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Emacs Display

This chapter describes a number of features related to the display that Emacs presents to the user.

Refreshing the Screen

The function redraw-frame redisplays the entire contents of a given frame. See section Frames.

Function: redraw-frame frame
This function clears and redisplays frame frame.

Even more powerful is redraw-display:

Command: redraw-display
This function clears and redisplays all visible frames.

Processing user input takes absolute priority over redisplay. If you call these functions when input is available, they do nothing immediately, but a full redisplay does happen eventually--after all the input has been processed.

Normally, suspending and resuming Emacs also refreshes the screen. Some terminal emulators record separate contents for display-oriented programs such as Emacs and for ordinary sequential display. If you are using such a terminal, you might want to inhibit the redisplay on resumption.

Variable: no-redraw-on-reenter
This variable controls whether Emacs redraws the entire screen after it has been suspended and resumed. Non-nil means yes, nil means no.

Screen Size

The screen size functions access or specify the height or width of the terminal. When you are using multiple frames, they apply to the selected frame (see section Frames).

Function: screen-height
This function returns the number of lines on the screen that are available for display.

     => 50

Function: screen-width
This function returns the number of columns on the screen that are available for display.

     => 80

Function: set-screen-height lines &optional not-actual-size
This function declares that the terminal can display lines lines. The sizes of existing windows are altered proportionally to fit.

If not-actual-size is non-nil, then Emacs displays lines lines of output, but does not change its value for the actual height of the screen. (Knowing the correct actual size may be necessary for correct cursor positioning.) Using a smaller height than the terminal actually implements may be useful to reproduce behavior observed on a smaller screen, or if the terminal malfunctions when using its whole screen.

If lines is different from what it was previously, then the entire screen is cleared and redisplayed using the new size.

This function returns nil.

Function: set-screen-width columns &optional not-actual-size
This function declares that the terminal can display columns columns. The details are as in set-screen-height.


When a line of text extends beyond the right edge of a window, the line can either be continued on the next screen line, or truncated to one screen line. The additional screen lines used to display a long text line are called continuation lines. Normally, a `$' in the rightmost column of the window indicates truncation; a `\' on the rightmost column indicates a line that "wraps" or is continued onto the next line. (The display table can specify alternative indicators; see section Display Tables.)

Note that continuation is different from filling; continuation happens on the screen only, not in the buffer contents, and it breaks a line precisely at the right margin, not at a word boundary. See section Filling.

User Option: truncate-lines
This buffer-local variable controls how Emacs displays lines that extend beyond the right edge of the window. The default is nil, which specifies continuation. If the value is non-nil, then these lines are truncated.

If the variable truncate-partial-width-windows is non-nil, then truncation is always used for side-by-side windows (within one frame) regardless of the value of truncate-lines.

User Option: default-truncate-lines
This variable is the default value for truncate-lines, for buffers that do not have local values for it.

User Option: truncate-partial-width-windows
This variable controls display of lines that extend beyond the right edge of the window, in side-by-side windows (see section Splitting Windows). If it is non-nil, these lines are truncated; otherwise, truncate-lines says what to do with them.

You can override the images that indicate continuation or truncation with the display table; see section Display Tables.

If your buffer contains very long lines, and you use continuation to display them, just thinking about them can make Emacs redisplay slow. The column computation and indentation functions also become slow. Then you might find it advisable to set cache-long-line-scans to t.

Variable: cache-long-line-scans
If this variable is non-nil, various indentation and motion functions, and Emacs redisplay, cache the results of scanning the buffer, and consult the cache to avoid rescanning regions of the buffer unless they are modified.

Turning on the cache slows down processing of short lines somewhat.

This variable is automatically local in every buffer.

The Echo Area

The echo area is used for displaying messages made with the message primitive, and for echoing keystrokes. It is not the same as the minibuffer, despite the fact that the minibuffer appears (when active) in the same place on the screen as the echo area. The GNU Emacs Manual specifies the rules for resolving conflicts between the echo area and the minibuffer for use of that screen space (see section `The Minibuffer' in The GNU Emacs Manual). Error messages appear in the echo area; see section Errors.

You can write output in the echo area by using the Lisp printing functions with t as the stream (see section Output Functions), or as follows:

Function: message string &rest arguments
This function displays a one-line message in the echo area. The argument string is similar to a C language printf control string. See format in section Conversion of Characters and Strings, for the details on the conversion specifications. message returns the constructed string.

In batch mode, message prints the message text on the standard error stream, followed by a newline.

If string is nil, message clears the echo area. If the minibuffer is active, this brings the minibuffer contents back onto the screen immediately.

(message "Minibuffer depth is %d."
 -| Minibuffer depth is 0.
=> "Minibuffer depth is 0."

---------- Echo Area ----------
Minibuffer depth is 0.
---------- Echo Area ----------

Almost all the messages displayed in the echo area are also recorded in the `*Messages*' buffer.

User Option: message-log-max
This variable specifies how many lines to keep in the `*Messages*' buffer. The value t means there is no limit on how many lines to keep. The value nil disables message logging entirely. Here's how to display a message and prevent it from being logged:

(let (message-log-max)
  (message ...))

Variable: echo-keystrokes
This variable determines how much time should elapse before command characters echo. Its value must be an integer, which specifies the number of seconds to wait before echoing. If the user types a prefix key (such as C-x) and then delays this many seconds before continuing, the prefix key is echoed in the echo area. Any subsequent characters in the same command will be echoed as well.

If the value is zero, then command input is not echoed.

Variable: cursor-in-echo-area
This variable controls where the cursor appears when a message is displayed in the echo area. If it is non-nil, then the cursor appears at the end of the message. Otherwise, the cursor appears at point--not in the echo area at all.

The value is normally nil; Lisp programs bind it to t for brief periods of time.

Invisible Text

You can make characters invisible, so that they do not appear on the screen, with the invisible property. This can be either a text property or a property of an overlay.

In the simplest case, any non-nil invisible property makes a character invisible. This is the default case--if you don't alter the default value of buffer-invisibility-spec, this is how the invisibility property works. This feature is much like selective display (see section Selective Display), but more general and cleaner.

More generally, you can use the variable buffer-invisibility-spec to control which values of the invisible property make text invisible. This permits you to classify the text into different subsets in advance, by giving them different invisible values, and subsequently make various subsets visible or invisible by changing the value of buffer-invisibility-spec.

Controlling visibility with buffer-invisibility-spec is especially useful in a program to display the list of entries in a data base. It permits the implementation of convenient filtering commands to view just a part of the entries in the data base. Setting this variable is very fast, much faster than scanning all the text in the buffer looking for properties to change.

Variable: buffer-invisibility-spec
This variable specifies which kinds of invisible properties actually make a character invisible.

A character is invisible if its invisible property is non-nil. This is the default.
a list
Each element of the list makes certain characters invisible. Ultimately, a character is invisible if any of the elements of this list applies to it. The list can have two kinds of elements:
A character is invisible if its invisible propery value is atom or if it is a list with atom as a member.
(atom . t)
A character is invisible if its invisible propery value is atom or if it is a list with atom as a member. Moreover, if this character is at the end of a line and is followed by a visible newline, it displays an ellipsis.

Ordinarily, commands that operate on text or move point do not care whether the text is invisible. However, the user-level line motion commands explicitly ignore invisible newlines.

Selective Display

Selective display is a pair of features that hide certain lines on the screen.

The first variant, explicit selective display, is designed for use in a Lisp program. The program controls which lines are hidden by altering the text. Outline mode has traditionally used this variant. It has been partially replaced by the invisible text feature (see section Invisible Text); there is a new version of Outline mode which uses that instead.

In the second variant, the choice of lines to hide is made automatically based on indentation. This variant is designed to be a user-level feature.

The way you control explicit selective display is by replacing a newline (control-j) with a carriage return (control-m). The text that was formerly a line following that newline is now invisible. Strictly speaking, it is temporarily no longer a line at all, since only newlines can separate lines; it is now part of the previous line.

Selective display does not directly affect editing commands. For example, C-f (forward-char) moves point unhesitatingly into invisible text. However, the replacement of newline characters with carriage return characters affects some editing commands. For example, next-line skips invisible lines, since it searches only for newlines. Modes that use selective display can also define commands that take account of the newlines, or that make parts of the text visible or invisible.

When you write a selectively displayed buffer into a file, all the control-m's are output as newlines. This means that when you next read in the file, it looks OK, with nothing invisible. The selective display effect is seen only within Emacs.

Variable: selective-display
This buffer-local variable enables selective display. This means that lines, or portions of lines, may be made invisible.

When some portion of a buffer is invisible, the vertical movement commands operate as if that portion did not exist, allowing a single next-line command to skip any number of invisible lines. However, character movement commands (such as forward-char) do not skip the invisible portion, and it is possible (if tricky) to insert or delete text in an invisible portion.

In the examples below, we show the display appearance of the buffer foo, which changes with the value of selective-display. The contents of the buffer do not change.

(setq selective-display nil)
     => nil

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
1 on this column
 2on this column
  3n this column
  3n this column
 2on this column
1 on this column
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

(setq selective-display 2)
     => 2

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
1 on this column
 2on this column
 2on this column
1 on this column
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

Variable: selective-display-ellipses
If this buffer-local variable is non-nil, then Emacs displays `...' at the end of a line that is followed by invisible text. This example is a continuation of the previous one.

(setq selective-display-ellipses t)
     => t

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
1 on this column
 2on this column ...
 2on this column
1 on this column
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

You can use a display table to substitute other text for the ellipsis (`...'). See section Display Tables.

The Overlay Arrow

The overlay arrow is useful for directing the user's attention to a particular line in a buffer. For example, in the modes used for interface to debuggers, the overlay arrow indicates the line of code about to be executed.

Variable: overlay-arrow-string
This variable holds the string to display to call attention to a particular line, or nil if the arrow feature is not in use.

Variable: overlay-arrow-position
This variable holds a marker that indicates where to display the overlay arrow. It should point at the beginning of a line. The arrow text appears at the beginning of that line, overlaying any text that would otherwise appear. Since the arrow is usually short, and the line usually begins with indentation, normally nothing significant is overwritten.

The overlay string is displayed only in the buffer that this marker points into. Thus, only one buffer can have an overlay arrow at any given time.

You can do the same job by creating an overlay with a before-string property. See section Overlay Properties.

Temporary Displays

Temporary displays are used by commands to put output into a buffer and then present it to the user for perusal rather than for editing. Many of the help commands use this feature.

Special Form: with-output-to-temp-buffer buffer-name forms...
This function executes forms while arranging to insert any output they print into the buffer named buffer-name. The buffer is then shown in some window for viewing, displayed but not selected.

The string buffer-name specifies the temporary buffer, which need not already exist. The argument must be a string, not a buffer. The buffer is erased initially (with no questions asked), and it is marked as unmodified after with-output-to-temp-buffer exits.

with-output-to-temp-buffer binds standard-output to the temporary buffer, then it evaluates the forms in forms. Output using the Lisp output functions within forms goes by default to that buffer (but screen display and messages in the echo area, although they are "output" in the general sense of the word, are not affected). See section Output Functions.

The value of the last form in forms is returned.

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

(with-output-to-temp-buffer "foo"
    (print 20)
    (print standard-output))
=> #<buffer foo>

---------- Buffer: foo ----------

#<buffer foo>

---------- Buffer: foo ----------

Variable: temp-buffer-show-function
If this variable is non-nil, with-output-to-temp-buffer calls it as a function to do the job of displaying a help buffer. The function gets one argument, which is the buffer it should display.

In Emacs versions 18 and earlier, this variable was called temp-buffer-show-hook.

Function: momentary-string-display string position &optional char message
This function momentarily displays string in the current buffer at position. It has no effect on the undo list or on the buffer's modification status.

The momentary display remains until the next input event. If the next input event is char, momentary-string-display ignores it and returns. Otherwise, that event remains buffered for subsequent use as input. Thus, typing char will simply remove the string from the display, while typing (say) C-f will remove the string from the display and later (presumably) move point forward. The argument char is a space by default.

The return value of momentary-string-display is not meaningful.

If the string string does not contain control characters, you can do the same job in a more general way by creating an overlay with a before-string property. See section Overlay Properties.

If message is non-nil, it is displayed in the echo area while string is displayed in the buffer. If it is nil, a default message says to type char to continue.

In this example, point is initially located at the beginning of the second line:

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
This is the contents of foo.
-!-Second line.
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

  "**** Important Message! ****"
  (point) ?\r
  "Type RET when done reading")
=> t

---------- Buffer: foo ----------
This is the contents of foo.
**** Important Message! ****Second line.
---------- Buffer: foo ----------

---------- Echo Area ----------
Type RET when done reading
---------- Echo Area ----------


You can use overlays to alter the appearance of a buffer's text on the screen, for the sake of presentation features. An overlay is an object that belongs to a particular buffer, and has a specified beginning and end. It also has properties that you can examine and set; these affect the display of the text within the overlay.

Overlay Properties

Overlay properties are like text properties in some respects, but the differences are more important than the similarities. Text properties are considered a part of the text; overlays are specifically considered not to be part of the text. Thus, copying text between various buffers and strings preserves text properties, but does not try to preserve overlays. Changing a buffer's text properties marks the buffer as modified, while moving an overlay or changing its properties does not. Unlike text propery changes, overlay changes are not recorded in the buffer's undo list.

This property's value (which should be a nonnegative number) determines the priority of the overlay. The priority matters when two or more overlays cover the same character and both specify a face for display; the one whose priority value is larger takes priority over the other, and its face attributes override the face attributes of the lower priority overlay. Currently, all overlays take priority over text properties. Please avoid using negative priority values, as we have not yet decided just what they should mean.
If the window property is non-nil, then the overlay applies only on that window.
If an overlay has a category property, we call it the category of the overlay. It should be a symbol. The properties of the symbol serve as defaults for the properties of the overlay.
This property controls the font and color of text. Its value is a face name or a list of face names. See section Faces, for more information. This feature may be temporary; in the future, we may replace it with other ways of specifying how to display text.
This property is used instead of face when the mouse is within the range of the overlay. This feature may be temporary, like face.
This property's value is a list of functions to be called if any character within the overlay is changed or if text is inserted strictly within the overlay. The hook functions are called both before and after each change. If the functions save the information they receive, and compare notes between calls, they can determine exactly what change has been made in the buffer text. When called before a change, each function receives four arguments: the overlay, nil, and the beginning and end of the text range to be modified. When called after a change, each function receives five arguments: the overlay, t, the beginning and end of the text range just modified, and the length of the pre-change text replaced by that range. (For an insertion, the pre-change length is zero; for a deletion, that length is the number of characters deleted, and the post-change beginning and end are equal.)
This property's value is a list of functions to be called before and after inserting text right at the beginning of the overlay. The calling conventions are the same as for the modification-hooks functions.
This property's value is a list of functions to be called before and after inserting text right at the end of the overlay. The calling conventions are the same as for the modification-hooks functions.
The invisible property can make the text in the overlay invisible, which means that it does not appear on the screen. See section Invisible Text, for details.
The intangible property on an overlay works just like the intangible text property. See section Properties with Special Meanings, for details.
This property's value is a string to add to the display at the beginning of the overlay. The string does not appear in the buffer in any sense--only on the screen. The string should contain only characters that display as a single column--control characters, including tabs or newlines, will give strange results.
This property's value is a string to add to the display at the end of the overlay. The string does not appear in the buffer in any sense--only on the screen. The string should contain only characters that display as a single column--control characters, including tabs or newlines, will give strange results.
If this property is non-nil, the overlay is deleted automatically if it ever becomes empty (i.e., if it spans no characters).

These are the functions for reading and writing the properties of an overlay.

Function: overlay-get overlay prop
This function returns the value of property prop recorded in overlay, if any. If overlay does not record any value for that property, but it does have a category property which is a symbol, that symbol's prop property is used. Otherwise, the value is nil.

Function: overlay-put overlay prop value
This function sets the value of property prop recorded in overlay to value. It returns value.

See also the function get-char-property which checks both overlay properties and text properties for a given character. See section Examining Text Properties.

Managing Overlays

This section describes the functions to create, delete and move overlays, and to examine their contents.

Function: make-overlay start end &optional buffer
This function creates and returns an overlay that belongs to buffer and ranges from start to end. Both start and end must specify buffer positions; they may be integers or markers. If buffer is omitted, the overlay is created in the current buffer.

Function: overlay-start overlay
This function returns the position at which overlay starts.

Function: overlay-end overlay
This function returns the position at which overlay ends.

Function: overlay-buffer overlay
This function returns the buffer that overlay belongs to.

Function: delete-overlay overlay
This function deletes overlay. The overlay continues to exist as a Lisp object, but ceases to be part of the buffer it belonged to, and ceases to have any effect on display.

Function: move-overlay overlay start end &optional buffer
This function moves overlay to buffer, and places its bounds at start and end. Both arguments start and end must specify buffer positions; they may be integers or markers. If buffer is omitted, the overlay stays in the same buffer.

The return value is overlay.

This is the only valid way to change the endpoints of an overlay. Do not try modifying the markers in the overlay by hand, as that fails to update other vital data structures and can cause some overlays to be "lost".

Function: overlays-at pos
This function returns a list of all the overlays that contain position pos in the current buffer. The list is in no particular order. An overlay contains position pos if it begins at or before pos, and ends after pos.

Function: next-overlay-change pos
This function returns the buffer position of the next beginning or end of an overlay, after pos.

Function: previous-overlay-change pos
This function returns the buffer position of the previous beginning or end of an overlay, before pos.


A face is a named collection of graphical attributes: font, foreground color, background color and optional underlining. Faces control the display of text on the screen.

Each face has its own face id number which distinguishes faces at low levels within Emacs. However, for most purposes, you can refer to faces in Lisp programs by their names.

Function: facep object
This function returns t if object is a face name symbol (or if it is a vector of the kind used internally to record face data). It returns nil otherwise.

Each face name is meaningful for all frames, and by default it has the same meaning in all frames. But you can arrange to give a particular face name a special meaning in one frame if you wish.

Standard Faces

This table lists all the standard faces and their uses.

This face is used for ordinary text.
This face is used for mode lines and menu bars.
This face is used for highlighting the region in Transient Mark mode.
This face is used to show any secondary selection you have made.
This face is meant to be used for highlighting for various purposes.
This face underlines text.
This face uses a bold font, if possible. It uses the bold variant of the frame's font, if it has one. It's up to you to choose a default font that has a bold variant, if you want to use one.
This face uses the italic variant of the frame's font, if it has one.
This face uses the bold italic variant of the frame's font, if it has one.

Merging Faces for Display

Here are all the ways to specify which face to use for display of text:

If these various sources together specify more than one face for a particular character, Emacs merges the attributes of the various faces specified. The attributes of the faces of special glyphs come first; then comes the face for region highlighting, if appropriate; then come attributes of faces from overlays, followed by those from text properties, and last the default face.

When multiple overlays cover one character, an overlay with higher priority overrides those with lower priority. See section Overlays.

If an attribute such as the font or a color is not specified in any of the above ways, the frame's own font or color is used.

Functions for Working with Faces

The attributes a face can specify include the font, the foreground color, the background color, and underlining. The face can also leave these unspecified by giving the value nil for them.

Here are the primitives for creating and changing faces.

Function: make-face name
This function defines a new face named name, initially with all attributes nil. It does nothing if there is already a face named name.

Function: face-list
This function returns a list of all defined face names.

Function: copy-face old-face new-name &optional frame new-frame
This function defines the face new-name as a copy of the existing face named old-face. It creates the face new-name if that doesn't already exist.

If the optional argument frame is given, this function applies only to that frame. Otherwise it applies to each frame individually, copying attributes from old-face in each frame to new-face in the same frame.

If the optional argument new-frame is given, then copy-face copies the attributes of old-face in frame to new-name in new-frame.

You can modify the attributes of an existing face with the following functions. If you specify frame, they affect just that frame; otherwise, they affect all frames as well as the defaults that apply to new frames.

Function: set-face-foreground face color &optional frame
Function: set-face-background face color &optional frame
These functions set the foreground (or background, respectively) color of face face to color. The argument color should be a string, the name of a color.

Certain shades of gray are implemented by stipple patterns on black-and-white screens.

Function: set-face-stipple face pattern &optional frame
This function sets the background stipple pattern of face face to pattern. The argument pattern should be the name of a stipple pattern defined by the X server, or nil meaning don't use stipple.

Normally there is no need to pay attention to stipple patterns, because they are used automatically to handle certain shades of gray.

Function: set-face-font face font &optional frame
This function sets the font of face face. The argument font should be a string.

Function: set-face-underline-p face underline-p &optional frame
This function sets the underline attribute of face face. Non-nil means do underline; nil means don't.

Function: invert-face face &optional frame
Swap the foreground and background colors of face face. If the face doesn't specify both foreground and background, then its foreground and background are set to the default background and foreground, respectively.

These functions examine the attributes of a face. If you don't specify frame, they refer to the default data for new frames.

Function: face-foreground face &optional frame
Function: face-background face &optional frame
These functions return the foreground color (or background color, respectively) of face face, as a string.

Function: face-stipple face &optional frame
This function returns the name of the background stipple pattern of face face, or nil if it doesn't have one.

Function: face-font face &optional frame
This function returns the name of the font of face face.

Function: face-underline-p face &optional frame
This function returns the underline attribute of face face.

Function: face-id face
This function returns the face id number of face face.

Function: face-equal face1 face2 &optional frame
This returns t if the faces face1 and face2 have the same attributes for display.

Function: face-differs-from-default-p face &optional frame
This returns t if the face face displays differently from the default face. A face is considered to be "the same" as the normal face if each attribute is either the same as that of the default face or nil (meaning to inherit from the default).

Variable: region-face
This variable's value specifies the face id to use to display characters in the region when it is active (in Transient Mark mode only). The face thus specified takes precedence over all faces that come from text properties and overlays, for characters in the region. See section The Mark, for more information about Transient Mark mode.

Normally, the value is the id number of the face named region.

Blinking Parentheses

This section describes the mechanism by which Emacs shows a matching open parenthesis when the user inserts a close parenthesis.

Variable: blink-paren-function
The value of this variable should be a function (of no arguments) to be called whenever a character with close parenthesis syntax is inserted. The value of blink-paren-function may be nil, in which case nothing is done.

Please note: This variable was named blink-paren-hook in older Emacs versions, but since it is not called with the standard convention for hooks, it was renamed to blink-paren-function in version 19.

Variable: blink-matching-paren
If this variable is nil, then blink-matching-open does nothing.

Variable: blink-matching-paren-distance
This variable specifies the maximum distance to scan for a matching parenthesis before giving up.

Variable: blink-matching-paren-delay
This variable specifies the number of seconds for the cursor to remain at the matching parenthesis. A fraction of a second often gives good results, but the default is 1, which works on all systems.

Function: blink-matching-open
This function is the default value of blink-paren-function. It assumes that point follows a character with close parenthesis syntax and moves the cursor momentarily to the matching opening character. If that character is not already on the screen, it displays the character's context in the echo area. To avoid long delays, this function does not search farther than blink-matching-paren-distance characters.

Here is an example of calling this function explicitly.

(defun interactive-blink-matching-open ()
  "Indicate momentarily the start of sexp before point."
  (let ((blink-matching-paren-distance
        (blink-matching-paren t))

Inverse Video

User Option: inverse-video
This variable controls whether Emacs uses inverse video for all text on the screen. Non-nil means yes, nil means no. The default is nil.

User Option: mode-line-inverse-video
This variable controls the use of inverse video for mode lines. If it is non-nil, then mode lines are displayed in inverse video. Otherwise, mode lines are displayed normally, just like text. The default is t.

For X window frames, this displays mode lines using the face named modeline, which is normally the inverse of the default face unless you change it.

Usual Display Conventions

The usual display conventions define how to display each character code. You can override these conventions by setting up a display table (see section Display Tables). Here are the usual display conventions:

The usual display conventions apply even when there is a display table, for any character whose entry in the active display table is nil. Thus, when you set up a display table, you need only specify the characters for which you want unusual behavior.

These variables affect the way certain characters are displayed on the screen. Since they change the number of columns the characters occupy, they also affect the indentation functions.

User Option: ctl-arrow
This buffer-local variable controls how control characters are displayed. If it is non-nil, they are displayed as a caret followed by the character: `^A'. If it is nil, they are displayed as a backslash followed by three octal digits: `\001'.

Variable: default-ctl-arrow
The value of this variable is the default value for ctl-arrow in buffers that do not override it. See section The Default Value of a Buffer-Local Variable.

User Option: tab-width
The value of this variable is the spacing between tab stops used for displaying tab characters in Emacs buffers. The default is 8. Note that this feature is completely independent from the user-settable tab stops used by the command tab-to-tab-stop. See section Adjustable "Tab Stops".

Display Tables

You can use the display table feature to control how all 256 possible character codes display on the screen. This is useful for displaying European languages that have letters not in the ASCII character set.

The display table maps each character code into a sequence of glyphs, each glyph being an image that takes up one character position on the screen. You can also define how to display each glyph on your terminal, using the glyph table.

Display Table Format

A display table is actually an array of 262 elements.

Function: make-display-table
This creates and returns a display table. The table initially has nil in all elements.

The first 256 elements correspond to character codes; the nth element says how to display the character code n. The value should be nil or a vector of glyph values (see section Glyphs). If an element is nil, it says to display that character according to the usual display conventions (see section Usual Display Conventions).

If you use the display table to change the display of newline characters, the whole buffer will be displayed as one long "line."

The remaining six elements of a display table serve special purposes, and nil means use the default stated below.

The glyph for the end of a truncated screen line (the default for this is `$'). See section Glyphs.
The glyph for the end of a continued line (the default is `\').
The glyph for indicating a character displayed as an octal character code (the default is `\').
The glyph for indicating a control character (the default is `^').
A vector of glyphs for indicating the presence of invisible lines (the default is `...'). See section Selective Display.
The glyph used to draw the border between side-by-side windows (the default is `|'). See section Splitting Windows.

For example, here is how to construct a display table that mimics the effect of setting ctl-arrow to a non-nil value:

(setq disptab (make-display-table))
(let ((i 0))
  (while (< i 32)
    (or (= i ?\t) (= i ?\n)
        (aset disptab i (vector ?^ (+ i 64))))
    (setq i (1+ i)))
  (aset disptab 127 (vector ?^ ??)))

Active Display Table

Each window can specify a display table, and so can each buffer. When a buffer b is displayed in window w, display uses the display table for window w if it has one; otherwise, the display table for buffer b if it has one; otherwise, the standard display table if any. The display table chosen is called the active display table.

Function: window-display-table window
This function returns window's display table, or nil if window does not have an assigned display table.

Function: set-window-display-table window table
This function sets the display table of window to table. The argument table should be either a display table or nil.

Variable: buffer-display-table
This variable is automatically local in all buffers; its value in a particular buffer is the display table for that buffer, or nil if the buffer does not have an assigned display table.

Variable: standard-display-table
This variable's value is the default display table, used whenever a window has no display table and neither does the buffer displayed in that window. This variable is nil by default.

If there is no display table to use for a particular window--that is, if the window has none, its buffer has none, and standard-display-table has none--then Emacs uses the usual display conventions for all character codes in that window. See section Usual Display Conventions.


A glyph is a generalization of a character; it stands for an image that takes up a single character position on the screen. Glyphs are represented in Lisp as integers, just as characters are.

The meaning of each integer, as a glyph, is defined by the glyph table, which is the value of the variable glyph-table.

Variable: glyph-table
The value of this variable is the current glyph table. It should be a vector; the gth element defines glyph code g. If the value is nil instead of a vector, then all glyphs are simple (see below).

Here are the possible types of elements in the glyph table:

Send the characters in string to the terminal to output this glyph. This alternative is available on character terminals, but not under X.
Define this glyph code as an alias for code integer. You can use an alias to specify a face code for the glyph; see below.
This glyph is simple. On an ordinary terminal, the glyph code mod 256 is the character to output. With X, the glyph code mod 256 is the character to output, and the glyph code divided by 256 specifies the face id number to use while outputting it. See section Faces.

If a glyph code is greater than or equal to the length of the glyph table, that code is automatically simple.

ISO Latin 1

If you have a terminal that can handle the entire ISO Latin 1 character set, you can arrange to use that character set as follows:

(require 'disp-table)
;; Set char codes 160--255 to display as themselves.
;; (Codes 128--159 are the additional control characters.)
(standard-display-8bit 160 255)

If you are editing buffers written in the ISO Latin 1 character set and your terminal doesn't handle anything but ASCII, you can load the file `iso-ascii' to set up a display table that displays the other ISO characters as explanatory sequences of ASCII characters. For example, the character "o with umlaut" displays as `{"o}'.

Some European countries have terminals that don't support ISO Latin 1 but do support the special characters for that country's language. You can define a display table to work one language using such terminals. For an example, see `lisp/iso-swed.el', which handles certain Swedish terminals.

You can load the appropriate display table for your terminal automatically by writing a terminal-specific Lisp file for the terminal type.


You can make Emacs ring a bell (or blink the screen) to attract the user's attention. Be conservative about how often you do this; frequent bells can become irritating. Also be careful not to use beeping alone when signaling an error is appropriate. (See section Errors.)

Function: ding &optional dont-terminate
This function beeps, or flashes the screen (see visible-bell below). It also terminates any keyboard macro currently executing unless dont-terminate is non-nil.

Function: beep &optional dont-terminate
This is a synonym for ding.

Variable: visible-bell
This variable determines whether Emacs should flash the screen to represent a bell. Non-nil means yes, nil means no. This is effective under X windows, and on a character-only terminal provided the terminal's Termcap entry defines the visible bell capability (`vb').

Window Systems

Emacs works with several window systems, most notably the X Window System. Both Emacs and X use the term "window", but use it differently. An Emacs frame is a single window as far as X is concerned; the individual Emacs windows are not known to X at all.

Variable: window-system
This variable tells Lisp programs what window system Emacs is running under. Its value should be a symbol such as x (if Emacs is running under X) or nil (if Emacs is running on an ordinary terminal).

Variable: window-setup-hook
This variable is a normal hook which Emacs runs after loading your `.emacs' file and the default initialization file (if any), after loading terminal-specific Lisp code, and after running the hook term-setup-hook.

This hook is used for internal purposes: setting up communication with the window system, and creating the initial window. Users should not interfere with it.

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