Tree-style directory views in dired with dired-subtree

By default, Emacs’ file browser/manager dired usually presents you with a flat list of files in a given directory. Entering a subdirectory then opens a new buffer with the listing of the subdirectory. Sometimes you might want to be able to see the contents of the subdirectory and the current directory in the same view. Many GUI file browsers visualise this with a tree structure with nodes that can be expanded or collapsed. In Emacs there is a built-in function dired-insert-subdir that inserts a listing of the subdirectory under the cursor, at the bottom of the current buffer instead of in a new buffer, but I’ve never found that very helpful.

The dired-subtree package (part of the magnificent dired hacks) improves on this by allowing you to expand subdirectories in place, like a tree structure. To install the package, use the following code:

(use-package dired-subtree
  (bind-keys :map dired-mode-map
             ("i" . dired-subtree-insert)
             (";" . dired-subtree-remove)))

This sets up the keybinds so that in dired, hitting i on a subdirectory expands it in place with an indented listing. You can expand sub-subdirectories in the same way, and so on. Hitting ; inside an expanded subdirectory collapses it.

Happily, some of my other favourite tools from dired hacks like dynamically narrowing the directory listing or copying and pasting files work as you would want in these expanded subdirectories.



  1. The funny thing is that I first wrote it basically just to prove someone that it can be done 😀 (I don’t even remember who but probably someone on the #emacs IRC). I pretty much don’t use it at all but tons of people find it very useful, which makes the whole exercise feel a lot more worth while 🙂

    Cheers for the plug!


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