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Positions

A position is the index of a character in the text of buffer. More precisely, a position identifies the place between two characters (or before the first character, or after the last character), so we can speak of the character before or after a given position. However, the character after a position is often said to be "at" that position.

Positions are usually represented as integers starting from 1, but can also be represented as markers---special objects which relocate automatically when text is inserted or deleted so they stay with the surrounding characters. See section Markers.

Point

Point is a special buffer position used by many editing commands, including the self-inserting typed characters and text insertion functions. Other commands move point through the text to allow editing and insertion at different places.

Like other positions, point designates a place between two characters (or before the first character, or after the last character), rather than a particular character. Many terminals display the cursor over the character that immediately follows point; on such terminals, point is actually before the character on which the cursor sits.

The value of point is a number between 1 and the buffer size plus 1. If narrowing is in effect (see section Narrowing), then point is constrained to fall within the accessible portion of the buffer (possibly at one end of it).

Each buffer has its own value of point, which is independent of the value of point in other buffers. Each window also has a value of point, which is independent of the value of point in other windows on the same buffer. This is why point can have different values in various windows that display the same buffer. When a buffer appears in only one window, the buffer's point and the window's point normally have the same value, so the distinction is rarely important. See section Window Point, for more details.

Function: point

This function returns the position of point in the current buffer, as an integer.

(point)
     => 175

Function: point-min

This function returns the minimum accessible value of point in the current buffer. This is 1, unless narrowing is in effect, in which case it is the position of the start of the region that you narrowed to. (See section Narrowing.)

Function: point-max

This function returns the maximum accessible value of point in the current buffer. This is (1+ (buffer-size)), unless narrowing is in effect, in which case it is the position of the end of the region that you narrowed to. (See section Narrowing).

Function: buffer-end flag

This function returns (point-min) if flag is less than 1, (point-max) otherwise. The argument flag must be a number.

Function: buffer-size

This function returns the total number of characters in the current buffer. In the absence of any narrowing (see section Narrowing), point-max returns a value one larger than this.

(buffer-size)
     => 35
(point-max)
     => 36

Variable: buffer-saved-size

The value of this buffer-local variable is the former length of the current buffer, as of the last time it was read in, saved or auto-saved.

Motion

Motion functions change the value of point, either relative to the current value of point, relative to the beginning or end of the buffer, or relative to the edges of the selected window. See section Point.

Motion by Characters

These functions move point based on a count of characters. goto-char is a fundamental primitive because it is the way to move point to a specified position.

Command: goto-char position

This function sets point in the current buffer to the value position. If position is less than 1, then point is set to the beginning of the buffer. If it is greater than the length of the buffer, then point is set to the end of the buffer.

If narrowing is in effect, then the position is still measured from the beginning of the buffer, but point cannot be moved outside of the accessible portion. Therefore, if position is too small, point is set to the beginning of the accessible portion of the text; if position is too large, point is set to the end.

When this function is called interactively, position is the numeric prefix argument, if provided; otherwise it is read from the minibuffer.

goto-char returns position.

Command: forward-char &optional count

This function moves point forward, towards the end of the buffer, count characters (or backward, towards the beginning of the buffer, if count is negative). If the function attempts to move point past the beginning or end of the buffer (or the limits of the accessible portion, when narrowing is in effect), an error is signaled with error code beginning-of-buffer or end-of-buffer.

In an interactive call, count is the numeric prefix argument.

Command: backward-char &optional count

This function moves point backward, towards the beginning of the buffer, count characters (or forward, towards the end of the buffer, if count is negative). If the function attempts to move point past the beginning or end of the buffer (or the limits of the accessible portion, when narrowing is in effect), an error is signaled with error code beginning-of-buffer or end-of-buffer.

In an interactive call, count is the numeric prefix argument.

Motion by Words

These functions for parsing words use the syntax table to decide whether a given character is part of a word. See section Syntax Tables.

Command: forward-word count

This function moves point forward count words (or backward if count is negative). Normally it returns t. If this motion encounters the beginning or end of the buffer, or the limits of the accessible portion when narrowing is in effect, point stops there and the value is nil.

In an interactive call, count is set to the numeric prefix argument.

Command: backward-word count

This function just like forward-word, except that it moves backward until encountering the front of a word, rather than forward.

In an interactive call, count is set to the numeric prefix argument.

This function is rarely used in programs, as it is more efficient to call forward-word with negative argument.

Variable: words-include-escapes

This variable affects the behavior of forward-word and everything that uses it. If it is non-nil, then characters in the "escape" and "character quote" syntax classes count as part of words. Otherwise, they do not.

Motion to an End of the Buffer

To move point to the beginning of the buffer, write:

(goto-char (point-min))

Likewise, to move to the end of the buffer, use:

(goto-char (point-max))

Here are two commands which users use to do these things. They are documented here to warn you not to use them in Lisp programs, because they set the mark and display messages in the echo area.

Command: beginning-of-buffer &optional n

This function moves point to the beginning of the buffer (or the limits of the accessible portion, when narrowing is in effect), setting the mark at the previous position. If n is non-nil, then it puts point n tenths of the way from the beginning of the buffer.

In an interactive call, n is the numeric prefix argument, if provided; otherwise n defaults to nil.

Don't use this function in Lisp programs!

Command: end-of-buffer &optional n

This function moves point to the end of the buffer (or the limits of the accessible portion, when narrowing is in effect), setting the mark at the previous position. If n is non-nil, then it puts point n tenths of the way from the end.

In an interactive call, n is the numeric prefix argument, if provided; otherwise n defaults to nil.

Don't use this function in Lisp programs!

Motion by Text Lines

Text lines are portions of the buffer delimited by newline characters, which are regarded as part of the previous line. The first text line begins at the beginning of the buffer, and the last text line ends at the end of the buffer whether or not the last character is a newline. The division of the buffer into text lines is not affected by the width of the window, or by how tabs and control characters are displayed.

Command: goto-line line

This function moves point to the front of the lineth line, counting from line 1 at beginning of buffer. If line is less than 1, then point is set to the beginning of the buffer. If line is greater than the number of lines in the buffer, then point is set to the end of the last line of the buffer.

If narrowing is in effect, then line still counts from the beginning of the buffer, but point cannot go outside the accessible portion. So point is set at the beginning or end of the accessible portion of the text if the line number specifies a position that is inaccessible.

The return value of goto-line is the difference between line and the line number of the line to which point actually was able move (before taking account of any narrowing). Thus, the value is positive if the scan encounters the end of the buffer.

In an interactive call, line is the numeric prefix argument if one has been provided. Otherwise line is read in the minibuffer.

Command: beginning-of-line &optional count

This function moves point to the beginning of the current line. With an argument count not nil or 1, it moves forward count-1 lines and then to the beginning of the line.

If this function reaches the end of the buffer (or of the accessible portion, if narrowing is in effect), it positions point at the beginning of the last line. No error is signaled.

Command: end-of-line &optional count

This function moves point to the end of the current line. With an argument count not nil or 1, it moves forward count-1 lines and then to the end of the line.

If this function reaches the end of the buffer (or of the accessible portion, if narrowing is in effect), it positions point at the end of the last line. No error is signaled.

Command: forward-line &optional count

This function moves point forward count lines, to the beginning of the line. If count is negative, it moves point -count lines backward, to the beginning of the line.

If the beginning or end of the buffer (or of the accessible portion) is encountered before that many lines are found, then point stops at the beginning or end. No error is signaled.

forward-line returns the difference between count and the number of lines actually moved. If you attempt to move down five lines from the beginning of a buffer that has only three lines, point will positioned at the end of the last line, and the value will be 2.

In an interactive call, count is the numeric prefix argument.

Function: count-lines start end

This function returns the number of lines between the positions start and end in the current buffer. If start and end are equal, then it returns 0. Otherwise it returns at least 1, even if start and end are on the same line. This is because the text between them, considered in isolation, must contain at least one line unless it is empty.

Here is an example of using count-lines:

(defun current-line ()
  "Return the vertical position of point 
in the selected window.  Top line is 0. 
Counts each text line only once, even if it wraps."
  (+ (count-lines (window-start) (point))
     (if (= (current-column) 0) 1 0)
     -1))

Also see the functions bolp and eolp in section Examining Text Near Point. These functions do not move point, but test whether it is already at the beginning or end of a line.

Motion by Screen Lines

The line functions in the previous section count text lines, delimited only by newline characters. By contrast, these functions count screen lines, which are defined by the way the text appears on the screen. A text line is a single screen line if it is short enough to fit the width of the selected window, but otherwise it may occupy several screen lines.

In some cases, text lines are truncated on the screen rather than continued onto additional screen lines. Then vertical-motion moves point just like forward-line. See section Truncation.

Because the width of a given string depends on the flags which control the appearance of certain characters, vertical-motion will behave differently on a given piece of text found in different buffers. It will even act differently in different windows showing the same buffer, because the width may differ and so may the truncation flag. See section Usual Display Conventions.

Function: vertical-motion count

This function moves point to the start of the screen line count screen lines down from the screen line containing point. If count is negative, it moves up instead.

This function returns the number of lines moved. The value may be less in absolute value than count if the beginning or end of the buffer was reached.

Command: move-to-window-line count

This function moves point with respect to the text currently displayed in the selected window. Point is moved to the beginning of the screen line count screen lines from the top of the window. If count is negative, point moves either to the beginning of the line -count lines from the bottom or else to the last line of the buffer if the buffer ends above the specified screen position.

If count is nil, then point moves to the beginning of the line in the middle of the window. If the absolute value of count is greater than the size of the window, then point moves to the place which would appear on that screen line if the window were tall enough. This will probably cause the next redisplay to scroll to bring that location onto the screen.

In an interactive call, count is the numeric prefix argument.

The value returned is the window line number, with the top line in the window numbered 0.

The User-Level Vertical Motion Commands

A goal column is useful if you want to edit text such as a table in which you want to move point to a certain column on each line. The goal column affects the vertical text line motion commands, next-line and previous-line. See section `Basic Editing Commands' in The GNU Emacs Manual.

User Option: goal-column

This variable holds an explicitly specified goal column for vertical line motion commands. If it is an integer, it specifies a column, and these commands try to move to that column on each line. If it is nil, then the commands set their own goal columns. Any other value is invalid.

Variable: temporary-goal-column

This variable holds the temporary goal column during a sequence of consecutive vertical line motion commands. It is overridden by goal-column if that is non-nil. It is set each time a vertical motion command is invoked, unless the previous command was also a vertical motion command.

User Option: track-eol

This variable controls how the vertical line motion commands operate when starting at the end of a line. If track-eol is non-nil, then vertical motion starting at the end of a line will keep to the ends of lines. This means moving to the end of each line moved onto. The value of track-eol has no effect if point is not at the end of a line when the first vertical motion command is given.

track-eol has its effect by causing temporary-goal-column to be set to 9999 instead of to the current column.

Command: set-goal-column unset

This command sets the variable goal-column to specify a permanent goal column for the vertical line motion commands. If unset is nil, then goal-column is set to the current column of point. If unset is non-nil, then goal-column is set to nil.

This function is intended for interactive use; and in an interactive call, unset is the raw prefix argument.

Moving over Balanced Expressions

Here are several functions concerned with balanced-parenthesis expressions (also called sexps in connection with moving across them in Emacs). The syntax table controls how these functions interpret various characters; see section Syntax Tables. See section Parsing Balanced Expressions, for lower-level primitives for scanning sexps or parts of sexps. For user-level commands, see section `Lists and Sexps' in GNU Emacs Manual.

Command: forward-list arg

Move forward across arg balanced groups of parentheses. (Other syntactic entities such as words or paired string quotes are ignored.)

Command: backward-list arg

Move backward across arg balanced groups of parentheses. (Other syntactic entities such as words or paired string quotes are ignored.)

Command: up-list arg

Move forward out of arg levels of parentheses. A negative argument means move backward but still to a less deep spot.

Command: down-list arg

Move forward down arg levels of parentheses. A negative argument means move backward but still go down arg level.

Command: forward-sexp arg

Move forward across arg balanced expressions. Balanced expressions include both those delimited by parentheses and other kinds, such as words and string constants. For example,

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
(concat-!- "foo " (car x) y z)
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

(forward-sexp 3)
     => nil

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
(concat "foo " (car x) y-!- z)
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

Command: backward-sexp arg

Move backward across arg balanced expressions.

Skipping Characters

The following two functions move point over a specified set of characters. For example, they are often used to skip whitespace. For related functions, see section Motion and Syntax.

Function: skip-chars-forward character-set &optional limit

This function moves point in the current buffer forward, skipping over a given set of characters. Emacs first examines the character following point; if it matches character-set, then point is advanced and the next character is examined. This continues until a character is found that does not match. The function returns nil.

The argument character-set is like the inside of a `[...]' in a regular expression except that `]' is never special and `\' quotes `^', `-' or `\'. Thus, "a-zA-Z" skips over all letters, stopping before the first nonletter, and "^a-zA-Z" skips nonletters stopping before the first letter. See section Regular Expressions.

If limit is supplied (it must be a number or a marker), it specifies the maximum position in the buffer that point can be skipped to. Point will stop at or before limit.

In the following example, point is initially located directly before the `T'. After the form is evaluated, point is located at the end of that line (between the `t' of `hat' and the newline). The function skips all letters and spaces, but not newlines.

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
I read "-!-The cat in the hat
comes back" twice.
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

(skip-chars-forward "a-zA-Z ")
     => nil

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
I read "The cat in the hat-!-
comes back" twice.
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

Function: skip-chars-backward character-set &optional limit

This function moves point backward, skipping characters that match character-set. It just like skip-chars-forward except for the direction of motion.

Excursions

It is often useful to move point "temporarily" within a localized portion of the program, or to switch buffers temporarily. This is called an excursion, and it is done with the save-excursion special form. This construct saves the current buffer and its values of point and the mark so they can be restored after the completion of the excursion.

The forms for saving and restoring the configuration of windows are described elsewhere (see section Window Configurations, and see section Frame Configurations).

Special Form: save-excursion forms...

The save-excursion special form saves the identity of the current buffer and the values of point and the mark in it, evaluates forms, and finally restores the buffer and its saved values of point and the mark. All three saved values are restored even in case of an abnormal exit via throw or error (see section Nonlocal Exits).

The save-excursion special form is the standard way to switch buffers or move point within one part of a program and avoid affecting the rest of the program. It is used more than 500 times in the Lisp sources of Emacs.

The values of point and the mark for other buffers are not saved by save-excursion, so any changes made to point and the mark in the other buffers will remain in effect after save-excursion exits.

Likewise, save-excursion does not restore window-buffer correspondences altered by functions such as switch-to-buffer. One way to restore these correspondences, and the selected window, is to use save-window-excursion inside save-excursion (see section Window Configurations).

The value returned by save-excursion is the result of the last of forms, or nil if no forms are given.

(save-excursion
  forms)
==      
(let ((old-buf (current-buffer))
      (old-pnt (point-marker))
      (old-mark (copy-marker (mark-marker))))
  (unwind-protect
      (progn forms)
    (set-buffer old-buf)
    (goto-char old-pnt)
    (set-marker (mark-marker) old-mark)))

Narrowing

Narrowing means limiting the text addressable by Emacs editing commands to a limited range of characters in a buffer. The text that remains addressable is called the accessible portion of the buffer.

Narrowing is specified with two buffer positions which become the beginning and end of the accessible portion. For most editing commands these positions replace the values of the beginning and end of the buffer. While narrowing is in effect, no text outside the accessible portion is displayed, and point cannot move outside the accessible portion.

Values such as positions or line numbers which usually count from the beginning of the buffer continue to do so, but the functions which use them will refuse to operate on text that is inaccessible.

The commands for saving buffers are unaffected by narrowing; the entire buffer is saved regardless of the any narrowing.

Command: narrow-to-region start end

This function sets the accessible portion of the current buffer to start at start and end at end. Both arguments should be character positions.

In an interactive call, start and end are set to the bounds of the current region (point and the mark, with the smallest first).

Command: narrow-to-page move-count

This function sets the accessible portion of the current buffer to include just the current page. An optional first argument move-count non-nil means to move forward or backward by move-count pages and then narrow.

In an interactive call, move-count is set to the numeric prefix argument.

Command: widen

This function cancels any narrowing in the current buffer, so that the entire contents are accessible. This is called widening. It is equivalent to the following expression:

(narrow-to-region 1 (1+ (buffer-size)))

Special Form: save-restriction body...

This special form saves the current bounds of the accessible portion, evaluates the body forms, and finally restores the saved bounds, thus restoring the same state of narrowing (or absence thereof) formerly in effect. The state of narrowing is restored even in the event of an abnormal exit via throw or error (see section Nonlocal Exits). Therefore, this construct is a clean way to narrow a buffer temporarily.

The value returned by save-restriction is that returned by the last form in body, or nil if no body forms were given.

Caution: it is easy to make a mistake when using the save-restriction function. Read the entire description here before you try it.

If body changes the current buffer, save-restriction still restores the restrictions on the original buffer (the buffer they came from), but it does not restore the identity of the current buffer.

Point and the mark are not restored by this special form; use save-excursion for that. If you use both save-restriction and save-excursion together, save-excursion should come first (on the outside). Otherwise, the old point value would be restored with temporary narrowing still in effect. If the old point value were outside the limits of the temporary narrowing, this would fail to restore it accurately.

The save-restriction special form records the values of the beginning and end of the accessible portion as distances from the beginning and end of the buffer. In other words, it records the amount of inaccessible text before and after the accessible portion.

This technique yields correct results if body does further narrowing. However, save-restriction can become confused if they widen and then make changes outside the area of the saved narrowing. When this is what you want to do, save-restriction is not the right tool for the job. Here is what you must use instead:

(let ((beg (point-min-marker))
      (end (point-max-marker)))
  (unwind-protect
      (progn body)
    (save-excursion
      (set-buffer (marker-buffer beg))
      (narrow-to-region beg end))))

Here is a simple example of correct use of save-restriction:

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
This is the contents of foo
This is the contents of foo
This is the contents of foo-!-
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

(save-excursion
  (save-restriction
    (goto-char 1)
    (forward-line 2)
    (narrow-to-region 1 (point))
    (goto-char (point-min))
    (replace-string "foo" "bar")))

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
This is the contents of bar
This is the contents of bar
This is the contents of foo-!-
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

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