On my Mac laptop, I can start Emacs in several ways, including (1) clicking on an icon on the dock, or (2) running

% emacs

from the Terminal app.

These two ways of launching Emacs produce instances of Emacs that run differently, because they have different settings for their environment variables.

How can I give the instance of Emacs that I start by clicking on an icon the "same"1 environment as that of an instance of Emacs started from the Unix shell command-line (as described above) right after the parent shell is initialized?

1 Well, the two environments cannot be exactly the same, because there are some environment settings, such as the value of the $$ parameter, that are specific to the respective processes. So, when I say that two environments are "the same", I mean that they agree on all the settings for which such agreement is possible in principle.

2 Answers 2


There's a package called exec-path-from-shell that was made to solve this problem. By default, it'll try to figure out PATH and MANPATH from your shell setup, but you can customize the variable exec-path-from-shell-variables to pull in more environment variables. You'll need to figure out for yourself which environment variables matter to you.

;; note env vars of interest
  (add-to-list 'exec-path-from-shell-variables var))
;; set env vars in emacs
(when (memq window-system '(mac ns x))
  • 1
    The problem with an emacs solution like the above is that it is disconnected from the rest of your system: there is no single source of truth. Every time you make a change in your environment for shell purposes, you will have to make (or at least think about) the corresponding change for emacs purposes - and vice versa.
    – NickD
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 0:50
  • 2
    An alternative is the way aquamacs does this - it pipes the shell command env to a file and then parses it. github.com/aquamacs-emacs/aquamacs-emacs/blob/aquamacs3/… see functions mac-read-environment-vars* It is more complex but does the whole environment
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 9:51

I wrote a tutorial about this. exec-path-from-shell can significantly increase Emacs's startup time. I prefer the Doom Emacs approach: save the shell environment to a file, and load it when Emacs starts. My article shows how to do that.

  • The emacs-plus uses the injected path approach to get same thing. May be added to your tutorial.
    – Ian
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 12:00
  • @Ian Thanks. Yes, I also noticed that emacs-plus injects PATH by modifying Emacs.app/Contents/Info.plist. I will add a note to my tutorial. Though there are other env variables that are useful in Emacs. For instance, I use Keychain to avoid typing ssh key passwords. SSH_AUTH_SOCK changes on every boot, so it's easier to update it with a script.
    – lazyseq
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 8:50
  • Also see mac-read-environment-vars-from-shell in AAquamacs github.com/aquamacs-emacs/aquamacs-emacs/blob/aquamacs3/…
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Apr 12 at 12:32

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