A package is either a simple package or a multi-file package. A simple package is stored in a package archive as a single Emacs Lisp file, while a multi-file package is stored as a tar file (containing multiple Lisp files, and possibly non-Lisp files such as a manual).
In ordinary usage, the difference between simple packages and multi-file packages is relatively unimportant; the Package Menu interface makes no distinction between them. However, the procedure for creating them differs, as explained in the following sections.
Each package (whether simple or multi-file) has certain attributes:
A short word (e.g., ‘auctex’). This is usually also the symbol prefix used in the program (see Emacs Lisp Coding Conventions).
A version number, in a form that the function
understands (e.g., ‘11.86’). Each release of a package should be
accompanied by an increase in the version number so that it will be
recognized as an upgrade by users querying the package archive.
This is shown when the package is listed in the Package Menu. It should occupy a single line, ideally in 36 characters or less.
This is shown in the buffer created by C-h P
describe-package), following the package’s brief description
and installation status. It normally spans multiple lines, and should
fully describe the package’s capabilities and how to begin using it
once it is installed.
A list of other packages (possibly including minimal acceptable version numbers) on which this package depends. The list may be empty, meaning this package has no dependencies. Otherwise, installing this package also automatically installs its dependencies, recursively; if any dependency cannot be found, the package cannot be installed.
Installing a package, either via the command
or via the Package Menu, creates a subdirectory of
package-user-dir named name-version, where
name is the package’s name and version its version
(e.g., ~/.emacs.d/elpa/auctex-11.86/). We call this the
package’s content directory. It is where Emacs puts the
package’s contents (the single Lisp file for a simple package, or the
files extracted from a multi-file package).
Emacs then searches every Lisp file in the content directory for
autoload magic comments (see Autoload). These autoload
definitions are saved to a file named name-autoloads.el
in the content directory. They are typically used to autoload the
principal user commands defined in the package, but they can also
perform other tasks, such as adding an element to
auto-mode-alist (see How Emacs Chooses a Major Mode). Note that a package
typically does not autoload every function and variable defined
within it—only the handful of commands typically called to begin
using the package. Emacs then byte-compiles every Lisp file in the
After installation, the installed package is loaded: Emacs
adds the package’s content directory to
evaluates the autoload definitions in name-autoloads.el.
Whenever Emacs starts up, it automatically calls the function
package-activate-all to make installed packages available to the
current session. This is done after loading the early init file, but
before loading the regular init file (see Summary: Sequence of Actions at Startup).
Packages are not automatically made available if the user option
package-enable-at-startup is set to
nil in the early
This function makes the packages available to the current session.
The user option
package-load-list specifies which packages to
make available; by default, all installed packages are made available.
See Package Installation in The GNU Emacs Manual.
In most cases, you should not need to call
as this is done automatically during startup. Simply make sure to put
any code that should run before
package-activate-all in the early
init file, and any code that should run after it in the primary init
file (see Init File in The GNU Emacs Manual).
This function initializes Emacs’ internal record of which packages are
installed, and then calls
The optional argument no-activate, if non-
Emacs to update its record of installed packages without actually
making them available.