I would like to change the way headings render while still using the * to type headings (so this question is distinct from Change the asterisk (heading identifier) to some other symbol in Org mode)

I want this

* One
** Two
*** Three

to render as

# One
## Two
### Three

The closest I can get is by using org-bullets and changing the org-bullets-bullet-list symbols, but that conceals the initial symbols with spaces:

# One
 # Two
  # Three

Preferably, I would not need to use use the org-bullets package and just use a regex to replace the font face of the headings symbols. I found this snippet for changing - and * in plain lists to a .

  (font-lock-add-keywords 'org-mode
    '(("^ +\\([-*]\\) "
    (0 (prog1 () (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "•"))))))

When I try to modify it for headings it does not change the appearance of the headings and does not throw any error (maybe there is some later applied highlighting in org-mode that overwrites the regex substitution? or because I am just using a single # to replace possibly more than one *?).

  (font-lock-add-keywords 'org-mode
    '(("^*+ "
    (0 (prog1 () (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "#"))))))

I am using Emacs through the Spacemacs distribution.


2 Answers 2


compose-region does not solve your problem. Use the text property display instead and put the string you like atop the header leader. You can let you guide by org-bullets-mode for that.

If you want to try that approach copy the following lines into your init file and re-start emacs.

Activate org-bullet-mode for replacing * with # in header leaders.

(defcustom org-bullet ?\#
  "Replacement for * as header prefixes."
  :type 'characterp
  :group 'org)

(define-minor-mode org-bullet-mode
    "Bullet for org-mode"
  nil nil nil
  (let* ((keyword
           `(("^\\*+ "
              (0 (let* ((level (- (match-end 0) (match-beginning 0) 1)))
           (when (> level 1)
             (put-text-property (match-beginning 0) (- (match-end 0) 2) 'display (make-string (1- level) org-bullet)))
           (put-text-property (- (match-end 0) 2) (- (match-end 0) 1) 'display (string org-bullet))
    (if org-bullet-mode
          (font-lock-add-keywords nil keyword)
        (goto-char (point-min))
        (font-lock-remove-keywords nil keyword)

You can activate org-bullet-mode automatically when starting org-mode with the following entry in your init file:

(add-hook 'org-mode-hook #'org-bullet-mode)
  • Great, thanks! The reason I mentioned that i prefer not to use org-bullets is because I prefer to display all heading symbols when I narrow to subtree and deindent (so it doesn't look like the heading is indented from the left margin). I can use org-hide-leadings-stars for this, but didn't find a way to do use it with org-bullets, do you know of one? Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 14:59
  • @JoelOstblom org-bullet-mode from my answer displays all heading symbols, i.e., ** is replaced by ## and so on. That is what make-string does.
    – Tobias
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 15:03
  • For me, all * are replaced with # (for all heading levels), but only the last heading symbol is displayed, the rest are hidden unless the cursor is over them. This is the default behavior for org-bullets on my spacemacs installation, so there is some other setting I need to tweak I think to get the same behavior as when disabling org-hide-leading-stars when not using org-bullets. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 15:17
  • @JoelOstblom Once again. Have you really tried the code of my answer? That is not the code of org-bullets! The code above is everything you need you don't need org-bullets. You can paste the above code into your init file and are done. Add also (add-hook 'org-mode-hook #'org-bullet-mode) if you want to use org-bullet-mode the code whenever your buffer is in org-mode. Maybe, the name difference between org-bullets-mode and org-bullet-mode is far too small to be easily recognized. Sorry about that.
    – Tobias
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 15:20
  • Agh! Sorry, I tried your code but didn't restart emacs (I missed your edit). And yes, I misread org-bullet-mode as org-bullets-mode so I thought that was the reason it was not working. I tried it again now and it works as I want except for when I use org-hide-leading-stars, which now hides all # of the headings instead of hiding all but the last # (the exception being first level headings, where the lone # is displayed). Do you see this as well? Thanks again and sorry for the confusion. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 16:29

Not the most elegant approach, but this appears to work

  (font-lock-add-keywords 'org-mode
    (0 (prog1 () (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "#"))))))

  (font-lock-add-keywords 'org-mode
    (0 (prog1 () (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "#"))))))

  (font-lock-add-keywords 'org-mode
    (0 (prog1 () (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "#"))))))

  (font-lock-add-keywords 'org-mode
    (0 (prog1 () (compose-region (match-beginning 1) (match-end 1) "#"))))))

The above snippet would change * at headings level 1-4 into # and can be extended to as many levels as needed.

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