I use GNU Emacs (28.2 (build 2, x86_64-w64-mingw32) of 2022-09-13) on Windows mostly, so I have set some modes in my early-init.el to prevent annoying flickering:

(tool-bar-mode -1)    ; Setting these in init.el is too late on Windows.
(scroll-bar-mode -1)  ; They will flicker. It's worse for other frame options.

However, these lead to issues whenever I use Emacs from the terminal, for example within WSL (GNU Emacs 27.1) with the same configuration:

$ emacs -nw --eval \
    '(progn (with-current-buffer "*Warnings*" (append-to-file nil nil "/dev/stderr")) (kill-emacs))' \
    2> warnings \
  && cat warnings
Warning (initialization): An error occurred while loading ‘/home/zeta/.emacs.d/early-init.el’:

Symbol's function definition is void: tool-bar-mode

To ensure normal operation, you should investigate and remove the
cause of the error in your initialization file.  Start Emacs with
the ‘--debug-init’ option to view a complete error backtrace.

Usually, I would wrap both mode setup calls within a check for (display-graphic-p), i.e.

(when (display-graphic-p)
  (tool-bar-mode -1)
  (scroll-bar-mode -1))

This is how most questions are answered here on Emacs SE: use that and you're golden.

However, there is no display during early-init.el:

‘~/.emacs.d/early-init.el’. This file is loaded before the package system and GUI is initialized [taken from (info "(emacs) Early Init File"), emphasis mine]

This method does not work and the scroll bar and tool bar are shown. How can I reliably detect whether I'm running Emacs on a terminal within early-init.el? The documentation mentions window-setup-hook, but that runs too late and the GUI flickers on Windows, as the scroll bars are shown for a split second.

  • Off-topic: “I use GNU Emacs (28.2 (build 2, x86_64-w64-mingw32) of 2022-09-13) on Windows mostly” -- v29.1 for MS-Windows has been released; it's worth a try.
    – shynur
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 10:14
  • @shynur I'm aware, and that's how I noticed that some parts of early-init.el do not work as intended :). Some parts of my Emacs configuration are not currently Emacs 29 ready though, mainly the package bootstrapping only during the initial use-package install (which is now no longer required)
    – Zeta
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 18:37
  • 1
    @Zeta Note, that disabling elements of the GUI in early-init.el (only) might not give an affect creating a new frame, f.i.
    – Y. E.
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 6:32

1 Answer 1


Check the value of initial-window-system.

For example, if you are using Emacs on MS-Windows, then the value should be nil when under TUI, w32 when under GUI.

41.1.1 Summary: Sequence of Actions at Startup

  1. If not running in batch mode, it initializes the window system that the variable initial-window-system specifies... If the value of initial-window-system is windowsystem, then the appropriate implementation of the initialization function is defined in the file term/windowsystem-win.el.

Though it must be noted that (info "(emacs) Early Init File") recommends against moving customizations to the early-init.el file, because

customizations related to GUI features will not work reliably in early-init.el

  • 3
    AFAICT, this is the only way to check in early-init.el, but do not use this method anywhere else. See Window Systems.
    – NickD
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 11:20
  • This mailing list thread adds context to why initial-window-system docstring says "Use of this variable as a boolean is deprecated."
    – Y. E.
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 13:00
  • I shall say this kind of thing shouldn't be done in early-init.el. But since OP asked this question, then I will answer this question. As for what OP is trying to implement by solving this problem -- "prevent annoying flickering", that can be another question.
    – shynur
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 13:05

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