"You don't have to like Emacs to like it" -- this seemingly paradoxical statement is the secret of GNU Emacs. The plain, `out of the box' Emacs is a generic tool. Most people who use it, customize it to suit themselves.
GNU Emacs is mostly written in Emacs Lisp; this means that by writing expressions in Emacs Lisp you can change or extend Emacs.
There are those who appreciate Emacs's default configuration. After all, Emacs starts you in C mode when you edit a C file, starts you in Fortran mode when you edit a Fortran file, and starts you in Fundamental mode when you edit an unadorned file. This all makes sense, if you do not know who is going to use Emacs. Who knows what a person hopes to do with an unadorned file? Fundamental mode is the right default for such a file, just as C mode is the right default for editing C code. But when you do know who is going to use Emacs--you, yourself--then it makes sense to customize Emacs.
For example, I seldom want Fundamental mode when I edit an otherwise undistinguished file; I want Text mode. This is why I customize Emacs: so it suits me.
You can customize and extend Emacs by writing or adapting a `~/.emacs' file. This is your personal initialization file; its contents, written in Emacs Lisp, tell Emacs what to do.
This chapter describes a simple `.emacs' file; for more information, see section `The Init File' in The GNU Emacs Manual, and section `The Init File' in The GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual.
In addition to your personal initialization file, Emacs automatically loads various site-wide initialization files, if they exist. These have the same form as your `.emacs' file, but are loaded by everyone.
Two site-wide initialization files, `site-load.el' and `site-init.el', are loaded into Emacs and then `dumped' if a `dumped' version of Emacs is created, as is most common. (Dumped copies of Emacs load more quickly. However, once a file is loaded and dumped, a change to it does not lead to a change in Emacs unless you load it yourself or re-dump Emacs. See section `Building Emacs' in The GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual, and the `INSTALL' file.)
Three other site-wide initialization files are loaded automatically each time you start Emacs, if they exist. These are `site-start.el', which is loaded before your `.emacs' file, and `default.el', and the terminal type file, which are both loaded after your `.emacs' file.
Settings and definitions in your `.emacs' file will overwrite
conflicting settings and definitions in a `site-start.el' file,
if it exists; but the settings and definitions in a `default.el'
or terminal type file will overwrite those in your `.emacs' file.
(You can prevent interference from a terminal type file by setting
nil. See section A Simple Extension:
The `INSTALL' file that comes in the distribution contains descriptions of the `site-init.el' and `site-load.el' files.
The `loadup.el', `startup.el', and `loaddefs.el' files control loading. These files are in the `lisp' directory of the Emacs distribution and are worth perusing.
The `loaddefs.el' file contains a good many suggestions as to what to put into your own `.emacs' file, or into a site-wide initialization file.
My copy of Emacs version 19.23 has 392 options that you can set with
edit-options command. These `options' are no more than
variables such as we have seen earlier and defined using
Emacs determines whether a variable is intended to be easily settable
by looking at the first character in its documentation string; if the
first character is an asterisk, `*', the variable is a
(See section Initializing a Variable with
edit-options command lists all the variables in Emacs that
the people who wrote the Emacs Lisp libraries think ought to be
readily settable. It provides an easy-to-use interface for resetting
On the other hand, options set using
edit-options are set only
for the duration of your editing session. The new values are not
saved between sessions. Each time Emacs starts, it reads the original
defvar value in its source code. To carry a changed setting
from one session to the next, you need to use a
within a `.emacs' file or other file that you load every time you
start a session.
For me, the major use of the
edit-options command is to suggest
variables I might want to set in my `.emacs' file. I urge you to
look through the list.
See section `Editing Variable Values' in The GNU Emacs Manual, for more information.
When you start Emacs, it loads your `.emacs' file unless you tell
it not to by specifying `-q' on the command line. (The
emacs -q command gives you a plain, out-of-the-box Emacs.)
A `.emacs' file contains Lisp expressions. Often, these are no more than expressions to set values; sometimes they are function definitions.
See section `The Init File `~/.emacs'' in The GNU Emacs Manual, for a short description of initialization files.
This chapter goes over some of the same ground, but is a walk among extracts from a complete, long-used `.emacs' file--my own.
The first part of the file consists of comments: reminders to myself. By now, of course, I remember these things, but when I started, I did not.
;;;; Bob's .emacs file ; Robert J. Chassell ; 26 September 1985
Look at that date! I started this file a long time ago. I have been adding to it ever since.
; Each section in this file is introduced by a ; line beginning with four semicolons; and each ; entry is introduced by a line beginning with ; three semicolons.
This describes the usual conventions for comments in Emacs Lisp. Everything on a line that follows a semicolon is a comment. Two, three, and four semicolons are used as section and subsection markers. (See section `Comments' in The GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual, for more about comments.)
;;;; The Help Key ; Control-h is the help key; ; after typing control-h, type a letter to ; indicate the subject about which you want help. ; For an explanation of the help facility, ; type control-h three times in a row.
Just remember: type C-h three times for help.
; To find out about any mode, type control-h m ; while in that mode. For example, to find out ; about mail mode, enter mail mode and then type ; control-h m.
`Mode help', as I call this, is very helpful. Usually, it tells you all you need to know.
Of course, you don't need to include comments like these in your `.emacs' file. I included them in mine because I kept forgetting about Mode help or the conventions for comments--but I was able to remember to look here to remind myself.
Now we come to the part that `turns on' Text mode and Auto Fill mode.
;;; Text mode and Auto Fill mode ; The next two lines put Emacs into Text mode ; and Auto Fill mode, and are for writers who ; want to start writing prose rather than code. (setq default-major-mode 'text-mode) (add-hook 'text-mode-hook 'turn-on-auto-fill)
Here is the first part of this `.emacs' file that does something besides remind a forgetful human!
The first of the two lines in parentheses tells Emacs to turn on Text mode when you find a file, unless that file should go into some other mode, such as C mode.
When Emacs reads a file, it looks at the extension to the file name, if any. (The extension is the part that comes after a `.'.) If the file ends with a `.c' or `.h' extension then Emacs turns on C mode. Also, Emacs looks at first nonblank line of the file; if the line says `-*- C -*-', Emacs turns on C mode. Emacs possesses a list of extensions and specifications that it uses automatically. In addition, Emacs looks near the last page for a per-buffer, "local variables list", if any.
See sections "How Major Modes are Chosen" and "Local Variables in Files" in The GNU Emacs Manual, for information.
Now, back to the `.emacs' file.
Here is the line again; how does it work?
(setq default-major-mode 'text-mode)
This line is a short, but complete Emacs Lisp expression.
We are already familiar with
setq. It sets the following variable,
default-major-mode, to the subsequent value, which is
text-mode. The single quote mark before
Emacs to deal directly with the
text-mode variable, not with
whatever it might stand for. See section Setting the Value of a Variable, for a reminder of how
setq works. The main point
is that there is no difference between the procedure you use to set
a value in your `.emacs' file and the procedure you use anywhere
else in Emacs.
Here is the second line:
(add-hook 'text-mode-hook 'turn-on-auto-fill)
In this line, the
add-hook command, adds
turn-on-auto-fill to the variable called
turn-on-auto-fill is the name of a program, that, you guessed
it!, turns on Auto Fill mode.
Every time Emacs turns on Text mode, Emacs runs the commands `hooked' onto Text mode. So every time Emacs turns on Text mode, Emacs also turns on Auto Fill mode.
In brief, the first line causes Emacs to enter Text mode when you edit a file, unless the file name extension, first non-blank line, or local variables tell Emacs otherwise.
Text mode among other actions, sets the syntax table to work conveniently for writers. In Text mode, Emacs considers an apostrophe as part of a word like a letter; but Emacs does not consider a period or a space as part of a word. Thus, M-f moves you over `it's'. On the other hand, in C mode, M-f stops just after the `t' of `it's'.
The second line causes Emacs to turn on Auto Fill mode when it turns on Text mode. In Auto Fill mode, Emacs automatically breaks a line that is too wide and brings the excessively wide part of the line down to the next line. Emacs breaks lines between words, not within them.
When Auto Fill mode is turned off, lines continue to the right as you
type them. Depending on how you set the value of
truncate-lines, the words you type either disappear off the
right side of the screen, or else are shown, in a rather ugly and
unreadable manner, as a continuation line on the screen.
Here is a
setq to `turn on' mail aliases, along with more
;;; Mail mode ; To enter mail mode, type `C-x m' ; To enter RMAIL (for reading mail), ; type `M-x rmail' (setq mail-aliases t)
setq command sets the value of the variable
t means true, the line
says, in effect, "Yes, use mail aliases."
Mail aliases are convenient short names for long email addresses or for lists of email addresses. The file where you keep your `aliases' is `~/.mailrc'. You write an alias like this:
alias geo firstname.lastname@example.org
When you write a message to George, address it to `geo'; the mailer will automatically expand `geo' to the full address.
By default, Emacs inserts tabs in place of multiple spaces when it
formats a region. (For example, you might indent many lines of text
all at once with the
indent-region command.) Tabs look fine on
a terminal or with ordinary printing, but they produce badly indented
output when you use TeX or Texinfo since TeX ignores tabs.
The following turns off Indent Tabs mode:
;;; Prevent Extraneous Tabs (setq-default indent-tabs-mode nil)
Note that this line uses
setq-default rather than the
setq command that we have see before. The
command sets values only in buffers that do not have their own local
values for the variable.
See sections "Tabs vs. Spaces" and "Local Variables in Files" in The GNU Emacs Manual.
Now for some personal keybindings:
;;; Compare windows (global-set-key "\C-cw" 'compare-windows)
compare-windows is a nifty command that compares the text in
your current window with text in the next window. It makes the
comparison by starting at point in each window, moving over text in
each window as far as they match. I use this command all the time.
This also shows how to set a key globally, for all modes.
The command is
global-set-key. It is followed by the
keybinding. In a `.emacs' file, the keybinding is written as
\C-c stands for `control-c', which means `press the
control key and the c key at the same time'. The
`press the w key'. The keybinding is surrounded by double
quotation marks. In documentation, you would write this as C-c
w. (If you were binding a META key, such as M-c, rather
than a CTL key, you would write
\M-c. See section `Rebinding Keys in Your Init File' in The GNU Emacs Manual, for details.)
The command invoked by the keys is
compare-windows. Note that
compare-windows is preceded by a single quote; otherwise, Emacs
would first try to evaluate the symbol to determine its value.
These three things, the double quotation marks, the backslash before the `C', and the single quote mark are necessary parts of keybinding that I tend to forget. Fortunately, I have come to remember that I should look at my existing `.emacs' file, and adapt what is there.
As for the keybinding itself: C-c w. This combines the prefix key, C-c, with a single character, in this case, w. This set of keys, C-c followed by a single character, is strictly reserved for individuals' own use. If you ever write an extension to Emacs, please avoid taking any of these keys for public use. Create a key like C-c C-w instead. Otherwise, we will run out of `own' keys.
Here is another keybinding, with a comment:
;;; Keybinding for `occur' ; I use occur a lot, so let's bind it to a key: (global-set-key "\C-co" 'occur)
occur command shows all the lines in the current buffer
that contain a match for a regular expression. Matching lines are
shown in a buffer called `*Occur*'. That buffer serves as a menu
to jump to occurrences.
Here is how to unbind a key, so it does not work:
;;; Unbind `C-x f' (global-unset-key "\C-xf")
There is a reason for this unbinding: I found I inadvertently typed C-x f when I meant to type C-x C-f. Rather than find a file, as I intended, I accidentally set the width for filled text, almost always to a width I did not want. Since I hardly ever reset my default width, I simply unbound the key.
The following rebinds an existing key:
;;; Rebind `C-x C-b' for `buffer-menu' (global-set-key "\C-x\C-b" 'buffer-menu)
By default, C-x C-b runs the
list-buffers command. This command lists
your buffers in another window. Since I
almost always want to do something in that
window, I prefer the
command, which not only lists the buffers,
but moves point into that window.
Many people in the GNU Emacs community have written extensions to Emacs. As time goes by, these extensions are often included in new releases. For example, the Calendar and Diary packages are now part of the standard Emacs version 19 distribution; they were not part of the standard Emacs version 18 distribution.
(Calc, which I consider a vital part of Emacs, would be part of the standard distribution except that it is so large it is packaged separately.)
You can use a
load command to evaluate a complete file and
thereby install all the functions and variables in the file into Emacs.
This evaluates, i.e. loads, the `kfill.el' file (or if it exists, the faster, byte compiled `kfill.elc' file) from the `emacs' sub-directory of your home directory.
(`kfill.el' was adapted from Kyle E. Jones' `filladapt.el' package by Bob Weiner and "provides no muss, no fuss word wrapping and filling of paragraphs with hanging indents, included text from news and mail messages, and Lisp, C++, PostScript or shell comments." I use it all the time and hope it is incorporated into the standard distribution.)
If you load many extensions, as I do, then instead of specifying the
exact location of the extension file, as shown above, you can specify
that directory as part of Emacs's
load-path. Then, when Emacs
loads a file, it will search that directory as well as its default
list of directories. (The default list is specified in `paths.h'
when Emacs is built.)
The following command adds your `~/emacs' directory to the existing load path:
;;; Emacs Load Path (setq load-path (cons "~/emacs" load-path))
load-library is an interactive interface to the
load function. The complete function looks like this:
(defun load-library (library) "Load the library named LIBRARY. This is an interface to the function `load'." (interactive "sLoad library: ") (load library))
The name of the function,
load-library, comes from the use of
`library' as a conventional synonym for `file'. The source for the
load-library command is in the `files.el' library.
Another interactive command that does a slightly different job is
load-file. See section `Libraries of Lisp Code for Emacs' in The GNU Emacs Manual, for information on the
load-library and this command.
Instead of installing a function by loading the file that contains it, or by evaluating the function definition, you can make the function available but not actually install it until it is first called. This is called autoloading.
When you execute an autoloaded function, Emacs automatically evaluates the file that contains the definition, and then calls the function.
Emacs starts quicker with autoloaded functions, since their libraries are not loaded right away; but you need to wait a moment when you first use such a function, while its containing file is evaluated.
Rarely used functions are frequently autoloaded. The
`loaddefs.el' library contains hundreds of autoloaded functions,
wordstar-mode. Of course, you may
come to use a `rare' function frequently. In this case, you should
load that function's file with a
load expression in your
In my `.emacs' file for Emacs version 19.23, I load 17 libraries that contain functions that would otherwise be autoloaded. (Actually, it would have been better to include these files in my `dumped' Emacs when I built it, but I forgot. See section `Building Emacs' in The GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual, and the `INSTALL' file for more about dumping.)
You may also want to include autoloaded expressions in your `.emacs'
autoload is a built-in function that takes up to five
arguments, the final three of which are optional. The first argument
is the name of the function to be autoloaded; the second is the name
of the file to be loaded. The third argument is documentation for the
function, and the fourth tells whether the function can be called
interactively. The fifth argument tells what type of
autoload can handle a keymap or macro as well as a
function (the default is a function).
Here is a typical example:
(autoload 'html-helper-mode "html-helper-mode" "Edit HTML documents" t)
This expression autoloads the
html-helper-mode function. It
takes it from the `html-helper-mode.el' file (or, if it exists,
from the byte compiled file `html-helper-mode.elc'.) The file
must be located in a directory specified by
documentation says that this is a mode to help you edit documents
written in the HyperText Markup Language. You can call this mode
interactively by typing M-x html-helper-mode.
(You need to duplicate the function's regular documentation in the
autoload expression because the regular function is not yet loaded, so
its documentation is not available.)
See section `Autoload' in The GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual, for more information.
Here is a simple extension to Emacs that moves the line point is on to the top of the window. I use this all the time, to make text easier to read.
You can put the following code into a separate file and then load it from your `.emacs' file, or you can include it within your `.emacs' file.
Here is the definition:
;;; Line to top of window; ;;; replace three keystroke sequence C-u 0 C-l (defun line-to-top-of-window () "Move the line point is on to top of window." (interactive) (recenter 0))
Now for the keybinding.
Although most of an Emacs version 18 `.emacs' file works with version 19, there are some differences (also, of course, there are new features in Emacs 19).
In version 19 Emacs, you can write a function key like this: `[f6]'. In version 18, you must specify the key strokes sent by the keyboard when you press that function key. For example, a Zenith 29 keyboard sends ESC P when I press its sixth function key; an Ann Arbor Ambassador keyboard sends ESC O F. Write these keystrokes as `\eP' and `\eOF', respectively.
In my version 18 `.emacs' file, I bind
line-to-top-of-window to a key that depends on the type of
(defun z29-key-bindings () "Function keybindings for Z29 terminal." ;; ... (global-set-key "\eP" 'line-to-top-of-window)) (defun aaa-key-bindings () "Function keybindings for Ann Arbor Ambassador" ;; ... (global-set-key "\eOF" 'line-to-top-of-window))
(You can find out what a function key sends by typing the function
key, and then typing C-h l (
view-lossage) which displays
the last 100 input keystrokes.)
After specifying the key bindings, I evaluate an expression that chooses among keybindings, depending on the type of terminal I am using. However, before doing that, I turn off the predefined, default terminal-specific keybindings, which overwrite bindings in the `.emacs' if they clash.
;;; Turn Off Predefined Terminal Keybindings ; The following turns off the predefined ; terminal-specific keybindings such as the ; vt100 keybindings in lisp/term/vt100.el. ; If there are no predefined terminal ; keybindings, or if you like them, ; comment this out. (setq term-file-prefix nil)
Here is the selection expression itself:
(let ((term (getenv "TERM"))) (cond ((equal term "z29") (z29-key-bindings)) ((equal term "aaa") (aaa-key-bindings)) (t (message "No binding for terminal type %s." term))))
In Emacs version 19, function keys (as well as mouse button events and
non-ASCII characters) are written within square brackets, without
quotation marks. I bind
line-to-top-of-window to my F6
function key like this:
(global-set-key [f6] 'line-to-top-of-window)
For more information, see section `Rebinding Keys in Your Init File' in The GNU Emacs Manual.
If you run both Emacs 18 and Emacs 19, you can select which code to evaluate with the following conditional:
(if (string= (int-to-string 18) (substring (emacs-version) 10 12)) ;; evaluate version 18 code (progn ... ) ;; else evaluate version 19 code ...
Emacs uses keymaps to record which keys call which commands. Specific modes, such as C mode or Text mode, have their own keymaps; the mode-specific keymaps override the global map that is shared by all buffers.
global-set-key function binds, or rebinds, the global
keymap. For example, the following binds the key C-c C-l to the
(global-set-key "\C-c\C-l" 'line-to-top-of-window))
Mode-specific keymaps are bound using the
which takes a specific keymap as an argument, as well as the key and
the command. For example, my `.emacs' file contains the
following expression to bind the
to C-c C-c g:
(define-key texinfo-mode-map "\C-c\C-cg" 'texinfo-insert-@group)
texinfo-insert-@group function itself is a little extension
to Texinfo mode that inserts `@group' into a Texinfo file. I
use this command all the time and prefer to type the three strokes
C-c C-c g rather than the six strokes @ g r o u p.
(`@group' and its matching `@end group' are commands that
keep all enclosed text together on one page; many multi-line examples
in this book are surrounded by `@group ... @end group'.)
Here is the
texinfo-insert-@group function definition:
(defun texinfo-insert-@group () "Insert the string @group in a Texinfo buffer." (interactive) (beginning-of-line) (insert "@group\n"))
(Of course, I could have used Abbrev mode to save typing, rather than write a function to insert a word; but I prefer key strokes consistent with other Texinfo mode key bindings.)
You will see numerous
define-key expressions in
`loaddefs.el' as well as in the various mode libraries, such as
`c-mode.el' and `lisp-mode.el'.
See section `Customizing Key Bindings' in The GNU Emacs Manual, and section `Keymaps' in The GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual, for more information about keymaps.
You can specify colors when you use Emacs version 19 with the MIT X Windowing system. (All the previous examples should work with both Emacs version 18 and Emacs version 19; this works only with Emacs version 19.)
I hate the default colors and specify my own.
Most of my specifications are in various X initialization files. I wrote notes to myself in my `.emacs' file to remind myself what I did:
;; I use TWM for window manager; ;; my ~/.xsession file specifies: ; xsetroot -solid navyblue -fg white
Actually, the root of the X window is not part of Emacs at all, but I like the reminder anyhow.
;; My ~/.Xresources file specifies: ; XTerm*Background: sky blue ; XTerm*Foreground: white ; emacs*geometry: =80x40+100+0 ; emacs*background: blue ; emacs*foreground: grey97 ; emacs*cursorColor: white ; emacs*pointerColor: white
Here are the expressions in my `.emacs' file that set values:
;;; Set highlighting colors for isearch and drag (set-face-foreground 'highlight "white" ) (set-face-background 'highlight "slate blue") (set-face-background 'region "slate blue") (set-face-background 'secondary-selection "turquoise") ;; Set calendar highlighting colors (setq calendar-load-hook '(lambda () (set-face-foreground 'diary-face "skyblue") (set-face-background 'holiday-face "slate blue") (set-face-foreground 'holiday-face "white")))
The various shades of blue soothe my eye and prevent me from seeing the screen flicker.
Here are a few miscellaneous settings for version 19 Emacs:
(resize-minibuffer-mode 1) (setq resize-minibuffer-mode t)
(setq search-highlight t)
(setq default-frame-alist '((menu-bar-lines . 1) (auto-lower . t) (auto-raise . t)))
; Cursor shapes are defined in ; `/usr/include/X11/cursorfont.h'; ; for example, the `target' cursor is number 128; ; the `top_left_arrow' cursor is number 132. (let ((mpointer (x-get-resource "*mpointer" "*emacs*mpointer"))) ;; If you have not set your mouse pointer ;; then sent it, otherwise leave as is: (if (eq mpointer nil) (setq mpointer "132")) ; top_left_arrow (setq x-pointer-shape (string-to-int mpointer)) (set-mouse-color "white"))
Finally, a feature I really like: a modified mode line.
Since I sometimes work over a network, I replaced the `Emacs: ' that is normally written on the left hand side of the mode line by the name of the system--otherwise, I forget which machine I am using. In addition, I list the default directory lest I lose track of where I am, and I specify the line point is on, with `Line' spelled out. My `.emacs' file looks like this:
(setq mode-line-system-identification (substring (system-name) 0 (string-match "\\..+" (system-name)))) (setq default-mode-line-format (list "" 'mode-line-modified "<" 'mode-line-system-identification "> " "%14b" " " 'default-directory " " "%[(" 'mode-name 'minor-mode-alist "%n" 'mode-line-process ")%]--" "Line %l--" '(-3 . "%P") "-%-")) ;; Start with new default. (setq mode-line-format default-mode-line-format)
I set the default mode line format so as to permit various
modes, such as Info, to override it. Many elements in the list are
mode-line-modified is a variable the tells
whether the buffer has been modified,
mode-name tells the name
of the mode, and so on.
The `"%14b"' displays the current buffer name (using the
buffer-name function with which we are familiar); the `14'
specifies the maximum number of characters that will be displayed.
When a name has fewer characters, whitespace is added to fill out to
this number. `%[' and `%]' cause a pair of square brackets
to appear for each recursive editing level. `%n' says `Narrow'
when narrowing is in effect. `%P' tells you the percentage of
the buffer that is above the bottom of the window, or `Top', `Bottom',
or `All'. (A lower case `p' tell you the percentage above the
top of the window.) `%-' inserts enough dashes to fill
out the line.
In and after Emacs version 19.29, you can use
to set the title of an Emacs frame. This variable has the same
Mode line formats are described in section `Mode Line Format' in The GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual.
Remember, "You don't have to like Emacs to like it" -- your own Emacs can have different colors, different commands, and different keys than a default Emacs.
On the other hand, if you want to bring up a plain `out of the box' Emacs, with no customization, type:
This will start an Emacs that does not load your `~/.emacs' initialization file. A plain, default Emacs. Nothing more.