Is this something that can / should be done? For example, often I use emacs in my user account and sometimes root account. When using the package manager (i.e marmalade or something) do I have to install the same packages seperately for each account? It seems to me that they get installed in your home directory.

2 Answers 2


As pointed out by Nsukami, package.el does support system-wide packages. But as your subsequent question points out, it does not provide any special help to install packages in a system-wide manner.

One way you can do that is by using something like:

(setq package-user-dir "/usr/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa")

in your root account's ~/.emacs. This will make the root user's installed packages available to all users (since /usr/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa should normally appear in the default value of package-directory-list).

  • Yes this makes sense! Great help guys - thanks. Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:25

According to the documentation:

package-directory-list's value is
("/usr/local/share/emacs/24.4/site-lisp/elpa" "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa" "/usr/share/emacs/24.4/site-lisp/elpa" "/usr/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa")

This variable may be risky if used as a file-local variable.

Documentation: List of additional directories containing Emacs Lisp packages. Each directory name should be absolute.

These directories contain packages intended for system-wide; in contrast, `package-user-dir' contains packages for personal use.

You can customize this variable.

This variable was introduced, or its default value was changed, in version 24.1 of Emacs.

Another documentation:

In addition to package-user-dir, Emacs looks for installed packages in the directories listed in package-directory-list. These directories are meant for system administrators to make Emacs packages available system-wide; Emacs itself never installs packages there.

So, for site wide install, I suggest you to, as a system administrator, manually install the packages inside /usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa. Or you can also do as suggested by @Stefan

  • Thanks for your reply. I can confirm on inspection of package-directory-list value it is as you have described and indeed package-user-dir is the .emacs.d/elpa folder - where the packages are currently being installed. So I ask then do I override the package-user-dir to point to the global location, or when using for example 'M-x package-install' how can I tell it I want a site wide installation? Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 12:50

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