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This is the GNU Emacs FAQ, last updated on 26 October 2001.

The FAQ is maintained as a Texinfo document, allowing us to create HTML, Info, and TeX documents from a single source file, and is slowly but surely being improved. Please bear with us as we improve on this format. If you have any suggestions or questions, please contact the FAQ maintainers.

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1 FAQ notation

This chapter describes notation used in the GNU Emacs FAQ, as well as in the Emacs documentation. Consult this section if this is the first time you are reading the FAQ, or if you are confused by notation or terms used in the FAQ.

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1.1 What do these mean: C-h, M-C-a, <RET>, <ESC> a, etc.?

Key sequences longer than one key (and some single-key sequences) are written inside quotes or on lines by themselves, like this:

       M-x frobnicate-while-foo RET

Any real spaces in such a key sequence should be ignored; only <SPC> really means press the space key.

The ASCII code sent by C-x (except for C-?) is the value that would be sent by pressing just <x> minus 96 (or 64 for upper-case <X>) and will be from 0 to 31. On Unix and GNU/Linux terminals, the ASCII code sent by M-x is the sum of 128 and the ASCII code that would be sent by pressing just <x>. Essentially, <Control> turns off bits 5 and 6 and <Meta> turns on bit 71.

C-? (aka <DEL>) is ASCII code 127. It is a misnomer to call C-? a “control” key, since 127 has both bits 5 and 6 turned ON. Also, on very few keyboards does C-? generate ASCII code 127.

see Text Characters, and see Keys, for more information. (See On-line manual, for more information about Info.)

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1.2 What does M-x command mean?

M-x command means type M-x, then type the name of the command, then type <RET>. (See Basic keys, if you're not sure what M-x and <RET> mean.)

M-x (by default) invokes the command execute-extended-command. This command allows you to run any Emacs command if you can remember the command's name. If you can't remember the command's name, you can type <TAB> and <SPC> for completion, <?> for a list of possibilities, and M-p and M-n (or up-arrow and down-arrow on terminals that have these editing keys) to see previous commands entered. An Emacs command is an interactive Emacs function.

Your system administrator may have bound other key sequences to invoke execute-extended-command. A function key labeled Do is a good candidate for this, on keyboards that have such a key.

If you need to run non-interactive Emacs functions, see Evaluating Emacs Lisp code.

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1.3 How do I read topic XXX in the on-line manual?

When we refer you to some topic in the on-line manual, you can read this manual node inside Emacs (assuming nothing is broken) by typing C-h i m emacs <RET> m topic <RET>.

This invokes Info, the GNU hypertext documentation browser. If you don't already know how to use Info, type <?> from within Info.

If we refer to topic:subtopic, type C-h i m emacs <RET> m topic <RET> m subtopic <RET>.

If these commands don't work as expected, your system administrator may not have installed the Info files, or may have installed them improperly. In this case you should complain.

See Getting a printed manual, if you would like a paper copy of the Emacs manual.

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1.4 What are etc/SERVICE, src/config.h, and lisp/default.el?

These are files that come with Emacs. The Emacs distribution is divided into subdirectories; the important ones are etc, lisp, and src.

If you use Emacs, but don't know where it is kept on your system, start Emacs, then type C-h v data-directory <RET>. The directory name displayed by this will be the full pathname of the installed etc directory. (This full path is recorded in the Emacs variable data-directory, and C-h v displays the value and the documentation of a variable.)

The location of your Info directory (i.e., where on-line documentation is stored) is kept in the variable Info-default-directory-list. Use C-h v Info-default-directory-list <RET> to see the value of this variable, which will be a list of directory names. The last directory in that list is probably where most Info files are stored. By default, Info documentation is placed in /usr/local/info.

Some of these files are available individually via FTP or e-mail; see Informational files for Emacs. They all are available in the source distribution. Many of the files in the etc directory are also available via the Emacs `Help' menu, or by typing C-h ? (M-x help-for-help).

Your system administrator may have removed the src directory and many files from the etc directory.

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1.5 What are FSF, LPF, OSF, GNU, RMS, FTP, and GPL?

Free Software Foundation
League for Programming Freedom
Open Software Foundation
GNU's Not Unix
Richard Matthew Stallman
File Transfer Protocol
GNU General Public License

Avoid confusing the FSF, the LPF, and the OSF. The LPF opposes look-and-feel copyrights and software patents. The FSF aims to make high quality free software available for everyone. The OSF is a consortium of computer vendors which develops commercial software for Unix systems.

The word “free” in the title of the Free Software Foundation refers to “freedom,” not “zero dollars.” Anyone can charge any price for GPL-covered software that they want to. However, in practice, the freedom enforced by the GPL leads to low prices, because you can always get the software for less money from someone else, since everyone has the right to resell or give away GPL-covered software.

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2 General questions

This chapter contains general questions having to do with Emacs, the Free Software Foundation, and related organizations.

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2.1 What is the LPF?

The LPF opposes the expanding danger of software patents and look-and-feel copyrights. To get more information, feel free to contact the LPF via e-mail or otherwise. You may also contact Joe Wells; he will be happy to talk to you about the LPF.

You can find more information about the LPF in the file etc/LPF. More papers describing the LPF's views are available on the Internet and also from the LPF home page.

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2.2 What is the real legal meaning of the GNU copyleft?

The real legal meaning of the GNU General Public License (copyleft) will only be known if and when a judge rules on its validity and scope. There has never been a copyright infringement case involving the GPL to set any precedents. Please take any discussion regarding this issue to the newsgroup news:gnu.misc.discuss, which was created to hold the extensive flame wars on the subject.

RMS writes:

The legal meaning of the GNU copyleft is less important than the spirit, which is that Emacs is a free software project and that work pertaining to Emacs should also be free software. “Free” means that all users have the freedom to study, share, change and improve Emacs. To make sure everyone has this freedom, pass along source code when you distribute any version of Emacs or a related program, and give the recipients the same freedom that you enjoyed.

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2.3 What are appropriate messages for, news:gnu.emacs.bug, news:comp.emacs, etc.?

The file etc/MAILINGLISTS describes the purpose of each GNU mailing list. (See Informational files for Emacs, if you want a copy of the file.) For those lists which are gatewayed with newsgroups, it lists both the newsgroup name and the mailing list address.

The newsgroup news:comp.emacs is for discussion of Emacs programs in general. This includes Emacs along with various other implementations, such as XEmacs, JOVE, MicroEmacs, Freemacs, MG, Unipress, CCA, and Epsilon.

Many people post Emacs questions to news:comp.emacs because they don't receive any of the gnu.* newsgroups. Arguments have been made both for and against posting GNU-Emacs-specific material to news:comp.emacs. You have to decide for yourself.

Messages advocating “non-free” software are considered unacceptable on any of the gnu.* newsgroups except for news:gnu.misc.discuss, which was created to hold the extensive flame-wars on the subject. “Non-free” software includes any software for which the end user can't freely modify the source code and exchange enhancements. Be careful to remove the gnu.* groups from the `Newsgroups:' line when posting a followup that recommends such software.

news:gnu.emacs.bug is a place where bug reports appear, but avoid posting bug reports to this newsgroup directly (see Reporting bugs).

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2.4 Where can I get old postings to and other GNU groups?

The FSF has maintained archives of all of the GNU mailing lists for many years, although there may be some unintentional gaps in coverage. The archive is not particularly well organized or easy to retrieve individual postings from, but pretty much everything is there.

The archive is at

As of this writing, the archives are not yet working.

Web-based Usenet search services, such as DejaNews, also archive the gnu.* groups.

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2.5 Where should I report bugs and other problems with Emacs?

The correct way to report Emacs bugs is by e-mail to Anything sent here also appears in the newsgroup news:gnu.emacs.bug, but please use e-mail instead of news to submit the bug report. This ensures a reliable return address so you can be contacted for further details.

Be sure to read the “Bugs” section of the Emacs manual before reporting a bug to bug-gnu-emacs! The manual describes in detail how to submit a useful bug report. (See On-line manual, if you don't know how to read the manual.)

RMS says:

Sending bug reports to (which has the effect of posting on is undesirable because it takes the time of an unnecessarily large group of people, most of whom are just users and have no idea how to fix these problem. reaches a much smaller group of people who are more likely to know what to do and have expressed a wish to receive more messages about Emacs than the others.

RMS says it is sometimes fine to post to

If you have reported a bug and you don't hear about a possible fix, then after a suitable delay (such as a week) it is okay to post on asking if anyone can help you.

If you are unsure whether you have found a bug, consider the following non-exhaustive list, courtesy of RMS:

If Emacs crashes, that is a bug. If Emacs gets compilation errors while building, that is a bug. If Emacs crashes while building, that is a bug. If Lisp code does not do what the documentation says it does, that is a bug.

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2.6 How do I unsubscribe from this mailing list?

If you are receiving a GNU mailing list named list, you might be able to unsubscribe from it by sending a request to the address However, this will not work if you are not listed on the main mailing list, but instead receive the mail from a distribution point. In that case, you will have to track down at which distribution point you are listed. Inspecting the `Received' headers on the mail messages may help, along with liberal use of the `EXPN' or `VRFY' sendmail commands through `telnet site-address smtp'. Ask your postmaster for help, if you cannot figure out these details.

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2.7 What is the current address of the FSF?

World Wide Web
Postal address
Free Software Foundation
59 Temple Place - Suite 330
Boston, MA 02111-1307

For details on how to order items directly from the FSF, see the GNU Web site, and also the files etc/ORDERS, ORDERS.EUROPE, and ORDERS.JAPAN.

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3 Getting help

This chapter tells you how to get help with Emacs

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3.1 I'm just starting Emacs; how do I do basic editing?

Type C-h t to invoke the self-paced tutorial. Just typing C-h enters the help system.

Your system administrator may have changed C-h to act like <DEL> to deal with local keyboards. You can use M-x help-for-help instead to invoke help. To discover what key (if any) invokes help on your system, type M-x where-is <RET> help-for-help <RET>. This will print a comma-separated list of key sequences in the echo area. Ignore the last character in each key sequence listed. Each of the resulting key sequences invokes help.

Emacs help works best if it is invoked by a single key whose value should be stored in the variable help-char.

There is also a WWW-based tutorial for Emacs 18, much of which is also relevant for later versions of Emacs, available at

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3.2 How do I find out how to do something in Emacs?

There are several methods for finding out how to do things in Emacs.

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3.3 How do I get a printed copy of the Emacs manual?

You can order a printed copy of the Emacs manual from the FSF. For details see the GNU Web site and the file etc/ORDERS.

The full Texinfo source for the manual also comes in the man directory of the Emacs distribution, if you're daring enough to try to print out this 620-page manual yourself (see Printing a Texinfo file).

If you absolutely have to print your own copy, and you don't have TeX, you can get a PostScript version from

An HTML version of the manual is at

See Learning how to do something, for how to view the manual on-line.

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3.4 Where can I get documentation on Emacs Lisp?

Within Emacs, you can type C-h f to get the documentation for a function, C-h v for a variable.

For more information, obtain the Emacs Lisp Reference Manual. Details on ordering it from FSF are on the GNU Web site and in the file etc/ORDERS.

The Emacs Lisp Reference Manual is also available on-line, in Info format. Texinfo source for the manual (along with pregenerated Info files) is available at

and all mirrors of `' (for a list, see Current GNU distributions). See Installing Texinfo documentation, if you want to install the Info files, or Printing a Texinfo file, if you want to use the Texinfo source to print the manual yourself.

An HTML version of the Emacs Lisp Reference Manual is available at

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3.5 How do I install a piece of Texinfo documentation?

First, you must turn the Texinfo files into Info files. You may do this using the stand-alone makeinfo program, available as part of the latest Texinfo package at

and all mirrors of `' (for a list, see Current GNU distributions).

For information about the Texinfo format, read the Texinfo manual which comes with the Texinfo package. This manual also comes installed in Info format, so you can read it on-line; type C-h i m texinfo <RET>.

Alternatively, you could use the Emacs command M-x texinfo-format-buffer, after visiting the Texinfo source file of the manual you want to convert.

Neither texinfo-format-buffer nor makeinfo installs the resulting Info files in Emacs's Info tree. To install Info files, perform these steps:

  1. Move the files to the info directory in the installed Emacs distribution. See File-name conventions, if you don't know where that is.
  2. Run the install-info command, which is part of the Texinfo distribution, to update the main Info directory menu, like this:
               install-info --info-dir=dir-path dir-path/file

    where dir-path is the full path to the directory where you copied the produced Info file(s), and file is the name of the Info file you produced and want to install.

    If you don't have the install-info command installed, you can edit the file info/dir in the installed Emacs distribution, and add a line for the top level node in the Info package that you are installing. Follow the examples already in this file. The format is:

              * Topic: (relative-pathname).  Short description of topic.

If you want to install Info files and you don't have the necessary privileges, you have several options:

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3.6 How do I print a Texinfo file?

You can't get nicely printed output from Info files; you must still have the original Texinfo source file for the manual you want to print.

Assuming you have TeX installed on your system, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure the first line of the Texinfo file looks like this:
              \input texinfo

    You may need to change `texinfo' to the full pathname of the texinfo.tex file, which comes with Emacs as man/texinfo.tex (or copy or link it into the current directory).

  2. Type texi2dvi texinfo-source, where texinfo-source is the name of the Texinfo source file for which you want to produce a printed copy.

    The `texi2dvi' script is part of the GNU Texinfo distribution (see Installing Texinfo documentation).

  3. Print the DVI file texinfo-source.dvi in the normal way for printing DVI files at your site. For example, if you have a PostScript printer, run the dvips program to print the DVI file on that printer.

To get more general instructions, retrieve the latest Texinfo package (see Installing Texinfo documentation).

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3.7 Can I view Info files without using Emacs?

Yes. Here are some alternative programs:

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3.8 What informational files are available for Emacs?

This isn't a frequently asked question, but it should be! A variety of informational files about Emacs and relevant aspects of the GNU project are available for you to read.

The following files are available in the etc directory of the Emacs distribution (see File-name conventions, if you're not sure where that is).

Emacs General Public License
Emacs Availability Information, including the popular "Free Software Foundation Order Form"
How to get GNU Software by Internet FTP or by UUCP
The GNU Manifesto
Richard Stallman discusses his public-domain UNIX-compatible software system with BYTE editors
Why you should join the League for Programming Freedom
Status of Emacs on Various Machines and Systems
GNU Project Electronic Mailing Lists
Emacs news, a history of recent user-visible changes
GNU Service Directory
including "Using Emacstool with GNU Emacs"

Latest versions of the above files also available at

More GNU information, including back issues of the GNU's Bulletin, are at and

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3.9 Where can I get help in installing Emacs?

See Installing Emacs, for some basic installation hints, and see Problems building Emacs, or Linking with -lX11 fails, if you have problems with the installation.

The file etc/SERVICE (see File-name conventions, if you're not sure where that is) lists companies and individuals willing to sell you help in installing or using Emacs. An up-to-date version this file is available on `' (see Informational files for Emacs).

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3.10 Where can I get the latest version of this FAQ?

The Emacs FAQ is available in several ways:

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4 Status of Emacs

This chapter gives you basic information about Emacs, including its latest version status.

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4.1 Where does the name “Emacs” come from?

Emacs originally was an acronym for Editor MACroS. RMS says he “picked the name Emacs because <E> was not in use as an abbreviation on ITS at the time.” The first Emacs was a set of macros written in 1976 at MIT by RMS for the editor TECO (Text Editor and COrrector, originally Tape Editor and COrrector) under ITS on a PDP-10. RMS had already extended TECO with a “real-time” full-screen mode with reprogrammable keys. Emacs was started by Guy Steele as a project to unify the many divergent TECO command sets and key bindings at MIT, and completed by RMS.

Many people have said that TECO code looks a lot like line noise; you can read more at news:alt.lang.teco. Someone has written a TECO implementation in Emacs Lisp (to find it, see Packages that do not come with Emacs); it would be an interesting project to run the original TECO Emacs inside of Emacs.

For some not-so-serious alternative reasons for Emacs to have that name, check out the file etc/JOKES (see File-name conventions).

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4.2 What is the latest version of Emacs?

Emacs 21.2 is the current version as of this writing.

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4.3 What is different about Emacs 20?

To find out what has changed in recent versions, type C-h n (M-x view-emacs-news). The oldest changes are at the bottom of the file, so you might want to read it starting there, rather than at the top.

The differences between Emacs versions 18 and 19 was rather dramatic; the introduction of frames, faces, and colors on windowing systems was obvious to even the most casual user.

There are differences between Emacs versions 19 and 20 as well, but many are more subtle or harder to find. Among the changes are the inclusion of MULE code for languages that use non-Latin characters and for mixing several languages in the same document; the “Customize” facility for modifying variables without having to use Lisp; and automatic conversion of files from Macintosh, Microsoft, and Unix platforms.

A number of older Lisp packages, such as Gnus, Supercite and the calendar/diary, have been updated and enhanced to work with Emacs 20, and are now included with the standard distribution.

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4.4 What is different about Emacs 21?

Emacs 21 features a thorough rewrite of the display engine. The new display engine supports variable-size fonts, images, and can play sounds on platforms which support that. As a result, the visual appearence of Emacs, when it runs on a windowed display, is much more reminiscent of modern GUI programs, and includes 3D widgets (used for the mode line and the scroll bars), a configurable and extensible toolbar, tooltips (a.k.a. balloon help), and other niceties.

In addition, Emacs 21 supports faces on text-only terminals. This means that you can now have colors when you run Emacs on a GNU/Linux console and on xterm with emacs -nw.

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5 Common requests

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5.1 How do I set up a .emacs file properly?

see Init File

In general, new Emacs users should not have .emacs files, because it causes confusing non-standard behavior. Then they send questions to asking why Emacs isn't behaving as documented.

Beginning with version 20.1, Emacs includes the new Customize facility, which can be invoked using M-x customize <RET>. This allows users who are unfamiliar with Emacs Lisp to modify their .emacs files in a relatively straightforward way, using menus rather than Lisp code. Not all packages support Customize as of this writing, but the number is growing fairly steadily.

While Customize might indeed make it easier to configure Emacs, consider taking a bit of time to learn Emacs Lisp and modifying your .emacs directly. Simple configuration options are described rather completely in see Init File, for users interested in performing frequently requested, basic tasks.

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5.2 How do I get colors and syntax highlighting on a TTY?

In Emacs 21.1 and later, colors and faces are supported in non-windowed mode, i.e. on Unix and GNU/Linux text-only terminals and consoles, and when invoked as `emacs -nw' on X and MS-Windows. (Colors and faces were supported in the MS-DOS port since Emacs 19.29.) Emacs automatically detects color support at startup and uses it if available. If you think that your terminal supports colors, but Emacs won't use them, check the termcap entry for your display type for color-related capabilities.

The command M-x list-colors-display pops up a window which exhibits all the colors Emacs knows about on the current display.

Syntax highlighting is usually turned off by default; see Turning on syntax highlighting, for instructions how to turn it on.

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5.3 How do I debug a .emacs file?

Start Emacs with the `-debug-init' command-line option. This enables the Emacs Lisp debugger before evaluating your .emacs file, and places you in the debugger if something goes wrong. The top line in the trace-back buffer will be the error message, and the second or third line of that buffer will display the Lisp code from your .emacs file that caused the problem.

You can also evaluate an individual function or argument to a function in your .emacs file by moving the cursor to the end of the function or argument and typing C-x C-e (M-x eval-last-sexp).

Use C-h v (M-x describe-variable) to check the value of variables which you are trying to set or use.

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5.4 How do I make Emacs display the current line (or column) number?

To have Emacs automatically display the current line number of the point in the mode line, do M-x line-number-mode. You can also put the form

     (setq line-number-mode t)

in your .emacs file to achieve this whenever you start Emacs. (Line number display is on by default, unless your site-specific initialization disables it.) Note that Emacs will not display the line number if the buffer's size in bytes is larger than the value of the variable line-number-display-limit.

As of Emacs 20, you can similarly display the current column with M-x column-number-mode, or by putting the form

     (setq column-number-mode t)

in your .emacs file.

The "%c" format specifier in the variable mode-line-format will insert the current column's value into the mode line. See the documentation for mode-line-format (using C-h v mode-line-format <RET>) for more information on how to set and use this variable.

Users of all Emacs versions can display the current column using the `column' package written by Per Abrahamsen. See Packages that do not come with Emacs, for instructions on how to get it.

None of the vi emulation modes provide the “set number” capability of vi (as far as we know).

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5.5 How can I modify the titlebar to contain the current file name?

The contents of an Emacs frame's titlebar is controlled by the variable frame-title-format, which has the same structure as the variable mode-line-format. (Use C-h v or M-x describe-variable to get information about one or both of these variables.)

By default, the titlebar for a frame does contain the name of the buffer currently being visited, except if there is a single frame. In such a case, the titlebar contains Emacs invocation name and the name of the machine at which Emacs was invoked. This is done by setting frame-title-format to the default value of

     (multiple-frames "%b" ("" invocation-name "@" system-name))

To modify the behavior such that frame titlebars contain the buffer's name regardless of the number of existing frames, include the following in your .emacs:

     (setq frame-title-format "%b")

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5.6 How do I turn on abbrevs by default just in mode mymode?

Put this in your .emacs file:

     (condition-case ()
       (file-error nil))
     (add-hook 'mymode-mode-hook
               (lambda ()
                (setq abbrev-mode t)))

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5.7 How do I turn on auto-fill-mode by default?

To turn on auto-fill-mode just once for one buffer, use M-x auto-fill-mode.

To turn it on for every buffer in a certain mode, you must use the hook for that mode. For example, to turn on auto-fill mode for all text buffers, including the following in your .emacs file:

     (add-hook 'text-mode-hook 'turn-on-auto-fill)

If you want auto-fill mode on in all major modes, do this:

     (setq-default auto-fill-function 'do-auto-fill)

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5.8 How do I make Emacs use a certain major mode for certain files?

If you want to use a certain mode foo for all files whose names end with the extension .bar, this will do it for you:

     (setq auto-mode-alist (cons '("\\.bar\\'" . foo-mode) auto-mode-alist))

Otherwise put this somewhere in the first line of any file you want to edit in the mode foo (in the second line, if the first line begins with `#!'):

     -*- foo -*-

Beginning with Emacs 19, the variable interpreter-mode-alist specifies which mode to use when loading a shell script. (Emacs determines which interpreter you're using by examining the first line of the script.) This feature only applies when the file name doesn't indicate which mode to use. Use C-h v (or M-x describe-variable) on interpreter-mode-alist to learn more.

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5.9 How do I search for, delete, or replace unprintable (eight-bit or control) characters?

To search for a single character that appears in the buffer as, for example, `\237', you can type C-s C-q 2 3 7. (This assumes the value of search-quote-char is 17 (i.e., C-q).) Searching for all unprintable characters is best done with a regular expression (regexp) search. The easiest regexp to use for the unprintable chars is the complement of the regexp for the printable chars.

To type these special characters in an interactive argument to isearch-forward-regexp or re-search-forward, you need to use C-q. (`\t', `\n', `\r', and `\f' stand respectively for <TAB>, <LFD>, <RET>, and C-l.) So, to search for unprintable characters using re-search-forward:

M-x re-search-forward <RET> [^ <TAB> C-q <LFD> C-q <RET> C-q C-l <SPC> -~] <RET>

Using isearch-forward-regexp:

M-C-s [^ <TAB> <LFD> C-q <RET> C-q C-l <SPC> -~]

To delete all unprintable characters, simply use replace-regexp:

M-x replace-regexp <RET> [^ <TAB> C-q <LFD> C-q <RET> C-q C-l <SPC> -~] <RET> <RET>

Replacing is similar to the above. To replace all unprintable characters with a colon, use:

M-x replace-regexp <RET> [^ <TAB> C-q <LFD> C-q <RET> C-q C-l <SPC> -~] <RET> : <RET>

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5.10 How can I highlight a region of text in Emacs?

You can cause the region to be highlighted when the mark is active by including

     (transient-mark-mode t)

in your .emacs file. (Also see Turning on syntax highlighting.)

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5.11 How do I control Emacs's case-sensitivity when searching/replacing?

For searching, the value of the variable case-fold-search determines whether they are case sensitive:

     (setq case-fold-search nil) ; make searches case sensitive
     (setq case-fold-search t)   ; make searches case insensitive

Similarly, for replacing, the variable case-replace determines whether replacements preserve case.

To change the case sensitivity just for one major mode, use the major mode's hook. For example:

     (add-hook 'foo-mode-hook
               (lambda ()
                (setq case-fold-search nil)))

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5.12 How do I make Emacs wrap words for me?

Use auto-fill-mode, activated by typing M-x auto-fill-mode. The default maximum line width is 70, determined by the variable fill-column. To learn how to turn this on automatically, see Turning on auto-fill by default.

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5.13 Where can I get a better spelling checker for Emacs?

Use Ispell. See Ispell.

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5.14 How can I spell-check TeX or *roff documents?

Use Ispell. Ispell can handle TeX and *roff documents. See Ispell.

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5.15 How do I change load-path?

In general, you should only add to the load-path. You can add directory /dir/subdir to the load path like this:

     (setq load-path (cons "/dir/subdir/" load-path))

To do this relative to your home directory:

     (setq load-path (cons "~/mysubdir/" load-path)

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5.16 How do I use an already running Emacs from another window?

emacsclient, which comes with Emacs, is for editing a file using an already running Emacs rather than starting up a new Emacs. It does this by sending a request to the already running Emacs, which must be expecting the request.

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5.17 How do I make Emacs recognize my compiler's funny error messages?

The variable compilation-error-regexp-alist helps control how Emacs parses your compiler output. It is a list of triplets of the form: (regexp file-idx line-idx), where regexp, file-idx and line-idx are strings. To help determine what the constituent elements should be, load compile.el and then type C-h v compilation-error-regexp-alist <RET> to see the current value. A good idea is to look at compile.el itself as the comments included for this variable are quite useful—the regular expressions required for your compiler's output may be very close to one already provided. Once you have determined the proper regexps, use the following to inform Emacs of your changes:

     (setq compilation-error-regexp-alist
           (cons '(regexp file-idx line-idx)

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5.18 How do I change the indentation for switch?

Many people want to indent their switch statements like this:

       switch(x) {
         case A:
         case B:

The solution at first appears to be: set c-indent-level to 4 and c-label-offset to -2. However, this will give you an indentation spacing of four instead of two.

The real solution is to use cc-mode (the default mode for C programming in Emacs 20 and later) and add the following line to yoyr .emacs:

     (c-set-offset 'case-label '+)

There appears to be no way to do this with the old c-mode.

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5.19 How to customize indentation in C, C++, and Java buffers?

The Emacs cc-mode features an interactive procedure for customizing the indentation style, which is fully explained in the CC Mode manual that is part of the Emacs distribution, see Customization Indentation. Here's a short summary of the procedure:

  1. Go to the beginning of the first line where you don't like the indentation and type C-c C-o. Emacs will prompt you for the syntactic symbol; type <RET> to accept the default it suggests.
  2. Emacs now prompts for the offset of this syntactic symbol, showing the default (the current definition) inside parentheses. You can choose one of these:
    No extra indentation.
    Indent one basic offset.
    Outdent one basic offset.
    Indent two basic offsets
    Outdent two basic offsets.
    Indent half basic offset.
    Outdent half basic offset.
  3. After choosing one of these symbols, type C-c C-q to reindent the line or the block according to what you just specified.
  4. If you don't like the result, go back to step 1. Otherwise, add the following line to your .emacs:
              (c-set-offset 'syntactic-symbol offset)

    where syntactic-symbol is the name Emacs shows in the minibuffer when you type C-c C-o at the beginning of the line, and offset is one of the indentation symbols listed above (+, /, 0, etc.) that you've chosen during the interactive procedure.

  5. Go to the next line whose indentation is not to your liking and repeat the process there.

It is recommended to put all the resulting (c-set-offset ...) customizations inside a C mode hook, like this:

     (defun my-c-mode-hook ()
       (c-set-offset ...)
       (c-set-offset ...))
     (add-hook 'c-mode-hook 'my-c-mode-hook)

Using c-mode-hook avoids the need to put a (require 'cc-mode) into your .emacs file, because c-set-offset might be unavailable when cc-mode is not loaded.

Note that c-mode-hook runs for C source files only; use c++-mode-hook for C++ sources, java-mode-hook for Java sources, etc. If you want the same customizations to be in effect in all languages supported by cc-mode, use c-mode-common-hook.

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5.20 How can I make Emacs automatically scroll horizontally?

In Emacs 21 and later, this is on by default: if the variable truncate-lines is non-nil in the current buffer, Emacs automatically scrolls the display horizontally when point moves off the left or right edge of the window.

In Emacs 20, use the hscroll-mode. Here is some information from the documentation, available by typing C-h f hscroll-mode <RET>:

Automatically scroll horizontally when the point moves off the left or right edge of the window.

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5.21 How do I make Emacs "typeover" or "overwrite" instead of inserting?

M-x overwrite-mode (a minor mode). This toggles overwrite-mode on and off, so exiting from overwrite-mode is as easy as another M-x overwrite-mode.

On some systems, <Insert> toggles overwrite-mode on and off.

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5.22 How do I stop Emacs from beeping on a terminal?

Martin R. Frank writes:

Tell Emacs to use the visible bell instead of the audible bell, and set the visible bell to nothing.

That is, put the following in your TERMCAP environment variable (assuming you have one):

     ... :vb=: ...

And evaluate the following Lisp form:

     (setq visible-bell t)

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5.23 How do I turn down the bell volume in Emacs running under X?

On X Window system, you can adjust the bell volume and duration for all programs with the shell command xset.

Invoking xset without any arguments produces some basic information, including the following:

     usage:  xset [-display host:dpy] option ...
       To turn bell off:
           -b                b off               b 0
       To set bell volume, pitch and duration:
            b [vol [pitch [dur]]]          b on

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5.24 How do I tell Emacs to automatically indent a new line to the indentation of the previous line?

Such behavior is automatic in Emacs 20 and later. From the etc/NEWS file for Emacs 20.2:

     ** In Text mode, now only blank lines separate paragraphs.  This makes
     it possible to get the full benefit of Adaptive Fill mode in Text mode,
     and other modes derived from it (such as Mail mode).  <TAB> in Text
     mode now runs the command indent-relative; this makes a practical
     difference only when you use indented paragraphs.
     As a result, the old Indented Text mode is now identical to Text mode,
     and is an alias for it.
     If you want spaces at the beginning of a line to start a paragraph, use
     the new mode, Paragraph Indent Text mode.

If you have auto-fill-mode turned on (see Turning on auto-fill by default), you can tell Emacs to prefix every line with a certain character sequence, the fill prefix. Type the prefix at the beginning of a line, position point after it, and then type C-x . (set-fill-prefix) to set the fill prefix. Thereafter, auto-filling will automatically put the fill prefix at the beginning of new lines, and M-q (fill-paragraph) will maintain any fill prefix when refilling the paragraph.

If you have paragraphs with different levels of indentation, you will have to set the fill prefix to the correct value each time you move to a new paragraph. To avoid this hassle, try one of the many packages available from the Emacs Lisp Archive (see Packages that do not come with Emacs.) Look up “fill” and “indent” in the Lisp Code Directory for guidance.

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5.25 How do I show which parenthesis matches the one I'm looking at?

As of version 19, Emacs comes with paren.el, which (when loaded) will automatically highlight matching parentheses whenever point (i.e., the cursor) is located over one. To load paren.el automatically, include the line

     (require 'paren)

in your .emacs file. Alan Shutko reports that as of version 20.1, you must also call show-paren-mode in your .emacs file:

     (show-paren-mode 1)

Customize will let you turn on show-paren-mode. Use M-x customize-group <RET> paren-showing <RET>. From within Customize, you can also go directly to the “paren-showing” group.

Alternatives to paren include:

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5.26 In C mode, can I show just the lines that will be left after #ifdef commands are handled by the compiler?

M-x hide-ifdef-mode. (This is a minor mode.) You might also want to try cpp.el, available at the Emacs Lisp Archive (see Packages that do not come with Emacs).

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5.27 Is there an equivalent to the . (dot) command of vi?

(. is the redo command in vi. It redoes the last insertion/deletion.)

As of Emacs 20.3, there is indeed a repeat command (C-x z) that repeats the last command. If you preface it with a prefix argument, the prefix arg is applied to the command.

You can also type C-x <ESC> <ESC> (repeat-complex-command) to reinvoke commands that used the minibuffer to get arguments. In repeat-complex-command you can type M-p and M-n (and also up-arrow and down-arrow, if your keyboard has these keys) to scan through all the different complex commands you've typed.

To repeat a set of commands, use keyboard macros. (see Keyboard Macros.)

If you're really desperate for the . command, use VIPER, a vi emulation mode which comes with Emacs, and which appears to support it. (See VIPER.)

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5.28 What are the valid X resource settings (i.e., stuff in .Xdefaults)?

see Resources X.

You can also use a resource editor, such as editres (for X11R5 and onwards), to look at the resource names for the menu bar, assuming Emacs was compiled with the X toolkit.

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5.29 How do I execute ("evaluate") a piece of Emacs Lisp code?

There are a number of ways to execute (evaluate, in Lisp lingo) an Emacs Lisp form:

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5.30 How do I change Emacs's idea of the <TAB> character's length?

Set the variable default-tab-width. For example, to set <TAB> stops every 10 characters, insert the following in your .emacs file:

     (setq default-tab-width 10)

Do not confuse variable tab-width with variable tab-stop-list. The former is used for the display of literal <TAB> characters. The latter controls what characters are inserted when you press the <TAB> character in certain modes.

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5.31 How do I insert `>' at the beginning of every line?

To do this to an entire buffer, type M-< M-x replace-regexp <RET> ^ <RET> > <RET>.

To do this to a region, use string-insert-rectangle. Set the mark (C-<SPC>) at the beginning of the first line you want to prefix, move the cursor to last line to be prefixed, and type M-x string-insert-rectangle <RET>. To do this for the whole buffer, type C-x h M-x string-insert-rectangle <RET>.

If you are trying to prefix a yanked mail message with `>', you might want to set the variable mail-yank-prefix. Better yet, use the Supercite package (see Supercite), which provides flexible citation for yanked mail and news messages; it is included in Emacs since version 19.20. See Changing the included text prefix, for additional information.

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5.32 How do I insert "_^H" before each character in a region to get an underlined paragraph?

Mark the region and then type M-x underline-region <RET>.

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5.33 How do I repeat a command as many times as possible?

Use C-x ( and C-x ) to make a keyboard macro that invokes the command and then type M-0 C-x e.

Any messages your command prints in the echo area will be suppressed.

If you need to repeat a command a small number of times, you can use C-x z, see Repeating commands.

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5.34 How do I make Emacs behave like this: when I go up or down, the cursor should stay in the same column even if the line is too short?

M-x picture-mode.

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5.35 How do I tell Emacs to iconify itself?

C-z iconifies Emacs when running under X and suspends Emacs otherwise. see Misc X.

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5.36 How do I use regexps (regular expressions) in Emacs?

see Regexps.

The or operator is `\|', not `|', and the grouping operators are `\(' and `\)'. Also, the string syntax for a backslash is `\\'. To specify a regular expression like `xxx\(foo\|bar\)' in a Lisp string, use `xxx\\(foo\\|bar\\)'.

Note the doubled backslashes!

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5.37 How do I perform a replace operation across more than one file?

The “tags” feature of Emacs includes the command tags-query-replace which performs a query-replace across all the files mentioned in the TAGS file. see Tags Search.

As of Emacs 19.29, Dired mode (M-x dired <RET>, or C-x d) supports the command dired-do-query-replace, which allows users to replace regular expressions in multiple files.

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5.38 Where is the documentation for etags?

The etags man page should be in the same place as the emacs man page.

Quick command-line switch descriptions are also available. For example, `etags -H'.

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5.39 How do I disable backup files?

You probably don't want to do this, since backups are useful, especially when something goes wrong.

To avoid seeing backup files (and other "uninteresting" files) in Dired, load dired-x by adding the following to your .emacs file:

     (add-hook 'dired-load-hook
               (lambda ()
                (load "dired-x")))

With dired-x loaded, M-o toggles omitting in each dired buffer. You can make omitting the default for new dired buffers by putting the following in your .emacs:

     (add-hook 'dired-mode-hook 'dired-omit-toggle)

If you're tired of seeing backup files whenever you do an `ls' at the Unix shell, try GNU ls with the `-B' option. GNU ls is part of the GNU Fileutils package, available from `' and its mirrors (see Current GNU distributions).

To disable or change the way backups are made, see Backup Names.

Beginning with Emacs 21.1, you can control where Emacs puts backup files by customizing the variable backup-directory-alist. This variable's value specifies that files whose names match specific patters should have their backups put in certain directories. A typical use is to add the element ("." . dir) to force Emacs to put all backup files in the directory dir.

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5.40 How do I disable auto-save-mode?

You probably don't want to do this, since auto-saving is useful, especially when Emacs or your computer crashes while you are editing a document.

Instead, you might want to change the variable auto-save-interval, which specifies how many keystrokes Emacs waits before auto-saving. Increasing this value forces Emacs to wait longer between auto-saves, which might annoy you less.

You might also want to look into Sebastian Kremer's auto-save package, available from the Lisp Code Archive (see Packages that do not come with Emacs). This package also allows you to place all auto-save files in one directory, such as /tmp.

To disable or change how auto-save-mode works, see Auto Save.

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5.41 How can I go to a certain line given its number?

Are you sure you indeed need to go to a line by its number? Perhaps all you want is to display a line in your source file for which a compiler printed an error message? If so, compiling from within Emacs using the M-x compile and M-x recompile commands is a much more effective way of doing that. Emacs automatically intercepts the compile error messages, inserts them into a special buffer called *compilation*, and lets you visit the locus of each message in the source. Type C-x ` to step through the offending lines one by one. Click Mouse-2 or press <RET> on a message text in the *compilation* buffer to go to the line whose number is mentioned in that message.

But if you indeed need to go to a certain text line, type M-x goto-line <RET>. Emacs will prompt you for the number of the line and go to that line.

You can do this faster by invoking goto-line with a numeric argument that is the line's number. For example, C-u 286 M-x goto-line <RET> will jump to line number 286 in the current buffer.

If you need to use this command frequently, you might consider binding it to a key. The following snippet, if added to your ~/.emacs file, will bind the sequence C-x g to goto-line:

      (global-set-key "\C-xg" 'goto-line)

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5.42 How can I create or modify new pull-down menu options?

Each menu title (e.g., `File', `Edit', `Buffers') represents a local or global keymap. Selecting a menu title with the mouse displays that keymap's non-nil contents in the form of a menu.

So to add a menu option to an existing menu, all you have to do is add a new definition to the appropriate keymap. Adding a `Forward Word' item to the `Edit' menu thus requires the following Lisp code:

     (define-key global-map
       [menu-bar edit forward]
       '("Forward word" . forward-word))

The first line adds the entry to the global keymap, which includes global menu bar entries. Replacing the reference to global-map with a local keymap would add this menu option only within a particular mode.

The second line describes the path from the menu-bar to the new entry. Placing this menu entry underneath the `File' menu would mean changing the word edit in the second line to file.

The third line is a cons cell whose first element is the title that will be displayed, and whose second element is the function that will be called when that menu option is invoked.

To add a new menu, rather than a new option to an existing menu, we must define an entirely new keymap:

     (define-key global-map [menu-bar words]
       (cons "Words" (make-sparse-keymap "Words")))

The above code creates a new sparse keymap, gives it the name `Words', and attaches it to the global menu bar. Adding the `Forward Word' item to this new menu would thus require the following code:

     (define-key global-map
       [menu-bar words forward]
       '("Forward word" . forward-word))

Note that because of the way keymaps work, menu options are displayed with the more recently defined items at the top. Thus if you were to define menu options `foo', `bar', and `baz' (in that order), the menu option `baz' would appear at the top, and `foo' would be at the bottom.

One way to avoid this problem is to use the function define-key-after, which works the same as define-key, but lets you modify where items appear. The following Lisp code would insert the `Forward Word' item in the `Edit' menu immediately following the `Undo' item:

       (lookup-key global-map [menu-bar edit])
       '("Forward word" . forward-word)

Note how the second and third arguments to define-key-after are different from those of define-key, and that we have added a new (final) argument, the function after which our new key should be defined.

To move a menu option from one position to another, simply evaluate define-key-after with the appropriate final argument.

More detailed information—and more examples of how to create and modify menu options—are in the Emacs Lisp Reference Manual, under “Menu Keymaps”. (See Emacs Lisp documentation, for information on this manual.)

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5.43 How do I delete menus and menu options?

The simplest way to remove a menu is to set its keymap to `nil'. For example, to delete the `Words' menu (see Modifying pull-down menus), use:

     (define-key global-map [menu-bar words] nil)

Similarly, removing a menu option requires redefining a keymap entry to nil. For example, to delete the `Forward word' menu option from the `Edit' menu (we added it in Modifying pull-down menus), use:

     (define-key global-map [menu-bar edit forward] nil)

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5.44 How do I turn on syntax highlighting?

font-lock-mode is the standard way to have Emacs perform syntax highlighting in the current buffer. With font-lock-mode turned on, different types of text will appear in different colors. For instance, if you turn on font-lock-mode in a programming mode, variables will appear in one face, keywords in a second, and comments in a third.

Earlier versions of Emacs supported hilit19, a similar package. Use of hilit19 is now considered non-standard, although hilit19.el comes with the stock Emacs distribution. It is no longer maintained.

To turn font-lock-mode on within an existing buffer, use M-x font-lock-mode <RET>.

To automatically invoke font-lock-mode when a particular major mode is invoked, set the major mode's hook. For example, to fontify all c-mode buffers, add the following to your .emacs file:

     (add-hook 'c-mode-hook 'turn-on-font-lock)

To automatically invoke font-lock-mode for all major modes, you can turn on global-font-lock-mode by including the following line in your .emacs file:

     (global-font-lock-mode 1)

This instructs Emacs to turn on font-lock mode in those buffers for which a font-lock mode definition has been provided (in the variable font-lock-global-modes). If you edit a file in pie-ala-mode, and no font-lock definitions have been provided for pie-ala files, then the above setting will have no effect on that particular buffer.

Highlighting a buffer with font-lock-mode can take quite a while, and cause an annoying delay in display, so several features exist to work around this.

In Emacs 21 and later, turning on font-lock-mode automatically activates the new Just-In-Time fontification provided by jit-lock-mode. jit-lock-mode defers the fontification of portions of buffer until you actually need to see them, and can also fontify while Emacs is idle. This makes display of the visible portion of a buffer almost instantaneous. For details about customizing jit-lock-mode, type C-h f jit-lock-mode <RET>.

In versions of Emacs before 21, different levels of decoration are available, from slight to gaudy. More decoration means you need to wait more time for a buffer to be fontified (or a faster machine). To control how decorated your buffers should become, set the value of font-lock-maximum-decoration in your .emacs file, with a nil value indicating default (usually minimum) decoration, and a t value indicating the maximum decoration. For the gaudiest possible look, then, include the line

     (setq font-lock-maximum-decoration t)

in your .emacs file. You can also set this variable such that different modes are highlighted in a different ways; for more information, see the documentation for font-lock-maximum-decoration with C-h v (or M-x describe-variable <RET>).

You might also want to investigate fast-lock-mode and lazy-lock-mode, versions of font-lock-mode that speed up highlighting. These are the alternatives for jit-lock-mode in versions of Emacs before 21.1. The advantage of lazy-lock-mode is that it only fontifies buffers when certain conditions are met, such as after a certain amount of idle time, or after you have finished scrolling through text. See the documentation for lazy-lock-mode by typing C-h f lazy-lock-mode (M-x describe-function <RET> lazy-lock-mode <RET>).

Also see the documentation for the function font-lock-mode, available by typing C-h f font-lock-mode (M-x describe-function <RET> font-lock-mode <RET>).

For more information on font-lock mode, take a look at the font-lock-mode FAQ, maintained by Jari Aalto at

To print buffers with the faces (i.e., colors and fonts) intact, use M-x ps-print-buffer-with-faces or M-x ps-print-region-with-faces. You will need a way to send text to a PostScript printer, or a PostScript interpreter such as Ghostscript; consult the documentation of the variables ps-printer-name, ps-lpr-command, and ps-lpr-switches for more details.

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5.45 How can I force Emacs to scroll only one line when I move past the bottom of the screen?

Place the following Lisp form in your .emacs file:

     (setq scroll-step 1)

see Scrolling.

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5.46 How can I replace highlighted text with what I type?

Use delete-selection-mode, which you can start automatically by placing the following Lisp form in your .emacs file:

     (delete-selection-mode t)

According to the documentation string for delete-selection-mode (which you can read using M-x describe-function <RET> delete-selection-mode <RET>):

When ON, typed text replaces the selection if the selection is active. When OFF, typed text is just inserted at point.

This mode also allows you to delete (not kill) the highlighted region by pressing <DEL>.

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5.47 How can I edit MS-DOS files using Emacs?

As of Emacs 20, detection and handling of MS-DOS (and Windows) files is performed transparently. You can open MS-DOS files on a Unix system, edit it, and save it without having to worry about the file format.

When editing an MS-DOS style file, the mode line will indicate that it is a DOS file. On Unix and GNU/Linux systems, and also on a Macintosh, the string `(DOS)' will appear near the left edge of the mode line; on DOS and Windows, where the DOS end-of-line (EOL) format is the default, a backslash (`\') will appear in the mode line.

If you are running a version of Emacs before 20.1, get crypt++ from the Emacs Lisp Archive (see Packages that do not come with Emacs). Among other things, crypt++ transparently modifies MS-DOS files as they are loaded and saved, allowing you to ignore the different conventions that Unix and MS-DOS have for delineating the end of a line.

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5.48 How can I tell Emacs to fill paragraphs with a single space after each period?

Ulrich Mueller suggests adding the following two lines to your .emacs file:

     (setq sentence-end "[.?!][]\"')}]*\\($\\|[ \t]\\)[ \t\n]*")
     (setq sentence-end-double-space nil)

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5.49 Why do I get these strange escape sequences when I run

ls from the Shell mode? This happens because ls is aliased to `ls --color' in your shell init file. You have two alternatives to solve this:

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6 Bugs and problems

The Emacs manual lists some common kinds of trouble users could get into, see Dealing with Emacs Trouble, so you might look there if the problem you encounter isn't described in this chapter. If you decide you've discovered a bug, see Reporting Bugs, for instructions how to do that.

The file etc/PROBLEMS in the Emacs distribution lists various known problems with building and using Emacs on specific platforms; type C-h P to read it.

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6.1 Does Emacs have problems with files larger than 8 megabytes?

Old versions (i.e., anything before 19.29) of Emacs had problems editing files larger than 8 megabytes. As of version 19.29, the maximum buffer size is at least 2^27-1, or 134,217,727 bytes, or 132 MBytes. Emacs 20 can be compiled on some 64-bit systems in a way that enlarges the buffer size up to 576,460,752,303,423,487 bytes, or 549,755,813 GBytes.

If you are using a version of Emacs older than 19.29 and cannot upgrade, you will have to recompile. Leonard N. Zubkoff suggests putting the following two lines in src/config.h before compiling Emacs to allow for 26-bit integers and pointers (and thus file sizes of up to 33,554,431 bytes):

     #define VALBITS 26
     #define GCTYPEBITS 5

This method may result in "ILLEGAL DATATYPE" and other random errors on some machines.

David Gillespie explains how this problems crops up; while his numbers are true only for pre-19.29 versions of Emacs, the theory remains the same with current versions.

Emacs is largely written in a dialect of Lisp; Lisp is a freely-typed language in the sense that you can put any value of any type into any variable, or return it from a function, and so on. So each value must carry a tag along with it identifying what kind of thing it is, e.g., integer, pointer to a list, pointer to an editing buffer, and so on. Emacs uses standard 32-bit integers for data objects, taking the top 8 bits for the tag and the bottom 24 bits for the value. So integers (and pointers) are somewhat restricted compared to true C integers and pointers.

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6.2 How do I get rid of `^M' or echoed commands in my shell buffer?

Try typing M-x shell-strip-ctrl-m <RET> while in shell-mode to make them go away. If that doesn't work, you have several options:

For tcsh, put this in your .cshrc (or .tcshrc) file:

     if ($?EMACS) then
         if ("$EMACS" == t) then
             if ($?tcsh) unset edit
             stty nl

Or put this in your .emacs_tcsh file:

     unset edit
     stty nl

Alternatively, use csh in your shell buffers instead of tcsh. One way is:

     (setq explicit-shell-file-name "/bin/csh")

and another is to do this in your .cshrc (or .tcshrc) file:

     setenv ESHELL /bin/csh

(You must start Emacs over again with the environment variable properly set for this to take effect.)

You can also set the ESHELL environment variable in Emacs Lisp with the following Lisp form,

     (setenv "ESHELL" "/bin/csh")

The above solutions try to prevent the shell from producing the `^M' characters in the first place. If this is not possible (e.g., if you use a Windows shell), you can get Emacs to remove these characters from the buffer by adding this to your .emacs init file:

     (add-hook 'comint-output-filter-functions 'shell-strip-ctrl-m)

On a related note: If your shell is echoing your input line in the shell buffer, you might want to try the following command in your shell start-up file:

     stty -icrnl -onlcr -echo susp ^Z

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6.3 Why do I get "Process shell exited abnormally with code 1"?

The most likely reason for this message is that the `env' program is not properly installed. Compile this program for your architecture, and install it with `a+x' permission in the architecture-dependent Emacs program directory. (You can find what this directory is at your site by inspecting the value of the variable exec-directory by typing C-h v exec-directory <RET>.)

You should also check for other programs named `env' in your path (e.g., SunOS has a program named /usr/bin/env). We don't understand why this can cause a failure and don't know a general solution for working around the problem in this case.

The `make clean' command will remove `env' and other vital programs, so be careful when using it.

It has been reported that this sometimes happened when Emacs was started as an X client from an xterm window (i.e., had a controlling tty) but the xterm was later terminated.

See also `PROBLEMS' (in the etc subdirectory of the top-level directory when you unpack the Emacs source) for other possible causes of this message.

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6.4 Why do I get an error message when I try to run M-x shell?

On MS-Windows, this might happen because Emacs tries to look for the shell in a wrong place. The default file name /bin/sh is usually incorrect for non-Unix systems. If you know where your shell executable is, set the variable explicit-shell-file-name in your .emacs file to point to its full file name, like this:

     (setq explicit-shell-file-name "d:/shells/bash.exe")

If you don't know what shell does Emacs use, try the M-! command; if that works, put the following line into your .emacs:

     (setq explicit-shell-file-name shell-file-name)

Some people have trouble with Shell Mode because of intrusive antivirus software; disabling the resident antivirus program solves the problems in those cases.

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6.5 Where is the termcap/terminfo entry for terminal type "emacs"?

The termcap entry for terminal type `emacs' is ordinarily put in the `TERMCAP' environment variable of subshells. It may help in certain situations (e.g., using rlogin from shell buffer) to add an entry for `emacs' to the system-wide termcap file. Here is a correct termcap entry for `emacs':


To make a terminfo entry for `emacs', use tic or captoinfo. You need to generate /usr/lib/terminfo/e/emacs. It may work to simply copy /usr/lib/terminfo/d/dumb to /usr/lib/terminfo/e/emacs.

Having a termcap/terminfo entry will not enable the use of full screen programs in shell buffers. Use M-x terminal-emulator for that instead.

A workaround to the problem of missing termcap/terminfo entries is to change terminal type `emacs' to type `dumb' or `unknown' in your shell start up file. csh users could put this in their .cshrc files:

     if ("$term" == emacs) set term=dumb

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6.6 Why does Emacs spontaneously start displaying "I-search:" and beeping?

Your terminal (or something between your terminal and the computer) is sending C-s and C-q for flow control, and Emacs is receiving these characters and interpreting them as commands. (The C-s character normally invokes the isearch-forward command.) For possible solutions, see Handling C-s and C-q with flow control.

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6.7 Why can't Emacs talk to certain hosts (or certain hostnames)?

The problem may be that Emacs is linked with a wimpier version of gethostbyname than the rest of the programs on the machine. This is often manifested as a message on startup of “X server not responding. Check your `DISPLAY' environment variable.” or a message of “Unknown host” from open-network-stream.

On a Sun, this may be because Emacs had to be linked with the static C library. The version of gethostbyname in the static C library may only look in /etc/hosts and the NIS (YP) maps, while the version in the dynamic C library may be smart enough to check DNS in addition to or instead of NIS. On a Motorola Delta running System V R3.6, the version of gethostbyname in the standard library works, but the one that works with NIS doesn't (the one you get with -linet). Other operating systems have similar problems.

Try these options:

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6.8 Why does Emacs say "Error in init file"?

An error occurred while loading either your .emacs file or the system-wide file lisp/default.el. Emacs 21.1 and later pops the *Messages* buffer, and puts there some additional information about the error, to provide some hints for debugging.

For information on how to debug your .emacs file, see Debugging a customization file.

It may be the case that you need to load some package first, or use a hook that will be evaluated after the package is loaded. A common case of this is explained in Terminal setup code works after Emacs has begun.

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6.9 Why does Emacs ignore my X resources (my .Xdefaults file)?

As of version 19, Emacs searches for X resources in the files specified by the following environment variables:

This emulates the functionality provided by programs written using the Xt toolkit.

XFILESEARCHPATH and XUSERFILESEARCHPATH should be a list of file names separated by colons. XAPPLRESDIR should be a list of directory names separated by colons.

Emacs searches for X resources:

  1. specified on the command line, with the `-xrm RESOURCESTRING' option,
  2. then in the value of the `XENVIRONMENT' environment variable,
  3. then in the screen-specific and server-wide resource properties provided by the server,
  4. then in the files listed in `XUSERFILESEARCHPATH',
  5. then in the files listed in XFILESEARCHPATH.

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6.10 Why don't my customizations of the frame parameters work?

This probably happens because you have set the frame parameters in the variable initial-frame-alist. That variable holds parameters used only for the first frame created when Emacs starts. To customize the parameters of all frames, change the variable default-frame-alist instead.

These two variables exist because many users customize the initial frame in a special way. For example, you could determine the position and size of the initial frame, but would like to control the geometry of the other frames by individually positioning each one of them.

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6.11 Why does Emacs take 20 seconds to visit a file?

Old versions of Emacs (i.e., versions before Emacs 20.x) often encountered this when the master lock file, !!!SuperLock!!!, has been left in the lock directory somehow. Delete it.

Mark Meuer says that NeXT NFS has a bug where an exclusive create succeeds but returns an error status. This can cause the same problem. Since Emacs's file locking doesn't work over NFS anyway, the best solution is to recompile Emacs with CLASH_DETECTION undefined.

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6.12 How do I edit a file with a `$' in its name?

When entering a file name in the minibuffer, Emacs will attempt to expand a `$' followed by a word as an environment variable. To suppress this behavior, type $$ instead.

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6.13 Why does shell mode lose track of the shell's current directory?

Emacs has no way of knowing when the shell actually changes its directory. This is an intrinsic limitation of Unix. So it tries to guess by recognizing `cd' commands. If you type cd followed by a directory name with a variable reference (cd $HOME/bin) or with a shell metacharacter (cd ../lib*), Emacs will fail to correctly guess the shell's new current directory. A huge variety of fixes and enhancements to shell mode for this problem have been written to handle this problem. Check the Lisp Code Directory (see Finding a package with particular functionality).

You can tell Emacs the shell's current directory with the command M-x dirs.

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6.14 Are there any security risks in Emacs?

Previous: Security risks with Emacs, Up: Bugs and problems

6.15 Dired says, "no file on this line" when I try to do something.

Chances are you're using a localized version of Unix that doesn't use US date format in dired listings. You can check this by looking at dired listings or by typing ls -l to a shell and looking at the dates that come out.

Dired uses a regular expression to find the beginning of a file name. In a long Unix-style directory listing (`ls -l'), the file name starts after the date. The regexp has thus been written to look for the date, the format of which can vary on non-US systems.

There are two approaches to solving this. The first one involves setting things up so that `ls -l' outputs US date format. This can be done by setting the locale. See your OS manual for more information.

The second approach involves changing the regular expression used by dired, dired-move-to-filename-regexp.

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7 Compiling and installing Emacs

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7.1 How do I install Emacs?

This answer is meant for users of Unix and Unix-like systems. Users of other operating systems should see the series of questions beginning with Emacs for MS-DOS, which describe where to get non-Unix source and binaries, and how to install Emacs on those systems.

For Unix and Unix-like systems, the easiest way is often to compile it from scratch. You will need:

At this point, the Emacs sources (all 70+ megabytes of them) should be sitting in a directory called emacs-21.2. On most common Unix and Unix-like systems, you should be able to compile Emacs (with X Window system support) with the following commands:

     cd emacs-21.2       # change directory to emacs-21.2
     ./configure         # configure Emacs for your particular system
     make                # use Makefile to build components, then Emacs

If the make completes successfully, the odds are fairly good that the build has gone well. (See Problems building Emacs, if you weren't successful.)

By default, Emacs is installed in the following directories:

Lisp code and support files.
Info documentation.

To install files in those default directories, become the superuser and type

     make install

Note that `make install' will overwrite /usr/local/bin/emacs and any Emacs Info files that might be in /usr/local/info.

Much more verbose instructions (with many more hints and suggestions) come with the Emacs sources, in the file INSTALL.

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7.2 How do I update Emacs to the latest version?

See Installing Emacs, and follow the instructions there for installation.

Most files are placed in version-specific directories. Emacs 21.2, for instance, places files in /usr/local/share/emacs/21.2.

Upgrading should overwrite only, /usr/local/bin/emacs (the Emacs binary) and documentation in /usr/local/info. Back up these files before you upgrade, and you shouldn't have too much trouble.

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7.3 What should I do if I have trouble building Emacs?

First look in the file etc/PROBLEMS (where you unpack the Emacs source) to see if there is already a solution for your problem. Next, look for other questions in this FAQ that have to do with Emacs installation and compilation problems.

If you'd like to have someone look at your problem and help solve it, see Help installing Emacs.

If you cannot find a solution in the documentation, send a message to

Please don't post it to or send e-mail to For further guidelines, see Guidelines for newsgroup postings and Reporting bugs.

Previous: Problems building Emacs, Up: Compiling and installing Emacs

7.4 Why does linking Emacs with -lX11 fail?

Emacs needs to be linked with the static version of the X11 library, libX11.a. This may be missing.

On OpenWindows, you may need to use add_services to add the "OpenWindows Programmers" optional software category from the CD-ROM.

On HP-UX 8.0, you may need to run update again to load the X11-PRG “fileset”. This may be missing even if you specified “all filesets” the first time. If libcurses.a is missing, you may need to load the “Berkeley Development Option.”

David Zuhn says that MIT X builds shared libraries by default, and only shared libraries, on those platforms that support them. These shared libraries can't be used when undumping temacs (the last stage of the Emacs build process). To get regular libraries in addition to shared libraries, add this to

     #define ForceNormalLib YES

Other systems may have similar problems. You can always define CANNOT_DUMP and link with the shared libraries instead.

To get the Xmenu stuff to work, you need to find a copy of MIT's liboldX.a.

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8 Finding Emacs and related packages

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8.1 Where can I get Emacs on the net (or by snail mail)?

Look in the files etc/DISTRIB and etc/FTP for information on nearby archive sites and etc/ORDERS for mail orders. If you don't already have Emacs, see Informational files for Emacs, for how to get these files.

See Installing Emacs, for information on how to obtain and build the latest version of Emacs, and see Current GNU distributions, for a list of archive sites that make GNU software available.

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8.2 How do I find a Emacs Lisp package that does XXX?

First of all, you should check to make sure that the package isn't already available. For example, typing M-x apropos <RET> wordstar <RET> lists all functions and variables containing the string `wordstar'.

It is also possible that the package is on your system, but has not been loaded. To see which packages are available for loading, look through your computer's lisp directory (see File-name conventions). The Lisp source to most packages contains a short description of how they should be loaded, invoked, and configured—so before you use or modify a Lisp package, see if the author has provided any hints in the source code.

If a package does not come with Emacs, check the Lisp Code Directory. The LCD was originally maintained by Dave Brennan, but was recently taken over by toby knudsen, who maintains The LCD is currently being reorganized and updated, but you can meanwhile find many packages at

For now, you can search through the LCD with lispdir.el, which is in the process of being updated. Download it from the LCD, in the emacs-lisp-attic/misc directory, and then evaluate the following Lisp form (see Evaluating Emacs Lisp code):

     (setq lisp-code-directory
       elisp-archive-host ""
       elisp-archive-directory "/pub/emacs-lisp-attic/emacs-lisp/")

Once you have installed lispdir.el, you can use M-x lisp-dir-apropos to search the listing. For example, M-x lisp-dir-apropos <RET> ange-ftp <RET> produces this output:

              GNU Emacs Lisp Code Directory Apropos --- "ange-ftp"
     "~/" refers to
          ange-ftp (4.18)       15-Jul-1992
               Andy Norman, <>
               transparent FTP Support for GNU Emacs
          auto-save (1.19)      01-May-1992
               Sebastian Kremer, <>
               Safer autosaving with support for ange-ftp and /tmp
          ftp-quik (1.0)        28-Jul-1993
               Terrence Brannon, <>
               Quik access to dired'ing of ange-ftp and normal paths

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8.3 Where can I get Emacs Lisp packages that don't come with Emacs?

First, check the Lisp Code Directory to find the name of the package you are looking for (see Finding a package with particular functionality). Next, check local archives and the Emacs Lisp Archive to find a copy of the relevant files. If you still haven't found it, you can send e-mail to the author asking for a copy. If you find Emacs Lisp code that doesn't appear in the LCD, please submit a copy to the LCD (see Submitting to the Emacs Lisp Archive).

You can access the Emacs Lisp Archive at

or at

Retrieve and read the file README first.

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8.4 How do I submit code to the Emacs Lisp Archive?

Guidelines and procedures for submission to the archive can be found in the file GUIDELINES in the archive directory (see Packages that do not come with Emacs). It covers documentation, copyrights, packaging, submission, and the Lisp Code Directory Record. Anonymous FTP uploads are not permitted. Instead, all submissions are mailed to The lispdir.el package has a function named submit-lcd-entry which will help you with this.

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8.5 Where can I get other up-to-date GNU stuff?

The most up-to-date official GNU software is normally kept at

Read the files etc/DISTRIB and etc/FTP for more information.

A list of sites mirroring `' can be found at

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8.6 What is the difference between Emacs and XEmacs (formerly "Lucid Emacs")?

First of all, they're both GNU Emacs. XEmacs is just as much a later version of GNU Emacs as the FSF-distributed version. This FAQ refers to the latest version to be distributed by the FSF as “Emacs,” partly because the XEmacs maintainers now refer to their product using the “XEmacs” name, and partly because there isn't any accurate way to differentiate between the two without getting mired in paragraphs of legalese and history.

XEmacs, which began life as Lucid Emacs, is based on an early version of Emacs 19 and Epoch, an X-aware version of Emacs 18.

Emacs (i.e., the version distributed by the FSF) has a larger installed base and now always contains the MULE multilingual facilities. XEmacs can do some clever tricks with X and MS-Windows, such as putting arbitrary graphics in a buffer. Similar facilities have been implemented for Emacs as part of a new redisplay implementation for Emacs 21, and are available in the latest Emacs releases. Emacs and XEmacs each come with Lisp packages that are lacking in the other; RMS says that the FSF would include more packages that come with XEmacs, but that the XEmacs maintainers don't always keep track of the authors of contributed code, which makes it impossible for the FSF to have certain legal papers signed. (Without these legal papers, the FSF will not distribute Lisp packages with Emacs.) The two versions have some significant differences at the Lisp programming level.

Many XEmacs features have found their way into recent versions of Emacs, and more features can be expected in the future, but there are still many differences between the two.

The latest stable version of XEmacs as of this writing is 21.1.14; you can get it at

More information about XEmacs, including a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ), is available at

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8.7 Where can I get Emacs for my PC running MS-DOS?

A pre-built binary distribution of Emacs is available from the SimTel.NET archives. This version apparently works under MS-DOS and Windows (3.X, 9X, ME, NT, and 2000) and supports long file names under Windows 9X, Windows ME, and Windows 2000. More information is available from

The binary itself is available in the files em*.zip in the directory

If you prefer to compile Emacs for yourself, you can do so with the current distribution directly. You will need a 386 (or better) processor, and to be running MS-DOS 3.0 or later. According to Eli Zaretskii and Darrel Hankerson, you will need the following:

DJGPP version 1.12 maint 1 or later. Djgpp 2.0 or later is recommended, since 1.x is very old an unmaintained. Djgpp 2 supports long file names on Windows 9X/ME/2K.

You can get the latest release of DJGPP by retrieving all of the files in*

Unpacking program
The easiest way is to use djtar which comes with DJGPP v2.x, because it can open gzip'ed tarfiles (i.e., those ending with .tar.gz) in one step. Djtar comes in archive (where nnn is the DJGPP version number), from the URL mentioned above.

Warning! Do not use the popular WinZip program to unpack the Emacs distribution! WinZip is known to corrupt some of the files by converting them to the DOS CR-LF format, it doesn't always preserve the directory structure recorded in the compressed Emacs archive, and commits other atrocities. Some of these problems could actually prevent Emacs from building successfully!

make, mv, sed, and rm
All of these utilities are available at

16-bit utilities can be found in GNUish, at

(mv and rm are in the Fileutils package, sed and make are each one in a separate package named after them.)

The files INSTALL (near its end) and etc/PROBLEMS in the directory of the Emacs sources contains some additional information regarding Emacs under MS-DOS.

For a list of other MS-DOS implementations of Emacs (and Emacs look-alikes), consult the list of "Emacs implementations and literature," available at

Note that while many of these programs look similar to Emacs, they often lack certain features, such as the Emacs Lisp extension language.

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8.8 Where can I get Emacs for Microsoft Windows

For information on Emacs for Windows 95 and NT, read the FAQ produced by Geoff Voelker, available at

See Emacs for MS-DOS, for Windows 3.1.

A port of Emacs 20.7 for Windows CE, based on NTEmacs, is available at

This port was done by Rainer Keuchel, and supports all Emacs features except async subprocesses and menus. You will need MSVC 6.0 and a Windows CE SDK to build this port.

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8.9 Where can I get Emacs for my PC running OS/2?

Emacs 20.6 is ported for emx on OS/2 2.0 or 2.1, and is available at*.zip

and also at

Instructions for installation, basic setup, and other useful information for OS/2 users of Emacs can be found at

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8.10 Where can I get Emacs for my Atari ST?

Roland Schäuble reports that Emacs 18.58 running on plain TOS and MiNT is available at

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8.11 Where can I get Emacs for my Amiga?

The files you need are available at

David Gilbert has released a beta version of Emacs 19.25 for the Amiga. You can get the binary at

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8.12 Where can I get Emacs for NeXTSTEP? is a NeXTSTEP version of Emacs 19.34 which supports colors, menus, and multiple frames. You can get it from

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8.13 Where can I get Emacs for my Apple computer?

An unofficial port of GNU Emacs 18.59 to the Macintosh is available at a number of ftp sites, the home being

A port of Emacs 20.4 is available at

Beginning with version 21.1, the Macintosh is supported in the official Emacs distribution; see the files mac/README and mac/INSTALL in the Emacs distribution for build instructions.

Apple's forthcoming "OS X" is based largely on NeXTSTEP and OpenStep. See Emacs for NeXTSTEP, for more details about that version.

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8.14 Where do I get Emacs that runs on VMS under DECwindows?

Up-to-date information about GNU software (including Emacs) for VMS is available at

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8.15 Where can I get modes for Lex, Yacc/Bison, Bourne shell, csh, C++, Objective-C, Pascal, Java, and Awk?

Most of these modes are now available in standard Emacs distribution. To get additional modes, look in the Lisp Code Directory (see Finding a package with particular functionality). For C++, if you use lisp-dir-apropos, you must specify the pattern with something like M-x lisp-dir-apropos <RET> c\+\+ <RET>.2

Barry Warsaw's cc-mode now works for C, C++, Objective-C, and Java code. You can get the latest version from the Emacs Lisp Archive; see Packages that do not come with Emacs for details. A FAQ for cc-mode is available at

Previous: Modes for various languages, Up: Finding Emacs and related packages

8.16 What is the IP address of XXX.YYY.ZZZ?

If you are on a Unix machine, try using the `nslookup' command, included in the Berkeley BIND package. For example, to find the IP address of `', you would type nslookup

Your computer should then provide the IP address of that machine.

If your site's nameserver is deficient, you can use IP addresses to FTP files. You can get this information by e-mail:

     To: dns@[]    (to
     Body: ip XXX.YYY.ZZZ        (or "help" for more information
                                  and options - no quotes)


     To: resolve@[]         (to
     Body: site XXX.YYY.ZZZ

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9 Major packages and programs

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9.1 VM (View Mail) — another mail reader within Emacs, with MIME support

Kyle Jones
Latest version
Informational newsgroup/mailing list
Subscription requests to
Submissions to
Bug reports newsgroup/mailing list
Subscription requests to
Submissions to

VM 6 works with Emacs 20.4, and may cause problems with Emacs 20.3 and below. (But note that many people seem to use Emacs 20.3 with VM 6, without any problems.) Risk-averse users might wish to try VM 5.97, available from the same FTP site.

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9.2 Supercite — mail and news citation package within Emacs

Barry Warsaw
Latest version
3.54 (comes bundled with Emacs 20)
Mailing list
Subscription requests to

Superyank is an old version of Supercite.

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9.3 Calc — poor man's Mathematica within Emacs

Dave Gillespie
Latest version

Note that Calc 2.02f needs patching to work with Emacs 21 and later.

Emacs 21.1 and later comes with a package called calculator.el. It doesn't support all the mathematical wizardry offered by Calc, such as matrices, special functions, and statistics, but is more than adequate as a replacement for xcalc and similar programs.

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9.4 VIPER — vi emulation for Emacs

Since Emacs 19.29, the preferred vi emulation in Emacs is VIPER (M-x viper-mode <RET>), which comes with Emacs. It extends and supersedes VIP (including VIP 4.3) and provides vi emulation at several levels, from one that closely follows vi to one that departs from vi in several significant ways.

For Emacs 19.28 and earlier, the following version of VIP is generally better than the one distributed with Emacs:

Aamod Sane
Latest version

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9.5 AUC TeX — enhanced LaTeX mode with debugging facilities

Kresten Krab Thorup and
Per Abrahamsen
Latest version
Web site
Mailing list:
Subscription requests to
Submissions to
Development team is at

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9.6 BBDB — personal Info Rolodex integrated with mail/news readers

Matt Simmons
Latest version
Mailing lists
Subscription requests to
Submissions to
Release announcements:

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9.7 Ispell — spell checker in C with interface for Emacs

Geoff Kuenning
Latest version

Web site

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9.8 w3-mode — A World Wide Web browser inside of Emacs

Bill Perry
Latest version
Mailing lists
Receive announcements from
Become a beta tester at
Help to develop w3-mode at

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9.9 EDB — Database program for Emacs; replaces forms editing modes

Michael Ernst
Latest version

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9.10 Mailcrypt — PGP interface within Emacs mail and news

Patrick J. LoPresti and Jin S. Choi
Len Budney
Latest version
Web site

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9.11 JDE — Integrated development environment for Java

Paul Kinnucan
Mailing list
Latest version
Web site

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9.12 Patch — program to apply "diffs" for updating files

Larry Wall (with GNU modifications)
Latest version
See Current GNU distributions.

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10 Key bindings

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10.1 How do I bind keys (including function keys) to commands?

Keys can be bound to commands either interactively or in your .emacs file. To interactively bind keys for all modes, type M-x global-set-key <RET> key cmd <RET>.

To bind a key just in the current major mode, type M-x local-set-key <RET> key cmd <RET>.

see Key Bindings, for further details.

To make the process of binding keys interactively eaiser, use the following “trick”: First bind the key interactively, then immediately type C-x <ESC> <ESC> C-a C-k C-g. Now, the command needed to bind the key is in the kill ring, and can be yanked into your .emacs file. If the key binding is global, no changes to the command are required. For example,

     (global-set-key (quote [f1]) (quote help-for-help))

can be placed directly into the .emacs file. If the key binding is local, the command is used in conjunction with the "add-hook" command. For example, in tex-mode, a local binding might be

     (add-hook 'tex-mode-hook
       (lambda ()
        (local-set-key (quote [f1]) (quote help-for-help))))

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10.2 Why does Emacs say "Key sequence XXX uses invalid prefix characters"?

Usually, one of two things has happened. In one case, the control character in the key sequence has been misspecified (e.g. `C-f' used instead of `\C-f' within a Lisp expression). In the other case, a prefix key in the keystroke sequence you were trying to bind was already bound as a complete key. Historically, the `ESC [' prefix was usually the problem, in which case you should evaluate either of these forms before attempting to bind the key sequence:

     (global-unset-key [?\e ?[])  ;;  or
     (global-unset-key "\e[")

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10.3 Why doesn't this [terminal or window-system setup] code work in my .emacs file, but it works just fine after Emacs starts up?

During startup, Emacs initializes itself according to a given code/file order. If some of the code executed in your .emacs file needs to be postponed until the initial terminal or window-system setup code has been executed but is not, then you will experience this problem (this code/file execution order is not enforced after startup).

To postpone the execution of Emacs Lisp code until after terminal or window-system setup, treat the code as a lambda list and set the value of either the term-setup-hook or window-setup-hook variable to this lambda function. For example,

     (add-hook 'term-setup-hook
               (lambda ()
                (when (string-match "\\`vt220" (or (getenv "TERM") ""))
                  ;; Make vt220's "Do" key behave like M-x:
                  (global-set-key [do] 'execute-extended-command))))

For information on what Emacs does every time it is started, see the lisp/startup.el file.

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10.4 How do I use function keys under X?

With Emacs 19, functions keys under X are bound like any other key. See Binding keys to commands, for details.

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10.5 How do I tell what characters or symbols my function or arrow keys emit?

Type C-h c then the function or arrow keys. The command will return either a function key symbol or character sequence (see the Emacs on-line documentation for an explanation). This works for other keys as well.

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10.6 How do I set the X key “translations” for Emacs?

Emacs is not written using the Xt library by default, so there are no “translations” to be set. (We aren't sure how to set such translations if you do build Emacs with Xt; please let us know if you've done this!)

The only way to affect the behavior of keys within Emacs is through xmodmap (outside Emacs) or define-key (inside Emacs). The define-key command should be used in conjunction with the function-key-map map. For instance,

     (define-key function-key-map [M-<TAB>] [?\M-\t])

defines the M-<TAB> key sequence.

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10.7 How do I handle C-s and C-q being used for flow control?

C-s and C-q are used in the XON/XOFF flow control protocol. This messes things up when you're using Emacs over a serial line, because Emacs binds these keys to commands by default. Because Emacs won't honor them as flow control characters, too many of these characters are not passed on and overwhelm output buffers. Sometimes, intermediate software using XON/XOFF flow control will prevent Emacs from ever seeing C-s and C-q.

Possible solutions:

For further discussion of this issue, read the file etc/PROBLEMS (in the Emacs source directory when you unpack the Emacs distribution).

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10.8 How do I bind C-s and C-q (or any key) if these keys are filtered out?

To bind C-s and C-q, use either enable-flow-control or enable-flow-control-on. See Handling C-s and C-q with flow control, for usage and implementation details.

To bind other keys, use keyboard-translate. See Swapping keys, for usage details. To do this for an entire site, you should swap the keys in site-lisp/site-start.el. See Handling C-s and C-q with flow control, for an explanation of why site-lisp/default.el should not be used.

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10.9 Why does the <Backspace> key invoke help?

The <Backspace> key (on most keyboards) generates ASCII code 8. C-h sends the same code. In Emacs by default C-h invokes help-command. This is intended to be easy to remember since the first letter of `help' is `h'. The easiest solution to this problem is to use C-h (and <Backspace>) for help and <DEL> (the <Delete> key) for deleting the previous character.

For many people this solution may be problematic:

When Emacs 21 or later runs on a windowed display, it binds the <Delete> key to a command which deletes the character at point, to make Emacs more consistent with keyboard operation on these systems.

For more information about troubleshooting this problem, see If <DEL> Fails to Delete.

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10.10 Why doesn't Emacs look at the stty settings for <Backspace> vs. <Delete>?

Good question!

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10.11 How do I swap two keys?

In Emacs 19, you can swap two keys (or key sequences) by using the keyboard-translate function. For example, to turn C-h into <DEL> and <DEL> to C-h, use

     (keyboard-translate ?\C-h ?\C-?)  ; translate `C-h' to DEL
     (keyboard-translate ?\C-? ?\C-h)  ; translate DEL to `C-h'.

The first key sequence of the pair after the function identifies what is produced by the keyboard; the second, what is matched for in the keymaps.

Keyboard translations are not the same as key bindings in keymaps. Emacs contains numerous keymaps that apply in different situations, but there is only one set of keyboard translations, and it applies to every character that Emacs reads from the terminal. Keyboard translations take place at the lowest level of input processing; the keys that are looked up in keymaps contain the characters that result from keyboard translation.

see Keyboard Translations.

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10.12 How do I produce C-XXX with my keyboard?

On terminals (but not under X), some common "aliases" are:

C-2 or C-<SPC>
C-7 or C-S--

Often other aliases exist; use the C-h c command and try <CTRL> with all of the digits on your keyboard to see what gets generated. You can also try the C-h w command if you know the name of the command.

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10.13 What if I don't have a <Meta> key?

On many keyboards, the <Alt> key acts as <Meta>, so try it.

Instead of typing M-a, you can type <ESC> a. In fact, Emacs converts M-a internally into <ESC> a anyway (depending on the value of meta-prefix-char). Note that you press <Meta> and <a> together, but with <ESC>, you press <ESC>, release it, and then press <a>.

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10.14 What if I don't have an <Escape> key?

Type C-[ instead. This should send ASCII code 27 just like an Escape key would. C-3 may also work on some terminal (but not under X). For many terminals (notably DEC terminals) <F11> generates <ESC>. If not, the following form can be used to bind it:

     ;;; F11 is the documented ESC replacement on DEC terminals.
     (define-key function-key-map [f11] [?\e])

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10.15 Can I make my <Compose Character> key behave like a <Meta> key?

On a dumb terminal such as a VT220, no. It is rumored that certain VT220 clones could have their <Compose> key configured this way. If you're using X, you might be able to do this with the xmodmap command.

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10.16 How do I bind a combination of modifier key and function key?

With Emacs 19 and later, you can represent modified function keys in vector format by adding prefixes to the function key symbol. For example (from the on-line documentation):

     (global-set-key [?\C-x right] 'forward-page)

where `?\C-x' is the Lisp character constant for the character C-x.

You can use the modifier keys <Control>, <Meta>, <Hyper>, <Super>, <Alt>, and <Shift> with function keys. To represent these modifiers, prepend the strings `C-', `M-', `H-', `s-', `A-', and `S-' to the symbol name. Here is how to make H-M-RIGHT move forward a word:

     (global-set-key [H-M-right] 'forward-word)

See Binding keys to commands, for general key binding instructions.

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10.17 Why doesn't my <Meta> key work in an xterm window?

see Single-Byte Character Set Support.

If the advice in the Emacs manual fails, try all of these methods before asking for further help:

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10.18 Why doesn't my <ExtendChar> key work as a <Meta> key under HP-UX 8.0 and 9.x?

This is a result of an internationalization extension in X11R4 and the fact that HP is now using this extension. Emacs assumes that the XLookupString function returns the same result regardless of the <Meta> key state which is no longer necessarily true. Until Emacs is fixed, the temporary kludge is to run this command after each time the X server is started but preferably before any xterm clients are:

     xmodmap -e 'remove mod1 = Mode_switch'

This will disable the use of the extra keysyms systemwide, which may be undesirable if you actually intend to use them.

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11 Alternate character sets

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11.1 How do I make Emacs display 8-bit characters?

see Single-byte Character Set Support. On a Unix, when Emacs runs on a text-only terminal display or is invoked with `emacs -nw', you typically need to use set-terminal-coding-system to tell Emacs what the terminal can display, even after setting the language environment; otherwise non-ASCII characters will display as `?'. On other operating systems, such as MS-DOS and MS-Windows, Emacs queries the OS about the character set supported by the display, and sets up the required terminal coding system automatically.

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11.2 How do I input eight-bit characters?

Various methods are available for input of eight-bit characters. See see Single-byte Character Set Support. For more sophisticated methods, see Input Methods.

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11.3 Where can I get an Emacs that handles kanji, Chinese, or other Far-Eastern character sets?

Emacs 20 and later includes many of the features of MULE, the MULtilingual Enhancement to Emacs. See Installing Emacs, for information on where to find and download the latest version of Emacs.

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11.4 Where is an Emacs that can handle Semitic (right-to-left) alphabets?

Emacs 20 and later supports Hebrew characters (ISO 8859-8), but does not yet support right-to-left character entry and display.

Joel M. Hoffman has written a Lisp package called hebrew.el that allows right-to-left editing of Hebrew. It reportedly works out of the box with Emacs 19, but requires patches for Emacs 18. Write to Joel if you want the patches or package.

hebrew.el requires a Hebrew screen font, but no other hardware support. Joel has a screen font for PCs running MS-DOS or GNU/Linux.

You might also try to query archie for files named with hebrew; several ftp sites in Israel may also have the necessary files.

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12 Mail and news

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12.1 How do I change the included text prefix in mail/news followups?

If you read mail with Rmail or news with Gnus, set the variable mail-yank-prefix. For VM, set vm-included-text-prefix. For mh-e, set mh-ins-buf-prefix.

For fancier control of citations, use Supercite. See Supercite.

To prevent Emacs from including various headers of the replied-to message, set the value of mail-yank-ignored-headers to an appropriate regexp.

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12.2 How do I save a copy of outgoing mail?

You can either mail yourself a copy by including a `BCC' header in the mail message, or store a copy of the message directly to a file by including an `FCC' header.

If you use standard mail, you can automatically create a `BCC' to yourself by putting

     (setq mail-self-blind t)

in your .emacs file. You can automatically include an `FCC' field by putting something like the following in your .emacs file:

     (setq mail-archive-file-name (expand-file-name "~/outgoing"))

The output file will be in Unix mail format, which can be read directly by VM, but not always by Rmail. See Learning how to do something.

If you use mh-e, add an `FCC' or `BCC' field to your components file.

It does not work to put `set record filename' in the .mailrc file.

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12.3 Why doesn't Emacs expand my aliases when sending mail?

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12.4 Why does Rmail think all my saved messages are one big message?

A file created through the `FCC' field in a message is in Unix mail format, not the format that Rmail uses (BABYL format). Rmail will try to convert a Unix mail file into BABYL format on input, but sometimes it makes errors. For guaranteed safety, you can make the saved-messages file be an inbox for your Rmail file by using the function set-rmail-inbox-list.

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12.5 How can I sort the messages in my Rmail folder?

In Rmail, type C-c C-s C-h to get a list of sorting functions and their key bindings.

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12.6 Why does Rmail need to write to /usr/spool/mail?

This is the behavior of the movemail program which Rmail uses. This indicates that movemail is configured to use lock files.

RMS writes:

Certain systems require lock files to interlock access to mail files. On these systems, movemail must write lock files, or you risk losing mail. You simply must arrange to let movemail write them.

Other systems use the flock system call to interlock access. On these systems, you should configure movemail to use flock.

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12.7 How do I recover my mail files after Rmail munges their format?

If you have just done M-x rmail-input on a file and you don't want to save it in Rmail's format (called BABYL), just kill the buffer (with C-x k).

If you typed M-x rmail and it read some messages out of your inbox and you want to put them in a Unix mail file, use C-o on each message.

If you want to convert an existing file from BABYL format to Unix mail format, use the command M-x unrmail: it will prompt you for the input and output file names.

Alternatively, you could use the b2m program supplied with Emacs. b2m is a filter, and is used like this:

      b2m < babyl-file > mbox-file

where babyl-file is the name of the BABYL file, and mbox-file is the name of the file where the converted mail will be written.

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12.8 How can I force Rmail to reply to the sender of a message, but not the other recipients?

Ron Isaacson says: When you hit <r> to reply in Rmail, by default it CCs all of the original recipients (everyone on the original `To' and `CC' lists). With a prefix argument (i.e., typing C-u before <r>), it replies only to the sender. However, going through the whole C-u business every time you want to reply is a pain. This is the best fix I've been able to come up with:

     (defun rmail-reply-t ()
       "Reply only to the sender of the current message. (See rmail-reply.)"
       (rmail-reply t))
     (add-hook 'rmail-mode-hook
       (lambda ()
         (define-key rmail-mode-map "r" 'rmail-reply-t)
         (define-key rmail-mode-map "R" 'rmail-reply)))

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12.9 How can I get my favorite Emacs mail package to support MIME?

Read the Emacs MIME FAQ, maintained by MacDonald Hall Jackson at

Version 6.x of VM supports MIME. See VM. Gnus supports MIME in mail and news messages as of version 5.8.1 (Pterodactyl). Rmail has limited support for single-part MIME messages beginning with Emacs 20.3.

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12.10 How do I make Emacs automatically start my mail/news reader?

To start Emacs in Gnus:

     emacs -f gnus

in Rmail:

     emacs -f rmail

A more convenient way to start with Gnus:

     alias gnus 'emacs -f gnus'

It is probably unwise to automatically start your mail or news reader from your .emacs file. This would cause problems if you needed to run two copies of Emacs at the same time. Also, this would make it difficult for you to start Emacs quickly when you needed to.

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12.11 How do I read news under Emacs?

Use M-x gnus. It is documented in Info (see Learning how to do something).

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12.12 Why doesn't Gnus work via NNTP?

There is a bug in NNTP version 1.5.10, such that when multiple requests are sent to the NNTP server, the server only handles the first one before blocking waiting for more input which never comes. NNTP version 1.5.11 claims to fix this.

You can work around the bug inside Emacs like this:

     (setq nntp-maximum-request 1)

You can find out what version of NNTP your news server is running by telnetting to the NNTP port (usually 119) on the news server machine (i.e., telnet server-machine 119). The server should give its version number in the welcome message. Type quit to get out.

See Spontaneous entry into isearch-mode, for some additional ideas.

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12.13 How do I view news articles with embedded underlining (e.g., ClariNews)?

Underlining appears like this:


Per Abrahamsen suggests using the following code, which uses the underline face to turn such text into true underlining, inconjunction with Gnus:

     (defun gnus-article-prepare-overstrike ()
       ;; Prepare article for overstrike commands.
         (set-buffer gnus-article-buffer)
         (let ((buffer-read-only nil))
         (goto-char (point-min))
           (while (search-forward "\b" nil t)
             (let ((next (following-char))
                   (previous (char-after (- (point) 2))))
               (cond ((eq next previous)
                      (delete-region (- (point) 2) (point))
                      (put-text-property (point) (1+ (point))
                                         'face 'bold))
                     ((eq next ?_)
                      (delete-region (1- (point)) (1+ (point)))
                      (put-text-property (1- (point)) (point)
                                         'face 'underline))
                     ((eq previous ?_)
                      (delete-region (- (point) 2) (point))
                      (put-text-property (point) (1+ (point))
                                         'face 'underline))))))))
     (add-hook 'gnus-article-prepare-hook 'gnus-article-prepare-overstrike)

Latest versions of Gnus do such a conversion automatically.

If you prefer to do away with underlining altogether, you can destructively remove it with M-x ununderline-region; do this automatically via

     (add-hook 'gnus-article-prepare-hook
       (lambda () (ununderline-region (point-min) (point-max))))

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12.14 How do I save all the items of a multi-part posting in Gnus?

Use gnus-uu. Type C-c C-v C-h in the Gnus summary buffer to see a list of available commands.

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12.15 How do I make Gnus start up faster?

From the Gnus FAQ (see Learning more about Gnus):

Pranav Kumar Tiwari writes: I posted the same query recently and I got an answer to it. I am going to repeat the answer. What you need is a newer version of gnus, version 5.0.4+. I am using 5.0.12 and it works fine with me with the following settings:
          (setq gnus-check-new-newsgroups nil
                gnus-read-active-file 'some
                gnus-nov-is-evil nil
                gnus-select-method '(nntp gnus-nntp-server))

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12.16 How do I catch up all newsgroups in Gnus?

In the *Newsgroup* buffer, type M-< C-x ( c y C-x ) M-0 C-x e

Leave off the initial M-< if you only want to catch up from point to the end of the *Newsgroup* buffer.

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12.17 Why can't I kill in Gnus based on the Newsgroups/Keywords/Control headers?

Gnus will complain that the `Newsgroups', `Keywords', and `Control' headers are “Unknown header” fields.

For the `Newsgroups' header, there is an easy workaround: kill on the `Xref' header instead, which will be present on any cross-posted article (as long as your site carries the cross-post group).

If you really want to kill on one of these headers, you can do it like this:

     (gnus-kill nil "^Newsgroups: .*\\(bad\\.group\\|worse\\.group\\)")

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12.18 How do I get rid of flashing messages in Gnus for slow connections?

Set nntp-debug-read to nil.

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12.19 Why is catch up slow in Gnus?

Because Gnus is marking crosspostings read. You can control this with the variable gnus-use-cross-reference.

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12.20 Why does Gnus hang for a long time when posting?

David Lawrence explains:

The problem is almost always interaction between NNTP and C News. NNTP POST asks C News's inews to not background itself but rather hang around and give its exit status so it knows whether the post was successful. (That wait will on some systems not return the exit status of the waited for job is a different sort of problem.) It ends up taking a long time because inews is calling relaynews, which often waits for another relaynews to free the lock on the news system so it can file the article.

My preferred solution is to change inews to not call relaynews, but rather use newsspool. This loses some error-catching functionality, but is for the most part safe as inews will detect a lot of the errors on its own. The C News folks have sped up inews, too, so speed should look better to most folks as that update propagates around.

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12.21 Where can I find out more about Gnus?

Look for the Gnus FAQ, available at

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Concept Index

Table of Contents


[1] DOS and Windows terminals don't set bit 7 when the <Meta> key is pressed.

[2] The backslashes in `\+\+' are required because M-x lisp-dir-apropos expects a regular expression as its argument (see Using regular expressions), and `+' has a special meaning in regular expressions.