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MELPA - Homebrew (Emacs Edition)

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the state of package management in Emacs. In that article I pointed out that on the side of package.el too much was riding on the poorly maintained Marmalade repo. Today Marmalade went dark (again) and many people are wondering what to do now. The answer is simple – start using MELPA instead.

I was thinking of starting a project similar to Marmalade to alleviate its problems, but then the MELPA project was brought to my attention. This project follows the Homebrew (unofficial OSX package manager) model of using simple GitHub collaboration to maintain and grow a bunch of build recipes. In the case of MELPA, those recipes show how to bundle upstream source packages into package.el-compliant packages. The recipes can be tested locally by package authors, and they are run hourly on the MELPA server to create an HTTP package archive that Emacs users can simply add to their 'package-archives list. As Phil Hagelberg said – there’s no reason to drag in complicated dependencies like Node for something that’s essentially a pile of static files. MELPA on the other hand is written mostly in Emacs Lisp and is thus much more comprehensible to casual Emacs hackers.

Most packages currently contained in MELPA are development snapshots, but the project maintainer Donald Curtis and Steve Purcell (aka sanityinc) are working on extending the MELPA build scripts to support stable packages, using upstream version tags.

Adding a new package to MELPA is as simple as adding a few lines of code to the pkglist file in MELPA’s source code repo:

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(name :url "<repo url>"
 :fetcher [git|svn|darcs|wiki]
 [:files ("<file1>", ...)])

You simply have to fork the official repo, modify pkglist, send a pull request and package.el compatible packages will be built automatically for you on MELPA’s server (you can also build the packages locally to test if everything is OK with your recipes). Sure it’s not as easy as submitting a package via a web UI, but it’s a much more robust approach. It also eliminates a common problem in Marmalade – there only the original uploader (+ people selected by him) can update a package. Often the original uploaders are very hard to find…

To use MELPA with Emacs 24 (or a recent version of package.el) just add this to your .emacs (or equivalent):

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(add-to-list 'package-archives
'("melpa" . "http://melpa.milkbox.net/packages/") t)

There’s a lot more info regarding MELPA on its official website and I’d rather not duplicate it here.

I would encourage package authors and users to investigate and contribute to MELPA. I’ve already submitted a bunch of packages there and rebased Emacs Prelude to use MELPA instead of Marmalade.

Together we can turn MELPA into the most extensive and robust community-supported package.el repo! Emacs users deserve one of those :–)

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