I am new to emacs, and org-mode pulled me away from vim. I am getting a hang of it. One thing I am missing a lot is a hierarchical search in emacs. I wrote a python script for that in vim, and I am looking for a solution in emacs (org-mode).

Let me explain. Let us say, here is the file:

* People
** Software related help
*** John
*** Amit
** Personal
*** John
*** Mike
* Project
** With Mike
*** Website development

When I am searching for a heading, I usually know I am searching for mike, but once I see that there are too many search results (I use 'swiper-all), I want to narrow the search based what the child headings and parent headings contain. In this case, I might want to extend the search to mike people or mike project based on what kind of heading I am searching for.

In other words, if each heading is a node in the tree, I want to search not only in the node, but in the concatenation of all nodes up to the root. (See a couple other nice-to-haves below.)

Is there any solution or package avaiable for this? If not, can you point me to how to go about writing a script/package for this?

Nice to haves:

  1. Ideally, the file name would be considered as the level zero heading.
  2. Ideally, the order of words in the search term does not matter. I sometimes don't remember if I wrote With Mike below Project heading, or wrote Project below Mike heading. In either case, I want to just search for mike project and be able to find what I am looking for.
  • 1
    I don't know about a ready-made package for it. But this can be useful to you: github.com/ndwarshuis/om.el
    – Muihlinn
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 19:20
  • 1
    As you have swiper you should have counsel-outline, try that one. Helm must have something as well. With ivy it's possible to ignore the order of the words, look for ivy–regex-ignore-order in the documemtation. Counsel-outline checks the current file only.
    – Hubisan
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 22:50
  • @Hubisan: Thanks for the counsel-outline reference. It is an alias for counsel-org-goto and that lead me to counsel-org-goto-all, which does the search across all files. I am not sure which files it searches in. Probably all agenda files. Or open buffers (I need to check). I will look into ignoring the order of words. Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 3:21
  • @Hubisan: The combination of counsel-org-goto-all and ivy–regex-ignore-order worked perfectly for me. The only thing missing is now the "Nice to have #1". Thanks for helping me. If you write this up quickly as an answer, I would definitely accept your answer. Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 4:33

2 Answers 2


If you have ivy installed you can use either counsel-org-goto (current buffer only) or counsel-org-goto-all (all currently opened org buffers). Both show the outline path for each heading and therefore let you search hierarchically:

searching with counsel-org-goto

Remark: Those commands should also work for emacs-lisp-mode, markdown-mode and latex-mode.

Ignore search order

To ignore the search order you can customize the ivy completion styles for those commands:

(add-to-list 'ivy-re-builders-alist '(counsel-org-goto . ivy--regex-ignore-order))
(add-to-list 'ivy-re-builders-alist '(counsel-org-goto-all . ivy--regex-ignore-order))

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Add filename

To add the filename at the beginning you can advice counsel-outline-candidates:

(defun my-add-filename-to-counsel-outline-candidates (candidates)
  "Add the filename at the beginning for CANDIDATES from `counsel-outline-candidates'."
   (lambda (candidate)
     (let* ((marker (cdr candidate))
            (filename (buffer-file-name (marker-buffer marker)))
            (filename-abbreviated (when filename (concat (abbreviate-file-name filename) " ")))
            ;; Use this if you want the buffer name. It's a bit shorter.
            ;; (buffername (buffer-name (marker-buffer (cdr candidate))))
       (cons (concat filename-abbreviated (car candidate)) marker)))

(advice-add 'counsel-outline-candidates :filter-return #'my-add-filename-to-counsel-outline-candidates)

counsel-org-goto with filenames


For Doom Emacs (with vertico) users there is consult-org-heading command and it's mapped to SPC m . by default. Works in current buffer only.


Search with any word order:


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