This post is now moved to new address at Dired as Default File Manager - Customize ls command

Problem with Emacs Dired mode

Emacs now become my daily used application because of it convenience. I even use it as the default file manager application with its built-in Dired mode. However, dired mode puts everything, including files and directories, together, which makes things harder for me to read and organize.


After days googling, I found that dired displays the content of the directory based on the result returned from ls command (of course, I’m talking about Unix-based system, not Windows). We can change the way it displays by adding some more arguments for the ls command.

Preparation ls program

If you are using a GNU Linux based OS, everything is just simple. The GNU version of ls has the option to sort directories first.

Unfortanately, the MacOS version doesn’t. But don’t worry, you can install the GNU one from Macports. If you haven’t installed MacPorts yet, take a look at this article. After finishing installing MacPorts, open up terminal and install coreutils and findutils by this command

$ sudo port install coreutils findutils

If you want to use those GNU version commands, eg ls, cp, chmod, etc, in terminal, add this to your .bash_profile or .zshrc

$ export PATH=$PATH:/opt/local/libexec/gnubin

After that, restart terminal and type this command to test

$ where ls

If you see this path /opt/local/libexec/gnubin/ls in the output result, congratulation, you have installed it successfully.

If you want to test whether it can sort files correctly (both Mac and Linux), execute this command

$ ls --group-directories-first -alh

If it runs with no error and the result is correct (directories on top), you can continue to the next part.

Config Emacs Dired

Before proceeding to this part, if you’re on MacOS, you will need one extra step to get Dired to use the new ls program that you’ve just installed, instead of the default one on MacOS. Add this to your .emacs

(require 'ls-lisp)
(setq ls-lisp-use-insert-directory-program t)
(setq insert-directory-program "/opt/local/libexec/gnubin/ls")

The last step is to config Dired mode. You need to tell Dired to add more arguments to the ls call so that it can display correctly. The library called dired-sort-map, which you can find here, can help you achieve that task. Download the dired-sort-map.el file from the link above, put it in your .emacs.d folder or somewhere that Emacs can find it in the load path. Finally, add those lines to your .emacs

(require 'dired-sort-map)
(setq dired-listing-switches "--group-directories-first -alh")

Restart Emacs or simply just evaluate that code and open a new Dired buffer to see the changes.