Chapter 24. The Emacs Editor

The Emacs editor is found on many Unix systems, including Mac OS X Panther, because it is a popular alternative to vi. Many versions are available. This book documents GNU Emacs. For more information, see the O’Reilly book Learning GNU Emacs.

Emacs is much more than “just an editor”; in fact, it provides a fully integrated user environment. From within Emacs you can issue individual shell commands, or open a window where you can work in the shell, read and send mail, read news, access the Internet, write and test programs, and maintain a calendar. To fully describe Emacs would require more space than we have available. In this chapter, therefore, we focus on the editing capabilities of Emacs.

To start an Emacs editing session, type:


You can also specify one or more files for Emacs to open when it starts:


Emacs Concepts

This section describes some Emacs terminology that may be unfamiliar if you haven’t used Emacs before.


One of the features that makes Emacs popular is its editing modes. The modes set up an environment designed for the type of editing you are doing, with features such as having appropriate key bindings available and automatically indenting according to standard conventions for that type of document. There are two types of modes—major and minor. The major modes include modes for various programming languages such as C or Perl, for text processing (e.g., SGML or even straight text), and many more. One particularly useful ...

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