September 12, 2020

How to use emacs on Windows in 2020

Trying to use emacs natively on Windows is honestly extremely bothersome, even if you use distributions that try to make it easy, like spacemacs.

In my experience, running from MSYS2 “works”, but some random hardcoded emacs 25 certificate has been expired for a while, so you can’t download packages. Compiling from source works though its a pain in itself, especially if you multiple computers!. I haven’t tried Cygwin, mostly because it feels too bloated. Even if you do manage to get it working on Windows, you better not have a 300 dpi screen, or do weird things with your monitors -there be dragons!-.

End of the day, the one thing that Truly Worked (TM) for me is to just use WSL and X410 with X11 forwarding from the WSL VM into Windows.

The folks from X410 have really nice tutorials on their Cookbook to get things started (see here, for example). This made for an extremely pleasant first use experience: I set it up, and had my emacs working in less than 5 minutes (apt-get and that’s it!). They also support DPI scaling for HiDPI monitors, sharing the clipboard, and exposing single windows instead of a virtual desktop.

If you mix that with wsl-open, you can also get links working in your native browser without much fuzz.

Over all, I’ve been a very happy user ever since, and have never looked back 😊

For comments and discussion, feel free to reach out via email or

© Julian Bayardo Spadafora 2015-2020

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