A package is either a simple package or a multi-file package. A simple package is stored in a package archive as a single Emacs Lisp file, while a multi-file package is stored as a tar file (containing multiple Lisp files, and possibly non-Lisp files such as a manual).
In ordinary usage, the difference between simple packages and multi-file packages is relatively unimportant; the Package Menu interface makes no distinction between them. However, the procedure for creating them differs, as explained in the following sections.
Each package (whether simple or multi-file) has certain attributes:
A short word (e.g., ‘auctex’). This is usually also the symbol prefix used in the program (see Coding Conventions).
A version number, in a form that the function
understands (e.g., ‘11.86’). Each release of a package should be
accompanied by an increase in the version number.
This is shown when the package is listed in the Package Menu. It should occupy a single line, ideally in 36 characters or less.
This is shown in the buffer created by C-h P
describe-package), following the package’s brief description
and installation status. It normally spans multiple lines, and should
fully describe the package’s capabilities and how to begin using it
once it is installed.
A list of other packages (possibly including minimal acceptable version numbers) on which this package depends. The list may be empty, meaning this package has no dependencies. Otherwise, installing this package also automatically installs its dependencies; if any dependency cannot be found, the package cannot be installed.
Installing a package, either via the command
or via the Package Menu, creates a subdirectory of
package-user-dir named name-version, where
name is the package’s name and version its version
(e.g., ~/.emacs.d/elpa/auctex-11.86/). We call this the
package’s content directory. It is where Emacs puts the
package’s contents (the single Lisp file for a simple package, or the
files extracted from a multi-file package).
Emacs then searches every Lisp file in the content directory for
autoload magic comments (see Autoload). These autoload
definitions are saved to a file named name-autoloads.el
in the content directory. They are typically used to autoload the
principal user commands defined in the package, but they can also
perform other tasks, such as adding an element to
auto-mode-alist (see Auto Major Mode). Note that a package
typically does not autoload every function and variable defined
within it—only the handful of commands typically called to begin
using the package. Emacs then byte-compiles every Lisp file in the
After installation, the installed package is loaded: Emacs
adds the package’s content directory to
evaluates the autoload definitions in name-autoloads.el.
Whenever Emacs starts up, it automatically calls the function
package-initialize to load installed packages. This is done
after loading the init file and abbrev file (if any) and before
after-init-hook (see Startup Summary). Automatic
package loading is disabled if the user option
This function initializes Emacs’ internal record of which packages are
installed, and loads them. The user option
specifies which packages to load; by default, all installed packages
are loaded. If called during startup, this function also sets
nil, to avoid accidentally
loading the packages twice. See Package Installation in The
GNU Emacs Manual.
The optional argument no-activate, if non-
Emacs to update its record of installed packages without actually
loading them; it is for internal use only.