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GNU Emacs is an extensible, customizable text editor—and more. At its core is an interpreter for Emacs Lisp, a dialect of the Lisp programming language with extensions to support text editing.


The features of GNU Emacs include:

  • Content-sensitive editing modes, including syntax coloring, for a wide variety of file types including plain text; source code (for pretty much any programming/scripting language you can imagine); LaTeX.
  • Complete built-in documentation, including a tutorial for new users.
  • Support for many languages and their scripts, including all the European “Latin” scripts, Russian, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Ethiopian, and some Indian scripts.
  • Highly customizable, using Emacs Lisp code or a graphical customization interface.
  • Games such as Tetris, Snake, etc.
  • Spell checking as you type or when required (can also just check spelling of comments when in programming modes) with ability to add words.
  • A large number of extensions that add other functionality, including a project planner, mail and news reader, calculator (simple or programmable), PDF viewer, web browser, debugger interface, calendar, twitter client and more. Many of these extensions are distributed with GNU Emacs; others are available separately.


After learning a few basic keystroke commands, you can become a lot more productive in Emacs.
When typing a command you can use [TAB] completion, which will complete the command name for you or list the possible commands.

Guide to keys

C-x = (hold [CONTROL], press x, then release [CONTROL])
C-x C-s = (hold [CONTROL], press x, then press s, then release [CONTROL])
M-2 = (hold [ALT], press 2, then release [ALT])
[note M = META usually [ALT] or [ESCAPE] when using [ESCAPE] as META release it before pressing the next key (i.e. M-2 = press and release [ESCAPE] then press 2)].

Written commands

Sometimes the required action doesn't have an associated key-sequence, in these cases the written command must be used (M-x is pressed followed by the command):

ispell-buffer = (hold [ALT], press x, release [ALT], then type "ispell-buffer" in the mini buffer)

Lookup table

The following is a lookup table of basic commands. Emacs has so many commands it would be impossible to list them all, but hopefully this will be enough to get you started.

Action Key-sequence Command
Open file C-x C-f find-file
Close C-x C-c save-buffers-kill-emacs
Save file C-x C-s save-buffer
Save as C-x C-w write-file
Page down C-v scroll-up
Page up M-v scroll-down
Goto top M-< beginning-of-buffer
Goto end M-> end-of-buffer
Goto line M-g g goto-line
Goto start of line C-a beginning-of-line
Goto end of line C-e end-of-line
Search forwards C-s search term isearch-forward search term
Repeat last search forwards C-s C-s isearch-repeat-forward
Search backwards C-r search term isearch-backward search term
Repeat last search backwards C-r C-r isearch-repeat-backward
Cancel command C-g keyboard-quit
Kill line C-k kill-line
Kill sentence M-k kill-sentence
Yank last kill C-y yank
Yank previous kill M-y yank-pop
Split window horizontally C-x 2
Split window vertically C-x 3
Swap active window C-x o
Merge windows C-x 1
List buffers C-x C-b list-buffers
Switch to buffer C-x b switch-to-buffer
Switch active buffer left C-x [LEFT] previous-buffer
Switch active buffer right C-x [RIGHT] next-buffer
Kill Buffer C-x k kill-buffer
Spell-check current buffer none ispell-buffer
Spell-check current word none ispell-word
Indent code C-M-\ indent-region
Goto matching closing bracket C-M-f
Goto matching opening bracket C-M-b
Comment a region M-; comment-or-uncomment-region

Performing other tasks

To use Rmail or Gnus you will have to set up the relevant settings file: ~/.emacs




The simplest (to set up) E-mail client in Emacs, is Rmail, to invoke Rmail press:

M-x rmail

To use Rmail for reading E-mail, other than system mail, you will have to use a program to fetch your E-mail from the server, such as fetchmail or offlineimap.


Another option is Gnus, which is primarily a newsreader, but can also be used for reading E-mail, and can be configured to get your E-mails from the server without the aforementioned mail fetching programs, but will take a little more setting up than Rmail.



Mail can send your E-mail, which is invoked with:

M-x mail 

You can also specify your: E-mail address, name, signature, etc in your ~/.emacs file, so that it is already filled in when you start composing an E-mail.



Gnus is an outstanding newsreader and can be started by pressing:

M-x gnus

To use Gnus, you will first have to setup your ~/.gnus.el file, a brief guide to Gnus is available at: Gnus

IRC client

ERC is an Emacs IRC client which can be started with:

M-x erc

You must first add the following to your ~/.emacs file:

(require 'erc)

Getting Started

When you start ERC, you will be asked for some information:

IRC server:


IRC port:



your nickname


your password (optional)

The commands for ERC are just standard IRC commands.

See also

External links