Emacs: Install Package with ELPA/MELPA

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Starting with emacs 24 (year 2012), it comes with a package system called ELPA (Emacs Lisp Package Archive). It lets you install and manage emacs packages. [see Emacs 24.1 Features (released 2012-06)]

Quick Start

Add this to your emacs init:

;; load emacs 24's package system. Add MELPA repository.
(when (>= emacs-major-version 24)
  (require 'package)
   ;; '("melpa" . "http://stable.melpa.org/packages/") ; many packages won't show if using stable
   '("melpa" . "https://melpa.org/packages/")

restart emacs.

emacs list packages 2017 07 02
Emacs Alt+x list-packages

To install a package:

  1. Alt+x list-packages.
  2. Find the package you want, move cursor to the line, press Enter. A description pane will pop up.
  3. Put cursor on the pane, press Tab to move cursor to the “Install” button then press Enter.
  4. The package is now installed.
  5. Read the package doc to see what command to start it, if necessary. (no restart is needed)

By default, packages are installed at ~/.emacs.d/elpa/

You can go to that directory, open the package you are interested, and read the file header doc.

Following are details.

Listing Available Packages

Alt+x list-packages.

Install Packages

This list is shown in package-menu-mode. In this mode, here's the most useful keys:

Enter (package-menu-describe-package)
Describe the package under cursor.
i (package-menu-mark-install)
Mark for installation.
u (package-menu-mark-unmark)
d (package-menu-mark-delete)
Mark for deletion (removal of a installed package).
x (package-menu-execute)
For “execute” (start install/uninstall of marked items).
r (package-menu-refresh)
Refresh the list from server.

(For complete list of keys, Alt+x describe-mode)

For example, i want to install the clojure-mode. I type i to mark it, x to run install. Then, i got the following files in my dir, all automatically byte-compiled and loaded.


and now i can call clojure-mode, and it works right there! (no need to restart, but for some packages, you may need to turn it on or restart emacs.)

Upgrade Packages

To upgrade packages, just press U x.

For any package that has a new version, the installed one will be marked “D” (for delete), and new one will be marked “I” (to install).
Run the marked commands on packages.

WARNING: package upgrade is not reliable. It is better to upgrade one package at a time. First delete the package, then install the latest.

Package Location

New packages are installed at ~/.emacs.d/elpa/.

If you want to remove all external packages, you can delete this entire directory and restart emacs. It is harmless to do so.

Package Repositories

The source of the packages are from package servers. There are several.

Note: the emacs package system, called ELPA (aka package.el), is started by Tom Tromey. Marmalade is started by Nathan Weizenbaum. MELPA is started by Donald Ephraim Curtis (aka milkypostman) http://milkbox.net/ Thank you guys.

Helpful Commands and Variables

package-enable-at-startup. By default, this is t (true).

package-load-list. This determines which packages should be loaded at start-up.

Alt+x describe-function or describe-variable for details.

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