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9. Selecting Text

Many Emacs commands operate on an arbitrary contiguous part of the current buffer. You can select text in two ways:

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9.1 The Mark and the Region

To specify the text for a command to operate on, set the mark at one end of it, and move point to the other end. The text between point and the mark is called the region. You can move point or the mark to adjust the boundaries of the region. It doesn’t matter which one is set first chronologically, or which one comes earlier in the text.

Once the mark has been set, it remains until it is set again at another place. The mark remains fixed with respect to the preceding character if text is inserted or deleted in a buffer. Each Emacs buffer has its own mark; when you return to a buffer that had been selected previously, it has the same mark it had before.

Many commands that insert text, such as C-y (yank) and M-x insert-buffer, position the mark at one end of the inserted text—the opposite end from where point is positioned, so that the region contains the text just inserted.

Aside from delimiting the region, the mark is useful for marking a spot that you may want to go back to. To make this feature more useful, Emacs remembers 16 previous locations of the mark in the mark ring.

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9.1.1 Setting the Mark

Here are some commands for setting the mark:


Set the mark where point is (set-mark-command).


The same.

C-x C-x

Interchange mark and point (exchange-point-and-mark).


Pushes a mark at the beginning of the buffer.


Pushes a mark at the end of the buffer.

For example, to convert part of the buffer to all upper-case, you can use the C-x C-u (upcase-region) command, which operates on the text in the region. First go to the beginning of the text you want to capitalize and type C-<SPC> to put the mark there, then move to the end, and then type C-x C-u to capitalize the selected region. You can also set the mark at the end of the text, move to the beginning, and then type C-x C-u. Most commands that operate on the text in the region have the word region in their names.

The most common way to set the mark is with the C-<SPC> command (set-mark-command). This command sets the mark where point is. You can then move point away, leaving the mark behind. It is actually incorrect to speak of the character C-<SPC>; there is no such character. When you type <SPC> while holding down <CTRL>, you get the character C-@ on most terminals. This character is actually bound to set-mark-command. But unless you are unlucky enough to have a terminal where typing C-<SPC> does not produce C-@, you should think of this character as C-<SPC>.

Since terminals have only one cursor, Emacs cannot show you where the mark is located. Most people use the mark soon after they set it, before they forget where it is. But you can see where the mark is with the command C-x C-x (exchange-point-and-mark) which puts the mark where point was and point where the mark was. The extent of the region is unchanged, but the cursor and point are now at the previous location of the mark.

Another way to set the mark is to push the mark to the beginning of a buffer while leaving point at its original location. If you supply an argument to C-< (mark-beginning-of-buffer), the mark is pushed n/10 of the way from the true beginning of the buffer. You can also set the mark at the end of a buffer with C-> (mark-end-of-buffer). It pushes the mark to the end of the buffer, leaving point alone. Supplying an argument to the command pushes the mark n/10 of the way from the true end of the buffer.

If you are using XEmacs under the X window system, you can set the variable zmacs-regions to t. This makes the current region (defined by point and mark) highlight and makes it available as the X clipboard selection, which means you can use the menu bar items on it. See section Active Regions, for more information.

C-x C-x is also useful when you are satisfied with the location of point but want to move the mark; do C-x C-x to put point there and then you can move it. A second use of C-x C-x, if necessary, puts the mark at the new location with point back at its original location.

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9.1.2 Operating on the Region

Once you have created an active region, you can do many things to the text in it:

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9.1.3 Commands to Mark Textual Objects

There are commands for placing point and the mark around a textual object such as a word, list, paragraph or page.


Set mark after end of next word (mark-word). This command and the following one do not move point.


Set mark after end of next Lisp expression (mark-sexp).


Put region around current paragraph (mark-paragraph).


Put region around current Lisp defun (mark-defun).

C-x h

Put region around entire buffer (mark-whole-buffer).

C-x C-p

Put region around current page (mark-page).

M-@ (mark-word) puts the mark at the end of the next word, while C-M-@ (mark-sexp) puts it at the end of the next Lisp expression. These characters sometimes save you some typing.

A number of commands are available that set both point and mark and thus delimit an object in the buffer. M-h (mark-paragraph) moves point to the beginning of the paragraph that surrounds or follows point, and puts the mark at the end of that paragraph (see section Paragraphs). You can then indent, case-convert, or kill the whole paragraph. In the same fashion, C-M-h (mark-defun) puts point before and the mark after the current or following defun (see section Defuns). C-x C-p (mark-page) puts point before the current page (or the next or previous, depending on the argument), and mark at the end (see section Pages). The mark goes after the terminating page delimiter (to include it), while point goes after the preceding page delimiter (to exclude it). Finally, C-x h (mark-whole-buffer) sets up the entire buffer as the region by putting point at the beginning and the mark at the end.

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9.1.4 The Mark Ring

Aside from delimiting the region, the mark is also useful for marking a spot that you may want to go back to. To make this feature more useful, Emacs remembers 16 previous locations of the mark in the mark ring. Most commands that set the mark push the old mark onto this ring. To return to a marked location, use C-u C-<SPC> (or C-u C-@); this is the command set-mark-command given a numeric argument. The command moves point to where the mark was, and restores the mark from the ring of former marks. Repeated use of this command moves point to all the old marks on the ring, one by one. The marks you have seen go to the end of the ring, so no marks are lost.

Each buffer has its own mark ring. All editing commands use the current buffer’s mark ring. In particular, C-u C-<SPC> always stays in the same buffer.

Many commands that can move long distances, such as M-< (beginning-of-buffer), start by setting the mark and saving the old mark on the mark ring. This makes it easier for you to move back later. Searches set the mark, unless they do not actually move point. When a command sets the mark, ‘Mark Set’ is printed in the echo area.

The variable mark-ring-max is the maximum number of entries to keep in the mark ring. If that many entries exist and another entry is added, the last entry in the list is discarded. Repeating C-u C-<SPC> circulates through the entries that are currently in the ring.

The variable mark-ring holds the mark ring itself, as a list of marker objects in the order most recent first. This variable is local in every buffer.

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9.2 Selecting Text with the Mouse

If you are using XEmacs under X, you can use the mouse pointer to select text. (The normal mouse pointer is an I-beam, the same pointer that xterm uses.)

The glyph variable text-pointer-glyph controls the shape of the mouse pointer when over text. You can also control the shape of the mouse pointer when over nontext using nontext-pointer-glyph, and the shape of the mouse pointer when over the modeline using modeline-pointer-glyph. (Remember, you should use set-glyph-image, not setq, to set one of these variables.)

If you want to get fancy, you can set the foreground and background colors of the mouse pointer by setting the pointer face.

There are two ways to select a region of text with the mouse:

To select a word in text, double-click with the left mouse button while the mouse cursor is over the word. The word is highlighted when selected. On monochrome monitors, a stippled background indicates that a region of text has been highlighted. On color monitors, a color background indicates highlighted text. You can triple-click to select whole lines.

To select an arbitrary region of text:

  1. Move the mouse cursor over the character at the beginning of the region of text you want to select.
  2. Press and hold the left mouse button.
  3. While holding the left mouse button down, drag the cursor to the character at the end of the region of text you want to select.
  4. Release the left mouse button.

The selected region of text is highlighted.

Once a region of text is selected, it becomes the primary X selection (see section Using X Selections) as well as the Emacs selected region. You can paste it into other X applications and use the options from the Edit pull-down menu on it. Since it is also the Emacs region, you can use Emacs region commands on it.

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9.3 Additional Mouse Operations

XEmacs also provides the following mouse functions. Most of these are not bound to mouse gestures by default, but they are provided for your customization pleasure. For example, if you wanted shift-left (that is, holding down the <Shift> key and clicking the left mouse button) to delete the character at which you are pointing, then you could do this:

(global-set-key '(shift button1) 'mouse-del-char)

Delete the character pointed to by the mouse.


Delete the Emacs window that the mouse is on.


Select the Emacs window that the mouse is on, then delete all other windows on this frame.


Kill the line pointed to by the mouse.


Print the length of the line indicated by the pointer.


Scroll point to the mouse position.


Select the Emacs window the mouse is on.


Select the Emacs window mouse is on, then split it vertically in half.


Select the Emacs window the mouse is on and set the mark at the mouse position. Display the cursor at that position for a second.


Select the Emacs window that the mouse is on and move point to the mouse position.


Make a selection with the mouse. This is the default binding of the left mouse button (<button1>).


Extend the existing selection. This is the default binding of <Shift-button1>.


Make a selection like mouse-track, but also copy it to the cut buffer.


Make a selection with the mouse and insert it at point. This is the default binding of <control-shift-button1>.


Make a selection with the mouse and insert it at point. This is the default binding of <control-button1>.


Narrow a window to the region between the cursor and the mouse pointer.

The M-x mouse-track command should be bound to a mouse button. If you click-and-drag, the selection is set to the region between the point of the initial click and the point at which you release the button. These positions do not need to be ordered.

If you click-and-release without moving the mouse, the point is moved, and the selection is disowned (there will be no selection owner.) The mark will be set to the previous position of point.

If you double-click, the selection will extend by symbols instead of by characters. If you triple-click, the selection will extend by lines.

If you drag the mouse off the top or bottom of the window, you can select pieces of text that are larger than the visible part of the buffer; the buffer will scroll as necessary.

The selected text becomes the current X selection, and is also copied to the top of the kill ring. Point will be left at the position at which you released the button and the mark will be left at the initial click position. Bind a mouse click to mouse-track-and-copy-to-cutbuffer to copy selections to the cut buffer. (See also the mouse-track-adjust command, on Shift-button1.)

The M-x mouse-track-adjust command should be bound to a mouse button. The selection will be enlarged or shrunk so that the point of the mouse click is one of its endpoints. This is only meaningful after the mouse-track command (<button1>) has been executed.

The M-x mouse-track-delete-and-insert command is exactly the same as the mouse-track command on <button1>, except that point is not moved; the selected text is immediately inserted after being selected; and the text of the selection is deleted.

The M-x mouse-track-insert command is exactly the same as the mouse-track command on <button1>, except that point is not moved; the selected text is immediately inserted after being selected; and the selection is immediately disowned afterwards.

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9.4 Deletion and Killing

Most commands that erase text from the buffer save it. You can get the text back if you change your mind, or you can move or copy it to other parts of the buffer. Commands which erase text and save it in the kill ring are known as kill commands. Some other commands erase text but do not save it; they are known as delete commands. (This distinction is made only for erasing text in the buffer.)

The commands’ names and individual descriptions use the words ‘kill’ and ‘delete’ to indicate what they do. If you perform a kill or delete command by mistake, use the C-x u (undo) command to undo it (see section Undoing Changes). The delete commands include C-d (delete-char) and <DEL> (delete-backward-char), which delete only one character at a time, and those commands that delete only spaces or newlines. Commands that can destroy significant amounts of nontrivial data usually kill.

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9.4.1 Deletion


Delete next character (delete-char).


Delete previous character (delete-backward-char).


Delete spaces and tabs around point (delete-horizontal-space).


Delete spaces and tabs around point, leaving one space (just-one-space).

C-x C-o

Delete blank lines around the current line (delete-blank-lines).


Join two lines by deleting the intervening newline, and any indentation following it (delete-indentation).

The most basic delete commands are C-d (delete-char) and <DEL> (delete-backward-char). C-d deletes the character after point, the one the cursor is “on top of”. Point doesn’t move. <DEL> deletes the character before the cursor, and moves point back. You can delete newlines like any other characters in the buffer; deleting a newline joins two lines. Actually, C-d and <DEL> aren’t always delete commands; if you give them an argument, they kill instead, since they can erase more than one character this way.

The other delete commands delete only formatting characters: spaces, tabs and newlines. M-\ (delete-horizontal-space) deletes all spaces and tab characters before and after point. M-<SPC> (just-one-space) does the same but leaves a single space after point, regardless of the number of spaces that existed previously (even zero).

C-x C-o (delete-blank-lines) deletes all blank lines after the current line. If the current line is blank, it deletes all blank lines preceding the current line as well as leaving one blank line, the current line. M-^ (delete-indentation) joins the current line and the previous line, or, if given an argument, joins the current line and the next line by deleting a newline and all surrounding spaces, possibly leaving a single space. See section M-^.

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9.4.2 Killing by Lines


Kill rest of line or one or more lines (kill-line).

The simplest kill command is C-k. If given at the beginning of a line, it kills all the text on the line, leaving the line blank. If given on a blank line, the blank line disappears. As a consequence, a line disappears completely if you go to the front of a non-blank line and type C-k twice.

More generally, C-k kills from point up to the end of the line, unless it is at the end of a line. In that case, it kills the newline following the line, thus merging the next line into the current one. Emacs ignores invisible spaces and tabs at the end of the line when deciding which case applies: if point appears to be at the end of the line, you can be sure the newline will be killed.

If you give C-k a positive argument, it kills that many lines and the newlines that follow them (however, text on the current line before point is not killed). With a negative argument, C-k kills back to a number of line beginnings. An argument of -2 means kill back to the second line beginning. If point is at the beginning of a line, that line beginning doesn’t count, so C-u - 2 C-k with point at the front of a line kills the two previous lines.

C-k with an argument of zero kills all the text before point on the current line.

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9.4.3 Other Kill Commands


Kill region (from point to the mark) (kill-region). See section Words.


Kill word (kill-word).


Kill word backwards (backward-kill-word).

C-x <DEL>

Kill back to beginning of sentence (backward-kill-sentence). See section Sentences.


Kill to end of sentence (kill-sentence).


Kill sexp (kill-sexp). See section Lists and Sexps.

M-z char

Kill up to next occurrence of char (zap-to-char).

C-w (kill-region) is a very general kill command; it kills everything between point and the mark. You can use this command to kill any contiguous sequence of characters by first setting the mark at one end of a sequence of characters, then going to the other end and typing C-w.

A convenient way of killing is combined with searching: M-z (zap-to-char) reads a character and kills from point up to (but not including) the next occurrence of that character in the buffer. If there is no next occurrence, killing goes to the end of the buffer. A numeric argument acts as a repeat count. A negative argument means to search backward and kill text before point.

Other syntactic units can be killed: words, with M-<DEL> and M-d (see section Words); sexps, with C-M-k (see section Lists and Sexps); and sentences, with C-x <DEL> and M-k (see section Sentences).

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9.5 Yanking

Yanking means getting back text which was killed. Some systems call this “pasting”. The usual way to move or copy text is to kill it and then yank it one or more times.


Yank last killed text (yank).


Replace re-inserted killed text with the previously killed text (yank-pop).


Save region as last killed text without actually killing it (copy-region-as-kill).


Append next kill to last batch of killed text (append-next-kill).

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9.5.1 The Kill Ring

All killed text is recorded in the kill ring, a list of blocks of text that have been killed. There is only one kill ring, used in all buffers, so you can kill text in one buffer and yank it in another buffer. This is the usual way to move text from one file to another. (See section Accumulating Text, for some other ways.)

If you have two separate Emacs processes, you cannot use the kill ring to move text. If you are using XEmacs under X, however, you can use the X selection mechanism to move text from one to another.

If you are using XEmacs under X and have one Emacs process with multiple frames, they do share the same kill ring. You can kill or copy text in one Emacs frame, then yank it in the other frame belonging to the same process.

The command C-y (yank) reinserts the text of the most recent kill. It leaves the cursor at the end of the text and sets the mark at the beginning of the text. See section Selecting Text.

C-u C-y yanks the text, leaves the cursor in front of the text, and sets the mark after it, if the argument is with just a C-u. Any other argument, including C-u and digits, has different results, described below, under “Yanking Earlier Kills”.

To copy a block of text, you can also use M-w (copy-region-as-kill), which copies the region into the kill ring without removing it from the buffer. M-w is similar to C-w followed by C-y but does not mark the buffer as “modified” and does not actually cut anything.

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9.5.2 Appending Kills

Normally, each kill command pushes a new block onto the kill ring. However, two or more kill commands in a row combine their text into a single entry, so that a single C-y yanks it all back. This means you don’t have to kill all the text you want to yank in one command; you can kill line after line, or word after word, until you have killed what you want, then get it all back at once using C-y. (Thus we join television in leading people to kill thoughtlessly.)

Commands that kill forward from point add onto the end of the previous killed text. Commands that kill backward from point add onto the beginning. This way, any sequence of mixed forward and backward kill commands puts all the killed text into one entry without rearrangement. Numeric arguments do not break the sequence of appending kills. For example, suppose the buffer contains:

This is the first
line of sample text
and here is the third.

with point at the beginning of the second line. If you type C-k C-u 2 M-<DEL> C-k, the first C-k kills the text ‘line of sample text’, C-u 2 M-<DEL> kills ‘the first’ with the newline that followed it, and the second C-k kills the newline after the second line. The result is that the buffer contains ‘This is and here is the third.’ and a single kill entry contains ‘the first<RET>line of sample text<RET>’—all the killed text, in its original order.

If a kill command is separated from the last kill command by other commands (not just numeric arguments), it starts a new entry on the kill ring. To force a kill command to append, first type the command C-M-w (append-next-kill). C-M-w tells the following command, if it is a kill command, to append the text it kills to the last killed text, instead of starting a new entry. With C-M-w, you can kill several separated pieces of text and accumulate them to be yanked back in one place.

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9.5.3 Yanking Earlier Kills

To recover killed text that is no longer the most recent kill, you need the Meta-y (yank-pop) command. You can use M-y only after a C-y or another M-y. It takes the text previously yanked and replaces it with the text from an earlier kill. To recover the text of the next-to-the-last kill, first use C-y to recover the last kill, then M-y to replace it with the previous kill.

You can think in terms of a “last yank” pointer which points at an item in the kill ring. Each time you kill, the “last yank” pointer moves to the new item at the front of the ring. C-y yanks the item which the “last yank” pointer points to. M-y moves the “last yank” pointer to a different item, and the text in the buffer changes to match. Enough M-y commands can move the pointer to any item in the ring, so you can get any item into the buffer. Eventually the pointer reaches the end of the ring; the next M-y moves it to the first item again.

Yanking moves the “last yank” pointer around the ring, but does not change the order of the entries in the ring, which always runs from the most recent kill at the front to the oldest one still remembered.

Use M-y with a numeric argument to advance the “last yank” pointer by the specified number of items. A negative argument moves the pointer toward the front of the ring; from the front of the ring, it moves to the last entry and starts moving forward from there.

Once the text you are looking for is brought into the buffer, you can stop doing M-y commands and the text will stay there. Since the text is just a copy of the kill ring item, editing it in the buffer does not change what’s in the ring. As long you don’t kill additional text, the “last yank” pointer remains at the same place in the kill ring: repeating C-y will yank another copy of the same old kill.

If you know how many M-y commands it would take to find the text you want, you can yank that text in one step using C-y with a numeric argument. C-y with an argument greater than one restores the text the specified number of entries back in the kill ring. Thus, C-u 2 C-y gets the next to the last block of killed text. It is equivalent to C-y M-y. C-y with a numeric argument starts counting from the “last yank” pointer, and sets the “last yank” pointer to the entry that it yanks.

The variable kill-ring-max controls the length of the kill ring; no more than that many blocks of killed text are saved.

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9.6 Using X Selections

In the X window system, mouse selections provide a simple mechanism for text transfer between different applications. In a typical X application, you can select text by pressing the left mouse button and dragging the cursor over the text you want to copy. The text becomes the primary X selection and is highlighted. The highlighted region is also the Emacs selected region.

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9.6.1 The Clipboard Selection

There are other kinds of X selections besides the Primary selection; one common one is the Clipboard selection. Some applications prefer to transfer data using this selection in preference to the Primary. One can transfer text from the Primary selection to the Clipboard selection with the Copy command under the Edit menu in the menubar.

Usually, the clipboard selection is not visible. However, if you run the ‘xclipboard’ application, the text most recently copied to the clipboard (with the Copy command) is displayed in a window. Any time new text is thus copied, the ‘xclipboard’ application makes a copy of it and displays it in its window. The value of the clipboard can survive the lifetime of the running Emacs process. The xclipboard man page provides more details.

Warning: If you use the ‘xclipboard’ application, remember that it maintains a list of all things that have been pasted to the clipboard (that is, copied with the Copy command). If you don’t manually delete elements from this list by clicking on the Delete button in the xclipboard window, the clipboard will eventually consume a lot of memory.

In summary, some X applications (such as ‘xterm’) allow one to paste text in them from XEmacs in the following way:

With some other applications (notably, the OpenWindows and Motif tools) you must use this method instead:

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9.6.2 Miscellaneous X Selection Commands

M-x x-copy-primary-selection

Copy the primary selection to both the kill ring and the Clipboard.

M-x x-insert-selection

Insert the current selection into the buffer at point.

M-x x-delete-primary-selection

Deletes the text in the primary selection without copying it to the kill ring or the Clipboard.

M-x x-kill-primary-selection

Deletes the text in the primary selection and copies it to both the kill ring and the Clipboard.

M-x x-mouse-kill

Kill the text between point and the mouse and copy it to the clipboard and to the cut buffer.

M-x x-own-secondary-selection

Make a secondary X selection of the given argument.

M-x x-own-selection

Make a primary X selection of the given argument.

M-x x-set-point-and-insert-selection

Set point where clicked and insert the primary selection or the cut buffer.

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9.6.3 X Cut Buffers

X cut buffers are a different, older way of transferring text between applications. XEmacs supports cut buffers for compatibility with older programs, even though selections are now the preferred way of transferring text.

X has a concept of applications "owning" selections. When you select text by clicking and dragging inside an application, the application tells the X server that it owns the selection. When another application asks the X server for the value of the selection, the X server requests the information from the owner. When you use selections, the selection data is not actually transferred unless someone wants it; the act of making a selection doesn’t transfer data. Cut buffers are different: when you "own" a cut buffer, the data is actually transferred to the X server immediately, and survives the lifetime of the application.

Any time a region of text becomes the primary selection in Emacs, Emacs also copies that text to the cut buffer. This makes it possible to copy text from an XEmacs buffer and paste it into an older, non-selection-based application (such as Emacs 18).

Note: Older versions of Emacs could not access the X selections, only the X cut buffers.

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9.6.4 Active Regions

By default, both the text you select in an Emacs buffer using the click-and-drag mechanism and text you select by setting point and the mark is highlighted. You can use Emacs region commands as well as the Cut and Copy commands on the highlighted region you selected with the mouse.

If you prefer, you can make a distinction between text selected with the mouse and text selected with point and the mark by setting the variable zmacs-regions to nil. In that case:

Active regions originally come from Zmacs, the Lisp Machine editor. The idea behind them is that commands can only operate on a region when the region is in an "active" state. Put simply, you can only operate on a region that is highlighted.

The variable zmacs-regions checks whether LISPM-style active regions should be used. This means that commands that operate on the region (the area between point and the mark) only work while the region is in the active state, which is indicated by highlighting. Most commands causes the region to not be in the active state; for example, C-w only works immediately after activating the region.

More specifically:

set-mark-command (C-SPC) pushes a mark and activates the region. Moving the cursor with normal motion commands (C-n, C-p, etc.) will cause the region between point and the recently-pushed mark to be highlighted. It will remain highlighted until some non-motion command is executed.

exchange-point-and-mark (C-x C-x) activates the region. So if you mark a region and execute a command that operates on it, you can reactivate the same region with C-x C-x (or perhaps C-x C-x C-x C-x) to operate on it again.

Generally, commands that push marks as a means of navigation, such as beginning-of-buffer (M-<) and end-of-buffer (M->), do not activate the region. However, commands that push marks as a means of marking an area of text, such as mark-defun (M-C-h), mark-word (M-@), and mark-whole-buffer (C-x h), do activate the region.

When zmacs-regions is t, there is no distinction between the primary X selection and the active region selected by point and the mark. To see this, set the mark (<C-SPC>) and move the cursor with any cursor-motion command: the region between point and mark is highlighted, and you can watch it grow and shrink as you move the cursor.

Any other commands besides cursor-motion commands (such as inserting or deleting text) will cause the region to no longer be active; it will no longer be highlighted, and will no longer be the primary selection. Region can be explicitly deactivated with C-g.

Commands that require a region (such as C-w) signal an error if the region is not active. Certain commands cause the region to be in its active state. The most common ones are push-mark (<C-SPC>) and exchange-point-and-mark (C-x C-x).

When zmacs-regions is t, programs can be non-intrusive on the state of the region by setting the variable zmacs-region-stays to a non-nil value. If you are writing a new Emacs command that is conceptually a “motion” command and should not interfere with the current highlightedness of the region, then you may set this variable. It is reset to nil after each user command is executed.

When zmacs-regions is t, programs can make the region between point and mark go into the active (highlighted) state by using the function zmacs-activate-region. Only a small number of commands should ever do this.

When zmacs-regions is t, programs can deactivate the region between point and the mark by using zmacs-deactivate-region. Note: you should not have to call this function; the command loop calls it when appropriate.

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9.7 Accumulating Text

Usually you copy or move text by killing it and yanking it, but there are other ways that are useful for copying one block of text in many places, or for copying many scattered blocks of text into one place.

If you like, you can accumulate blocks of text from scattered locations either into a buffer or into a file. The relevant commands are described here. You can also use Emacs registers for storing and accumulating text. See section Registers.

M-x append-to-buffer

Append region to contents of specified buffer (append-to-buffer).

M-x prepend-to-buffer

Prepend region to contents of specified buffer.

M-x copy-to-buffer

Copy region into specified buffer, deleting that buffer’s old contents.

M-x insert-buffer

Insert contents of specified buffer into current buffer at point.

M-x append-to-file

Append region to the end of the contents of specified file.

To accumulate text into a buffer, use the command M-x append-to-buffer, which inserts a copy of the region into the buffer buffername, at the location of point in that buffer. If there is no buffer with the given name, one is created.

If you append text to a buffer that has been used for editing, the copied text goes to the place where point is. Point in that buffer is left at the end of the copied text, so successive uses of append-to-buffer accumulate the text in the specified buffer in the same order as they were copied. Strictly speaking, this command does not always append to the text already in the buffer; but if this command is the only command used to alter a buffer, it does always append to the existing text because point is always at the end.

M-x prepend-to-buffer is similar to append-to-buffer, but point in the other buffer is left before the copied text, so successive prependings add text in reverse order. M-x copy-to-buffer is similar, except that any existing text in the other buffer is deleted, so the buffer is left containing just the text newly copied into it.

You can retrieve the accumulated text from that buffer with M-x insert-buffer, which takes buffername as an argument. It inserts a copy of the text in buffer buffername into the selected buffer. You could alternatively select the other buffer for editing, perhaps moving text from it by killing or with append-to-buffer. See section Using Multiple Buffers, for background information on buffers.

Instead of accumulating text within Emacs in a buffer, you can append text directly into a file with M-x append-to-file, which takes file-name as an argument. It adds the text of the region to the end of the specified file. The file is changed immediately on disk. This command is normally used with files that are not being visited in Emacs. Using it on a file that Emacs is visiting can produce confusing results, because the file’s text inside Emacs does not change while the file itself changes.

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9.8 Rectangles

The rectangle commands affect rectangular areas of text: all characters between a certain pair of columns, in a certain range of lines. Commands are provided to kill rectangles, yank killed rectangles, clear them out, or delete them. Rectangle commands are useful with text in multicolumnar formats, like code with comments at the right, or for changing text into or out of such formats.

To specify the rectangle a command should work on, put the mark at one corner and point at the opposite corner. The specified rectangle is called the region-rectangle because it is controlled about the same way the region is controlled. Remember that a given combination of point and mark values can be interpreted either as specifying a region or as specifying a rectangle; it is up to the command that uses them to choose the interpretation.

M-x delete-rectangle

Delete the text of the region-rectangle, moving any following text on each line leftward to the left edge of the region-rectangle.

M-x kill-rectangle

Similar, but also save the contents of the region-rectangle as the “last killed rectangle”.

M-x yank-rectangle

Yank the last killed rectangle with its upper left corner at point.

M-x open-rectangle

Insert blank space to fill the space of the region-rectangle. The previous contents of the region-rectangle are pushed rightward.

M-x clear-rectangle

Clear the region-rectangle by replacing its contents with spaces.

The rectangle operations fall into two classes: commands deleting and moving rectangles, and commands for blank rectangles.

There are two ways to get rid of the text in a rectangle: you can discard the text (delete it) or save it as the “last killed” rectangle. The commands for these two ways are M-x delete-rectangle and M-x kill-rectangle. In either case, the portion of each line that falls inside the rectangle’s boundaries is deleted, causing following text (if any) on the line to move left.

Note that “killing” a rectangle is not killing in the usual sense; the rectangle is not stored in the kill ring, but in a special place that only records the most recently killed rectangle (that is, does not append to a killed rectangle). Different yank commands have to be used and only one rectangle is stored, because yanking a rectangle is quite different from yanking linear text and yank-popping commands are difficult to make sense of.

Inserting a rectangle is the opposite of deleting one. You specify where to put the upper left corner by putting point there. The rectangle’s first line is inserted at point, the rectangle’s second line is inserted at a point one line vertically down, and so on. The number of lines affected is determined by the height of the saved rectangle.

To insert the last killed rectangle, type M-x yank-rectangle. This can be used to convert single-column lists into double-column lists; kill the second half of the list as a rectangle and then yank it beside the first line of the list.

There are two commands for working with blank rectangles: M-x clear-rectangle erases existing text, and M-x open-rectangle inserts a blank rectangle. Clearing a rectangle is equivalent to deleting it and then inserting a blank rectangle of the same size.

Rectangles can also be copied into and out of registers. See section Rectangle Registers.

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