I care about the time it takes to start emacs. I bounce around a lot and edit many files. I cannot use emacsclient due to some limitations in my workflow and machine.

  • In the terminal emacs -nw -Q M-x emacs-init-time returns 0.0 seconds
  • In the GUI emacs -Q M-x emacs-init-time returns 0.8 seconds

What is the reason for this discrepancy? Can it be corrected?

  • emacs 24.4.1
  • Arch Linux
  • emacs -Q -nw --eval '(kill-emacs)' and emacs -Q --eval '(kill-emacs)' give me 0.04s and 0.35s, a less extreme time. I'd put my money on the creation of the graphical frame and initialization of fonts.
    – wasamasa
    Dec 19, 2014 at 19:52
  • For me, the emacs -Q --eval '(kill-emacs)' incantation takes ~1s to run.
    – PythonNut
    Dec 19, 2014 at 19:57
  • 8
    Tangentially, you might consider ways to avoid leaving Emacs in the first place, so that rather than starting a new instance to edit a file, you are just visiting the file from inside an already-running instance. If you can get used to using the terminal / shell facilities in Emacs, that's often a big step in this direction.
    – phils
    Dec 19, 2014 at 21:33
  • 1
    @phils yes, my normal emacs processes are generally long running, but I do a lot of quick work over SSH. I do a lot of shell as well and TTY emacs as a shell just isn't for me (yet). Thus I move around from machine to machine spawning temporary emacs sessions. (Note that on some systems TRAMP doesn't work). Also, even on my main machine, I do a lot of emacs development, and I flush my environment pretty often.
    – PythonNut
    Dec 20, 2014 at 17:07

2 Answers 2


This delay is likely caused by font initialization, simply because fonts are a major difference between TTY frames and GUI frames: TTY frames don't do any font management—TTYs don't support font selection anyway—whereas GUI frames have a pretty advanced font management.

Try to run your GUI Emacs through strace: You probably see a lot of IO calls on font files. If you do, you can try to reduce the delay by removing fonts, or by trying the unicode-fonts package, which tries to cache a lot of Emacs' font configuration.

If that doesn't work, or if strace shows you no font IO, its output should still provide valueable information.

  • Or if you are running a remote emacs through ssh, emacs will ask the X server for a list of all available fonts on startup, and that takes time – especially if the network is slow. At least, that's what I found when I investigated this years ago. (These days, I am lucky to get away with just a local emacs instance.) Feb 4, 2015 at 8:13
  • That does seem to be it, according to strace. I suppose I'll live with it--I don't want to delete my fonts. :)
    – PythonNut
    Sep 7, 2015 at 23:22

I'm not sure you can optimize emacs -Q that much. But if you want to know which packages take time to launch and optimize at this level instead, I strongly advise you to have a look at use-package: https://github.com/jwiegley/use-package.

  • That's exactly the problem. I've whittled down my own init to about 1s. Emacs's own startup is actually longer than my own init, sometimes.
    – PythonNut
    Feb 3, 2015 at 21:41

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