I was updating my emacs backup approach using ideas from answers to this question, but I'm left unsure by one aspect, namely: the fact that several of them arrange to have backups placed in a single backup directory. So they might have something like:

(setq backup-directory-alist `(("." . "~/.emacs.d/backups")))

That's in contrast to what I've been doing up until now, with each "actual" directory having it's own backup directory, using something like:

(setq backup-directory-alist `(("." . "backups")))

That has seemed sensible to me since it keeps any given file's backups close to it in the filesystem. As a result, if and when I need a copy of a backup, I just drop into ./backups instead of having to climb out of whatever Mines of Moria-esque subdir I've been working in, drag my sorry a*se all the way over to ~/.emacs.d/backups or the like, and then dive into a haystack of mostly unrelated files with blindingly !-infested full pathnames, to find the needle that is my desired backup. Not to mention the fact that backing up to a single directory creates a risk that sensitive files may get backed up to a place with less than sensitive permissions.

Nevertheless, reading around the topic I now get the impression that the single directory approach may in fact be the norm, and that I'm the weirdo.

So what am I missing? Is there some gotcha to the per-directory approach? Or some really useful benefit with the single directory approach? Or both? Or what?

  • 1
    The question is too broad, and encourages opinion-based answers. It should be closed, IMO. Consider raising such an open question on a discussion sites such as Reddit, instead.
    – Drew
    Nov 6, 2021 at 21:53

2 Answers 2


There is no accounting for taste.

  • I'm really hoping that's not all there is to it, but I won't be surprised if you're right. +1 anyway.
    – tkp
    Nov 4, 2021 at 23:23
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    That should be a comment, not an answer.
    – NickD
    Nov 5, 2021 at 12:16
  • 2
    This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – NickD
    Nov 5, 2021 at 12:21
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    @NickD, you're probably right, from an SE point of view anyway (which, yes, is what matters here). That said, as the question's author I do take some value from db48x's quip. It really is possible that there is little or no significance in the choice I'm asking about, in which case, just as with a question like "Why, after pouring their milk into their tea, do some people stir clockwise, and some anti-clockwise?", a good, if not the best answer may well be what is tantamount to a verbal shrug. 🙂
    – tkp
    Nov 5, 2021 at 16:33
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    I stand by my answer that it is purely a matter of taste, but you’re welcome to answer as well if you can think of a better one.
    – db48x
    Nov 5, 2021 at 19:40

Personal taste as to which you find more convenient is the correct answer (I find the single central folder feels more convenient).

The only practical difference I can think of is if you're editing a file on a different filesystem to ~ and that filesystem has limited space (or maybe slow performance e.g. a floppy) you don't burn up that space with backups. Probably more of a concern 20 years ago than today since everybody seems to have more storage than atoms in the universe these days.......

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