For some reason, I need to manually update the custom-theme-load-path list after every update of a theme like smart-mode-line or leuven-theme. Looking for a solution, I came across this SO post. Here is the solution from that post (with slight modification):

;; Ensure that the custom-theme-load-path has all the theme paths added
;; Source: https://stackoverflow.com/a/15381087/1219634
(require 'dash)
  (require 's)
       (lambda (item)
         (format (concat elpa-dir "/%s") item))
        (lambda (item)
          (or (s-contains? "theme" item)
              (s-contains? "smart-mode-line" item)))
        (directory-files elpa-dir)))
    (lambda (item)
      (add-to-list 'custom-theme-load-path item)))

The above snippet works great and it updates custom-theme-load-path. The catch is that every time I load a theme using load-theme, the custom-theme-load-path resets to the value set by Customize. I have verified this behavior by putting (message "%s" custom-theme-load-path) before and after the call to (load-theme ..).

How can I permanently set the value of custom-theme-load-path so that load-theme cannot reset its value?

Here is a workaround I use to avoid this issue (but I'd like to understand why this is happening):

  • I have wrapped the above snippet in a function called update-custom-theme-load-path.
  • I call that function right before I call (load-theme 'leuven t)
  • To clarify: custom-theme-load-path is set in Customize. When you update (via package.el) either leuven or smart-mode-line, those packages are no longer on custom-theme-load-path? Oct 13, 2014 at 13:46
  • @JonathanLeech-Pepin Yes, those paths don't get auto updated even when I install through package.el. I used to manually update the path till I found the above snippet. Oct 13, 2014 at 13:48
  • Do you have a call to package-initialize in your init-file? And/or could you test running package-initialize after updating the theme, but before loading it? Oct 13, 2014 at 13:54
  • I do have (package-initialize). I call it before requiring any of the themes. I also tried C-x C-e on that just now with the themes updated; but that did not update custom-theme-load-path. I load this before requiring any theme/package. Oct 13, 2014 at 14:01

1 Answer 1


The Short Answer

You should not customize the custom-theme-load-path variable in the Customize interface.
So call M-x customize-variable RET custom-theme-load-path and ask to erase customizations (and save changes).

If you want to configure a custom theme directory beyond that which packages automatically add, customize the custom-theme-directory variable instead. That is exactly what this variable is for.

The Long Answer

Any customizations made through the Customize interface are reapplied whenever a theme changes. That’s due to 2 reasons:

  1. Themes are not just about faces, they’re about variables too.
  2. And the user customizations should always supersede the customizations applied by themes.

Thus, whenever a new theme is applied, the user customizations must be reapplied on top of it. Since your customization contains the custom-theme-load-path variable, themes are unable to add themselves to it.

That’s probably why the custom-theme-directory variable was created. This one is safe to customize, because it’s only yours (themes won’t touch it).

  • 1
    I am under that assumption that custom-theme-directory can contain just one directory. Isn't that true? Oct 13, 2014 at 14:56
  • I didn't need to set the custom-theme-directory. But I simply erased the customization of custom-theme-load-path and now the value set to this list in my init.el stick! Thanks! Oct 13, 2014 at 15:02
  • 1
    @kaushalmodi Yes, the custom-theme-directory variable is only needed if you want a directory beyond the automatically added ones AND you want to use the customize interface.
    – Malabarba
    Oct 13, 2014 at 15:04
  • It's almost as though package.el needs to have it's own package-theme-directory that it can add files to, so that installations don't worry about customize overwriting them. Oct 13, 2014 at 15:04
  • 1
    custom-theme-directory being one directory is still useful because themes are just individual files. Not so good for version control, but symlinks fix that.
    – Vamsi
    Oct 13, 2014 at 15:19

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