I would like to make a few changes to a package installed via package-install. What's the canonical way to do so?

I understand that it would probably involve:

  1. Uninstalling the package via list-packages. (Is this necessary?)
  2. Place the package files manually somewhere under ~/.emacs.d (e.g. by cloning the Git repository)
  3. Tell Emacs to load the package from the new location. (How?)
  • Whenever I find the need to modify a package, I can usually achieve it with advice. Is that a possibility for you?
    – PythonNut
    Mar 25, 2016 at 18:03

3 Answers 3


Uninstalling the package via list-packages. (Is this necessary?)

Not at all. Just make sure that the git clone is ahead of ELPA on load-path.

Place the package files manually somewhere under ~/.emacs.d (e.g. by cloning the Git repository) Tell Emacs to load the package from the new location. (How?)

I have a dedicated git/ directory in my site-lisp. And just clone there. This code will put all packages in git/ ahead of ELPA on the load-path:

(let ((emacs-git (expand-file-name "git/" emacs-d)))
  (mapc (lambda (x)
          (add-to-list 'load-path (expand-file-name x emacs-git)))
        (delete ".." (directory-files emacs-git))))
  • A lot of time has passed so this may only be a little incompatibility, but: what is the variable emacs-d? I can't find it on my system Sep 2, 2022 at 17:28
  • 1
    It's a custom variable I defined that points to a directory where the "git" folder is. You can adapt something similar to your config.
    – abo-abo
    Sep 2, 2022 at 19:26

If you wish to use the package manager for this (which is entirely reasonable -- it will take care of byte-compilation, ensure all the autoloads are processed, etc), then:

  • Copy the package (somewhere that isn't in your Emacs load-path) and make whatever changes you wish to make.

  • If it is a simple package built from a single .el file (ignoring *.elc, *-pkg.el, and *-autoloads.el files):

    • Update the version string in the .el file.

    • Invoke package-install-file on the modified .el file.

  • If it is a complex package built from multiple files:

    • Update the version string in the *-pkg.el file

    • If you're running Emacs 25+, invoke package-install-file on the directory.

    • If you're running Emacs 24, create a tar file of the directory (include the directory itself; not just its contents), and invoke package-install-file on the tar file.

You should be able to safely delete the unnecessary files from your modified source for the package (e.g. *.elc, *-autoloads.el, and for the simple package case, *-pkg.el).

See C-hig (elisp) Packaging for more information.

  • I've accepted abo-abo's answer as it seems to allow contributing changes upstream the easiest, but this answer is interesting too. I would like to ask, though - is running package-install-file necessary every time I want an edit to take effect? And, will the package manager clobber my installed package when the upstream package is updated? Mar 26, 2016 at 5:06
  • Emacs does not automatically install newer releases of any package -- it's not going to clobber a package unless you ask it to. You would need to run package-install-file every time, unless you took to editing and re-compiling the installed versions under ~/.emacs.d/elpa directly (but I don't think that's what you were wanting to do).
    – phils
    Mar 26, 2016 at 5:57
  • Note that if a package is derived from a git repository, it's fairly likely that you can check that out and use it as your target for package-install-file.
    – phils
    Mar 26, 2016 at 5:59

Or install use-package, and explicitly supply the load path this way:

(use-package example
  :load-path "/directory/of/your/package")

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