Efficient Emacs setup.
Emacs Lisp
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  • Efficient. Emacs starts up in one second
  • Robust. Emacs will never crash after a full package upgrade. You can install packages without network
  • Support Windows. No inferior experience on Windows
  • Tested with Emacs 24.4, 24.5, 25.3, 26.1 on Linux/Windows/Cygwin/macOS
  • Original setup (key bindings, directories …) of Emacs and 3rd party packages are respected
  • Usable in emacs-nox, all key bindings and functionality still usable when you ssh to server with PuTTY


  • 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 be able to install packages from remote repositories. Or else you got error message like error: Package `async-' is unavailable on Windows
  • Most packages from MELPA are invisible while packages from MELPA Stable are visible. You can modify variable melpa-include-packages in ~/.emacs.d/lisp/init-elpa.el to install unstable packages
  • Emacs 24 support will be dropped on 2019. 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 in easiest way” if and only if:

  • You are newbie, knowing nothing about Linux/Unix
  • You are living in North Korea without internet access

Install in normal way

Please remove the file ~/.emacs.d/init.el and ~/.emacs. ~ means Home directory.

Please uninstall any package which is not installed at ~/.emacs.d. For example, run apt-get autoremove emacs-w3m on Debian/Ubuntu.

If you don’t know what I mean, then do nothing.

All packages should be placed at ~/.emacs.d from now on.

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

  1. download latest setup and extract its content into ~/.emacs.d, OR run command cd ~; git clone https://github.com/redguardtoo/emacs.d.git .emacs.d in shell.
  2. use stable setup, OR run command cd ~; git clone https://github.com/redguardtoo/emacs.d.git .emacs.d; cd .emacs.d; git reset --hard stable in shell.

Ensure that the init.el contained in this repo ends up at ~/.emacs.d/init.el.

By default, packages are installed automatically during Emacs startup.

Install stable version in easiest way (OPTIONAL)

You only need two zip files.

Here are the exact steps,

Now you are using local package repository ~/projs/melpa.

You can switch to online repositories like http://elpa.gnu.org or http://melpa.org by modifying ~/.emacs.d/lisp/init-elpa.el.

Third party command line program (OPTIONAL)


You can install them in any way you like. But using OS package manager is easier.

OS package manager means:

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

If the program is developed with certain programming language. That language may provide its own package manager which allows you to install the program only for current user. For example, python package manager has the option ”–user”.

List of command line programs

These programs are OPTIONAL.

Please ignore any related error message. 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
  • Install through OS package manager

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 https://github.com/debiancn/fortune-zh
  • 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
  • Install through OS package manager

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 COLOR while w3m not.

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


  • Required by flymake-lua
  • Install through OS package manager

aspell or hunspell

  • Required by flyspell
  • hunspell is the alternative of aspell. So you need only one of them.
  • Install through OS package manager
  • For aspell, you may need its dictionary aspell-en
  • I force the dictionary to “en_US” in ~/.emacs./lisp/init-spelling.el. You can modify it.
  • 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 force-to-use-hunspell in init-spelling.el if you prefer hunspell.

This seutp can spell check camel case words either using aspell or hunspell.

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

personal_ws-1.1 en 4

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

sbcl (lisp environment)

  • Required by lisp slime
  • Install through OS package manager


  • Required by web-mode for syntax check and tidy.el html formatting
  • Install through OS package manager


  • Install node.js through OS package manager, then npm install -g csslint

identify from ImageMagick

  • Required by org-mode to export org file to odt file when image embedded
  • Install through OS package manager

zip and unzip

  • Required by org-mode to export org file to odt file
  • Install through OS package manager


  • 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


  • Required by my clipboard command copy-to-x-clipboard and paste-from-x-clipboard under Linux
  • Install through OS package manager



  • Required by cpputils-cmake, company-clang
  • Install through OS package manager
  • If you use cpputils-cmake and cmake, cpputils-cmake will do all the setup for you. You don’t need 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 ~/.emacs.d/init.el


  • Required by markdown-preview from markdown-mode
  • Install through OS package manager


  • Required by flymake
  • Install through OS package manager

MozRepl (Firefox addon)

  • Required by MozRepl
  • Used by Firefox


GNU Global

  • Required by counsel-gtags
  • It creates index files for code navigation and auto-completion
  • Please read GNU Global manual to understand environment variables GTAGSLIBPATH and MAKEOBJDIRPREFIX
  • Install through OS package manager


  • Only the executable soffice is used when converting odt file into doc/pdf
  • conversion happens automatically when exporting org-mode to odt
  • The conversion command is in variable org-export-odt-convert-processes
  • Install through OS package manager


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


jedi & flake8

  • Required by elpy which is python IDE
  • At least pip install jedi flake8. Check elpy website for more tips.

sdcv (console version of StarDict)

  • Required by sdcv.el
  • Install through OS package manager
  • Run curl http://abloz.com/huzheng/stardict-dic/dict.org/stardict-dictd_www.dict.org_wn-2.4.2.tar.bz2 | tar jx -C ~/.stardict/dic to install dictionary


  • Used by M-x counsel-etags-grep to search text in files
  • Run curl https://sh.rustup.rs -sSf | sh in shell to install Rust then cargo install ripgrep
  • Tweak environment variable PATH to let Emacs find ripgrep

I will keep using ripgrep instead of the-silver-searcher from now on.


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

If I mention certain directories is used by certain program, you can always find the same information in its original manual.

You can also grep keyword in the directory ~/.emacs.d/lisp if you got any question on setup.

Tutorial (OPTIONAL)

Basic knowledge of Linux/Unix is required. At least you should understand the words like “environment variable”, “shell”, “stdin”, “stdout”, “man”, “info”.

Basic tutorial

Everyone should finish this tutorial at first.

Step 1, learn OS basics

At minimum you need know,

The purpose it to know how Emacs interacts with other command line programs.

Step 2, read official tutorial at least once

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

At minimum you need know:

  • How to move cursor
  • C-h v to describe variable
  • C-h f to describe function
  • C-h k to check function 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 http://www.reddit.com/r/emacs/.

Evil-mode tutorial

Required for vim user,

  • Finish vimtutor.
  • Read ~/.emacs.d/site-lisp/evil/doc/evil.pdf


See Master Emacs in One Year.

Key bindings

Most key bindings are defined in ~/.emacs.d/lisp/init-evil.el.

For example, (nvmap :prefix "," "bu" 'backward-up-list) means pressing “,bu” executes command backward-up-list.

The tutorials I recommended provide enough information about commands.

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

Hydra is used to define key bindings when evil-mode is disabled. See ~/.emacs.d/lisp/init-hydra.el for details.

You can always press C-c C-y anywhere to bring up default hydra menu.

You can override any key bindings in ~/.custome.el.


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.

Code navigation and auto-completion

It’s usable out of box using Ctags. All you need do is to install Ctags.

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.

Color theme

Preview color theme

Check https://emacsthemes.com/.

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 ~/.emacs.d/init.el,

;; Please note the color theme's name is "molokai"
(when (or (display-graphic-p)
          (string-match-p "256color"(getenv "TERM")))
  (load-theme 'molokai t))

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

Use color theme in terminal

Start Emacs this way,

TERM=xterm-256color emacs -nw

Grep/Replace text in project

Many third party plugins bundled in this setup have already provided all the features you needed. 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 provided if you don’t use git. Since counsel-etags-grep is based on counsel/ivy, it also supports “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 specify the ignore regex like !keyword1 in ivy. If you want to ignore multiple keywords, you must use syntax like !keyword1\|!keyword2. As I tested in counsel v0.9.1, non of its grep commands supports ignore syntax reliably. So I suggest using counsel-etags-grep instead.


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

You can input :keyword in ivy UI to search by Chinese Pinyin.


I release patched js2-mode based on latest official version every three months. My patched version has better imenu support.

Please package-refresh-content from time to time upgrade js2-mode.

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 v15+ is also very popular to edit jsx files.

In order to replace rjsx-mode with web-mode, you need search line (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.jsx\\'" . rjsx-mode)) in init-javascript.el and replace rjsx-mode with web-mode on that line.


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 want to use Zsh instead of Bash, please modify init-term-mode.el

Setup fonts in GUI Emacs

Non-Chinese use unicode-fonts.

Chinese 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 which is updated every 6+ months:

git pull https://redguardtoo@github.com/redguardtoo/emacs.d.git stable

Or latest setup which is unstable:

git pull https://redguardtoo@github.com/redguardtoo/emacs.d.git

If you don’t like my commits, you can revert them:

# 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, someone reported QQ on windows 8 can intercept “M-x”.

Use org-mode

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

For example, org-capture need your manual setup.

macOS user?

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

The easiest way is change Environment variable PATH.

Locked packages

Some packages (Evil, Web-mode …) are so important to my workflow that they are locked.

Those packages are placed at ~/.emacs.d/site-lisp.

They will not be upgraded through ELPA unless you delete them at ~/.emacs.d/site-lisp at first.

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 ~/.emacs.d/lisp/
  • You will find ~/.emacs.d/lisp/init-company.el and modify company-clang-insert-argument

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

Open/Save file 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 https://oremacs.com/2015/07/23/ivy-multiaction/ for details.


I strongly suggest Cygwin version of Emacs. But native windows version is OK if it knows how to find the third party command line programs. Cygwin provides most of them by default. Please add C:\Cygwin64\bin to environment variable PATH so Emacs can detect the program 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 setup 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 need always to run it when you update the snippets. The purpose of my-yas-reload-all is to optimize the Emacs startup only. IMO, it’s not worth the effort.
  • You can add your snippets into ~/.emacs.d/snippets.
  • Run grep -rns --exclude‘.yas*’ ‘key:’ *= in ~/.emacs.d/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=http://yourname:passwd@proxy.company.com:8080 emacs -nw

Government blocks the internet

You may need goagent. Run command http_proxy= emacs -nw in shell after starting goagent server.


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.

You could M-x package-refresh-content and restart Emacs. the package will be installed automatically.

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 only exist on 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 ~/.emacs.d/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. The Emacs Lisp code and command line programs to scan the C++ files are company backends. company-clang is a popular backend because Clang is good at processing 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 code:

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

Other backends produce less precise results but are more efficient and easier to setup.

Auto-completion for other languages

It’s similar to C++ setup. You can use company as frontend. But backend is the key. For example, you can’t use company-clang for PHP because Clang can’t handle PHP. But GNU Global supports PHP, so you can use company-gtags instead.

For languages GNU Global doesn’t support, you can always fall back to company-etags and Ctags by using regular expression. Regular expressions could be placed in ~/.ctags.

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

Chinese Input Method Editor

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

If your personal dictionary ~/.eim/personal.pyim exists, it will be used.

You can M-x my-pyim-export-dictionary to export your personal words into personal.pyim. Check init-chinese-pyim.el for more information.

Install multiple versions of Emacs

Run below commands in shell:

mkdir -p ~/tmp;
curl http://ftp.gnu.org/gnu/emacs/emacs-24.4.tar.gz | 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

~/.emacs.d/init.el is the main file. It includes all the other *.el files.

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

Packages are installed into ~/.emacs.d/elpa/.

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

My own snippets is at ~/.emacs.d/snippets.

Other directories don’t matter.

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 https://github.com/redguardtoo/emacs.d/archive/2.6.zip and https://github.com/redguardtoo/myelpa/archive/2.6.zip and you are good to go.

Emacs 24.4 and 24.5

Support will be dropped on 2019


  • 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 ~/.emacs.d/lisp/

Report bug

  • Please check EmacsWiki and my FAQ at first
  • If the issue is still NOT resolved, restart Emacs with option ---debug-init, run M-x toggle-debug-on-error in Emacs. Try to reproduce the issue
  • Send error messages to the original developer if it’s third party package issue
  • If you are sure it’s my issue, file bug report at https://github.com/redguardtoo/emacs.d. Don’t email me!

Bug report should include details (OS, Emacs version …).