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If you type an Emacs command you did not intend, the results are often mysterious. This chapter tells what you can do to cancel your mistake or recover from a mysterious situation. Emacs bugs and system crashes are also considered.
There are two ways of canceling commands which are not finished executing: quitting with C-g, and aborting with C-] or M-x top-level. Quitting cancels a partially typed command or one which is already running. Aborting exits a recursive editing level and cancels the command that invoked the recursive edit. (See section Recursive Editing Levels.)
Quitting with C-g is used for getting rid of a partially typed command, or a numeric argument that you don't want. It also stops a running command in the middle in a relatively safe way, so you can use it if you accidentally give a command which takes a long time. In particular, it is safe to quit out of killing; either your text will all still be in the buffer, or it will all be in the kill ring (or maybe both). Quitting an incremental search does special things documented under searching; in general, it may take two successive C-g characters to get out of a search (see section Incremental Search).
C-g works by setting the variable
the instant C-g is typed; Emacs Lisp checks this variable
frequently and quits if it is non-
nil. C-g is only
actually executed as a command if you type it while Emacs is waiting for
If you quit with C-g a second time before the first C-g is recognized, you activate the "emergency escape" feature and return to the shell. See section Emergency Escape.
There may be times when you cannot quit. When Emacs is waiting for the operating system to do something, quitting is impossible unless special pains are taken for the particular system call within Emacs where the waiting occurs. We have done this for the system calls that users are likely to want to quit from, but it's possible you will find another. In one very common case--waiting for file input or output using NFS--Emacs itself knows how to quit, but most NFS implementations simply do not allow user programs to stop waiting for NFS when the NFS server is hung.
Aborting with C-] (
abort-recursive-edit) is used to get
out of a recursive editing level and cancel the command which invoked
it. Quitting with C-g does not do this, and could not do this,
because it is used to cancel a partially typed command within the
recursive editing level. Both operations are useful. For example, if
you are in a recursive edit and type C-u 8 to enter a numeric
argument, you can cancel that argument with C-g and remain in the
The command M-x top-level is equivalent to "enough" C-] commands to get you out of all the levels of recursive edits that you are in. C-] gets you out one level at a time, but M-x top-level goes out all levels at once. Both C-] and M-x top-level are like all other commands, and unlike C-g, in that they take effect only when Emacs is ready for a command. C-] is an ordinary key and has its meaning only because of its binding in the keymap. See section Recursive Editing Levels.
C-x u (
undo) is not strictly speaking a way of canceling
a command, but you can think of it as canceling a command that already
finished executing. See section Undoing Changes.
This section describes various conditions in which Emacs fails to work normally, and how to recognize them and correct them.
If you find that DEL enters Help like Control-h instead of deleting a character, your terminal is sending the wrong code for DEL. You can work around this problem by changing the keyboard translation table (see section Keyboard Translations).
Recursive editing levels are important and useful features of Emacs, but they can seem like malfunctions to the user who does not understand them.
If the mode line has square brackets `[...]' around the parentheses that contain the names of the major and minor modes, you have entered a recursive editing level. If you did not do this on purpose, or if you don't understand what that means, you should just get out of the recursive editing level. To do so, type M-x top-level. This is called getting back to top level. See section Recursive Editing Levels.
If the data on the screen looks wrong, the first thing to do is see whether the text is really wrong. Type C-l, to redisplay the entire screen. If the screen appears correct after this, the problem was entirely in the previous screen update. (Otherwise, see section Garbage in the Text.)
Display updating problems often result from an incorrect termcap entry for the terminal you are using. The file `etc/TERMS' in the Emacs distribution gives the fixes for known problems of this sort. `INSTALL' contains general advice for these problems in one of its sections. Very likely there is simply insufficient padding for certain display operations. To investigate the possibility that you have this sort of problem, try Emacs on another terminal made by a different manufacturer. If problems happen frequently on one kind of terminal but not another kind, it is likely to be a bad termcap entry, though it could also be due to a bug in Emacs that appears for terminals that have or that lack specific features.
If C-l shows that the text is wrong, try undoing the changes to it using C-x u until it gets back to a state you consider correct. Also try C-h l to find out what command you typed to produce the observed results.
If a large portion of text appears to be missing at the beginning or end of the buffer, check for the word `Narrow' in the mode line. If it appears, the text you don't see is probably still present, but temporarily off-limits. To make it accessible again, type C-x n w. See section Narrowing.
If Emacs spontaneously displays `I-search:' at the bottom of the screen, it means that the terminal is sending C-s and C-q according to the poorly designed xon/xoff "flow control" protocol.
If this happens to you, your best recourse is to put the terminal in a
mode where it will not use flow control, or give it so much padding that
it will never send a C-s. (One way to increase the amount of
padding is to set the variable
baud-rate to a larger value. Its
value is the terminal output speed, measured in the conventional units
If you don't succeed in turning off flow control, the next best thing
is to tell Emacs to cope with it. To do this, call the function
Typically there are particular terminal types with which you must use
flow control. You can conveniently ask for flow control on those
terminal types only, using
enable-flow-control-on. For example,
if you find you must use flow control on VT-100 and H19 terminals, put
the following in your `.emacs' file:
(enable-flow-control-on "vt100" "h19")
When flow control is enabled, you must type C-\ to get the effect of a C-s, and type C-^ to get the effect of a C-q. (These aliases work by means of keyboard translations; see section Keyboard Translations.)
Because at times there have been bugs causing Emacs to loop without
quit-flag, a special feature causes Emacs to be suspended
immediately if you type a second C-g while the flag is already set,
so you can always get out of GNU Emacs. Normally Emacs recognizes and
quit-flag (and quits!) quickly enough to prevent this from
When you resume Emacs after a suspension caused by multiple C-g, it asks two questions before going back to what it had been doing:
Auto-save? (y or n) Abort (and dump core)? (y or n)
Answer each one with y or n followed by RET.
Saying y to `Auto-save?' causes immediate auto-saving of all modified buffers in which auto-saving is enabled.
Saying y to `Abort (and dump core)?' causes an illegal instruction to be
executed, dumping core. This is to enable a wizard to figure out why Emacs
was failing to quit in the first place. Execution does not continue
after a core dump. If you answer n, execution does continue. With
luck, GNU Emacs will ultimately check
quit-flag and quit normally.
If not, and you type another C-g, it is suspended again.
If Emacs is not really hung, just slow, you may invoke the double C-g feature without really meaning to. Then just resume and answer n to both questions, and you will arrive at your former state. Presumably the quit you requested will happen soon.
The double-C-g feature is turned off when Emacs is running under the X Window System, since you can use the window manager to kill Emacs or to create another window and run another program.
If using Emacs (or something else) becomes terribly frustrating and none of the techniques described above solve the problem, Emacs can still help you.
First, if the Emacs you are using is not responding to commands, type C-g C-g to get out of it and then start a new one.
Second, type M-x doctor RET.
The doctor will help you feel better. Each time you say something to the doctor, you must end it by typing RET RET. This lets the doctor know you are finished.
Sometimes you will encounter a bug in Emacs. Although we cannot promise we can or will fix the bug, and we might not even agree that it is a bug, we want to hear about problems you encounter. Often we agree they are bugs and want to fix them.
To make it possible for us to fix a bug, you must report it. In order to do so effectively, you must know when and how to do it.
If Emacs executes an illegal instruction, or dies with an operating system error message that indicates a problem in the program (as opposed to something like "disk full"), then it is certainly a bug.
If Emacs updates the display in a way that does not correspond to what is in the buffer, then it is certainly a bug. If a command seems to do the wrong thing but the problem corrects itself if you type C-l, it is a case of incorrect display updating.
Taking forever to complete a command can be a bug, but you must make certain that it was really Emacs's fault. Some commands simply take a long time. Type C-g and then C-h l to see whether the input Emacs received was what you intended to type; if the input was such that you know it should have been processed quickly, report a bug. If you don't know whether the command should take a long time, find out by looking in the manual or by asking for assistance.
If a command you are familiar with causes an Emacs error message in a case where its usual definition ought to be reasonable, it is probably a bug.
If a command does the wrong thing, that is a bug. But be sure you know for certain what it ought to have done. If you aren't familiar with the command, or don't know for certain how the command is supposed to work, then it might actually be working right. Rather than jumping to conclusions, show the problem to someone who knows for certain.
Finally, a command's intended definition may not be best for editing with. This is a very important sort of problem, but it is also a matter of judgment. Also, it is easy to come to such a conclusion out of ignorance of some of the existing features. It is probably best not to complain about such a problem until you have checked the documentation in the usual ways, feel confident that you understand it, and know for certain that what you want is not available. If you are not sure what the command is supposed to do after a careful reading of the manual, check the index and glossary for any terms that may be unclear.
If after careful rereading of the manual you still do not understand what the command should do, that indicates a bug in the manual, which you should report. The manual's job is to make everything clear to people who are not Emacs experts--including you. It is just as important to report documentation bugs as program bugs.
If the on-line documentation string of a function or variable disagrees with the manual, one of them must be wrong; that is a bug.
When you decide that there is a bug, it is important to report it and to report it in a way which is useful. What is most useful is an exact description of what commands you type, starting with the shell command to run Emacs, until the problem happens.
The most important principle in reporting a bug is to report facts, not hypotheses or categorizations. It is always easier to report the facts, but people seem to prefer to strain to posit explanations and report them instead. If the explanations are based on guesses about how Emacs is implemented, they will be useless; we will have to try to figure out what the facts must have been to lead to such speculations. Sometimes this is impossible. But in any case, it is unnecessary work for us.
For example, suppose that you type C-x C-f /glorp/baz.ugh RET, visiting a file which (you know) happens to be rather large, and Emacs prints out `I feel pretty today'. The best way to report the bug is with a sentence like the preceding one, because it gives all the facts and nothing but the facts.
Do not assume that the problem is due to the size of the file and say, "When I visit a large file, Emacs prints out `I feel pretty today'." This is what we mean by "guessing explanations". The problem is just as likely to be due to the fact that there is a `z' in the file name. If this is so, then when we got your report, we would try out the problem with some "large file", probably with no `z' in its name, and not find anything wrong. There is no way in the world that we could guess that we should try visiting a file with a `z' in its name.
Alternatively, the problem might be due to the fact that the file starts with exactly 25 spaces. For this reason, you should make sure that you inform us of the exact contents of any file that is needed to reproduce the bug. What if the problem only occurs when you have typed the C-x C-a command previously? This is why we ask you to give the exact sequence of characters you typed since starting the Emacs session.
You should not even say "visit a file" instead of C-x C-f unless you know that it makes no difference which visiting command is used. Similarly, rather than saying "if I have three characters on the line," say "after I type RET A B C RET C-p," if that is the way you entered the text.
The best way to send a bug report is to mail it electronically to the Emacs maintainers at `firstname.lastname@example.org'. (If you want to suggest a change as an improvement, use the same address.)
If you'd like to read the bug reports, you can find them on the newsgroup `gnu.emacs.bug'; keep in mind, however, that as a spectator you should not criticize anything about what you see there. The purpose of bug reports is to give information to the Emacs maintainers. Spectators are welcome only as long as they do not interfere with this. In particular, some bug reports contain large amounts of data; spectators should not complain about this.
Please do not post bug reports using netnews; mail is more reliable than netnews about reporting your correct address, which we may need in order to ask you for more information.
If you can't send electronic mail, then mail the bug report on paper or machine-readable media to this address:
GNU Emacs Bugs Free Software Foundation 675 Mass Ave Cambridge, MA 02139
We do not promise to fix the bug; but if the bug is serious, or ugly, or easy to fix, chances are we will want to.
To enable maintainers to investigate a bug, your report should include all these things:
You can get the version number by typing M-x emacs-version RET. If that command does not work, you probably have something other than GNU Emacs, so you will have to report the bug somewhere else.
configurecommand when you installed Emacs.
Be precise about these changes. A description in English is not enough--send a context diff for them.
Adding files of your own (such as a machine description for a machine we don't support) is a modification of the source.
If you can tell us a way to cause the problem without visiting any files, please do so. This makes it much easier to debug. If you do need files, make sure you arrange for us to see their exact contents. For example, it can often matter whether there are spaces at the ends of lines, or a newline after the last line in the buffer (nothing ought to care whether the last line is terminated, but try telling the bugs that).
The easy way to record the input to Emacs precisely is to to write a dribble file. To start the file, execute the Lisp expression
using M-ESC or from the `*scratch*' buffer just after starting Emacs. From then on, Emacs copies all your input to the specified dribble file until the Emacs process is killed.
TERM), the complete termcap entry for the terminal from `/etc/termcap' (since that file is not identical on all machines), and the output that Emacs actually sent to the terminal.
The way to collect the terminal output is to execute the Lisp expression
using M-ESC or from the `*scratch*' buffer just after starting Emacs. From then on, Emacs copies all terminal output to the specified termscript file as well, until the Emacs process is killed. If the problem happens when Emacs starts up, put this expression into your `.emacs' file so that the termscript file will be open when Emacs displays the screen for the first time.
Be warned: it is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to fix a terminal-dependent bug without access to a terminal of the type that stimulates the bug.
Of course, if the bug is that Emacs gets a fatal signal, then one can't miss it. But if the bug is incorrect text, the maintainer might fail to notice what is wrong. Why leave it to chance?
Even if the problem you experience is a fatal signal, you should still say so explicitly. Suppose something strange is going on, such as, your copy of the source is out of sync, or you have encountered a bug in the C library on your system. (This has happened!) Your copy might crash and the copy here might not. If you said to expect a crash, then when Emacs here fails to crash, we would know that the bug was not happening. If you don't say to expect a crash, then we would not know whether the bug was happening--we would not be able to draw any conclusion from our observations.
If the manifestation of the bug is an Emacs error message, it is
important to report not just the text of the error message but a
backtrace showing how the Lisp program in Emacs arrived at the error.
To make the backtrace, execute the Lisp expression
debug-on-error t) before the error happens (that is to say, you
must execute that expression and then make the bug happen). This causes
the Lisp debugger to run, showing you a backtrace. Copy the text of the
debugger's backtrace into the bug report.
This use of the debugger is possible only if you know how to make the bug happen again. Do note the error message the first time the bug happens, so if you can't make it happen again, you can report at least the error message.
-qswitch to prevent loading the init file.) If the problem does not occur then, you must report the precise contents of any programs that you must load into the Lisp world in order to cause the problem to occur.
The line numbers in the development sources don't match those in your sources. It would take extra work for the maintainers to determine what code is in your version at a given line number, and we could not be certain.
For example, many people send just a backtrace, but that is not very useful by itself. A simple backtrace with arguments often conveys little about what is happening inside GNU Emacs, because most of the arguments listed in the backtrace are pointers to Lisp objects. The numeric values of these pointers have no significance whatever; all that matters is the contents of the objects they point to (and most of the contents are themselves pointers).
To provide useful information, you need to show the values of Lisp objects in Lisp notation. Do this for each variable which is a Lisp object, in several stack frames near the bottom of the stack. Look at the source to see which variables are Lisp objects, because the debugger thinks of them as integers.
To show a variable's value in Lisp syntax, first print its value, then
use the user-defined GDB command
pr to print the Lisp object in
Lisp syntax. (If you must use another debugger, call the function
debug_print with the object as an argument.) The
command is defined by the file `src/.gdbinit' in the Emacs
distribution, and it works only if you are debugging a running process
(not with a core dump).
To make Lisp errors stop Emacs and return to GDB, put a breakpoint at
To find out which Lisp functions are running, using GDB, move up the
stack, and each time you get to a frame for the function
Ffuncall, type these GDB commands:
p *args pr
To print the first argument that the function received, use these commands:
p args pr
You can print the other arguments likewise. The argument
Ffuncall says how many arguments
these include the Lisp function itself and the arguments for that
Here are some things that are not necessary in a bug report:
Often people who encounter a bug spend a lot of time investigating which changes to the input file will make the bug go away and which changes will not affect it.
This is often time consuming and not very useful, because the way we will find the bug is by running a single example under the debugger with breakpoints, not by pure deduction from a series of examples. You might as well save time by not searching for additional examples.
Of course, if you can find a simpler example to report instead of the original one, that is a convenience. Errors in the output will be easier to spot, running under the debugger will take less time, etc.
However, simplification is not vital; if you can't do this or don't have time to try, please report the bug with your original test case.
System call traces are very useful for certain special kinds of debugging, but in most cases they give little useful information. It is therefore strange that many people seem to think that the way to report information about a crash is to send a system call trace.
In most programs, a backtrace is normally far, far more informative than
a system call trace. Even in Emacs, a simple backtrace is generally
more informative, though to give full information you should supplement
the backtrace by displaying variable values and printing them as Lisp
pr (see above).
A patch for the bug is useful if it is a good one. But don't omit the other information that a bug report needs, such as the test case, on the assumption that a patch is sufficient. We might see problems with your patch and decide to fix the problem another way, or we might not understand it at all. And if we can't understand what bug you are trying to fix, or why your patch should be an improvement, we mustn't install it.
Such guesses are usually wrong. Even experts can't guess right about such things without first using the debugger to find the facts.
If you would like to write bug fixes or improvements for GNU Emacs, that is very helpful. When you send your changes, please follow these guidelines to make it easy for the maintainers to use them. If you don't follow these guidelines, your information might still be useful, but using it will take extra work. Maintaining GNU Emacs is a lot of work in the best of circumstances, and we can't keep up unless you do your best to help.
(Referring to a bug report is not as good as including it, because then we will have to look it up, and we have probably already deleted it if we've already fixed the bug.)
If you make two changes for separate reasons, then we might not want to install them both. We might want to install just one. If you send them all jumbled together in a single set of diffs, we have to do extra work to disentangle them--to figure out which parts of the change serve which purpose. If we don't have time for this, we might have to ignore your changes entirely.
If you send each change as soon as you have written it, with its own explanation, then two changes never get tangled up, and we can consider each one properly without any extra work to disentangle them.
Since you should send each change separately, you might as well send it right away. That gives us the option of installing it immediately if it is important.
If you have GNU diff, use `diff -c -F'^[_a-zA-Z0-9$]+ *('' when making diffs of C code. This shows the name of the function that each change occurs in.
The purpose of the change log is to show people where to find what was changed. So you need to be specific about what functions you changed; in large functions, it's often helpful to indicate where within the function the change was.
On the other hand, once you have shown people where to find the change, you need not explain its purpose in the change log. Thus, if you add a new function, all you need to say about it is that it is new. If you feel that the purpose needs explaining, it probably does--but put the explanation in comments in the code. It will be more useful there.
Please read the `ChangeLog' files in the `src' and `lisp' directories to see what sorts of information to put in, and to learn the style that we use. If you would like your name to appear in the header line, showing who made the change, send us the header line. See section Change Logs.
Sometimes people send fixes that might be an improvement in general--but it is hard to be sure of this. It's hard to install such changes because we have to study them very carefully. Of course, a good explanation of the reasoning by which you concluded the change was correct can help convince us.
The safest changes are changes to the configuration files for a particular machine. These are safe because they can't create new bugs on other machines.
Please help us keep up with the workload by designing the patch in a form that is clearly safe to install.
If you need help installing, using or changing GNU Emacs, there are two ways to find it:
email@example.com, and if that brings no response, try
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