Normally when I run helm-find-files I'm immediately shown a list of files in the current directory. Sometimes, however, helm just gives me an empty window. I can start navigating my filesystem in that window like normal, but I have to start navigation from the root of my filesystem. It's as if helm didn't/couldn't figure out the directory of the file I'm editing.

For example, I see this problem if my cursor is at the very beginning of a typical HTLM file:

<!doctype html>
^ point is here

or at the end of a line with a meta tag:

    <meta charset="utf-8">
                          ^ point is here

If the point is anywhere else in those lines, helm-find-files works as expected. In those positions, though, it seems like helm gets confused.

So my question: Is this expected behavior? I know that helm is complex (heck, it's probably self-aware), and it may well be that this is the "correct" behavior somehow. If this is expected, can someone explain why? I just need a better mental model of what's going on.

If this is not expected behavior, I'll likely file an issue with helm. I just wanted to do some due diligence before that, though.

3 Answers 3


helm-find-files tries to interpret the text at point as a file path or an URL. This sometimes is really helpful, since in a free flowing text with filenames you can just position the cursor and jump to the correct path. But it gets confused in some cases. A particularly nagging one for me is its failure to interpret a standard file URL like file:/some/path correctly - but it deals fine with /some/path. The leading file: seems to confuse it, while it again works fine with URLs like http://some/url.

  • Is there any way to turn this behavior off, or is it baked in? I've tried changing e.g. helm-ff-url-regexp but with no noticeable results.
    – abingham
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 8:23
  • I've opened an issue for this: github.com/emacs-helm/helm/issues/870
    – abingham
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 16:57

For this feature, Helm is using ffap ("find file at point"). Over at EmacsWiki, I found advice on how to make ffap behave better in HTML:

Ignore '/'

On unix based systems, / is the root path. So all string starts with / is recognized as a path.

This is annoying especially when editing HTML or XML. The following advice ignore / as a wrong result.

(defadvice ffap-file-at-point (after ffap-file-at-point-after-advice ())
  (if (string= ad-return-value "/")
      (setq ad-return-value nil)))
(ad-activate 'ffap-file-at-point)
;; (ad-deactivate 'ffap-file-at-point)

– tomykaira, feel free to use this snippet in any way.

It seems to work great. Real filenames are still recognized, but false positives (which made Helm fall back to '/') are not.

  • How can I turn this on when the buffer have a major mode related to HTML activated?
    – shackra
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 4:46

When your helm prompt reads "Find Files or URL:" and you want the other helm way of finding/filtering you can hit C-c / and you should get the prompt "pattern:" with the more normal helm find.

I also use this in when C-x C-f in dired goes to a funny helm prompt.

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