With XFT support, GnuEmacs is able to use anti-aliased fonts in the X11 UI since version 23.1. Note that GnuEmacs already supported anti-aliased fonts for the Carbon and W32 UIs before.


Xft support is included and enabled by default since emacs 23.1.

GNU Emacs 23

Ubuntu Packages

Hardy, Intrepid, Jaunty

For 2008 and 2009 releases of Ubuntu (Hardy Heron 8.04, Intrepid Ibex 8,10, Jaunty Jackalope 9.04) install the emacs-snapshot package:

  $ sudo apt-get install emacs-snapshot-gtk
  $ echo "Emacs.FontBackend: xft" >> ~/.Xresources
  $ echo "Emacs.font: Monospace-10" >> ~/.Xresources

From http://ubuntuforums.org/showpost.php?p=4737273&postcount=100

AlexandreVassalotti also provides a Hardy package, although this is not stated in his blog posting (see below). A manual search of his ppa archive will show the Hardy packages.

To enable it, follow the instructions below, replacing RELEASE with hardy.

— In Jaunty, latest emacs-snapshot version seems to render fonts rather thinner compared to Mac OS X. The simple fix for this would be set embolden property on. like:

  (custom-set-faces '(default ((t (:height 110 :family "Consolas" :embolden t)))))

But the :embolden specification seems to be ignored by emacs-snapshot one. I didn’t check it out on emacs-23 but chances are that it might not work there neither. Simple fix for this is:

 Xft.embolden: true

on ~/.Xresources or similar hack for .font.conf. — jay

Older Versions

Pre-built binaries are available for Ubuntu. For Dapper, see http://g33k.wordpress.com/2006/11/06/gnu-emacs-with-xft-goodness/

[Note: the emacs-unicode-2 is now obsolete (merged into the CVS trunk); are these packages still valid, and tracking the trunk, or are they obsolete too?]

AlexandreVassalotti maintains Edgy, Dapper, Feisty and Gutsy packages of the emacs-unicode-2 branch. It is updated about once a week. Add the following lines to your /etc/apt/sources.list file:

  deb     http://ppa.launchpad.net/avassalotti/ubuntu RELEASE main
  deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/avassalotti/ubuntu RELEASE main

Where RELEASE is one of dapper, edgy, feisty or gutsy. More information on his blog.

Some instruction here on how to generate nightly packages of CVS on Ubuntu Edgy.

Fedora/RHEL Packages

Install the YUM repository hosted by Chip Coldwell, Redhat’s Emacs maintainer:

Getting the code

In order to get anti-aliased fonts in emacs on X11 you can get the cvs version:

  $ cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@cvs.savannah.gnu.org:/sources/emacs co emacs


A GNOME emacs from cvs for Debian:

  $ sudo aptitude install build-essential gnome-dev libxpm-dev libgif-dev libtiff-dev libjpeg-dev libgtk2.0-dev

(Watch out! The above command caused the gdm package to get uninstalled, along with a bunch of gnome packages, which meant X does not even invoke upon reboot. I am trying to figure out why via a Debian Forum posting.)

For Ubuntu with all the extra goodies:

  $ sudo aptitude install build-essential libxpm-dev libgif-dev libtiff-dev libjpeg-dev libgtk2.0-dev libdbus-1-dev texinfo


Your ./configure invocation should resemble the following:

  $ ./configure --with-x-toolkit --with-xft

Check the output of this script to make sure that the required libraries were found on your system and Xft is enabled. You may also need to specify the --prefix=some_installation_directory option.

You may also need to add an X resource setting to get emacs to use the Xft renderer. You can place this line in your .Xresources file:

  emacs.FontBackend: xft

Or you can use this command to set it for the current X display:

  $ echo "Emacs.FontBackend: xft" | xrdb -merge


If this is the first time you’ve built emacs, or if you had build errors on your last try, you should use:

  $ make bootstrap

Otherwise just

  $ make all

Regardless of using either make bootstrap or make all, install it with

  $ make install

Choosing Fonts

Note that selection of Xft fonts through the user interface is not yet working at the time of writing — presumably there’s a lot of X ilLogical Font Description code to be worked around. ;-)

You can specify a default font from the command line like so:

  $ emacs --font "Bitstream Vera Sans Mono-10"

Setting X resources appears to work as well:

  Emacs.font: Bitstream Vera Sans Mono-8

If you want to use bold font, use “Bitstream Vera Sans Mono-10:bold” or “Bitstream Vera Sans Mono-10:weight=bold”. You can even do it in your InitFile.

    (set-default-font "Bitstream Vera Sans Mono-14")
    (set-fontset-font (frame-parameter nil 'font)
      'han '("cwTeXHeiBold" . "unicode-bmp"))

Emacs menubar on X11 with Xt

To set the font of the menubar when the GUI was compiled using the X toolkit (Xt) intrinsics (such as an Athena (Xaw) variant or Motif, for example, rather than GTK+ or Qt), the resource `emacs.pane.menubar.font` can be used. Set it using a FontConfig pattern if Emacs was compiled with Xft, otherwise use an Xfs fontspec:

  ! Xft:
  emacs.pane.menubar.font: PragmataPro 9
  ! Xfs:
  emacs.pane.menubar.font: -*-anonymous pro-medium-r-*-9-*

Remember to run `xrdb -merge ~/.Xresources` after editing the file to have the X server refresh its resource database. You may need to quit and re-start Emacs for the changes to take effect.

The `editres` program that comes with Xorg can be used to determine the appropriate resource and dynamically set its value even while Emacs is running.

The `xfontsel` program can be used to determine a proper Xfs fontspec for a given font (note that a suffix of multiple `-*` attribute wildcards can be flattened into a single wildcard, as shown above).

See the `FcPatternFormat(3)` manpage for a description of FontConfig patterns.

Fixed problems


FreeBSD support

Use gmake rather than make to compile on FreeBSD.

UI widgets

By default the scrollbars use the toolkit that has been specified on the configure command line. Some distros might require special flags for this. For example, Gentoo requires a -toolkit-scroll-bars use flag to get a GTK scroll bar.

If you encounter a monochromatic toolbar, be sure to have libxpm dev-headers installed.

100% CPU usage

A solution to the 100% CPU usage is mentioned here: http://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/emacs-pretest-bug/2006-10/msg00016.html I applied the patch at http://cedet.cvs.sourceforge.net/cedet/cedet/semantic/semantic-idle.el?r1=1.34&r2=1.35 and now emacs-cvs-23 works fine.

Please update this section with further occurrences of this behaviour.

Font specification/quality

Fonts can be specified on the command line, in .Xresources or in .emacs. There was an issue with regression, see http://article.gmane.org/gmane.emacs.devel/58987 and http://permalink.gmane.org/gmane.emacs.pretest.bugs/14278

With the GTK UI, it is possible that settings are being picked up from somewhere in your environment, most likely gnome-settings-daemon, whereas urxvt and Emacs are not, and are using the default system-wide xft settings. Try setting the X resources Xft.dpi, Xft.hinting, Xft.hintstyle, etc., or fooling with settings in ~/.fonts.conf or system-wide settings in /etc/fonts/

On SUSE 10.3, the default hinting for Xft is hintfull (from /etc/fonts/suse-hinting.conf), which looks bad (at least it does for me). I prefer hintslight, my ~/.fonts.conf:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<!DOCTYPE fontconfig SYSTEM "fonts.dtd">
 <match target="pattern" >
  <edit mode="assign" name="rgba" >

  <edit mode="assign" name="hinting" >

  <edit mode="assign" name="hintstyle" >

  <edit mode="assign" name="antialias" >

Note <match target=“pattern”> as opposed to <match target=“font”> is necessary, otherwise apparently emacs ignores the settings for the actual editor font (although GTK applies them to the menu bar etc).

There was a problem with some weight (bold) not being visible. Setting the X server colour depth to 24 seems to have resolved this problem.

If one frame uses the specified font but new frames don’t, add

    (add-to-list 'default-frame-alist '(font . "Bitstream Vera Sans


to your InitFile.

If you’re having trouble with latin characters being displayed in a different font, try the following, which is mentioned in passing at the end of README.unicode:

    (set-fontset-font "fontset-default" 'latin '("arial" .


If you’re having trouble with the euro symbol € character being displayed in a different font, try the following:

    (set-fontset-font "fontset-default" 'gb18030 '("dejavu sans mono"

. “unicode-bmp”))

Or, to change ONLY the Euro symbol (or any other specific characters that aren’t covered by a suitable predefined charset or script), try something along the lines of

    (set-fontset-font "fontset-default" '(#x20ac . #x20ac) '("dejavu sans mono"

. “unicode-bmp”))

where the hexadecimal numbers are the first and last Unicode codepoints you want to affect.

[Note: for all of the above suggestions, you should replace the font name with the one that you want…]

Memory leaks

The MEMFULL errors have been fixed in CVS.

Background colour

The problem where the area of the window not covered by text is grey (window background color) as reported here seems to have been a gtk-qt problem it is fixed. See this UbuntuForum post.

Indic font support

The support for Devanagari, Kannada, Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam are correct as far as I can see. There might be bugs in the font encodings. See SupportHindi.

Unfixed problems

Has anyone noticed that buttons (links) blink much more than in Emacs 22? For example in irc #emacs via erc, there are so many user name buttons that Emacs 23 is using quite a bit of CPU and the window flickers once in a while. I try to track down this bug, but I don’t know how to get more details for the developers to fix it. – Leo

I find a recipe to see the bug. “C-u 3 2 M-x hanoi” you can see the screen is acting weirdly.

July 12, 2007

All I get is square outlines, and aliased fonts otherwise (latest code on the branch as of today). libxft and libxft-dev are installed, ttf-bitstream-vera as well, current Debian Sid amd64. What are directions for troubleshooting and fixing? Is this branch going to be merged into trunk and part of an official release eventually? More than a year since this was started and there’s still no consumer ready binary package? Emacs is the last app on my desktop not using AA fonts, I am starting to notice.

August 31, 2007

I got it working for the most part, but the Italic and Bold Italic faces aren’t anti-aliased, even though they seem to be with the same font (see the screenshot below). Any ideas?

I fixed this by adding Emacs.fontBackend: xft to my .Xresources.


December 11, 2007

For set-fontset-font, I can find a list of charset (latin-iso-8859-1, etc) with list-character-sets, but I can’t find a list of scripts (han, etc). charset-script-alist lists some scripts, but I’ve ran across .emacs snippets that use script names not on that list (like cjk-misc). Where can I find the whole list?

May 19, 2008

Starting emacs with

emacs -fn “Bitstream Vera Sans Mono-12” -g 80x40

doesn’t show a frame with 80 columns width, but a frame with 66 columns width.

emacs -g 80x40

i.e. starting emacs without using true type fonts shows the frame with the correct width: 80 columns.


XftGnuEmacs with auctex and preview-latex


With some kanji


Gnus group mode. Note the Tango Icons in the tool bar:


I did not get these when I compiled from CVS two days ago. Is this because of my local settings, or did something change in the CVS tree? I see no notes in the Changelog JoelAdamson

October 26, 2007

I only get things properly displayed with “DejaVu Mono-10”:


With all other truetype fonts dired, calendar and so on, look a little weird:


– henry

A. I think what’s happened here is that the font specification doesn’t match an actual font on your system, so a fallback font is used instead. In this case it is variable-width and it has thrown out the alignment of your calendar. Try one of the interactive methods of choosing fonts – that way you’ll be sure to pick one that’s displayable.

JohnBrow got it to run under Fedora 8, looks very nice. After checking the source out of CVS he had to do “yum install gtk-*” to pull all the required development packages in for the ./configure command to work.