Frequently Asked Questions for AquamacsEmacs

Aquamacs Home page:

Configuration Tips: CustomizeAquamacs

Aquamacs for Emacs traditionalists

If you’ve been using Emacs for decades and find yourself surprised by some of the changes to the user interface in Aquamacs, have a look at AquamacsEmacsCompatibilitySettings, which demonstrates how to turn off features that are most surprising to Emacs-oldtimers.

Trouble-shooting one's settings: which files are loaded at startup?

In short, your settings should be stored in these files

  ~/Library/Preferences/Aquamacs Emacs/Preferences.el
  ~/Library/Preferences/Aquamacs Emacs/customizations.el  [Automatically written when you "Save Options"]

There are further source files that will be loaded. So, the complete answer is as follows.

At startup, Aquamacs will load this file: ~/.emacs

Aquamacs will find any libraries in the following directories and their subdirectories, and also in the ~/.emacs.d directory. At startup, it will load files named customizations.el and Preferences.el from these directories at startup:

  /Library/Application Support/Emacs  [deprecated: don't use!]
  /Library/Application Support/Aquamacs Emacs
  ~/Library/Application Support/Emacs     [deprecated: don't use!]
  ~/Library/Application Support/Aquamacs Emacs
  /Library/Preferences/Emacs 	         [deprecated: don't use!]
  /Library/Preferences/Aquamacs Emacs 
  ~/Library/Preferences/Emacs     [deprecated: don't use!]
  ~/Library/Preferences/Aquamacs Emacs

All of these directories are added to the load path list.

Aquamacs will also automatically load all files names site-start.el[c] in the load path list.

To trouble-shoot your own customizations, first start Aquamacs “without customizations”, which you can do via a function found in the menu “Help/Diagnose and Report Bug”.

Problems running LaTeX

If pdflatex (or latex, etc.) aren’t found when the LaTeX command is executed, then this may be due to an incorrect PATH setting. (Aquamacs versions 1.3 and older were more lenient in this respect.)

To test this, open from the finder and type “pdflatex”. Does this start the LaTeX interpreter? If not, then the PATH setting is probably incorrect.

The solution is to install TeXLive 2007 or 2008, or to edit the paths file (in OS X 10.5 Leopard or later). Find the path to pdflatex using “locate pdflatex” in the shell. Then, in Aquamacs:

  C-x C-f /sudo::/etc/paths RET

add the path (not the full name of the binary - just its directory!) to the list, save. Then log out and in, and you should be all set!

Problems installing Aspell Spellchecking

In Aquamacs 2.0 and beyond, no extra spell-checking package is needed.

Firstly you can install Cocoaspell, or the “base package aspell”. see:

If you want to add more languages go to:

In the base package case, you have to unpack the downloaded dictionaries, open a terminal, cd into the directory of the unpacked files and than install the as follows:

./configure; make; make install

After that move the compiled files to the following directory, so that Aspell (and Aquamacs Emacs) can find them. Use this directory for both Cocoaspell and the "base package aspell" versions!


If you have installed Aspell from Fink or MacPorts, the above directory may be in a different location.

To use MacPorts to install aspell and a dictionary you may do the following:

# install aspell
sudo port install aspell
# install aspell dictionary for your language
sudo port install aspell-dict-en

A list of available dictionary modules can be obtained with:

mdfind aspell-dict

Afterwards, restart Aquamacs.

That should be all you need to do. If you experience problems using Aspell in Aquamacs Emacs, remove your earlier Aspell-settings from your Preferences.el file, and add the following lines:

(eval-after-load "ispell"
    (setq ispell-extra-args '("-w" "äöüÄÖÜß")
          ispell-dictionary "de"
          ispell-silently-savep t)))
(setq-default ispell-program-name "aspell")
(require 'ispell)
And make sure you have the directory where Aspell is installed (usually in /usr/local/bin) set in your path variable.
either in Preferences.el: 
(setenv "PATH" (concat "/usr/local/bin" path-separator (getenv "PATH")))
or in your startup file for the shell (~/.bashrc);

This has German as the default dictionary; change “de” to your language like “en” or “fr”. The ‘setq ispell-extra-args ‘(”-w” “äöüÄÖÜß”)’ is only needed for languages that use accents, you can change that line according to the chosen language. Or remove the entire line if you only use the English language.

If you still get an error like “no word-lists can be found for the language en_US”, then just install the British-English dictionary as described above, from

If you’d like your personal dictionaries in a convenient place, uncomment and edit the following line in


#home-dir $HOME/Library/Preferences/aspell

Old version of Aspell

After installing CocoAspell I got the following message whenever I tried to use aspell in Aquamacs:

The file “/Library/Application Support/cocoAspell/aspell6-en-6.0-0/en-common.rws” is not in the proper format.

I found out that the reason was that I had an old version of aspell install via fink. Removing that version solved the problem.

Inputting {}[] etc. on non-English keyboards, or other keys with the Option modifier

If you need to input characters using the Option modifier (such as \ or { on a German keyboard), go to Options >> Option Key. You will find the option “Standard Mac characters”, meaning the the Option modifier is not Meta. Another is Meta, meaning the pressing Option gets you a Meta, and you will not able to produce characters \ using your German or Spanish keyboard. Then it follows a set of handy options for mixing the use of Option as Meta, and allowing you to produce the option-characters for your KeyBoard. They are called “Meta & Language”. Choose your favorite.

To temporarily change the function of the Option key, pressing Control-; is the quicker way to do the same. This will disable the use of “Option” for the Emacs (Unix) Meta key. To avoid this, you can use one of the emulation variants in the same menu, which will only map often-used key combinations (such as [, ], \, @ etc., depending on the keyboard layout) to their OS X equivalents, but leave the general Option-Meta binding in place.

Change Aquamacs Meta key

The default Meta key in the Aquamacs distribution is Option (and also Esc). If this is unusable for you (your fingers are too well trained on other platforms), you can either press Apple-; (Options → Option Key → Option Key for Meta) to switch to Esc only, switch the right Command key only to Meta (same menu), or use the following commands in ~/Library/Preferences/Aquamacs Emacs/Preferences.el or your .emacs file:

 (setq mac-option-modifier 'meta) - Sets the option key as Meta (this is default)
 (setq mac-command-modifier 'meta) - Sets the command (Apple) key as Meta
 (setq mac-control-modifier 'meta) - Sets the control key as Meta
 (setq mac-function-modifier 'meta) - Sets the function key as Meta (limitations on non-English keyboards)

Allowed values for these variables are, by the way, ‘alt, ‘hyper, ‘ctrl. If you modify the command-key mapping, the standard Apple shortcuts will cease to work. (These settings work in Aquamacs 0.9.7 or later - with earlier versions, your mileage will vary!)

Some people have reported problems when pasting from other OS X applications if they have set the command key as Meta, because Emacs always uses its internal killring for C-y etc. You may merge the Emacs kill-ring with the clipboard via:

 (setq x-select-enable-clipboard t)

If you want to use the option key to enter special characters (such as £) instead of functioning as Alt of Meta, you can specify this in your ~/.emacs:

 (setq mac-option-modifier nil)

This is equivalent to the appropriate menu function (see above).

Opening Files In Same Frame

If you’re coming from Emacs, you may prefer the Emacs-behavior over the Aquamacs default. Uncheck the “Show Buffers in New Frames” option in the Options menu and then “Save Options”.

Changing the keyboard layout

If you have made a custom keyboard layout (like Danish Dvorak layout), make sure you upgrade to Aquamacs 2.0 or later.

Switching to a mono-spaced (fixed pitch) font throughout

Aquamacs uses a mono-spaced font (Monaco) as a default, but uses the system’s variable-width font (Lucida Grande) for all text modes, including those derived from ‘text-mode’.

To use a monospaced font throughout (or the same font everywhere), just disable ‘aquamacs-autoface-mode’ by selecting Options → Appearance → Auto Faces → Auto Faces. Save your options. You may then choose another font via Options → Appearance → Font if you so desire.

Alternatively, if you would just like to customize specific fonts, see the next frequently asked question.

Changing the current and default font

To change the font used to display the current frame, go to the font panel. You can do this via the menu: Options → Appearance → Font for ___-Mode…. Once there, select the font you want.

To make the current frame’s font the default for all files of this type, select Options → Appearance → Adopt Face and Frame Parameters as Default. Then be sure to save your options with Options → Save Options.

To set the default font for all buffers, use emacs face customization menu: M-x customize-face and type in default. Then place the cursor in the Font Family input area and type in a new font family name, e.g. apple-bitstream vera sans mono. Click Save for Future Sessions and Finish.

A nice mono-spaced (non-proportional) font for Aquamacs

Snow Leopard users, try Menlo, Apple’s new new standard fixed-width font. Others, read on…

Try “Monaco” or "Vera Sans Mono". Both appear in the font appear - the latter one may need to be installed first. Non-english users can also try "DejaVu Sans Mono" that support wider range of characters (it has cyrillic, at least).

To install "DejaVu Sans Mono" you need to add the following in your configuration file (use M-x describe-fontset to find the font name):

 (set-default-font "-apple-dejavu sans mono-medium-r-normal--0-0-0-0-m-0-mac-roman")

or for Vera Sans Mono:

 (set-default-font "-apple-bitstream vera sans mono-medium-r-normal--12-120-72-72-m-120-iso10646-1")

global-set-key doesn't work

Maybe that’s because you’re trying to overwrite a key that is defined in a global minor mode such as osx-key-mode. In that case, you should use the following trick:

(define-key osx-key-mode-map (kbd "A-n") 'my-new-function)

Font problem: fontset-monaco12 is not defined

Running Aquamacs right after installing hitting any message generated in the EchoArea by ‘C-x C-f’ or trying to move to the *Messages* buffer, everything fails with the following error in the message window:

  Font `-apple-monaco*-medium-r-normal--12-*-*-*-*-*-fontset-monaco12' is not defined

To fix, trash your Aquamacs preferences at ~/Library/Preferences.el, then restart.

This will only help if your Preferences use the legacy monaco12 fontset.

Getting the "Focus Follows Mouse" behavior from other Unixes

To have the system raise the window when the MousePointer is moved over it (rather than clicking on it), you would ideally use a system-wide utility to get the same behavior in all apps. In Aquamacs alone, you should be able to use follow-mouse.el. Since version 1.6, follow-mouse.el has been improved to allow full focus-follows-mouse capability for Aquamacs; activate with (turn-on-follow-mouse).

Disabling or Enabling the toolbar

To hide or show the toolbar, click on the small oval in the top right corner of the titlebar area. It will stay shown/hidden until Aquamacs exits. By default, the toolbar is visible when Aquamacs starts. To save the setting across invocations of Aquamacs, choose “Options → Appearance → Adopt Face and Frame Parameters as Frame Default”. Then choose “Options → Save Options”.

tool-bar-mode, fringe-mode or frame parameters (colors, e.g.) from my .emacs don't work

If you set tool-bar-mode, fringe-mode or frame parameters in ‘default-frame-alist’ or ‘initial-frame-alist’, such parameters are likely to be overwritten by customizations which are loaded after your .emacs (or Preferences.el). You can either turn off “Frame Appearance Styles” (Options menu) and then “Save Options”, or make your choices while in Aquamacs, then select “Frame Appearance Styles” → “Use Current Style as Default” (or: for Mode).

Running X11 applications (R, Matlab, etc.)

Install Apple X11 (e.g. from the Install DVD). Start X11 and open a terminal (Apple-N). Ensure that the DISPLAY environment variable is set correctly, e.g. by adding the following to your ~/.bash_profile (provided Bash is your default login shell):

 export DISPLAY=localhost:0.0

Restart Aquamacs. You can verify that the environment variable is set by entering

ESC : (getenv “DISPLAY”) RET

(that is M-:, then the command, then Return).

You can then run R or Matlab or whatever in a shell from within Aquamacs, and graphics are displayed in X11 windows.

Actually, you should not have to quit/restart Aquamacs, you can just to M-x setenv DISPLAY :0.0


In OS X 10.5 (Leopard), you shouldn’t have to set the display anymore (rather, make sure it’s unset): Leopard automatically detects that an X11 aplication is requested, fires up X11 and then the application itself. As a check, the DISPLAY environment variable should return nil when requested in Aquamacs as above (on the Terminal command line, it will be probably be set to something in the /tmp directory). Some more information at

Opening the *help* dialog in the current frame, rather than a new frame

By default Aquamacs opens help dialogs in a new frame (operating system window), rather than the current frame as most other versions of Emacs do.

If you would like the normal Emacs behavior of opening the help buffer in the current frame, modify your .emacs file as follows:

If using one-buffer-one-frame-mode (the Aquamacs default):

;; open *help* in current frame for `one-buffer-one-frame-mode'
(setq obof-other-frame-regexps (remove "\\*Help\\*" obof-other-frame-regexps))
(add-to-list 'obof-same-frame-regexps "\\*Help\\*")
(add-to-list 'obof-same-frame-switching-regexps "\\*Help\\*")

If not using one-buffer-one-frame mode, add:

;; open *help* in current frame
(setq special-display-regexps (remove "[ ]?\\*[hH]elp.*" special-display-regexps))

Problems running LaTeX in AUCTeX

In Aquamacs 1.0bm an error message similar to

Running `LaTeX' on `x' with ``%`pdflatex \nonstopmode%' x.tex''
/bin/sh: -c: line 1: unexpected EOF while looking for matching ``'
/bin/sh: -c: line 2: syntax error: unexpected end of file

LaTeX exited abnormally with code 2 at Thu Jul 12 08:22:59

is almost certainly due to an old installation of the EC Emacs plugin. Solution is to get rid of it or update to Aquamacs 1.7 or later (which disabled the plugin).

Making A Specific Color-Theme Stick

  1. Start Aquamacs
  2. M-x color-theme-select
  3. Pick the color theme that you want to use.
  4. Menu → Options → Appearance → Auto Face Mode → Use Current Style for Text Mode
  5. Menu → Options → Appearance → Adopt Current Fram Parameters
  6. Say yes to the dialog.

That should do it.

Using the same font for all modes / Using a fixed-width font everywhere

Turn off ‘aquamacs-autoface-mode’ via Options / Appearance / Auto Faces / Auto Faces. You can then change the global font via Options / Appearance / Font. Save your customization via Options / Save Options.

Option to turn off anti-aliasing of fonts?

Options / Customize Aquamacs / Specific Option then type: ns-antialias-text (RET)

In the customization buffer, select “Toggle” to change the setting. You can then set it or save it for future sessions with the appropriate buttons.

For more fine-grained control, you can set a configuration resource that allows you to set a font size as a threshold for antialiasing: Use the following terminal command in a shell:

        defaults write org.gnu.AquamacsEmacs AppleAntiAliasingThreshold 128

The last number should be bigger than the fonts you use. Now restart Aquamacs.

Starting Aquamacs from a terminal

To launch Aquamacs from a terminal, use the installer function in the Tools menu. You can then launch Aquamacs using the “aquamacs” command. Note that this pertains to starting Aquamacs from a “terminal”, and not from arbitrary scripts, specifically in batch mode: unlike the “emacs” command, “aquamacs” currently does not process other arguments than filenames. To compile Elisp sources, call /Applications/ (from version 2.0 on)

To interact with a running Aquamacs instance, you can use the built-in Emacs server. Invoke M-x server-start to start the server, or add the line (server-start) to your Preferences.el or .emacs file. Then, from the terminal, use the “emacsclient” command (you need to “Install Command Line Tools”, see next section) to open a file in your running Aquamacs instance. Use C-x # to close an emacsclient buffer.

Installing or Upgrading the Command-line Tools

In order to use the “aquamacs” and “emacsclient” command-line tools, from the Aquamacs menu bar, Tools->Install Command Line Tools. If you are upgrading Aquamacs, you may need to re-install the Command Line Tools.

Hint: make sure you are not using /usr/bin/emacsclient which would reach /usr/bin/emacs instead.

Disable startup message in the echo area

Put this in your Preferences.el:

(setq inhibit-startup-echo-area-message t)

Custom/Color Themes

If you type:

    M-x custom-themes

a buffer will open showing about fifteen custom themes. You can select a custom theme by either clicking the checkbox in column zero or putting your cursor anywhere on the line and hitting Return. You can deselect a custom theme by clicking on the checkbox again or by putting your cursor on another custom theme and hitting Return.

The fifteen default custom themes are located here:


Some Key Sequences Won't Work? Meta Key Not Working? Meta Key Entering Special Characters?

If some key sequences don’t work, or your Option key suddenly stops working as the Meta key it’s probably because you hit the key sequence C-;, which toggles the function of the Option key to instead enter special characters, like the symbol for pi. To get your Meta key working again, hit C-; (note what it says in the minibuffer). You can do the same thing through the Aquamacs menu: Options > Option, Command, Meta keys > Option is Meta.

Accessing the MELPA archive does not work in Aquamacs

Aquamacs 3.4 does not have support for https URLs, so until this known issue is resolved, you can use a plain http URL to access the MELPA package archives, i.e. add them to package-archives with something like

    (add-to-list 'package-archives '("melpa-stable" . "") t)

The issue is being tracked at