elpa.el first.

I encourage you to read init-elpa.el to understand how packages are managed if you are good at Emacs Lisp,

Git blame current line

Run vc-msg-show.

If you select a region inside current line, the correct commit which submits the selected snippet is displayed instead of the latest commit touch the whole line.

Save/Load windows layout

SPC s s or M-x wg-create-workgrou to save windows layout. SPC l l or M-x my-wg-switch-workgroup to load windows layout.

Use this configuration as merge tool for Git

This configuration might be the most efficient and most powerful merge tool for VCS. Insert below configuration into ~/.gitconfig,

# use git mergetool ediff to resolve conflicts
cmd = emacs -nw -Q --eval \"(setq startup-now t)\" -l \"~/.emacs.d/init.el\" --eval \"(progn (setq ediff-quit-hook 'kill-emacs) (if (file-readable-p \\\"$BASE\\\") (ediff-merge-files-with-ancestor \\\"$LOCAL\\\" \\\"$REMOTE\\\" \\\"$BASE\\\" nil \\\"$MERGED\\\") (ediff-merge-files \\\"$LOCAL\\\" \\\"$REMOTE\\\" nil \\\"$MERGED\\\")))\"

Then run git mergetool -t ediff to resolve conflicts.

Here is my ~/.gitconfig. You can use to practice.

Default terminal shell

You can customize my-term-program whose default value is /bin/bash. It’s used by ansi-term and multi-term.

Override default setup

Place your setup in ~/.custom.el which is loaded after other “*.el”.

So you can use any functions defined in my emacs configuration.

Here is a sample to override keybindings defined in lisp/init-evil.el,

(with-eval-after-load 'evil
    "ss" 'pwd
    "ll" 'pwd
    "pp" 'pwd))

Code navigation and auto-completion

It’s usable out of box if Ctags is installed

To navigate, M-x counsel-etags-find-tag-at-point.

To enable code auto-completion, M-x counsel-etags-scan-code at least once.

Optionally, you can add (add-hook 'after-save-hook 'counsel-etags-virtual-update-tags) into your .emacs to automatically update tags file.

No further setup is required.

Use “m” key for “evil-matchit”

The default keybinding of evil-matchit is %. Its evil text object name is also %.

You can use m instead of % as new keybinding and the text object name from evil-matchit.

It’s just one liner in ~/.custom.el,

;; evil-matchit 2.3.0 is required
(setq my-use-m-for-matchit t)

Use =,m= for evil-set-marker whose original keybinding is m.

Color theme

Preview color theme


Write down the name of color theme (for example, molokai).

Setup color theme manually (recommended)

You can M-x counsel-load-theme to switch themes.

Or you can insert below code into end of ~/.custom.el or init.el,

;; Please note the color theme's name is "molokai"
(load-theme 'molokai t)

You can also run M-x random-color-theme to load random color theme.

Use color theme in terminal

Use 256 colors is just one CLI without any extra setup,

TERM=xterm-256color emacs -nw

True colors in terminal Emacs

Grep/Replace text in project

Many third party plugins bundled in this setup have already provided enough features. For example, if you use git, counsel-git-grep from package counsel/ivy works out of the box.

A generic grep program counsel-etags-grep is also provided. Since counsel-etags-grep is based on counsel/ivy, it also supports a magic called “multi-editing via Ivy”. You could read Nuclear weapon multi-editing via Ivy and Ag to get the idea.

Multi-edit workflow is optimized. After M-x counsel-etags-grep or pressing =,qq=, press C-c C-o C-x C-q to enable wgrep-mode. You can edit text (for example, delete lines) in wgrep-mode directly.

You can exclude multiple keywords using !keyword1 keyword2 in ivy.


I love all the packages from Oleh Krehel (AKA abo-abo). Every article from his blog is worth reading ten times.

You can input :pinyin1 pinyin2 !pinyin3 pinyin4 in ivy UI to search by Chinese Pinyin. The key point is to make sure the first character of input is “:”.

React and JSX

I use rjsx-mode with Emacs v25+. It’s based on js2-mode so it has excellent imenu support.

But web-mode is also very popular to edit jsx files.

You can add (add-auto-mode 'rjsx-mode "\\.jsx\\'") into ~/.custome.el to use web-mode for jsx files.


I use modified version of git-gutter for now until my pull request is merged into official repository.

You can set git-gutter:exp-to-create-diff to make git gutter support other VCS (Perforce, for example),

(setq git-gutter:exp-to-create-diff
      (shell-command-to-string (format "p4 diff -du -db %s"
                                       (file-relative-name buffer-file-name))))

Start a shell inside Emacs

Please M-x multi-term.

If you use Zsh instead of Bash, please modify init-term-mode.el.

Setup fonts in GUI Emacs

Non-Chinese can use unicode-fonts.

Chinese can use chinese-fonts-setup.

They are not included in this setup. You need install them manually.

Synchronize setup with Git

Synchronize from my stable setup:

git pull stable

Or latest setup:

git pull

You can revert commit:

# always start from the latest related commit
git revert commit-2014-12-01
git revert commit-2014-11-01


Learn basics. Then use my solution.

Editing Lisp

Please note paredit-mode is enabled when editing Lisp. Search “paredit cheat sheet” to learn its key bindings.

Use smart-mode-line or powerline?

Comment out (require 'init-modeline) in init.el at first.

Key bindings doesn’t work?

Other desktop applications may intercept the key bindings. For example, it’s reported QQ on windows 8 can intercept “M-x”.


Press M-x org-version, then read corresponding online manual to set up.

For example, org-capture requires manual setup.

Run M-x org-open-at-point to open link under cursor. Http link will be opened by the embedded emacs-w3m is used. `C-u M-x org-open-at-point= uses the external browser specified by browse-url-generic-program whose value could be /usr/bin/firefox.

macOS user?

Please replace legacy Emacs 22 and ctags with the new versions.

The easiest way is change Environment variable PATH.

Customize global variables

Some variables are hard coded so you cannot M-x customize to modify them.

Here are the steps to change their values:

  • Find the variable description by M-x customize
  • For text “Company Clang Insert Arguments”, search company-clang-insert-argument in lisp/
  • You will find lisp/init-company.el and modify company-clang-insert-argument

BTW, please read my comments above the code at first.

Open/Save files with Counsel/Ivy

Keep pressing C-M-j to ignore candidates and open/save files using current input.

You can also press M-o to apply other action on selected file. See for details.


I strongly suggest Cygwin version of Emacs. Native version of Emacs should know how to find third party command line programs from Cygwin. I suggest adding C:\Cygwin64\bin to environment variable PATH so Emacs can detect the programs automatically.

By default, environment variable HOME points to the directory C:\Users\<username> on Windows 7+. You need copy the folder .emacs.d into that directory. Or you can change HOME.


  • Instead of M-x yas-expand or pressing TAB key, you can press M-j instead.
  • Yasnippet works out of box. But you can M-x my-yas-reload-all to force Yasnippet compile all the snippets. If you run my-yas-reload-all once, you always need run it when new snippets is added. The purpose of my-yas-reload-all is to make Emacs start up faster.
  • You can add your snippets into snippets/.
  • Run grep -rns --exclude‘.yas*’ ‘key:’ *= in snippets/ to see my own snippets

Non-English users

Locale must be UTF-8 compatible. For example, as I type locale in shell, I got the output “zh_CN.UTF-8”.

Behind corporate firewall

Run below command in shell:

http_proxy= emacs -nw

Network is blocked

Try Run command http_proxy= emacs -nw in shell after starting XX-Net.


If you use Gnus for email, check init-gnus.el and read my Gnus tutorial.

Cannot download packages?

Some package cannot be downloaded automatically because of network problem.

Run M-x package-refresh-content, restart Emacs, reinstall package.

Use packages on GNU ELPA

By default, packages from GNU ELPA are NOT available. Search the line “uncomment below line if you need use GNU ELPA” in init-elpa.el if you want to access GNU ELPA.

For example, flycheck requires packages from GNU ELPA.

Disable Vim key bindings

By default EVIL (Vim emulation in Emacs) is used. Comment out line containing (require 'init-evil) in init.el to unload it.

Evil setup

It’s defined in lisp/init-evil.el. Press C-z to switch between Emacs and Vim key bindings.

Please read its PDF manual before using evil-mode.

C++ auto-completion doesn’t work?

I assume you are using company-mode. Other packages have similar setup.

There are many ways to scan the C++ source files. company-clang from company-mode and Clang is good at handling C++.

If you use clang to parse the C++ code:

  • Make sure code is syntax correct
  • assign reasonable value into company-clang-arguments

Here is sample setup:

(setq company-clang-arguments '("-I/home/myname/projs/test-cmake" "-I/home/myname/projs/test-cmake/inc"))

In “friendly” Visual C++, similar setup is required.

You can use other backends instead of clang. For example, you can use company-gtags and GNU Global instead. See Emacs as C++ IDE, easy way for details.

Auto-completion for other languages

It’s similar to C++ setup. Since GNU Global supports many popular languages, you can use company-gtags.

For languages GNU Global doesn’t support, you can fall back to company-ctags and Ctags. Ctags configuration file is ~/.ctags.

You can also complete line by M-x eacl-complete-line and complete multi-lines statement by M-x eacl-complete-multiline.

Chinese Input Method Editor

Please note pyim is already built into this setup. You need not install it through ELPA.

Run M-x toggle-input-method to toggle input method pyim.

Dictionaries with “.pyim” extension under the directory ~/.eim/ are automatically loaded.

Please curl -L | zcat > ~/.eim/pyim-bigdict.pyim to install dictionary for pyim.

Install multiple versions of Emacs

Run below commands in shell:

mkdir -p ~/tmp;
curl | tar xvz -C ~/tmp/emacs-24.4
cd ~/tmp/emacs-24.4;
mkdir -p ~/myemacs/24.4;
rm -rf ~/myemacs/24.4/*;
./configure --prefix=~/myemacs/24.4 --without-x --without-dbus --without-sound && make && make install

Feel free to replace 24.4 with other version number.

Change Time Locale

Insert below code into ~/.emacs or ~/.custom.el,

;; Use en_US locale to format time.
;; if not set, the OS locale is used.
(setq system-time-locale "C")

Directory structure

init.el is the main file. It includes other *.el files.

lisp/init-elpa.el defines what packages will be installed from MELPA.

Packages are installed into elpa/.

I also manually download and extract some packages into site-lisp/. Packages in site-lisp/ are not visible to the package manager.

My own snippets is at snippets/.

The git hooks is placed in githooks directory.

Other directories don’t matter.

Run the unit test before git commit

On macOS/Linux/Cygwin, run make githooks to install hooks into .git/hooks.

Then unit test is run automatically before git commit.

Python environment

This setup used elpy (Emacs Python Development Environment).

See elpy official documentation on how to use elpy.

Set up lsp-mode

You could insert below code into ~/.custom.el,

(with-eval-after-load 'lsp-mode
  ;; enable log only for debug
  (setq lsp-log-io nil)
  ;; use `evil-matchit' instead
  (setq lsp-enable-folding nil)
  ;; no real time syntax check
  (setq lsp-diagnostic-package :none)
  ;; handle yasnippet by myself
  (setq lsp-enable-snippet nil)
  ;; use `company-ctags' only.
  ;; Please note `company-lsp' is automatically enabled if it's installed
  (setq lsp-enable-completion-at-point nil)
  ;; turn off for better performance
  (setq lsp-enable-symbol-highlighting nil)
  ;; use find-fine-in-project instead
  (setq lsp-enable-links nil)
  ;; auto restart lsp
  (setq lsp-restart 'auto-restart)
  ;; don't watch 3rd party javascript libraries
  (push "[/\\\\][^/\\\\]*\\.\\(json\\|html\\|jade\\)$" lsp-file-watch-ignored)
  ;; don't ping LSP lanaguage server too frequently
  (defvar lsp-on-touch-time 0)
  (defun my-lsp-on-change-hack (orig-fun &rest args)
    ;; do NOT run `lsp-on-change' too frequently
    (when (> (- (float-time (current-time))
                lsp-on-touch-time) 120) ;; 2 mins
      (setq lsp-on-touch-time (float-time (current-time)))
      (apply orig-fun args)))
  (advice-add 'lsp-on-change :around #'my-lsp-on-change-hack))

Then run `M-x lsp` to start lsp client and server. Check on how to install lsp server.

Support legacy Emacs versions

Emacs 23

Version 1.2 of this setup is the last version to support Emacs v23.

Here are the steps to use that setup:

Emacs 24.3

Version 2.6 is the last version to support Emacs 24.3.

Download and and you are good to go.

Emacs 24.4 and 24.5

Version 2.9 is the last version to support Emacs 24.4+

Please use and


  • Never turn off any bundled mode if it’s on by default. Future version of Emacs may assume it’s on. Tweak its flag in mode hook instead!
  • Git skills are extremely useful. Please read the chapters “Git Basics”, “Git Branching”, “Git Tools” from Pro Git
  • You can run optimize-emacs-startup to compile “*.el” under lisp/

Report bug

Please check EmacsWiki and my FAQ at first

If you still can’t resolve the issue, restart Emacs with option ---debug-init in shell. Then run M-x toggle-debug-on-error in Emacs. Try to reproduce the issue.

The full command line to run Emacs is emacs -nw --debug-init in most environments.

If you use Emacs for Mac OS X, the command line is /Application/ -nw --debug-init.

Send error messages to the original developer if it’s third party package’s problem

If you are sure it’s this setup’s problem, file bug report at Don’t email me!

Bug report should include environment details.

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