I had set up a emacs --daemon at the OS startup and whenever I try to open emacsclient -n -c emacs opens a small window (possibly the minimum size possible) and with unreadable fonts (they are too small). A following picture shows the emacs window in perspective when opened with emacsclient -n -c

Small emacs window with small fonts

However, if I try to open an emacs frame on the default OS terminal (emacsclient -t) it works perfectly:

Emacs frame on a terminal

Whats wrong with emacs? I use Prelude and I have a .Xdefaults file containing Emacs.font: Ubuntu-10 that specify which font to use, but that doesn't seem to work.

  • Is it any different from how Emacs looks when you run it graphically without a daemon?
    – user12563
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 21:44
  • Yes, totally normal
    – ranu
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 21:45
  • Can you reproduce this if you start Emacs with emacs --daemon -q? If not, post your init file. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 20:38
  • @Gilles it can’t be reproduced with emacs --daemon -q. Something in my init file maybe? I’m using prelude fwiw, and the init file is entirely made of prelude code.
    – ranu
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 13:54

2 Answers 2


I had the same problem, and it was because I was setting the font in my init file using

(set-frame-font FONT nil t)

which is closely related to GaryO's answer. Using

(setq default-frame-alist '((font . FONT)))

Note: make sure that you replace FONT with you desired font name that is already installed on your system. solved it for me.

  • set-frame-font indeed only applies to existing frames (as documented in the docstring).
    – Stefan
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 19:14
  • This was exactly my problem; I had a set-frame-font declaration in my init.el which caused the problem after I moved to using emacs in daemon-mode.
    – User12345
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 11:32
  • Sorry for the delay, but this is the correct answer for me.
    – ranu
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 3:01

I've gotten this too. I think it's because when emacs is started in daemon mode, window-system is nil while reading your .emacs. You're probably setting up your default-frame-alist with something like (if window-system (...)) which won't work in daemon mode. Do it in a hook on after-make-frame-functions instead; that hook function takes the new frame as an arg.

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