When I run #'helm-find-files, and move point to a directory, pressing <ret> results in opening that directory in dired mode. One has to press C-j to enter that directory in Helm.

I'd like to have <RET> act as C-j does here, but not necessarily everywhere else. I checked, and C-j is bound to #'helm-maybe-exit-minibuffer, whereas <RET> is bound to #'helm-execute-persistent-action. Binding <RET> to #'helm-maybe-exit-minibuffer works for this case, but breaks other cases: for example, the helm autocomplete in describe-function.

So, when using Helm to find a file, how can I make pressing <RET> open that directory in Helm?

  • 1
    @TuDo I'm used to ido-mode, where pressing <RET> selects the folder to find files inside it. I think this is the most consistent behavior when trying to find a file -- what you want to do when you've found the file is open it; what you want to do when you've found a folder is go inside it so you can find the file.
    – zck
    Nov 22, 2014 at 16:15
  • 2
    Helm has the opposite behavior -- when on a file, <RET> both autocompletes and selects. You don't have to hit <tab> to finish completing the filename. But we're arguing over preferences -- I just want "enter" to mean "select the thing at point". And for me, that doesn't mean "open dired". If I was in a shell, I expect different behavior.
    – zck
    Nov 22, 2014 at 16:59
  • 4
    I'm with zck here, the muscle memory is there after years of using ido (and the most expected action there is drilling down) and this was the main pain point while getting used to helm. I have since switched to using the right arrow key to drill down (took about a week to get used to)
    – ustun
    Dec 4, 2014 at 16:46
  • 1
    I'm also with zck. Navigating in ido is a lot more intuitive than the helm standard behaviour. Especially the backspace key. It deletes a char from the search or jumps back on folder if nothing is inserted. Is there a way to rewire the keys to get this functionallity?
    – f00860
    Feb 1, 2015 at 21:34
  • 1
    As of Helm 2.6.1 the behavior you want is the default.
    – amitp
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:59

3 Answers 3


I've also used ido-mode a lot and trained my muscle memory :) I think the ido style is more intuitive than the helm approach. I search for stuff (typing in some characters) and commit to the find (hit RET), just like the search/address bar of my web browser. If the selection is a directory, I enter this directory and start searching again in this directory. This seems natural for me, so I've written a small advice around helm-execute-persistent-action to force this mechanic.

(require 'helm)
(defun fu/helm-find-files-navigate-forward (orig-fun &rest args)
  (if (and (equal "Find Files" (assoc-default 'name (helm-get-current-source)))
           (equal args nil)
           (stringp (helm-get-selection))
           (not (file-directory-p (helm-get-selection))))
    (apply orig-fun args)))
(advice-add 'helm-execute-persistent-action :around #'fu/helm-find-files-navigate-forward)
(define-key helm-find-files-map (kbd "<return>") 'helm-execute-persistent-action)

I've also optimize the backspace key slightly. If I type something and want to do a correction, I hit backspace. This will delete one character. If I am on the beginning of the directory and hit backspace again, I navigate one level up. This speeds up the navigation dramatically!

(defun fu/helm-find-files-navigate-back (orig-fun &rest args)
  (if (= (length helm-pattern) (length (helm-find-files-initial-input)))
      (helm-find-files-up-one-level 1)
    (apply orig-fun args)))
(advice-add 'helm-ff-delete-char-backward :around #'fu/helm-find-files-navigate-back)

To remove the useless . and .. at the very beginning, you can add it to the helm-boring-file-regexp-list configuration variable.

  • 2
    The Helm approach is consistent with stock find-file though. And the . and .. is not really useless when you suddent want to open Dired in current or parent directory. And I find that C-l is faster than pressing backspace.
    – Tu Do
    Feb 24, 2015 at 14:17
  • I'm circling back to customize this behavior a little bit more -- is there a reason you use advice here, and not bind fu/helm-find-files-navigate-forward directly to (kbd "<return>")? It seems a little cleaner to just call helm-execute-persistent-action directly inside the new function.
    – zck
    Apr 16, 2015 at 6:40
  • 1
    Unfortunately, this doesn't work for me. First of all, I get Symbol's value as variable is void: helm-find-files-map. When I put (helm-mode 1) after (require 'helm), I get no such error, but it doesn't work either. Any Idea what I might be missing? Here's my complete init.el: pastebin.com/drFZsDxW Emacs version is 24.4.1 (i686-pc-mingw32)
    – Geier
    Apr 20, 2015 at 17:00
  • Didn't work for me. Even with the define-key, if I try C-h k RET on teh find-file minibuffer it still shows helm-confirm-and-exit-minibuffer as bound. Apr 23, 2015 at 13:53
  • @RafaelIbraim try use (kbd "RET")
    – netawater
    Apr 29, 2015 at 6:23

I can't comment on Fu86's answer due to rep but I'm piggy backing off it (sorry if this isn't normal protocol). I got a void function using his answer due to "helm-find-files-map". It worked for me to use the "helm-map" key map instead. No conflicts so far and it is the behavior I was looking for.

... (define-key helm-map (kbd "<return>") 'helm-execute-persistent-action) ...


I could not get @Fu86's answer to work but the following worked for me:

(defun jkf/helm-find-files-navigate-forward (orig-fun &rest args)
  (if (file-directory-p (helm-get-selection)) 
    (apply orig-fun args)))
(advice-add 'helm-confirm-and-exit-minibuffer 
   :around #'jkf/helm-find-files-navigate-forward)

see also: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/27652371/how-can-i-change-emacs-helm-find-file-default-action-on-directory-to-be-go-insid


My solution works in helm-20141112.946 but in helm-20160211.934 it does not work and @Fu86 answer is the solution


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