I tried to have some Emacs packages from MELPA installed system-wide, following suggestions from this question. I want to have these packages installed under /usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa, so as root user, I've created minimal ~/.emacs as follows:

(add-to-list 'package-archives
             '("melpa-stable" . "https://stable.melpa.org/packages/") t)
(setq package-user-dir "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa")

Then, I started Emacs as root, and installed packages as usual, everything seemed fine. Then, I've added following at the beggining of ~/.emacs file of an ordinary user:

(push "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa" package-directory-list)

However, this doesn't work, in the sense that neither root user nor ordinary user could use installed packages. For example if I run following command in the scratch buffer of Emacs run as root user (I installed use-package among other packages):

(require 'use-package)

following error is reported:

Debugger entered--Lisp error: (file-missing "Cannot open load file" "No such file or directory" "use-package")
  eval((require 'use-package) nil)
  funcall-interactively(eval-last-sexp nil)
  call-interactively(eval-last-sexp nil nil)

On the other side, if last line in the root user ~/.emacs file changed to:

(setq package-user-dir "/usr/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa")

and also the last line in the ordinary user ~/.emacs file deleted, then everything works fine and both users could use installed packages (note that directory /usr/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa is in package-directory-list by default).

Any hint what could be the problem here? It's not big deal, but I'd just like to keep packages installed this way under /usr/local, since as far as I remember it, according to FHS this would be the right place for packages installed this way.

  • You can use site-start.el or default.el to configure package directories for users. gnu.org/software/emacs/manual/html_node/emacs/Init-File.html As for your problem with /usr/local, I'd check the value of load-path.
    – user12563
    Nov 9, 2018 at 19:48
  • Thanks for your reply. Indeed, if I just add (push "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp" load-path) before (package-initialize) in the user ~/.emacs file, everything works fine with packages installed under /usr/local. Also, the line (push "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa" package-directory-list) seems unneeded any more, probably it gets automatically updated at (package-initialize) from load-path variable.
    – Crni
    Nov 9, 2018 at 20:33

1 Answer 1


I believe the problem is here:

(push "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa" package-directory-list)

You add to package-directory-list too late, because package-initialize has already looked for packages to activate and won't notice that you later add more things to the list of directories. You can do the following instead:

(require 'package)
(push "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elpa" package-directory-list)
  • Thanks, indeed that solves the problem too.
    – Crni
    Nov 10, 2018 at 8:46

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