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16. Variables

A variable is a name used in a program to stand for a value. Nearly all programming languages have variables of some sort. In the text of a Lisp program, variables are written using the syntax for symbols.

In Lisp, unlike most programming languages, programs are represented primarily as Lisp objects and only secondarily as text. The Lisp objects used for variables are symbols: the symbol name is the variable name, and the variable’s value is stored in the value cell of the symbol. The use of a symbol as a variable is independent of its use as a function name. See section Symbol Components.

The Lisp objects that constitute a Lisp program determine the textual form of the program—it is simply the read syntax for those Lisp objects. This is why, for example, a variable in a textual Lisp program is written using the read syntax for the symbol that represents the variable.

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16.1 Global Variables

The simplest way to use a variable is globally. This means that the variable has just one value at a time, and this value is in effect (at least for the moment) throughout the Lisp system. The value remains in effect until you specify a new one. When a new value replaces the old one, no trace of the old value remains in the variable.

You specify a value for a symbol with setq. For example,

(setq x '(a b))

gives the variable x the value (a b). Note that setq does not evaluate its first argument, the name of the variable, but it does evaluate the second argument, the new value.

Once the variable has a value, you can refer to it by using the symbol by itself as an expression. Thus,

x ⇒ (a b)

assuming the setq form shown above has already been executed.

If you do another setq, the new value replaces the old one:

     ⇒ (a b)
(setq x 4)
     ⇒ 4
     ⇒ 4

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16.2 Variables That Never Change

In XEmacs Lisp, some symbols always evaluate to themselves: the two special symbols nil and t, as well as keyword symbols, that is, symbols whose name begins with the character ‘:’. These symbols cannot be rebound, nor can their value cells be changed. An attempt to change the value of nil or t signals a setting-constant error.

nil ≡ 'nil
     ⇒ nil
(setq nil 500)
error--> Attempt to set constant symbol: nil

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16.3 Local Variables

Global variables have values that last until explicitly superseded with new values. Sometimes it is useful to create variable values that exist temporarily—only while within a certain part of the program. These values are called local, and the variables so used are called local variables.

For example, when a function is called, its argument variables receive new local values that last until the function exits. The let special operator explicitly establishes new local values for specified variables; these last until exit from the let form.

Establishing a local value saves away the previous value (or lack of one) of the variable. When the life span of the local value is over, the previous value is restored. In the mean time, we say that the previous value is shadowed and not visible. Both global and local values may be shadowed (see section Scope).

If you set a variable (such as with setq) while it is local, this replaces the local value; it does not alter the global value, or previous local values that are shadowed. To model this behavior, we speak of a local binding of the variable as well as a local value.

The local binding is a conceptual place that holds a local value. Entry to a function, or a special operator such as let, creates the local binding; exit from the function or from the let removes the local binding. As long as the local binding lasts, the variable’s value is stored within it. Use of setq or set while there is a local binding stores a different value into the local binding; it does not create a new binding.

We also speak of the global binding, which is where (conceptually) the global value is kept.

A variable can have more than one local binding at a time (for example, if there are nested let forms that bind it). In such a case, the most recently created local binding that still exists is the current binding of the variable. (This is called dynamic scoping; see Scoping Rules for Variable Bindings.) If there are no local bindings, the variable’s global binding is its current binding. We also call the current binding the most-local existing binding, for emphasis. Ordinary evaluation of a symbol always returns the value of its current binding.

The special operators let and let* exist to create local bindings.

Special Operator: let (bindings…) forms…

This special operator binds variables according to bindings and then evaluates all of the forms in textual order. The let-form returns the value of the last form in forms.

Each of the bindings is either (i) a symbol, in which case that symbol is bound to nil; or (ii) a list of the form (symbol value-form), in which case symbol is bound to the result of evaluating value-form. If value-form is omitted, nil is used.

All of the value-forms in bindings are evaluated in the order they appear and before any of the symbols are bound. Here is an example of this: Z is bound to the old value of Y, which is 2, not the new value, 1.

(setq Y 2)
     ⇒ 2
(let ((Y 1)
      (Z Y))
  (list Y Z))
     ⇒ (1 2)
Special Operator: let* (bindings…) forms…

This special operator is like let, but it binds each variable right after computing its local value, before computing the local value for the next variable. Therefore, an expression in bindings can reasonably refer to the preceding symbols bound in this let* form. Compare the following example with the example above for let.

(setq Y 2)
     ⇒ 2
(let* ((Y 1)
       (Z Y))    ; Use the just-established value of Y.
  (list Y Z))
     ⇒ (1 1)

Here is a complete list of the other facilities that create local bindings:

Variables can also have buffer-local bindings (see section Buffer-Local Variables). These kinds of bindings work somewhat like ordinary local bindings, but they are localized depending on “where” you are in Emacs, rather than localized in time.

Variable: max-specpdl-size

This variable defines the limit on the total number of local variable bindings and unwind-protect cleanups (see section Nonlocal Exits) that are allowed before signaling an error (with data "Variable binding depth exceeds max-specpdl-size").

This limit, with the associated error when it is exceeded, is one way that Lisp avoids infinite recursion on an ill-defined function.

The default value is 3000.

max-lisp-eval-depth provides another limit on depth of nesting. See section Eval.

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16.4 When a Variable is “Void”

If you have never given a symbol any value as a global variable, we say that that symbol’s global value is void. In other words, the symbol’s value cell does not have any Lisp object in it. If you try to evaluate the symbol, you get a void-variable error rather than a value.

Note that a value of nil is not the same as void. The symbol nil is a Lisp object and can be the value of a variable just as any other object can be; but it is a value. A void variable does not have any value.

After you have given a variable a value, you can make it void once more using makunbound.

Function: makunbound symbol

This function makes the current binding of symbol void. Subsequent attempts to use this symbol’s value as a variable will signal the error void-variable, unless or until you set it again.

makunbound returns symbol.

(makunbound 'x)      ; Make the global value
                     ;   of x void.
     ⇒ x
error--> Symbol's value as variable is void: x

If symbol is locally bound, makunbound affects the most local existing binding. This is the only way a symbol can have a void local binding, since all the constructs that create local bindings create them with values. In this case, the voidness lasts at most as long as the binding does; when the binding is removed due to exit from the construct that made it, the previous or global binding is reexposed as usual, and the variable is no longer void unless the newly reexposed binding was void all along.

(setq x 1)               ; Put a value in the global binding.
     ⇒ 1
(let ((x 2))             ; Locally bind it.
  (makunbound 'x)        ; Void the local binding.
error--> Symbol's value as variable is void: x
x                        ; The global binding is unchanged.
     ⇒ 1

(let ((x 2))             ; Locally bind it.
  (let ((x 3))           ; And again.
    (makunbound 'x)      ; Void the innermost-local binding.
    x))                  ; And refer: it's void.
error--> Symbol's value as variable is void: x
(let ((x 2))
  (let ((x 3))
    (makunbound 'x))     ; Void inner binding, then remove it.
  x)                     ; Now outer let binding is visible.
     ⇒ 2

A variable that has been made void with makunbound is indistinguishable from one that has never received a value and has always been void.

You can use the function boundp to test whether a variable is currently void.

Function: boundp variable

boundp returns t if variable (a symbol) is not void; more precisely, if its current binding is not void. It returns nil otherwise.

(boundp 'abracadabra)          ; Starts out void.
     ⇒ nil
(let ((abracadabra 5))         ; Locally bind it.
  (boundp 'abracadabra))
     ⇒ t
(boundp 'abracadabra)          ; Still globally void.
     ⇒ nil
(setq abracadabra 5)           ; Make it globally nonvoid.
     ⇒ 5
(boundp 'abracadabra)
     ⇒ t

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16.5 Defining Global Variables

You may announce your intention to use a symbol as a global variable with a variable definition: a special operator, either defconst or defvar.

In XEmacs Lisp, definitions serve three purposes. First, they inform people who read the code that certain symbols are intended to be used a certain way (as variables). Second, they inform the Lisp system of these things, supplying a value and documentation. Third, they provide information to utilities such as etags and make-docfile, which create data bases of the functions and variables in a program.

The difference between defconst and defvar is primarily a matter of intent, serving to inform human readers of whether programs will change the variable. XEmacs Lisp does not restrict the ways in which a variable can be used based on defconst or defvar declarations. However, it does make a difference for initialization: defconst unconditionally initializes the variable, while defvar initializes it only if it is void.

One would expect user option variables to be defined with defconst, since programs do not change them. Unfortunately, this has bad results if the definition is in a library that is not preloaded: defconst would override any prior value when the library is loaded. Users would like to be able to set user options in their init files, and override the default values given in the definitions. For this reason, user options must be defined with defvar.

Special Operator: defvar symbol [value [doc-string]]

This special operator defines symbol as a value and initializes it. The definition informs a person reading your code that symbol is used as a variable that programs are likely to set or change. It is also used for all user option variables except in the preloaded parts of XEmacs. Note that symbol is not evaluated; the symbol to be defined must appear explicitly in the defvar.

If symbol already has a value (i.e., it is not void), value is not even evaluated, and symbol’s value remains unchanged. If symbol is void and value is specified, defvar evaluates it and sets symbol to the result. (If value is omitted, the value of symbol is not changed in any case.)

When you evaluate a top-level defvar form with C-M-x in Emacs Lisp mode (eval-defun), a special feature of eval-defun evaluates it as a defconst. The purpose of this is to make sure the variable’s value is reinitialized, when you ask for it specifically.

If symbol has a buffer-local binding in the current buffer, defvar sets the default value, not the local value. See section Buffer-Local Variables.

If the doc-string argument appears, it specifies the documentation for the variable. (This opportunity to specify documentation is one of the main benefits of defining the variable.) The documentation is stored in the symbol’s variable-documentation property. The XEmacs help functions (see section Documentation) look for this property.

If the first character of doc-string is ‘*’, it means that this variable is considered a user option. This lets users set the variable conveniently using the commands set-variable and edit-options.

For example, this form defines foo but does not set its value:

(defvar foo)
     ⇒ foo

The following example sets the value of bar to 23, and gives it a documentation string:

(defvar bar 23
  "The normal weight of a bar.")
     ⇒ bar

The following form changes the documentation string for bar, making it a user option, but does not change the value, since bar already has a value. (The addition (1+ 23) is not even performed.)

(defvar bar (1+ 23)
  "*The normal weight of a bar.")
     ⇒ bar
     ⇒ 23

Here is an equivalent expression for the defvar special operator:

(defvar symbol value doc-string)
  (if (not (boundp 'symbol))
      (setq symbol value))
  (put 'symbol 'variable-documentation 'doc-string)

The defvar form returns symbol, but it is normally used at top level in a file where its value does not matter.

Special Operator: defconst symbol [value [doc-string]]

This special operator defines symbol as a value and initializes it. It informs a person reading your code that symbol has a global value, established here, that will not normally be changed or locally bound by the execution of the program. The user, however, may be welcome to change it. Note that symbol is not evaluated; the symbol to be defined must appear explicitly in the defconst.

defconst always evaluates value and sets the global value of symbol to the result, provided value is given. If symbol has a buffer-local binding in the current buffer, defconst sets the default value, not the local value.

Please note: Don’t use defconst for user option variables in libraries that are not standardly preloaded. The user should be able to specify a value for such a variable in the ‘.emacs’ file, so that it will be in effect if and when the library is loaded later.

Here, pi is a constant that presumably ought not to be changed by anyone (attempts by the Indiana State Legislature notwithstanding). As the second form illustrates, however, this is only advisory.

(defconst pi 3.1415 "Pi to five places.")
     ⇒ pi
(setq pi 3)
     ⇒ pi
     ⇒ 3
Function: user-variable-p variable

This function returns t if variable is a user option—a variable intended to be set by the user for customization—and nil otherwise. (Variables other than user options exist for the internal purposes of Lisp programs, and users need not know about them.)

User option variables are distinguished from other variables by the first character of the variable-documentation property. If the property exists and is a string, and its first character is ‘*’, then the variable is a user option.

If a user option variable has a variable-interactive property, the set-variable command uses that value to control reading the new value for the variable. The property’s value is used as if it were the argument to interactive.

Warning: If the defconst and defvar special forms are used while the variable has a local binding, they set the local binding’s value; the global binding is not changed. This is not what we really want. To prevent it, use these special operators at top level in a file, where normally no local binding is in effect, and make sure to load the file before making a local binding for the variable.

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16.6 Accessing Variable Values

The usual way to reference a variable is to write the symbol which names it (see section Symbol Forms). This requires you to specify the variable name when you write the program. Usually that is exactly what you want to do. Occasionally you need to choose at run time which variable to reference; then you can use symbol-value.

Function: symbol-value symbol

This function returns the value of symbol. This is the value in the innermost local binding of the symbol, or its global value if it has no local bindings.

(setq abracadabra 5)
     ⇒ 5
(setq foo 9)
     ⇒ 9
;; Here the symbol abracadabra
;;   is the symbol whose value is examined.
(let ((abracadabra 'foo))
  (symbol-value 'abracadabra))
     ⇒ foo
;; Here the value of abracadabra,
;;   which is foo,
;;   is the symbol whose value is examined.
(let ((abracadabra 'foo))
  (symbol-value abracadabra))
     ⇒ 9
(symbol-value 'abracadabra)
     ⇒ 5

A void-variable error is signaled if symbol has neither a local binding nor a global value.

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16.7 How to Alter a Variable Value

The usual way to change the value of a variable is with the special form setq. When you need to compute the choice of variable at run time, use the function set.

Special Operator: setq [symbol form]…

This special operator is the most common method of changing a variable’s value. Each symbol is given a new value, which is the result of evaluating the corresponding form. The most-local existing binding of the symbol is changed.

setq does not evaluate symbol; it sets the symbol that you write. We say that this argument is automatically quoted. The ‘q’ in setq stands for “quoted.”

The value of the setq form is the value of the last form.

(setq x (1+ 2))
     ⇒ 3
x                   ; x now has a global value.
     ⇒ 3
(let ((x 5))
  (setq x 6)        ; The local binding of x is set.
     ⇒ 6
x                   ; The global value is unchanged.
     ⇒ 3

Note that the first form is evaluated, then the first symbol is set, then the second form is evaluated, then the second symbol is set, and so on:

(setq x 10          ; Notice that x is set before
      y (1+ x))     ;   the value of y is computed.
     ⇒ 11
Function: set symbol value

This function sets symbol’s value to value, then returns value. Since set is a function, the expression written for symbol is evaluated to obtain the symbol to set.

The most-local existing binding of the variable is the binding that is set; shadowed bindings are not affected.

(set one 1)
error--> Symbol's value as variable is void: one
(set 'one 1)
     ⇒ 1
(set 'two 'one)
     ⇒ one
(set two 2)         ; two evaluates to symbol one.
     ⇒ 2
one                 ; So it is one that was set.
     ⇒ 2
(let ((one 1))      ; This binding of one is set,
  (set 'one 3)      ;   not the global value.
     ⇒ 3
     ⇒ 2

If symbol is not actually a symbol, a wrong-type-argument error is signaled.

(set '(x y) 'z)
error--> Wrong type argument: symbolp, (x y)

Logically speaking, set is a more fundamental primitive than setq. Any use of setq can be trivially rewritten to use set; setq could even be defined as a macro, given the availability of set. However, set itself is rarely used; beginners hardly need to know about it. It is useful only for choosing at run time which variable to set. For example, the command set-variable, which reads a variable name from the user and then sets the variable, needs to use set.

Common Lisp note: In Common Lisp, set always changes the symbol’s special value, ignoring any lexical bindings. In XEmacs Lisp, all variables and all bindings are (in effect) special, so set always affects the most local existing binding.

One other function for setting a variable is designed to add an element to a list if it is not already present in the list.

Function: add-to-list symbol element &optional append

This function sets the variable symbol by consing element onto the old value, if element is not already a member of that value. It returns the resulting list, whether updated or not. The value of symbol had better be a list already before the call.

If the optional argument append is non-nil, element is added at the end of the list.

The argument symbol is not implicitly quoted; add-to-list is an ordinary function, like set and unlike setq. Quote the argument yourself if that is what you want.

Here’s a scenario showing how to use add-to-list:

(setq foo '(a b))
     ⇒ (a b)

(add-to-list 'foo 'c)     ;; Add c.
     ⇒ (c a b)

(add-to-list 'foo 'b)     ;; No effect.
     ⇒ (c a b)

foo                       ;; foo was changed.
     ⇒ (c a b)

An equivalent expression for (add-to-list 'var value) is this:

(or (member value var)
    (setq var (cons value var)))

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16.8 Scoping Rules for Variable Bindings

A given symbol foo may have several local variable bindings, established at different places in the Lisp program, as well as a global binding. The most recently established binding takes precedence over the others.

Local bindings in XEmacs Lisp have indefinite scope and dynamic extent. Scope refers to where textually in the source code the binding can be accessed. Indefinite scope means that any part of the program can potentially access the variable binding. Extent refers to when, as the program is executing, the binding exists. Dynamic extent means that the binding lasts as long as the activation of the construct that established it.

The combination of dynamic extent and indefinite scope is called dynamic scoping. By contrast, most programming languages use lexical scoping, in which references to a local variable must be located textually within the function or block that binds the variable.

Common Lisp note: Variables declared “special” in Common Lisp are dynamically scoped, like variables in XEmacs Lisp.

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16.8.1 Scope

XEmacs Lisp uses indefinite scope for local variable bindings. This means that any function anywhere in the program text might access a given binding of a variable. Consider the following function definitions:

(defun binder (x)   ; x is bound in binder.
   (foo 5))         ; foo is some other function.
(defun user ()      ; x is used in user.
  (list x))

In a lexically scoped language, the binding of x in binder would never be accessible in user, because user is not textually contained within the function binder. However, in dynamically scoped XEmacs Lisp, user may or may not refer to the binding of x established in binder, depending on circumstances:

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16.8.2 Extent

Extent refers to the time during program execution that a variable name is valid. In XEmacs Lisp, a variable is valid only while the form that bound it is executing. This is called dynamic extent. “Local” or “automatic” variables in most languages, including C and Pascal, have dynamic extent.

One alternative to dynamic extent is indefinite extent. This means that a variable binding can live on past the exit from the form that made the binding. Common Lisp and Scheme, for example, support this, but XEmacs Lisp does not.

To illustrate this, the function below, make-add, returns a function that purports to add n to its own argument m. This would work in Common Lisp, but it does not work as intended in XEmacs Lisp, because after the call to make-add exits, the variable n is no longer bound to the actual argument 2.

(defun make-add (n)
    (function (lambda (m) (+ n m))))  ; Return a function.
     ⇒ make-add
(fset 'add2 (make-add 2))  ; Define function add2
                           ;   with (make-add 2).
     ⇒ (lambda (m) (+ n m))
(add2 4)                   ; Try to add 2 to 4.
error--> Symbol's value as variable is void: n

Some Lisp dialects have “closures”, objects that are like functions but record additional variable bindings. Closures are available in XEmacs Lisp using the lexical-let and lexical-let* macros, which are autoloaded from ‘cl-macs’. See (cl)Lexical Bindings. Note that function arguments cannot be closed around using these macros, and that any lambda expressions returned will not be byte-compiled.

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16.8.3 Implementation of Dynamic Scoping

A simple sample implementation (which is not how XEmacs Lisp actually works) may help you understand dynamic binding. This technique is called deep binding and was used in early Lisp systems.

Suppose there is a stack of bindings: variable-value pairs. At entry to a function or to a let form, we can push bindings on the stack for the arguments or local variables created there. We can pop those bindings from the stack at exit from the binding construct.

We can find the value of a variable by searching the stack from top to bottom for a binding for that variable; the value from that binding is the value of the variable. To set the variable, we search for the current binding, then store the new value into that binding.

As you can see, a function’s bindings remain in effect as long as it continues execution, even during its calls to other functions. That is why we say the extent of the binding is dynamic. And any other function can refer to the bindings, if it uses the same variables while the bindings are in effect. That is why we say the scope is indefinite.

The actual implementation of variable scoping in XEmacs Lisp uses a technique called shallow binding. Each variable has a standard place in which its current value is always found—the value cell of the symbol.

In shallow binding, setting the variable works by storing a value in the value cell. Creating a new binding works by pushing the old value (belonging to a previous binding) on a stack, and storing the local value in the value cell. Eliminating a binding works by popping the old value off the stack, into the value cell.

We use shallow binding because it has the same results as deep binding, but runs faster, since there is never a need to search for a binding.

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16.8.4 Proper Use of Dynamic Scoping

Binding a variable in one function and using it in another is a powerful technique, but if used without restraint, it can make programs hard to understand. There are two clean ways to use this technique:

In either case, you should define the variable with defvar. This helps other people understand your program by telling them to look for inter-function usage. It also avoids a warning from the byte compiler. Choose the variable’s name to avoid name conflicts—don’t use short names like x.

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16.9 Buffer-Local Variables

Global and local variable bindings are found in most programming languages in one form or another. XEmacs also supports another, unusual kind of variable binding: buffer-local bindings, which apply only to one buffer. XEmacs Lisp is meant for programming editing commands, and having different values for a variable in different buffers is an important customization method.

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16.9.1 Introduction to Buffer-Local Variables

A buffer-local variable has a buffer-local binding associated with a particular buffer. The binding is in effect when that buffer is current; otherwise, it is not in effect. If you set the variable while a buffer-local binding is in effect, the new value goes in that binding, so the global binding is unchanged; this means that the change is visible in that buffer alone.

A variable may have buffer-local bindings in some buffers but not in others. The global binding is shared by all the buffers that don’t have their own bindings. Thus, if you set the variable in a buffer that does not have a buffer-local binding for it, the new value is visible in all buffers except those with buffer-local bindings. (Here we are assuming that there are no let-style local bindings to complicate the issue.)

The most common use of buffer-local bindings is for major modes to change variables that control the behavior of commands. For example, C mode and Lisp mode both set the variable paragraph-start to specify that only blank lines separate paragraphs. They do this by making the variable buffer-local in the buffer that is being put into C mode or Lisp mode, and then setting it to the new value for that mode.

The usual way to make a buffer-local binding is with make-local-variable, which is what major mode commands use. This affects just the current buffer; all other buffers (including those yet to be created) continue to share the global value.

A more powerful operation is to mark the variable as automatically buffer-local by calling make-variable-buffer-local. You can think of this as making the variable local in all buffers, even those yet to be created. More precisely, the effect is that setting the variable automatically makes the variable local to the current buffer if it is not already so. All buffers start out by sharing the global value of the variable as usual, but any setq creates a buffer-local binding for the current buffer. The new value is stored in the buffer-local binding, leaving the (default) global binding untouched. The global value can no longer be changed with setq; you need to use setq-default to do that.

Local variables in a file you edit are also represented by buffer-local bindings for the buffer that holds the file within XEmacs. See section How XEmacs Chooses a Major Mode.

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16.9.2 Creating and Deleting Buffer-Local Bindings

Besides the functions mentioned here, buffer-local variables are also created when file-local variables are set. See section How XEmacs Chooses a Major Mode . There is no way (outside of ‘eval’ lines, which are normally disabled) to set the global value of a variable from the file local variable specifications.

Command: make-local-variable variable

This function creates a buffer-local binding in the current buffer for variable (a symbol). Other buffers are not affected. The value returned is variable.

The buffer-local value of variable starts out as the same value variable previously had. If variable was void, it remains void.

;; In buffer ‘b1’:
(setq foo 5)                ; Affects all buffers.
     ⇒ 5
(make-local-variable 'foo)  ; Now it is local in ‘b1’.
     ⇒ foo
foo                         ; That did not change
     ⇒ 5                   ;   the value.
(setq foo 6)                ; Change the value
     ⇒ 6                   ;   in ‘b1’.
     ⇒ 6
;; In buffer ‘b2’, the value hasn't changed.
  (set-buffer "b2")
     ⇒ 5

Making a variable buffer-local within a let-binding for that variable does not work. This is because let does not distinguish between different kinds of bindings; it knows only which variable the binding was made for.

Please note: do not use make-local-variable for a hook variable. Instead, use make-local-hook. See section Hooks.

Command: make-variable-buffer-local variable

This function marks variable (a symbol) automatically buffer-local, so that any subsequent attempt to set it will make it local to the current buffer at the time.

The value returned is variable.

Function: local-variable-p variable buffer &optional after-set

This returns t if variable is buffer-local in buffer buffer; else nil.

If optional third arg after-set is non-nil, return t if symbol would be buffer-local after it is set, regardless of whether it is so presently.

A nil value for buffer is not the same as (current-buffer), but means "no buffer". Specifically:

If buffer is nil and after-set is nil, a return value of t indicates that the variable is one of the special built-in variables that is always buffer-local. (This includes buffer-file-name, buffer-read-only, buffer-undo-list, and others.)

If buffer is nil and after-set is t, a return value of t indicates that the variable has had make-variable-buffer-local applied to it.

Function: buffer-local-variables &optional buffer

This function returns a list describing the buffer-local variables in buffer buffer. It returns an association list (see section Association Lists) in which each association contains one buffer-local variable and its value. When a buffer-local variable is void in buffer, then it appears directly in the resulting list. If buffer is omitted, the current buffer is used.

(make-local-variable 'foobar)
(makunbound 'foobar)
(make-local-variable 'bind-me)
(setq bind-me 69)
(setq lcl (buffer-local-variables))
    ;; First, built-in variables local in all buffers:
⇒ ((mark-active . nil)
    (buffer-undo-list nil)
    (mode-name . "Fundamental")
    ;; Next, non-built-in local variables.
    ;; This one is local and void:
    ;; This one is local and nonvoid:
    (bind-me . 69))

Note that storing new values into the CDRs of cons cells in this list does not change the local values of the variables.

Command: kill-local-variable variable

This function deletes the buffer-local binding (if any) for variable (a symbol) in the current buffer. As a result, the global (default) binding of variable becomes visible in this buffer. Usually this results in a change in the value of variable, since the global value is usually different from the buffer-local value just eliminated.

If you kill the local binding of a variable that automatically becomes local when set, this makes the global value visible in the current buffer. However, if you set the variable again, that will once again create a local binding for it.

kill-local-variable returns variable.

This function is a command because it is sometimes useful to kill one buffer-local variable interactively, just as it is useful to create buffer-local variables interactively.

Function: kill-all-local-variables

This function eliminates all the buffer-local variable bindings of the current buffer except for variables marked as “permanent”. As a result, the buffer will see the default values of most variables.

This function also resets certain other information pertaining to the buffer: it sets the local keymap to nil, the syntax table to the value of standard-syntax-table, and the abbrev table to the value of fundamental-mode-abbrev-table.

Every major mode command begins by calling this function, which has the effect of switching to Fundamental mode and erasing most of the effects of the previous major mode. To ensure that this does its job, the variables that major modes set should not be marked permanent.

kill-all-local-variables returns nil.

A local variable is permanent if the variable name (a symbol) has a permanent-local property that is non-nil. Permanent locals are appropriate for data pertaining to where the file came from or how to save it, rather than with how to edit the contents.

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16.9.3 The Default Value of a Buffer-Local Variable

The global value of a variable with buffer-local bindings is also called the default value, because it is the value that is in effect except when specifically overridden.

The functions default-value and setq-default access and change a variable’s default value regardless of whether the current buffer has a buffer-local binding. For example, you could use setq-default to change the default setting of paragraph-start for most buffers; and this would work even when you are in a C or Lisp mode buffer that has a buffer-local value for this variable.

The special operators defvar and defconst also set the default value (if they set the variable at all), rather than any local value.

Function: default-value symbol

This function returns symbol’s default value. This is the value that is seen in buffers that do not have their own values for this variable. If symbol is not buffer-local, this is equivalent to symbol-value (see section Accessing Variable Values).

Function: default-boundp symbol

The function default-boundp tells you whether symbol’s default value is nonvoid. If (default-boundp 'foo) returns nil, then (default-value 'foo) would get an error.

default-boundp is to default-value as boundp is to symbol-value.

Special Operator: setq-default symbol value

This sets the default value of symbol to value. It does not evaluate symbol, but does evaluate value. The value of the setq-default form is value.

If a symbol is not buffer-local for the current buffer, and is not marked automatically buffer-local, setq-default has the same effect as setq. If symbol is buffer-local for the current buffer, then this changes the value that other buffers will see (as long as they don’t have a buffer-local value), but not the value that the current buffer sees.

;; In buffer ‘foo’:
(make-local-variable 'local)
     ⇒ local
(setq local 'value-in-foo)
     ⇒ value-in-foo
(setq-default local 'new-default)
     ⇒ new-default
     ⇒ value-in-foo
(default-value 'local)
     ⇒ new-default
;; In (the new) buffer ‘bar’:
     ⇒ new-default
(default-value 'local)
     ⇒ new-default
(setq local 'another-default)
     ⇒ another-default
(default-value 'local)
     ⇒ another-default
;; Back in buffer ‘foo’:
     ⇒ value-in-foo
(default-value 'local)
     ⇒ another-default
Function: set-default symbol value

This function is like setq-default, except that symbol is evaluated.

(set-default (car '(a b c)) 23)
     ⇒ 23
(default-value 'a)
     ⇒ 23

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