My ~/.emacs (which you can find on GitHub) file loads several different Emacs packages and I would like them to be automatically installed as soon as Emacs starts up, if they are not already installed. This way if I have to reinstall my Ubuntu 16.04 operating system again I will not have to install each package myself manually using M-x package-install. Is there a way to write an ~/.emacs file so that it will automatically install all loaded packages on startup? I would like this to be done with the minimum of lines as I have over ten different packages loaded so if I have to add extra lines for each individual package it will make my ~/.emacs rather long.

  • 4
    There are several ways, but you should use github.com/jwiegley/use-package
    – bertfred
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 14:28
  • Is it possible to load multiple packages in a single line with use-package, like I do on line 61 of my .emacs file?
    – Josh Pinto
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 14:34
  • See package-install-selected-packages (requires Emacs 25.1).
    – politza
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 16:38
  • Out of curiosity, why is it such a desirable property to have all of your packages listed on a single line? The only reason that you give is to keep your ~/.emacs file from getting "long." But if you are only loading a dozen packages, are you really concerned about the extra 11 lines in your config?
    – nispio
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 22:49
  • Well this was a few months ago so I don't remember my specific thinking but I suspect it was along the lines of trying to minimize how much work is required when I add or subtract a package from the list that is automatically installed. Didn't want multiple lines being added to the file for each separate package installed.
    – Josh Pinto
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 2:38

2 Answers 2


The easiest way is to install use-package.

(require 'package)
(add-to-list 'package-archives
    '("melpa" . "http://melpa.milkbox.net/packages/") t)

(dolist (package '(use-package))
   (unless (package-installed-p package)
       (package-install package)))


 (use-package paredit
   :ensure t)

The :ensure t is what ensures that the package is installed.

To just load ensure multiple packages are install

(dolist (package '(package-a package-b package-c))
 (unless (package-installed-p package)
   (package-install package))
   (require package))))
  • Can you specify multiple packages for it to load on a single line?
    – Josh Pinto
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 14:38
  • If you mean use-package then no, but the expression above, can be
    – njdan5691
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 14:48
  • Well my question is about multiple packages so please edit your answer so that it does just that, loads and if not present, automatically installs, multiple packages.
    – Josh Pinto
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 14:49
  • the dolist can be changed to '(use-package 'some-other-package), but no other configuration can be done. I would recommend having a line for each package with use-package.
    – njdan5691
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 14:50
  • 1
    @njdan5691 You should have something like (unless package-archive-contents (package-refresh-contents)), because unless you have somehow refreshed the package archives at least once, you can't install anything. Note that this hits the network. Also, the (require 'package) is redundant, because package-initialize is autoloaded.
    – jpkotta
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 18:17

package.el keeps track of the packages you asked to install (as opposed to those that are auto-installed as dependencies) in the custom variable package-selected-packages.

So if you copy your ~/.emacs (in which Custom normally writes settings like that of package-selected-packages) to another system, all you should need to do is M-x package-install-selected-packages.

Of course, this doesn't automatically install the packages if they're absent, but I consider it a feature (I think it's a mistake for a program like Emacs to make network connections without an explicit request to do so). And it does save you the trouble of installing each package one by one.

  • Thanks. I just want to share my use case, which is different than that of the OP: I'm often transferring my dotfiles between machines (especially cloud, where they are created and killed all the time). The package directory is quite hefty, with elpy v-env and the kitchen sink, especially given old versions are not auto-trimmed, AFAIK. It's much easier to drop in a few small files and reinstall packages than carry them around. Commented May 18, 2020 at 3:11
  • I forgot to mention one thing: (package-refresh-contents) needs to be invoked once before (package-install-selected-packages) when the local package directory is entirely missing, so that package distribution archive directories are cached first in subdirectories of its archive/ directory. Commented May 18, 2020 at 4:52

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