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EMACS Reference

Editing on UNIX systems

Emacs is a full screen editor available on most all UNIX systems. This editor is extremely broad ranged, and includes its own file management and mail system; however, its commands are so arcane as to be totally obtuse. That notwithstanding, it is pretty much the UNIX standard for editors, so it may pay to become familiar with it; Emacs is also available for Windows.

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[ Conventions for this help ] [ Getting Started, Getting Out, Recovering From Disasters ] [ Help ] [ Cursor Control ] [ Deleting . . . ] [ Getting/Writing Files ] [ Buffers & Registers ] [ Windows ] [ Search & Replace ] [ The Command Line/Mini-Buffer ] [ Changing Editing Modes ] [ Obtaining Emacs ]
Other Links
[ Emacs Reference Card (.pdf document)]

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Conventions for this help:

When a command is given, such as emacs, follow the command with the carriage return, send, enter key, etc. When the command includes the following control keys, it is generally not necessary to press the enter key.

<CTL>- press the CONTROL key simultaneously with the second key.
<ESC> press the ESCAPE key, release, and then press the second key.
(on a true UNIX terminal, the META key)

Terms such as "filename" mean insert the name of the file you wish to edit, etc.; also,
<CR> press the "enter" (or analogous) key at this point
<backspace> press the "backspace" key at this point
<spacebar> press the "spacebar" key at this point
<text> enter text as appropriate (generally specified)

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Your goal What you type
start the Emacs editor emacs
start Emacs and edit a named file emacs "filename"
quit Emacs permanently <CTL>-x <CTL>-c
suspend Emacs and keep all editing <CTL>-z
return to Emacs if suspended fg (or %) [if emacs is the only suspended process] OR
fg %1 (or %1) [if emacs is the 1st suspended process] OR
fg %n (or %n) [if emacs is the nth suspended process] OR
abort a partially typed or executing command <CTL>-a
undo an unwanted change <CTL>-x u
undo the last command <CTL>-x 4
recover file lost by system crash <ESC> x
exit recursive editing <ESC> x top-level
redraw a garbled screen <CTL>-l [that's the letter l, not the number 1]

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Your goal What you type
getting help <CTL>-h
getting help on a specific command <CTL>-h c <command>
getting help appropo some task <CTL>-h a <task>
getting help on a specific command <CTL>-h f <function>
kill help <CTL>-h k <command>
start the Emacs tutor/ial <CTL>-h <CTL>-h

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Your goal What you type
character forward <CTL>-f
character backward <CTL>-b
word forward <ESC> f
word backward <ESC> b
next line <CTL>-n
previous line <CTL>-p
beginning of line <CTL>-a
end of line <CTL>-e
beginning of sentence <ESC> a
end of sentence <ESC> e
forward one screen <CTL>-v
backward one screen <ESC> v
beginning of file <ESC> <
end of file <ESC> >
beginning of paragraph <ESC> ]
end of paragraph <ESC> [
go to a specific line (number) <ESC> x goto-line <CR> <line> <CR>

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Your goal What you type
delete character before cursor <backspace>
delete character over cursor <CTL>-d
delete word before cursor <ESC> <backspace>
delete word after cursor <ESC> d [ddelete]
delete from cursor to end of line <CTL>-k [kill]
delete from cursor to end of line (plus EOL) <CTL>-k <CTL>-k
delete from cursor to start of line <CTL>-x <CTL>-k
delete from cursor to end of sentence <ESC> k
undelete last deletion <CTL>-y [yank]
toggle back through previous deletions <ESC> y

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Your goal What you type
Read a file into Emacs <CTL>-x <CTL>-f
Read a different file <CTL>-x <CTL>-v
Save the file on the screen <CTL>-x <CTL>-s
Write the file on the screen to a new name <CTL>-x <CTL>-w
Insert an existing file at the cursor <CTL>-x i
  -- Emacs Directory Functions:
List what's in the working directory <CTL>-x d
Once this listing is on the screen, place the cursor on a file name to...
edit the file:
view the file:
copy the file:
rename the file:
delete the file:
unmark the file for deletion:
use a prompt screen for deletions:
to execute the deletions:

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BUFFERS & REGISTERS -- Temporary storage areas for marking & copying text

There are some inconsistencies in how EMACS implements these functions. Generally, the following documented procedures seem to work, but there are some problems. If these do not work, keep reading and try the alternates listed at the end of the section.

Your goal What you type
set mark at cursor <CTL>-@
exchange the mark with the cursor <CTL>-x <CTL>-x
mark paragraph <ESC> h
mark page <CTL>-c <CTL>-p
mark entire buffer <CTL>-x h
kill region <CTL>-w
kill entire buffer <CTL>-x k
  -- there may be more than one buffer that may be selected:
select another buffer <CTL>-x b
list all buffers <CTL>-x <CTL>-b
  -- to move or copy within a single buffer or between two buffers by using a register
     (what word processors call cut-and-paste):
(1) mark beginning of area to cut/copy
(2) move cursor to end of area to copy (up or down)
(3) then . . .
copy the region to register <CTL>-x x [give it a name]
If cutting (not copying) <CTL>-w [deletes the region]
insert register contents at cursor <CTL>-x g [name the register to get]

Alternate methods when the above do not work

  • If <CTL>-@ will not set a mark or cannot be entered:
    • <CTL>-2 will sometimes work (the unshifted "@")
    • <CTL>-<space> will also work
  • If <CTL>-x x will not mark and copy at the area to be copied
    • This is a bigger problem, as it means that multiple buffers cannot be used, and it is not possible to even specify a single buffer: two alternatives exist, both utilizing the kill procudure:
      1. Instead of marking the end of the area to be copied,
        • Set the beginning mark
        • Delete the block with <CTL>-w at the end, then, if not cutting,
        • Use <CTL>-y to yank it back to where it was cut, and
        • Insert with <CTL>-y again where it is to be inserted.
      2. The more elegant way to do the above is to copy with <ESC> w, which does not delete the block being copied; then, as with the above, use <CTL>-y to paste at the desired insertion point.

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Your goal What you type
split the screen into windows, vertically <CTL>-x 2
split the screen into windows, horizontally <CTL>-x 5
delete all windows, leaving single screen <CTL>-x 1
delete current window <CTL>-x 0
switch cursor to another window <CTL>-x o
scroll the other window <CTL>-<ESC>
   -- commands for other windows;
     select named buffer in other window:
create the other window <CTL>-x 4 "filename"
find named file in other window <CTL>-x 4 f "filename"
run directory in other window <CTL>-x 4 d

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   -- Search
Your goal What you type
search forward <CTL>-s
search backward <CTL>-r
repeat forward search <CTL>-s
repeat backward search <CTL>-r
exit search <ESC>
undo last character typed <backspace>
abort search <CTL>-g

   -- Replace
To replace a string (and be prompted prior to the replacement)
(1) type <ESC> %
[you will be prompted for the string to be replaced]
(2) enter the string and press enter
[you will then be prompted for the replacement string]
(3) each time the string to be replace is found you will be asked to confirm you wish to replace it: respond with one of the following . . .
Your goal
What you type
– replace and go to next occurrence
– replace and do not go to next occurrence
– don't replace and go to next occurrence
– replace all remaining matches
– exit search and replace
   - - OR - -
To replace from the cursor on:
      <ESC> x repl s <CR> <find_string> <CR> <replace_string> <CR>

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Your goal What you type
complete as much as possible <TAB>
complete up to one word <spacebar>
complete and execute <CR>
show possible commands to complete <?>
abort the command <CTL>-g
repeat and edit the last command <CTL>-x <ESC>
get help <CTL>-h

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Emacs may edit in various programming languages, for plain text, or other purposes. The default mode is FUNDAMENTAL (as noted on the bottom of the screen).
Your goal What you type
change mode to text mode <ESC> x text-mode
change mode to fundamental mode <ESC> x fundamental-mode
change mode to auto-fill (aka word-wrap) <ESC> x auto-fill-mode
realign a paragraph after insertions <ESC> q
set margins <CTL>-x f <n> [<n> is the width of the page]
help on mode <CTL>-h m

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