I have been using EMACS under Windows for quite some time, starting with EMACS 20.7 under Windows 98SE. I am using EMACS now under Windows 10 Pro both 32‑bit and 64‑bit.
My main use cases are software development for micro-controllers and creating documentation. For documentation I use EMACS' org-mode and HTML export.
I describe here how I install, configure and use EMACS under Windows. Use this advice at your own risk. I do not take any responsibility for this.
I have the following requirements:
To have the same set-up on multiple PCs, I use the OneDrive feature of Windows, which provides automatic synchronisation via Microsoft's cloud.
You might want to download the 32‑bit version from the official web-site http://ftp.gnu.org/gnu/emacs/windows/. In my case (Nov. 2016) the files were:
emacs-25.1-i686-w64-mingw32.zip 48.968KB emacs-25.1-i686-w64-mingw32.zip.sig 1KB emacs-25-i686-deps.zip 36.415KB emacs-25-i686-deps.zip.sig 1KB emacs-25-win-README.txt
To use EMACS from several PCs, "install" EMACS by extracting to a new directory on your OneDrive
Please substitute "xyz" with your account name. EMACS uses the
environment variable, which is not existing by default under Windows.
To create it, type "environment" in the Windows Search input box and
select "Environment variables for this user". Specify for
I recommend to run EMACS in server mode. For this please create
another environment variable
EMACS_SERVER_FILE which shall read
Server mode is very fast to start editing a file. For house keeping purposes, the EMACS server will create a special file. You want that special file on your private space, because it needs to be specific for a PC. Thus is shall not be located on the OneDrive.
For this to work, you also need to customise the EMACS variable
server-auth-dir. To do this form within EMACS you could do
Describe, Describe Variable ... input
server-auth-dir and then
follow the instructions. You should set this variable matching the
EMACS_SERVER_FILE environment variable you set above.
Notice that this time, you specify a directory called
EMACS_SERVER_FILE you specified a file called
which lives in that
server directory. In other words: the
EMACS_SERVER_FILE and the EMACS variable
server-auth-dir need to match.
To arrange to have the EMACS server started when you log-in, do
and create in this directory a shortcut with the command line
The EMACS server will run in the background. You could see it in Task Manager.
Under EMACS 20.7 I had a file called
_emacs in the
to contain my customisations. With EMACS 25.1 you might want to follow
the recommendation to call the file
init.el and put it in directory
When you do customisations within EMACS via the menu
Customize, EMACS will also write to
init.el. You might want to
consult my init.el. I contains various types of
Ctrl‑tabto cycle the buffers in one window. I had to "steal" and adapt some E-Lisp code to achieve this. The code skips "uninteresting" buffers like
*messages*and the like. You could customise these buffers by editing the variable
visual-basic-mode. Note that
visual-basic-modedoes not come out of the box with EMACS 25.1.
The simplest and least intrusive way to integrate EMACS with the
Windows GUI is to use
Send-To. That is when you right click a file
in Explorer there is the
Send-To option in the pop-up menu.
To add EMACS to the
Send-To targets, create a short-cut in the
folder. You find this folder by pasting
in the Windows search box. Then you put a short-cut with command line
in it and give the shortcut the name EMACS.
Another way to integrate with the Windows GUI is to have EMACS editing a file when double-clicking. However, ever since Windows Vista there is no more GUI support to customise associating a file to open in a program. Hence I recommend the following:
This will select the correct executable, but it misses a command line
-n to go with it. To fix this, open the (User-)Registry and
Replace abc with the file extension of the file you where treating. There you should find the command line
you specified above. Edit it and include the
-n switch. This makes
emacsclientw.exe just hands over the file to the EMACS
server and then terminates as it should.
For software development under Windows, I wanted to integrate EMACS with other tools:
make. I chose a GNU
makenative build. I got version 3.81 from year 2006. I put
C:\Users\xyz\OneDrive\myPrograms\make-3.81\binin my Windows path.
bashcan be used from the
gitfor windows native build. I chose the portable version 2.20.1.windows.1, that can be "installed" without administrator rights
rcs. For simple cases I am still using
git. I am using
rcsversion 5.7 for Win32, which is ancient, but works. I put
C:\Users\xyz\OneDrive\myPrograms\rcs\bin\win32in the Windows path.
Both EMACS and
make will use the Windows environment variable SHELL
which I set to
Note the forward slashes! It turns out that in that case ‑ using
bash rather than Windows'
cmd ‑ as the shell, it is better to
define HOME also with forward slashes
This will allow to use HOME also from
M-x shell will then bring you into
bash rather than
You can then use tools like
grep et cetera, that are delivered
When the shell starts, there is an warning message though:
bash: cannot set terminal process group (-1): Inappropriate ioctl for device bash: no job control in this shell
I have not yet figured out, how to get rid of it. It does not seem to harm.
I also customised the shell command prompt, because I felt the default is much too long for my taste. I needed to edit the file
which constructs the environment variable PS1.
If you set the SHELL environment variable like advised above,
bash it even when
make is started from
If you want to use
make only under EMACS, e.g. by
starting a shell within EMACS or by starting
make via EMACS' compile
command, then there is the possibility to set the SHELL environment
variable only within EMACS by adding the following to your
(setenv "SHELL" "C:/Users/xyz/OneDrive/myPrograms/git-2.20.1/bin/bash.exe")
There is also the possibility to extend PATH only within EMACS via
adding to to
(setenv "PATH" (concat "C:\\Users\\xyz\\OneDrive\\myPrograms\\git-2.20.1\\usr\\bin;" (getenv "PATH")))
Note that backslashes need to be escaped, i.e. doubled up.
Under Windows 10 64‑bit there is the possibility to use the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). That allows to use EMACS and other related Linux tools like under standard Linux distributions, but integrated with Windows and without the need to run a virtual machine.
The advantage of this is that numerous tools, e.g. spell checking, are easy to install in that Linux environment and they are usually well integrated with EMACS. On Windows most of these tools are available as well but installation and setting-up the integration with EMACS require more work, like you read above.
When I wrote this (2019-04), there were still problems with screen
updates from EMACS in text mode under WSL. The standard terminal
xterm-256color would not work. Setting
would work though.
As I want to keep using PCs with Windows 10 32‑bit, I continue to use the Windows native EMACS.
However I do use WSL successfully for other purposes.