Because the Emacs defaults are not so great sometimes.
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Emacs Starter Kit

The Starter Kit provides a more pleasant set of defaults than you get normally with Emacs. It was originally intended for beginners, but it offers a nicely augmented working environment for anyone using Emacs.

The latest release is at with the source at


This won't teach you Emacs, but it'll make it easier to get comfortable. To access the tutorial, press control-h followed by t.

You may also find the commercial PeepCode Meet Emacs screencast helpful. The Emacs Wiki is also very handy.


You'll need Emacs 24, which comes with package.el. It's not hard to compile from source, but precompiled versions are readily available for Debian-based systems, Mac OS X, and Windows.

If you need to maintain compatibility with Emacs 23 or 22, you need to use version 1.

Add Marmalade as a package archive source in ~/.emacs.d/init.el:

(require 'package)
(add-to-list 'package-archives
             '("marmalade" . "") t)

Evaluate that code by hitting M-x eval-buffer in init.el, then you can install it:

M-x package-refresh-contents
M-x package-install RET starter-kit RET

Other modules are also available:

  • starter-kit-bindings (spun out due to concerns about keybinding conventions)
  • starter-kit-eshell
  • starter-kit-js
  • starter-kit-ruby
  • starter-kit-perl
  • starter-kit-lisp (enhances Emacs Lisp, Clojure, Scheme, and Common Lisp)

These modules are installed separately from the base Starter Kit package.

It's recommended to create a list of packages in init.el which will be installed if they are found to not be present:

(when (not package-archive-contents)

;; Add in your own as you wish:
(defvar my-packages '(starter-kit starter-kit-lisp starter-kit-bindings)
  "A list of packages to ensure are installed at launch.")

(dolist (p my-packages)
  (when (not (package-installed-p p))
    (package-install p)))

That way you can be ensured of a consistent experience across machines.

There are a few conventions for naming files which will get loaded automatically. ~/.emacs.d/$USER.el as well as any files in the ~/.emacs.d/$USER/ directory. Finally, the Starter Kit will look for a file named after the current hostname ending in ".el" which will allow host-specific configuration.

The Starter Kit used to be a git repository that you checked out and used as your own personal .emacs.d directory, but it's been restructured so that it can be treated like any other package, freeing you up to structure your .emacs.d directory as you wish. See "Upgrading" below.


Q: When I try to create a new file or buffer, the autocompletion is eager and tries to use the name of an existing file or buffer.
A: That's called ido-mode, and it's awesome! But sometimes it gets in the way. To temporarily disable it, press C-f while the prompt is open. You can also press C-j while it's still enabled to force the creation of the name.

Q: When I'm writing Javascript, all my functions show up as ƒ. Am I going insane?
A: That's actually a render-time hack. The file on disk shows as "function", but it's just rendered using the script F in order to tone down the verbosity inherent in the language a bit. The same happens with fn in Clojure and lambda to λ in other lisps.

Q: I can't delete parentheses in Lisp!
A: To be specific, you can't delete parenthesis if deleting the parentheses would result in invalid structure. That's called Paredit, and once you get used to it, you'll wonder how you ever did anything without it. But it can be disorienting at first. When paredit tries to stop you from deleting something, you're probably trying to delete something you shouldn't. Use C-k to kill whole expressions. Two things to remember: you can always use C-w to kill a region regardless of Paredit's rules, and you can always insert a single character like a close-paren by prefixing it with C-q. You may find the Paredit cheat sheet or this Paredit walkthrough helpful. You can also enable paredit for non-lisp modes using the esk-paredit-nonlisp function.

Q: How awesome is Emacs?
A: So awesome.


Users of the old version of the Starter Kit (version 1) should be able to upgrade easily. Move your old Starter Kit checkout at /.emacs.d out of the way and create a new directory containing init.el with the lines above. Copy your username.el and username directory from your old checkout into the new /.emacs.d. You should be able to check this new directory into your main dotfiles repository instead of keeping it separate.

The main difference in version 2 is that the new one doesn't pull in a bunch of other package.el dependencies; users may pick and choose which they want, including language-specific modules. Read more about the differences with version 1.


Copyright © 2008-2011 Phil Hagelberg and contributors

Files are licensed under the same license as Emacs unless otherwise specified. See the file COPYING for details.