Simple question from a new Emacs user: I'd like to have my editing window have a sidebar (or a divided window, or a frame--I'm not sure of the terminology or the options here) that has a dired (or something else--any kind of interactive directory listing) in it.

The Emacs manual has complicated instructions for setting up top, bottom, or side frames, and I haven't been able to find a simple blog post or something that says, "This is what to do."

Basically I'd like my Emacs to look more like an IDE and less like an antique terminal window.


2 Answers 2


M-x speedbar will open a new frame that contains a list of files in the same directory as the file you are editing. Clicking on a file name will open it in the other frame.

If you would prefer to get a file list in a different window in the same frame, you can install neotree.

I had a similar desire when I started using Emacs, and I recall there were a few more options, but those are the ones I liked the most. Since this is Emacs, you can customize any of them to work the way you want (assuming you have enough time on your hands).

  • Thanks for this reply, speedbar is great. If you add (global-set-key [f5] (quote speedbar-get-focus)) to your ~/.emacs file, you can then focus on the directory tree (or back on your current buffer) just by pressing the f5 key, so, no need to use the mouse. I was looking for something similar to NERDTree on vim, and speedbar fits the bill. Jun 15, 2023 at 14:26

Something that says, "This is what to do."

Disclaimer: I'm likely the only person who does this (but since you asked...).

I open Dired in its own frame. I use dired-hide-details-mode, to hide the details by default, showing only the file names.

Actually, I use library dired+.el, which offers a little more in this area.

And I use libraries auto-fit-frame.el and fit-frame.el, so that the frame is shrink-wrapped onto the buffer content, not wasting any horizontal blank space.

You can position that Dired frame anywhere you like and leave it there, if you want.

But I also use library thumb-frm.el to thumbify it into a thumbnail frame on my desktop. C-z toggles thumbifying and dethumbifying (restoring to full size).

And I use library zoom-frm.el to be able to zoom in or out, shrinking or expanding the frame and its text, when I want it to take up more or less space. I usually use the Control key with the mouse wheel for that, but sometimes I use S-mouse-1 and C-S-mouse-1 instead to zoom in/out.

I do likewise with other buffers - open them by default in their own frames. For that I use library oneonone.el.

All of those libraries are on Emacs Wiki in the Elisp Area.

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