Collecting my attempts to improve at tech, art, and life

Elisp Functions Described in the Emacs Tutorial

Tags: emacs elisp tutorial tools

The other day I talked some sort of nonsense about organizing my notes into some sort of coherent blog post. Heck with that. Life is too short. Instead I will just dump them here and hope somebody finds them useful. Maybe later I can do something with it. For now it’s just supplemental material for the official Emacs tutorial.

Functions in the Emacs Tutorial

Function Keybinding Description
save-buffers-kill-terminal C-x C-c Save and quit Emacs
keyboard-quit C-g Cancels entry of a command
scroll-up-command C-v Scroll content up
scroll-down-command M-v Scroll cowntent down
recenter-top-bottom C-l Redraw window cycling point through center/top/bottom of window
previous-line C-p Put point on previous line
next-line C-n Put point on next line
backward-char C-b Put point on previous character
forward-char C-f Put point on next character
forward-word M-f Put point on next word
backward-word M-b Put point on previous word
move-beginning-of-line C-a Put point on line start
move-end-of-line C-e Put point on line end
backward-sentence M-a Put point on previous sentence start
forward-sentence M-e Put point on next sentence start
beginning-of-buffer M-< Put point on buffer start
end-of-buffer M-> Put point on buffer end
universal-argument C-u Begin a numeric argument for the following command
delete-other-windows C-x 1 Make window fill its frame
self-insert-command <character> Inserts the character you type
newline RETURN Insert a newline & move point to next line
delete-backward-char DEL Delete characters before point
delete-char C-d Delete characters after point
backward-kill-word M-DEL Delete word before point
kill-word M-d Delete word after point
kill-line C-k Kill from point to end of line
kill-sentence M-k Kill from point to end of sentence
set-mark-command C-SPACE Start marking a region for later action
kill-region C-w Cut text in marked region
yank C-y Yank (paste) text at point
yank-pop M-y cycle through kill ring w/last yank
undo C-/ Undo last command
find-file C-x C-f Prompt in minibuffer to open a file in buffer
save-buffer C-x C-s Save buffer contents to file
list-buffers C-x C-b Display a list of existing buffers
switch-to-buffer C-x b Minibuffer prompt switch window view to different buffer
save-some-buffers C-x s Prompt to save each changed buffer
suspend-frame C-z or C-x C-z exit Emacs temporarily
replace-string M-x replace-string minibuffer - replace instances of a string in buffer after point
recover-file M-x recover-file Revisit buffer using last auto-saved contents
text-mode M-x text-mode Major mode for editing text for humans to read
describe-mode C-h m Show documentation for current major and minor modes
auto-fill-mode M-x auto-fill-mode Toggle automatic line breaking
fill-paragraph M-q Fill paragraph at / after point.
isearch-forward C-s minibuffer - Do incremental search forward
isearch-backward C-r minibuffer - Do incremental search backward
split-window-below C-x 2 Split selected window horizontally. Selected window becomes top
scroll-other-window C-M-v Scroll next window
other-window C-x o Select next window in cyclic window order
delete-other-windows C-x 1 Make selected window fill its frame
find-file-other-window C-x 4 C-f Edit file in other window
make-frame C-x 5 2 Return newly created frame displaying current buffer
delete-frame C-x 5 0 Delete selected frame
help-for-help C-h ? Launches interactive help mode
describe-key-briefly C-h c <key> Prints name of function invoked by <key>
describe-key C-h k <key> Display documentation of function invoked by <key>
describe-function C-h f <function> Display documentation of <function>
describe-variable C-h v <variable> Display documentation of <variable>
apropos-command C-h a <pattern> Show all commands with names containing <pattern>
info C-h i Enter the Info documentation browser
info-emacs-manual C-h r Display the Emacs manual in Info mode


I found some things noteworthy while building this list.

Numeric Arguments

Example Action
C-u 8 C-f Move forward 8 characters
C-u C-f Move forward 4 characters
C-u 2 C-v Scroll screen 2 lines

Disabled Commands

Some commands such as downcase-region C-x C-l are disabled by default in Emacs. They confuse beginners. You get an interactive prompt to try it, enable it, and whatever.

There’s no big list of disabled commands. Instead each command has a hook telling whether it’s disabled or not. The EmacsWiki DisabledCommands page presents functions to list and enable disabled functions.

Inserting and Deleting

Everything you type invokes a function. Most of the alphanumeric keys simply insert the character and move point. Some, like newline and delete-backward-character, trigger functions that relate to behavior users expect when entering those keys.

They take numeric arguments too. C-u 4 * will insert **** into the buffer.


Undo ignores movement commands, and self-insert-command are lumped into groups of up to 20.

Extending the Command Set

There are only so many keys on the average keyboard. Less common commands get invoked either through an extended keybinding like C-x <character> or direct invocation via M-x <name>.


Incremental search is like a minibuffer mode. There are special bindings for the keys and everything.

Multiple Frames

Frames are what what most windowing systems refer to as windows, but Emacs was already using that term.

Frames only work in GUI, because the terminal can only display a single frame at a time. See elscreen for an alternative that works in both terminal and GUI.

Added to vault 2024-01-15. Updated on 2024-02-02