I am trying to open files in Emacs using dired. But whenever I open pdf files, the doc viewer in Emacs keeps loading the document. Is there any way to stop the pdf files being opened in Emacs buffer?

  • From the docstring: "You can use C-c C-c to toggle between displaying the document or editing it as text." – JeanPierre Aug 23 '17 at 8:01
  • 1
    What do you want Emacs to do instead of passing the files to doc-view-mode? – Stefan Aug 23 '17 at 13:00

The major mode is selected automatically according to a bunch of rules, including looking at variable auto-mode-alist. Its initial value includes:

("\\.\\(?:PDF\\|DVI\\|OD[FGPST]\\|DOCX?\\|XLSX?\\|PPTX?\\|pdf\\|djvu\\|dvi\\|od[fgpst]\\|docx?\\|xlsx?\\|pptx?\\)\\'" . doc-view-mode-maybe)

which selects doc-view-mode-maybe for (among others) files whose name is ending in .pdf or .PDF. You can add a specific rule before this one to change how pdf files are handled:

(setq auto-mode-alist
    '("\\.pdf" . fundamental-mode)

Also note that you can simply use C-c C-c to toggle between doc-view-mode and editing the document as text (as mentionned in doc-view-mode docstring).


I'm sure there's a proper answer to the question coming but in the meantime...

I'm assuming your question relates to wanting to open some external PDF viewer within a desktop environment, rather than trying to edit the raw text of a PDF file within Emacs.

Not quite as easy as pressing ENTER, but pressing ! within dired prompts to run a shell command on the current file. You can then specify your PDF viewer (such as "evince") and that will be executed on the PDF file.


I had exactly the same problem for dvi, ps files, as well as pdf. The problem for me was in mailcap.el. I commented out the following 9 lines from line 165:

;;     ("pdf"
;;      (viewer . pdf-view-mode)
;;      (type . "application/pdf")
;;      (test . (and (fboundp 'pdf-view-mode)
;;         (eq window-system 'x))))
;;     ("pdf"
;;      (viewer . doc-view-mode)
;;      (type . "application/pdf")
;;      (test . (eq window-system 'x)))

I actually kept the original mailcap.el and copied it with my modifications to my-mailcap.el. Then I put the following in my ~/.emacs

(require 'my-mailcap)
(autoload 'mailcap-parse-mailcaps "mailcap" nil t)
(autoload 'mm-mailcap-command "mm-decode")
(defadvice dired-view-file (around use-mailcap-mime-data activate)
"Use an external viewer to view a file according to `mailcap-mime-data'."
(unless (let ((file (dired-get-file-for-visit)) extension type command)
  (and (not (file-directory-p file))
     (setq extension (file-name-extension file)))
       (setq type (mailcap-extension-to-mime extension))
       (setq command (mailcap-mime-info type))
       (setq command (mm-mailcap-command command file nil))
       (prog1 t (shell-command command)))) ad-do-it))

Next I changed ~/.mailcap to bring up the application of your choice. For me, I used

application/pdf; xpdf %s
application/postscript; gv %s
application/x-dvi; xdvi %s

In dired, I now hit 'v' when the point is on the file I want and the appropriate application (xpdf, gv, xdvi) launches. If you still want docview then just hit return.

I found the above works with emacs-25 and emacs-26. However, do not use it for emacs-24; its mailcap.el does not need any modification.


You can find solutions to this in the elpa/melpa repositories. There are packages like dired-open which let you customize which action to take on a filetype. You can even use alternate actions, like enter – opening it in an external program, f – edit the file in Emacs, v – view the file in Emacs' doc-view mode.

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