Keeping emacs backup files tidy

In the shell, emacs is my editor of choice. However, it has one default behavior that has gotten in the way more often than it has helped – automatic generation of backup files in the same directory as the original.

Emacs is great for making quick edits to files on the web server. But I don’t want or need all those *~ files sitting around. The material is all in version control, so I can already revert to any point in history.

I went to the #emacs IRC channel on Freenode to ask about this, and was prompty handed a canned help message that led right to the solution to my problem: backup-directory-alist lets you specify a directory where backup files get saved.

A little googling yielded the following nice snippet from Sean B. Palmer which I prompty deployed in my .emacs file. Problem solved. Thanks, everyone!

;; Turn off the annoying default backup behaviour
(if (file-directory-p "~/.emacs.d/backup")
    (setq backup-directory-alist '(("." . "~/.emacs.d/backup")))
    (message "Directory does not exist: ~/.emacs.d/backup"))

Andrew commented :

Emacs is great for making quick edits to files on the web server.

Usually people like to complain that Emacs takes forever to start since it’s an “OS,” not a text editor. :)


simeon commented :

Usually people like to complain that Emacs takes forever to start

Yeah back when Emacs stood for “Eight Megs And Constantly Swapping” this was a problem. Not so much nowadays…


m commented :

Try M-x customize-group backup

The first item is “Make Backup Files”. Turn it off.

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