I am using Emacs with elpy as my Python IDE. Minor issues that appeared lately made me explore other options for developing Python in Emacs. I ended up switching to a custom configuration based on anaconda-mode.


Elpy is great to get started. Having an Emacs mode that you configure with

(use-package elpy
  :ensure t

and that sets up the basic stuff for you is amazing. Elpy showed me tools like flake8 and black.

Lately, elpy had some issues finding installed Python packages. Also syntax and error checking worked on and off.

My main complaint, however, is a conceptual one. I disagree with elpy’s default choice to create a global virtualenv for developer packages like linters and formatters. There is a way to configure elpy to use the local project virtualenv, but then it does not seem to work if there is no local virtualenv at all. I would like to have control over the version of the packages I use. Unfortunately this is not what elpy expects.

These points made me have a glance over the fence to check what else is out there. Googling python emacs reddit brought up some good discussions between real people talking about Emacs as Python IDE. I quickly stumbled upon anaconda-mode.

I learned that both prelude-mode and Spacemacs are using anaconda-mode as their default Python mode. That was quite surprising, I assumed that elpy was the most popular Python mode (and de-facto standard) based on GitHub stars.

On a second thought, it makes sense for Emacs distributions to use a set of focused packaged instead of a god package like elpy. The distributions themselves aim to offer a user experience on the similar level to elpy.

Thanks to elpy I learned what I can (and should) expect from a minimal Python IDE. I was finally ready to get out there and pick and choose packages myself.

Years ago elpy allowed me to quickly jump into a data science gig and it made me productive from day one. I still recommend elpy or full-blown Emacs distributions to beginners for this reason.


I don’t use a pre-configured Emacs distribution. Instead, I maintain ~/.emacs.d/init.el myself. It is a bit more work to set things up correctly, but I understand my setup reasonable well and I am quite confident that I can fix things if they go wrong.

This is essentially my custom Python layer that supports

  • auto-complete
  • documentation lookup
  • finding definitions
  • finding usages
  • formatting buffers
  • local virtualenv
  • highlighting indentation

and probably even more.

I omitted the configuration of generic packages such as company or flycheck.

(use-package python-black
  :ensure t
  :bind (("C-c b" . python-black-buffer)))

(use-package pyvenv
  :ensure t
  (pyvenv-mode 1))

(use-package anaconda-mode
  :ensure t
  :bind (("C-c C-x" . next-error))
  (require 'pyvenv)
  (add-hook 'python-mode-hook 'anaconda-mode))

(use-package company-anaconda
  :ensure t
  (eval-after-load "company"
   '(add-to-list 'company-backends '(company-anaconda :with company-capf))))

(use-package highlight-indent-guides
  :ensure t
  (add-hook 'python-mode-hook 'highlight-indent-guides-mode)
  (setq highlight-indent-guides-method 'character))