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Chapter 19. GNU Emacs

19.1. Emacs: The Other Editor

The "other" interactive editor that's commonly used is Emacs. Emacs actually refers to a family of editors; versions of Emacs run under most operating systems available. However, the most important (and most commonly used) version of Emacs is "GNU Emacs," developed by the Free Software Foundation.

Figure Go to http://examples.oreilly.com/upt3 for more information on: emacs

GNU Emacs is popular because it's the most powerful editor in the Emacs family; it is also freely available under the terms of the FSF's General Public License. Although there are certainly strong differences of opinion between Emacs and vi users, most people agree that Emacs provides a much more powerful and richer working environment.

What's so good about Emacs, aside from the fact that it's free? There are any number of individual features that I could mention. (I'll give a list of favorite features in Section 19.2.) Emacs' best feature is the extent to which it interacts with other Unix features. For example, it has a built-in email system so you can send and receive mail without leaving the editor. It has tools for "editing" (deleting, copying, renaming) files, for running a Unix shell within Emacs, and so on. The C shell has a rather awkward command-history mechanism; the Korn shell has something more elaborate. But imagine being able to recall and edit your commands as easily as you edit a letter! That's far beyond the abilities of any shell, but it's simple when you run a shell inside your editor.

In this book, we can't give anywhere near as much attention to Emacs as we can to vi (Section 17.1), but we will point out some of its best features and a few tricks that will help you get the most out of it. For the impatient, here's a very brief survival guide to Emacs.

Starting Emacs
Like vi, Emacs can be started from the shell prompt by typing its name, emacs. Once started, emacs will present you with a helpful screen of commands. A word of advice: take the tutorial (CTRL-h t). If you want to edit an existing file, simply type emacs with the desired filename after it. While editing your file, you may save your work to disk with CTRL-x CTRL-s.

Exiting Emacs
To exit emacs, type CTRL-x CTRL-c. If you haven't saved your work yet, you will have the opportunity to do so before Emacs quits.

Moving around
Unlike vi, Emacs doesn't have a command mode. Like many more modern editors, Emacs allows the user to begin typing his document immediately. Terminal emulation willing, the arrow keys work as expected to move your cursor in and around lines of text. For long documents, you can move by pages rather than lines. Pressing CTRL-v moves the cursor lower in the document, while ESC-v moves the cursor towards the begining.

Deleting characters and lines
The BACKSPACE key normally erases one character to the left of the cursor, and the DELETE key erases the charater under the cursor. Entire lines of text may be removed using CTRL-k, which removes all text from the cursor to the end of the line. You can paste back the most recent cut with CTRL-y.

To undo your last action, type CTRL-x u. You can cancel out of a command sequence with CTRL-g. This is helpful when you're experiencing key lag and type a few extra CTRL-c's.

One last tip before moving on. The Emacs online help descibes key bindings using different abbreviations than used in this book. In the Emacs documentation, C-x is our CTRL-x. Their M-x is our ESC-x. The M stands for META key, which is mapped to the ESCAPE key and usually to the ALT key as well. For consistency, this chapter always refers to the ESCAPE key.

--ML, BR, DC, and JJ

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