I know you can customize settings or set environmental variables to get emacs to use other shells in shell-mode (1, 2). Is it possible to simply start a shell specifying which shell you want to use interactively?

Like: M-x other-shell RET /path/to/csh RET

Or set up something in your init file to let you use other shells fairly easily without changing the default?

2 Answers 2


This appears to do the job:

(defun other-shell (explicit-shell-file-name)
  (interactive "f")
  (if (called-interactively-p)
      (call-interactively #'shell)

This relies on shell using the variable explicit-shell-file-name as a first choice of the shell to be used.

It also relies on not using lexical scoping.

  • This works if you don't already have a shell running. But if you do, it switches you to the existing shell.
    – Tyler
    Apr 10, 2016 at 20:09
  • @Tyler Use a prefix argument to avoid that. No different from the original shell command. Apr 10, 2016 at 20:10
  • To use a prefix when you have helm-M-x bound see this asnwer emacs.stackexchange.com/questions/20299/…
    – salotz
    Apr 12, 2016 at 1:32
  • AFAIK lexical scoping does not matter here since explicit-shell-file-name is defined through defcustom in shell.el and that marks the variable as special.
    – Tobias
    Mar 5, 2020 at 0:51

Building on Harald's answer. If you want to specify the shell by name (interactive "s" option) rather than path and use the default shell-file-name instead of the explicit path:

(defun other-shell (shell-file-name)
  (interactive "s")
  (if (called-interactively-p)
      (call-interactively #'shell)

I found this to be more useful when using a shell like xonsh where I just want to use the one in the virtualenv that started emacs, rather than specify long explicit paths.

  • FYI: Also for this version of other-shell lexical scoping does not matter since (special-variable-p 'shell-file-name) gives t.
    – Tobias
    Mar 5, 2020 at 0:54

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