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GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual

This Info file contains edition 2.8 of the GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual, corresponding to GNU Emacs version 21.2.

1. Introduction Introduction and conventions used.
D.1 Emacs Lisp Coding Conventions Coding conventions for Emacs Lisp.

2. Lisp Data Types Data types of objects in Emacs Lisp.
3. Numbers Numbers and arithmetic functions.
4. Strings and Characters Strings, and functions that work on them.
5. Lists Lists, cons cells, and related functions.
6. Sequences, Arrays, and Vectors Lists, strings and vectors are called sequences. Certain functions act on any kind of sequence. The description of vectors is here as well.
7. Hash Tables Very fast lookup-tables.
8. Symbols Symbols represent names, uniquely.

9. Evaluation How Lisp expressions are evaluated.
10. Control Structures Conditionals, loops, nonlocal exits.
11. Variables Using symbols in programs to stand for values.
12. Functions A function is a Lisp program that can be invoked from other functions.
13. Macros Macros are a way to extend the Lisp language.
14. Writing Customization Definitions Writing customization declarations.

15. Loading Reading files of Lisp code into Lisp.
16. Byte Compilation Compilation makes programs run faster.
17. Advising Emacs Lisp Functions Adding to the definition of a function.
18. Debugging Lisp Programs Tools and tips for debugging Lisp programs.

19. Reading and Printing Lisp Objects Converting Lisp objects to text and back.
20. Minibuffers Using the minibuffer to read input.
21. Command Loop How the editor command loop works, and how you can call its subroutines.
22. Keymaps Defining the bindings from keys to commands.
23. Major and Minor Modes Defining major and minor modes.
24. Documentation Writing and using documentation strings.

25. Files Accessing files.
26. Backups and Auto-Saving Controlling how backups and auto-save files are made.
27. Buffers Creating and using buffer objects.
28. Windows Manipulating windows and displaying buffers.
29. Frames Making multiple X windows.
30. Positions Buffer positions and motion functions.
31. Markers Markers represent positions and update automatically when the text is changed.

32. Text Examining and changing text in buffers.
33. Non-ASCII Characters Non-ASCII text in buffers and strings.
34. Searching and Matching Searching buffers for strings or regexps.
35. Syntax Tables The syntax table controls word and list parsing.
36. Abbrevs and Abbrev Expansion How Abbrev mode works, and its data structures.

37. Processes Running and communicating with subprocesses.
38. Emacs Display Features for controlling the screen display.
39. Customizing the Calendar and Diary Customizing the calendar and diary.
40. Operating System Interface Getting the user id, system type, environment variables, and other such things.

Appendices

A. Emacs 20 Antinews Info for users downgrading to Emacs 20.
B. GNU Free Documentation License The license for this documentation
C. GNU General Public License Conditions for copying and changing GNU Emacs.
D. Tips and Conventions Advice and coding conventions for Emacs Lisp.
E. GNU Emacs Internals Building and dumping Emacs; internal data structures.
F. Standard Errors List of all error symbols.
G. Buffer-Local Variables List of variables buffer-local in all buffers.
H. Standard Keymaps List of standard keymaps.
I. Standard Hooks List of standard hook variables.

Index Index including concepts, functions, variables, and other terms.

New Symbols Since the Previous Edition New functions and variables in Emacs 21.

-- The Detailed Node Listing ---

Here are other nodes that are inferiors of those already listed,
mentioned here so you can get to them in one step:

Introduction

1.1 Caveats Flaws and a request for help.
1.2 Lisp History Emacs Lisp is descended from Maclisp.
1.3 Conventions How the manual is formatted.
1.5 Acknowledgements The authors, editors, and sponsors of this manual.

Conventions

1.3.1 Some Terms Explanation of terms we use in this manual.
1.3.2 nil and t How the symbols nil and t are used.
1.3.3 Evaluation Notation The format we use for examples of evaluation.
1.3.4 Printing Notation The format we use for examples that print output.
1.3.5 Error Messages The format we use for examples of errors.
1.3.6 Buffer Text Notation The format we use for buffer contents in examples.
1.3.7 Format of Descriptions Notation for describing functions, variables, etc.

Tips and Conventions

D.1 Emacs Lisp Coding Conventions Conventions for clean and robust programs.
D.2 Tips for Making Compiled Code Fast Making compiled code run fast.
D.3 Tips for Documentation Strings Writing readable documentation strings.
D.4 Tips on Writing Comments Conventions for writing comments.
D.5 Conventional Headers for Emacs Libraries Standard headers for library packages.

Format of Descriptions

1.3.7.1 A Sample Function Description
1.3.7.2 A Sample Variable Description

Lisp Data Types

2.1 Printed Representation and Read Syntax How Lisp objects are represented as text.
2.2 Comments Comments and their formatting conventions.
2.3 Programming Types Types found in all Lisp systems.
2.4 Editing Types Types specific to Emacs.
2.6 Type Predicates Tests related to types.
2.7 Equality Predicates Tests of equality between any two objects.

Programming Types

2.3.1 Integer Type Numbers without fractional parts.
2.3.2 Floating Point Type Numbers with fractional parts and with a large range.
2.3.3 Character Type The representation of letters, numbers and control characters.
2.3.5 Sequence Types Both lists and arrays are classified as sequences.
2.3.6 Cons Cell and List Types Cons cells, and lists (which are made from cons cells).
2.3.7 Array Type Arrays include strings and vectors.
2.3.8 String Type An (efficient) array of characters.
2.3.9 Vector Type One-dimensional arrays.
2.3.4 Symbol Type A multi-use object that refers to a function, variable, property list, or itself.
2.3.13 Function Type A piece of executable code you can call from elsewhere.
2.3.14 Macro Type A method of expanding an expression into another expression, more fundamental but less pretty.
2.3.15 Primitive Function Type A function written in C, callable from Lisp.
2.3.16 Byte-Code Function Type A function written in Lisp, then compiled.
2.3.17 Autoload Type A type used for automatically loading seldom-used functions.

List Type

2.3.6.1 Dotted Pair Notation An alternative syntax for lists.
2.3.6.2 Association List Type A specially constructed list.

Editing Types

2.4.1 Buffer Type The basic object of editing.
2.4.3 Window Type What makes buffers visible.
2.4.5 Window Configuration Type Save what the screen looks like.
2.4.2 Marker Type A position in a buffer.
2.4.7 Process Type A process running on the underlying OS.
2.4.8 Stream Type Receive or send characters.
2.4.9 Keymap Type What function a keystroke invokes.
2.4.10 Overlay Type How an overlay is represented.

Numbers

3.1 Integer Basics Representation and range of integers.
3.2 Floating Point Basics Representation and range of floating point.
3.3 Type Predicates for Numbers Testing for numbers.
3.4 Comparison of Numbers Equality and inequality predicates.
3.6 Arithmetic Operations How to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
3.8 Bitwise Operations on Integers Logical and, or, not, shifting.
3.5 Numeric Conversions Converting float to integer and vice versa.
3.9 Standard Mathematical Functions Trig, exponential and logarithmic functions.
3.10 Random Numbers Obtaining random integers, predictable or not.

Strings and Characters

4.1 String and Character Basics Basic properties of strings and characters.
4.2 The Predicates for Strings Testing whether an object is a string or char.
4.3 Creating Strings Functions to allocate new strings.
4.5 Comparison of Characters and Strings Comparing characters or strings.
4.6 Conversion of Characters and Strings Converting characters or strings and vice versa.
4.7 Formatting Strings format: Emacs's analogue of printf.
4.8 Case Conversion in Lisp Case conversion functions.

Lists

5.1 Lists and Cons Cells How lists are made out of cons cells.
5.2 Lists as Linked Pairs of Boxes Graphical notation to explain lists.
5.3 Predicates on Lists Is this object a list? Comparing two lists.
5.4 Accessing Elements of Lists Extracting the pieces of a list.
5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists Creating list structure.
5.6 Modifying Existing List Structure Storing new pieces into an existing list.
5.7 Using Lists as Sets A list can represent a finite mathematical set.
5.8 Association Lists A list can represent a finite relation or mapping.

Modifying Existing List Structure

5.6.1 Altering List Elements with setcar Replacing an element in a list.
5.6.2 Altering the CDR of a List Replacing part of the list backbone. This can be used to remove or add elements.
5.6.3 Functions that Rearrange Lists Reordering the elements in a list; combining lists.

Sequences, Arrays, and Vectors

6.1 Sequences Functions that accept any kind of sequence.
6.2 Arrays Characteristics of arrays in Emacs Lisp.
6.3 Functions that Operate on Arrays Functions specifically for arrays.
6.4 Vectors Functions specifically for vectors.

Symbols

8.1 Symbol Components Symbols have names, values, function definitions and property lists.
8.2 Defining Symbols A definition says how a symbol will be used.
8.3 Creating and Interning Symbols How symbols are kept unique.
8.4 Property Lists Each symbol has a property list for recording miscellaneous information.

Evaluation

9.1 Introduction to Evaluation Evaluation in the scheme of things.
9.4 Eval How to invoke the Lisp interpreter explicitly.
9.2 Kinds of Forms How various sorts of objects are evaluated.
9.3 Quoting Avoiding evaluation (to put constants in the program).

Kinds of Forms

9.2.1 Self-Evaluating Forms Forms that evaluate to themselves.
9.2.2 Symbol Forms Symbols evaluate as variables.
9.2.3 Classification of List Forms How to distinguish various sorts of list forms.
9.2.5 Evaluation of Function Forms Forms that call functions.
9.2.6 Lisp Macro Evaluation Forms that call macros.
9.2.7 Special Forms "Special forms" are idiosyncratic primitives, most of them extremely important.
9.2.8 Autoloading Functions set up to load files containing their real definitions.

Control Structures

10.1 Sequencing Evaluation in textual order.
10.2 Conditionals if, cond.
10.3 Constructs for Combining Conditions and, or, not.
10.4 Iteration while loops.
10.5 Nonlocal Exits Jumping out of a sequence.

Nonlocal Exits

10.5.1 Explicit Nonlocal Exits: catch and throw Nonlocal exits for the program's own purposes.
10.5.2 Examples of catch and throw Showing how such nonlocal exits can be written.
10.5.3 Errors How errors are signaled and handled.
10.5.4 Cleaning Up from Nonlocal Exits Arranging to run a cleanup form if an error happens.

Errors

10.5.3.1 How to Signal an Error How to report an error.
10.5.3.2 How Emacs Processes Errors What Emacs does when you report an error.
10.5.3.3 Writing Code to Handle Errors How you can trap errors and continue execution.
10.5.3.4 Error Symbols and Condition Names How errors are classified for trapping them.

Variables

11.1 Global Variables Variable values that exist permanently, everywhere.
11.2 Variables that Never Change Certain "variables" have values that never change.
11.3 Local Variables Variable values that exist only temporarily.
11.4 When a Variable is "Void" Symbols that lack values.
11.5 Defining Global Variables A definition says a symbol is used as a variable.
11.7 Accessing Variable Values Examining values of variables whose names are known only at run time.
11.8 How to Alter a Variable Value Storing new values in variables.
11.9 Scoping Rules for Variable Bindings How Lisp chooses among local and global values.
11.10 Buffer-Local Variables Variable values in effect only in one buffer.

Scoping Rules for Variable Bindings

11.9.1 Scope Scope means where in the program a value is visible. Comparison with other languages.
11.9.2 Extent Extent means how long in time a value exists.
11.9.3 Implementation of Dynamic Scoping Two ways to implement dynamic scoping.
11.9.4 Proper Use of Dynamic Scoping How to use dynamic scoping carefully and avoid problems.

Buffer-Local Variables

11.10.1 Introduction to Buffer-Local Variables Introduction and concepts.
11.10.2 Creating and Deleting Buffer-Local Bindings Creating and destroying buffer-local bindings.
11.10.3 The Default Value of a Buffer-Local Variable The default value is seen in buffers that don't have their own buffer-local values.

Functions

12.1 What Is a Function? Lisp functions vs primitives; terminology.
12.2 Lambda Expressions How functions are expressed as Lisp objects.
12.3 Naming a Function A symbol can serve as the name of a function.
12.4 Defining Functions Lisp expressions for defining functions.
12.5 Calling Functions How to use an existing function.
12.6 Mapping Functions Applying a function to each element of a list, etc.
12.7 Anonymous Functions Lambda-expressions are functions with no names.
12.8 Accessing Function Cell Contents Accessing or setting the function definition of a symbol.
12.10 Other Topics Related to Functions Cross-references to specific Lisp primitives that have a special bearing on how functions work.

Lambda Expressions

12.2.1 Components of a Lambda Expression The parts of a lambda expression.
12.2.2 A Simple Lambda-Expression Example A simple example.
12.2.3 Other Features of Argument Lists Details and special features of argument lists.
12.2.4 Documentation Strings of Functions How to put documentation in a function.

Macros

13.1 A Simple Example of a Macro A basic example.
13.2 Expansion of a Macro Call How, when and why macros are expanded.
13.3 Macros and Byte Compilation How macros are expanded by the compiler.
13.4 Defining Macros How to write a macro definition.
13.5 Backquote Easier construction of list structure.
13.6 Common Problems Using Macros Don't evaluate the macro arguments too many times. Don't hide the user's variables.

Loading

15.1 How Programs Do Loading The load function and others.
15.4 Autoload Setting up a function to autoload.
15.6 Features Loading a library if it isn't already loaded.
15.5 Repeated Loading Precautions about loading a file twice.

Byte Compilation

16.2 The Compilation Functions Byte compilation functions.
16.7 Disassembled Byte-Code Disassembling byte-code; how to read byte-code.

Advising Functions

17.1 A Simple Advice Example A simple example to explain the basics of advice.
17.2 Defining Advice Detailed description of defadvice.
17.4 Computed Advice ...is to defadvice as fset is to defun.
17.5 Activation of Advice Advice doesn't do anything until you activate it.
17.6 Enabling and Disabling Advice You can enable or disable each piece of advice.
17.7 Preactivation Preactivation is a way of speeding up the loading of compiled advice.
17.8 Argument Access in Advice How advice can access the function's arguments.
17.9 Definition of Subr Argument Lists Accessing arguments when advising a primitive.
17.10 The Combined Definition How advice is implemented.

Debugging Lisp Programs

18.1 The Lisp Debugger How the Emacs Lisp debugger is implemented.
18.3 Debugging Invalid Lisp Syntax How to find syntax errors.
18.4 Debugging Problems in Compilation How to find errors that show up in byte compilation.
18.2 Edebug A source-level Emacs Lisp debugger.

The Lisp Debugger

18.1.1 Entering the Debugger on an Error Entering the debugger when an error happens.
18.1.3 Entering the Debugger on a Function Call Entering it when a certain function is called.
18.1.4 Explicit Entry to the Debugger Entering it at a certain point in the program.
18.1.5 Using the Debugger What the debugger does; what you see while in it.
18.1.6 Debugger Commands Commands used while in the debugger.
18.1.7 Invoking the Debugger How to call the function debug.
18.1.8 Internals of the Debugger Subroutines of the debugger, and global variables.

Debugging Invalid Lisp Syntax

18.3.1 Excess Open Parentheses How to find a spurious open paren or missing close.
18.3.2 Excess Close Parentheses How to find a spurious close paren or missing open.

Reading and Printing Lisp Objects

19.1 Introduction to Reading and Printing Overview of streams, reading and printing.
19.2 Input Streams Various data types that can be used as input streams.
19.3 Input Functions Functions to read Lisp objects from text.
19.4 Output Streams Various data types that can be used as output streams.
19.5 Output Functions Functions to print Lisp objects as text.

Minibuffers

20.1 Introduction to Minibuffers Basic information about minibuffers.
20.2 Reading Text Strings with the Minibuffer How to read a straight text string.
20.3 Reading Lisp Objects with the Minibuffer How to read a Lisp object or expression.
20.5 Completion How to invoke and customize completion.
20.6 Yes-or-No Queries Asking a question with a simple answer.
20.9 Minibuffer Miscellany Various customization hooks and variables.

Completion

20.5.1 Basic Completion Functions Low-level functions for completing strings.
(These are too low level to use the minibuffer.)
20.5.2 Completion and the Minibuffer Invoking the minibuffer with completion.
20.5.3 Minibuffer Commands that Do Completion Minibuffer commands that do completion.
20.5.4 High-Level Completion Functions Convenient special cases of completion
(reading buffer name, file name, etc.)
20.5.5 Reading File Names Using completion to read file names.
20.5.6 Programmed Completion Finding the completions for a given file name.

Command Loop

21.1 Command Loop Overview How the command loop reads commands.
21.2 Defining Commands Specifying how a function should read arguments.
21.3 Interactive Call Calling a command, so that it will read arguments.
21.4 Information from the Command Loop Variables set by the command loop for you to examine.
21.6 Input Events What input looks like when you read it.
21.7 Reading Input How to read input events from the keyboard or mouse.
21.9 Waiting for Elapsed Time or Input Waiting for user input or elapsed time.
21.10 Quitting How C-g works. How to catch or defer quitting.
21.11 Prefix Command Arguments How the commands to set prefix args work.
21.12 Recursive Editing Entering a recursive edit, and why you usually shouldn't.
21.13 Disabling Commands How the command loop handles disabled commands.
21.14 Command History How the command history is set up, and how accessed.
21.15 Keyboard Macros How keyboard macros are implemented.

Defining Commands

21.2.1 Using interactive General rules for interactive.
21.2.2 Code Characters for interactive The standard letter-codes for reading arguments in various ways.
21.2.3 Examples of Using interactive Examples of how to read interactive arguments.

Keymaps

22.1 Keymap Terminology Definitions of terms pertaining to keymaps.
22.2 Format of Keymaps What a keymap looks like as a Lisp object.
22.3 Creating Keymaps Functions to create and copy keymaps.
22.4 Inheritance and Keymaps How one keymap can inherit the bindings of another keymap.
22.5 Prefix Keys Defining a key with a keymap as its definition.
22.12 Menu Keymaps A keymap can define a menu for X or for use from the terminal.
22.6 Active Keymaps Each buffer has a local keymap to override the standard (global) bindings. Each minor mode can also override them.
22.7 Key Lookup How extracting elements from keymaps works.
22.8 Functions for Key Lookup How to request key lookup.
22.9 Changing Key Bindings Redefining a key in a keymap.
22.10 Commands for Binding Keys Interactive interfaces for redefining keys.
22.11 Scanning Keymaps Looking through all keymaps, for printing help.

Major and Minor Modes

23.1 Major Modes Defining major modes.
23.2 Minor Modes Defining minor modes.
23.3 Mode Line Format Customizing the text that appears in the mode line.
23.6 Hooks How to use hooks; how to write code that provides hooks.

Major Modes

23.1.1 Major Mode Conventions Coding conventions for keymaps, etc.
23.1.2 Major Mode Examples Text mode and Lisp modes.
23.1.3 How Emacs Chooses a Major Mode How Emacs chooses the major mode automatically.
23.1.4 Getting Help about a Major Mode Finding out how to use a mode.

Minor Modes

23.2.1 Conventions for Writing Minor Modes Tips for writing a minor mode.
23.2.2 Keymaps and Minor Modes How a minor mode can have its own keymap.

Mode Line Format

23.3.1 The Data Structure of the Mode Line The data structure that controls the mode line.
23.3.2 Variables Used in the Mode Line Variables used in that data structure.
23.3.3 %-Constructs in the Mode Line Putting information into a mode line.

Documentation

24.1 Documentation Basics Good style for doc strings. Where to put them. How Emacs stores them.
24.2 Access to Documentation Strings How Lisp programs can access doc strings.
24.3 Substituting Key Bindings in Documentation Substituting current key bindings.
24.4 Describing Characters for Help Messages Making printable descriptions of non-printing characters and key sequences.
24.5 Help Functions Subroutines used by Emacs help facilities.

Files

25.1 Visiting Files Reading files into Emacs buffers for editing.
25.2 Saving Buffers Writing changed buffers back into files.
25.3 Reading from Files Reading files into other buffers.
25.4 Writing to Files Writing new files from parts of buffers.
25.5 File Locks Locking and unlocking files, to prevent simultaneous editing by two people.
25.6 Information about Files Testing existence, accessibility, size of files.
25.9 Contents of Directories Getting a list of the files in a directory.
25.7 Changing File Names and Attributes Renaming files, changing protection, etc.
25.8 File Names Decomposing and expanding file names.

Visiting Files

25.1.1 Functions for Visiting Files The usual interface functions for visiting.
25.1.2 Subroutines of Visiting Lower-level subroutines that they use.

Information about Files

25.6.1 Testing Accessibility Is a given file readable? Writable?
25.6.2 Distinguishing Kinds of Files Is it a directory? A link?
25.6.4 Other Information about Files How large is it? Any other names? Etc.

File Names

25.8.1 File Name Components The directory part of a file name, and the rest.
25.8.2 Directory Names A directory's name as a directory is different from its name as a file.
25.8.3 Absolute and Relative File Names Some file names are relative to a current directory.
25.8.4 Functions that Expand Filenames Converting relative file names to absolute ones.
25.8.5 Generating Unique File Names Generating names for temporary files.
25.8.6 File Name Completion Finding the completions for a given file name.

Backups and Auto-Saving

26.1 Backup Files How backup files are made; how their names are chosen.
26.2 Auto-Saving How auto-save files are made; how their names are chosen.
26.3 Reverting revert-buffer, and how to customize what it does.

Backup Files

26.1.1 Making Backup Files How Emacs makes backup files, and when.
26.1.2 Backup by Renaming or by Copying? Two alternatives: renaming the old file or copying it.
26.1.3 Making and Deleting Numbered Backup Files Keeping multiple backups for each source file.
26.1.4 Naming Backup Files How backup file names are computed; customization.

Buffers

27.1 Buffer Basics What is a buffer?
27.3 Buffer Names Accessing and changing buffer names.
27.4 Buffer File Name The buffer file name indicates which file is visited.
27.5 Buffer Modification A buffer is modified if it needs to be saved.
27.6 Comparison of Modification Time Determining whether the visited file was changed
"behind Emacs's back".
27.7 Read-Only Buffers Modifying text is not allowed in a read-only buffer.
27.8 The Buffer List How to look at all the existing buffers.
27.9 Creating Buffers Functions that create buffers.
27.10 Killing Buffers Buffers exist until explicitly killed.
27.2 The Current Buffer Designating a buffer as current so primitives will access its contents.

Windows

28.1 Basic Concepts of Emacs Windows Basic information on using windows.
28.2 Splitting Windows Splitting one window into two windows.
28.3 Deleting Windows Deleting a window gives its space to other windows.
28.4 Selecting Windows The selected window is the one that you edit in.
28.5 Cyclic Ordering of Windows Moving around the existing windows.
28.6 Buffers and Windows Each window displays the contents of a buffer.
28.7 Displaying Buffers in Windows Higher-lever functions for displaying a buffer and choosing a window for it.
28.9 Windows and Point Each window has its own location of point.
28.10 The Window Start Position The display-start position controls which text is on-screen in the window.
28.12 Vertical Fractional Scrolling Moving text up and down in the window.
28.13 Horizontal Scrolling Moving text sideways on the window.
28.14 The Size of a Window Accessing the size of a window.
28.15 Changing the Size of a Window Changing the size of a window.
28.17 Window Configurations Saving and restoring the state of the screen.

Frames

29.1 Creating Frames Creating additional frames.
29.2 Multiple Displays Creating frames on other X displays.
29.3 Frame Parameters Controlling frame size, position, font, etc.
29.4 Frame Titles Automatic updating of frame titles.
29.5 Deleting Frames Frames last until explicitly deleted.
29.6 Finding All Frames How to examine all existing frames.
29.7 Frames and Windows A frame contains windows; display of text always works through windows.
29.8 Minibuffers and Frames How a frame finds the minibuffer to use.
29.9 Input Focus Specifying the selected frame.
29.10 Visibility of Frames Frames may be visible or invisible, or icons.
29.11 Raising and Lowering Frames Raising a frame makes it hide other X windows; lowering it puts it underneath the others.
29.12 Frame Configurations Saving the state of all frames.
29.13 Mouse Tracking Getting events that say when the mouse moves.
29.14 Mouse Position Asking where the mouse is, or moving it.
29.15 Pop-Up Menus Displaying a menu for the user to select from.
29.16 Dialog Boxes Displaying a box to ask yes or no.
29.17 Pointer Shapes Specifying the shape of the mouse pointer.
29.18 Window System Selections Transferring text to and from other windows.
29.19 Color Names Getting the definitions of color names.
29.21 X Resources Getting resource values from the server.
29.22 Display Feature Testing Determining the features of a terminal.

Positions

30.1 Point The special position where editing takes place.
30.2 Motion Changing point.
30.3 Excursions Temporary motion and buffer changes.
30.4 Narrowing Restricting editing to a portion of the buffer.

Motion

30.2.1 Motion by Characters Moving in terms of characters.
30.2.2 Motion by Words Moving in terms of words.
30.2.3 Motion to an End of the Buffer Moving to the beginning or end of the buffer.
30.2.4 Motion by Text Lines Moving in terms of lines of text.
30.2.5 Motion by Screen Lines Moving in terms of lines as displayed.
30.2.6 Moving over Balanced Expressions Moving by parsing lists and sexps.
30.2.7 Skipping Characters Skipping characters belonging to a certain set.

Markers

31.1 Overview of Markers The components of a marker, and how it relocates.
31.2 Predicates on Markers Testing whether an object is a marker.
31.3 Functions that Create Markers Making empty markers or markers at certain places.
31.4 Information from Markers Finding the marker's buffer or character position.
31.6 Moving Marker Positions Moving the marker to a new buffer or position.
31.7 The Mark How "the mark" is implemented with a marker.
31.8 The Region How to access "the region".

Text

32.1 Examining Text Near Point Examining text in the vicinity of point.
32.2 Examining Buffer Contents Examining text in a general fashion.
32.4 Inserting Text Adding new text to a buffer.
32.5 User-Level Insertion Commands User-level commands to insert text.
32.6 Deleting Text Removing text from a buffer.
32.7 User-Level Deletion Commands User-level commands to delete text.
32.8 The Kill Ring Where removed text sometimes is saved for later use.
32.9 Undo Undoing changes to the text of a buffer.
32.14 Auto Filling How auto-fill mode is implemented to break lines.
32.11 Filling Functions for explicit filling.
32.12 Margins for Filling How to specify margins for filling commands.
32.15 Sorting Text Functions for sorting parts of the buffer.
32.17 Indentation Functions to insert or adjust indentation.
32.16 Counting Columns Computing horizontal positions, and using them.
32.18 Case Changes Case conversion of parts of the buffer.
32.19 Text Properties Assigning Lisp property lists to text characters.
32.20 Substituting for a Character Code Replacing a given character wherever it appears.
32.22 Transposition of Text Swapping two portions of a buffer.
32.21 Registers How registers are implemented. Accessing the text or position stored in a register.
32.25 Change Hooks Supplying functions to be run when text is changed.

The Kill Ring

32.8.1 Kill Ring Concepts What text looks like in the kill ring.
32.8.2 Functions for Killing Functions that kill text.
32.8.3 Functions for Yanking Commands that access the kill ring.
32.8.4 Low-Level Kill Ring Functions and variables for kill ring access.
32.8.5 Internals of the Kill Ring Variables that hold kill-ring data.

Indentation

32.17.1 Indentation Primitives Functions used to count and insert indentation.
32.17.2 Indentation Controlled by Major Mode Customize indentation for different modes.
32.17.3 Indenting an Entire Region Indent all the lines in a region.
32.17.4 Indentation Relative to Previous Lines Indent the current line based on previous lines.
32.17.5 Adjustable "Tab Stops" Adjustable, typewriter-like tab stops.
32.17.6 Indentation-Based Motion Commands Move to first non-blank character.

Text Properties

32.19.1 Examining Text Properties Looking at the properties of one character.
32.19.2 Changing Text Properties Setting the properties of a range of text.
32.19.3 Text Property Search Functions Searching for where a property changes value.
32.19.4 Properties with Special Meanings Particular properties with special meanings.
32.19.5 Formatted Text Properties Properties for representing formatting of text.
32.19.6 Stickiness of Text Properties How inserted text gets properties from neighboring text.
32.19.7 Saving Text Properties in Files Saving text properties in files, and reading them back.
32.19.8 Lazy Computation of Text Properties Computing text properties in a lazy fashion only when text is examined.
32.19.9 Defining Clickable Text Using text properties to make regions of text do something when you click on them.
32.19.10 Defining and Using Fields The field property defines fields within the buffer.
32.19.11 Why Text Properties are not Intervals Why text properties do not use Lisp-visible text intervals.

Non-ASCII Characters

33.1 Text Representations Unibyte and multibyte representations
33.2 Converting Text Representations Converting unibyte to multibyte and vice versa.
33.3 Selecting a Representation Treating a byte sequence as unibyte or multi.
33.4 Character Codes How unibyte and multibyte relate to codes of individual characters.
33.5 Character Sets The space of possible characters codes is divided into various character sets.
33.6 Characters and Bytes More information about multibyte encodings.
33.7 Splitting Characters Converting a character to its byte sequence.
33.8 Scanning for Character Sets Which character sets are used in a buffer?
33.9 Translation of Characters Translation tables are used for conversion.
33.10 Coding Systems Coding systems are conversions for saving files.
33.11 Input Methods Input methods allow users to enter various non-ASCII characters without special keyboards.
33.12 Locales Interacting with the POSIX locale.

Searching and Matching

34.1 Searching for Strings Search for an exact match.
34.2 Regular Expressions Describing classes of strings.
34.3 Regular Expression Searching Searching for a match for a regexp.
34.6 The Match Data Finding out which part of the text matched various parts of a regexp, after regexp search.
34.6.4 Saving and Restoring the Match Data Saving and restoring this information.
34.8 Standard Regular Expressions Used in Editing Useful regexps for finding sentences, pages,...
34.7 Searching and Case Case-independent or case-significant searching.

Regular Expressions

34.2.1 Syntax of Regular Expressions Rules for writing regular expressions.
34.2.2 Complex Regexp Example Illustrates regular expression syntax.

Syntax Tables

35.2 Syntax Descriptors How characters are classified.
35.3 Syntax Table Functions How to create, examine and alter syntax tables.
35.6 Parsing Balanced Expressions Parsing balanced expressions using the syntax table.
35.7 Some Standard Syntax Tables Syntax tables used by various major modes.
35.8 Syntax Table Internals How syntax table information is stored.

Syntax Descriptors

35.2.1 Table of Syntax Classes Table of syntax classes.
35.2.2 Syntax Flags Additional flags each character can have.

Abbrevs And Abbrev Expansion

36.1 Setting Up Abbrev Mode Setting up Emacs for abbreviation.
36.2 Abbrev Tables Creating and working with abbrev tables.
36.3 Defining Abbrevs Specifying abbreviations and their expansions.
36.4 Saving Abbrevs in Files Saving abbrevs in files.
36.5 Looking Up and Expanding Abbreviations Controlling expansion; expansion subroutines.
36.6 Standard Abbrev Tables Abbrev tables used by various major modes.

Processes

37.1 Functions that Create Subprocesses Functions that start subprocesses.
37.3 Creating a Synchronous Process Details of using synchronous subprocesses.
37.4 Creating an Asynchronous Process Starting up an asynchronous subprocess.
37.5 Deleting Processes Eliminating an asynchronous subprocess.
37.6 Process Information Accessing run-status and other attributes.
37.7 Sending Input to Processes Sending input to an asynchronous subprocess.
37.8 Sending Signals to Processes Stopping, continuing or interrupting an asynchronous subprocess.
37.9 Receiving Output from Processes Collecting output from an asynchronous subprocess.
37.10 Sentinels: Detecting Process Status Changes Sentinels run when process run-status changes.
37.12 Network Connections Opening network connections.

Receiving Output from Processes

37.9.1 Process Buffers If no filter, output is put in a buffer.
37.9.2 Process Filter Functions Filter functions accept output from the process.
37.9.3 Accepting Output from Processes How to wait until process output arrives.

Operating System Interface

40.1 Starting Up Emacs Customizing Emacs start-up processing.
40.2 Getting Out of Emacs How exiting works (permanent or temporary).
40.3 Operating System Environment Distinguish the name and kind of system.
40.8 Terminal Input Recording terminal input for debugging.
40.9 Terminal Output Recording terminal output for debugging.
40.12 Flow Control How to turn output flow control on or off.
40.13 Batch Mode Running Emacs without terminal interaction.

Starting Up Emacs

40.1.1 Summary: Sequence of Actions at Startup Sequence of actions Emacs performs at start-up.
40.1.2 The Init File, `.emacs' Details on reading the init file (`.emacs').
40.1.3 Terminal-Specific Initialization How the terminal-specific Lisp file is read.
40.1.4 Command-Line Arguments How command line arguments are processed, and how you can customize them.

Getting out of Emacs

40.2.1 Killing Emacs Exiting Emacs irreversibly.
40.2.2 Suspending Emacs Exiting Emacs reversibly.

Emacs Display

38.1 Refreshing the Screen Clearing the screen and redrawing everything on it.
38.3 Truncation Folding or wrapping long text lines.
38.4 The Echo Area Where messages are displayed.
38.6 Selective Display Hiding part of the buffer text.
38.7 The Overlay Arrow Display of an arrow to indicate position.
38.8 Temporary Displays Displays that go away automatically.
21.9 Waiting for Elapsed Time or Input Forcing display update and waiting for user.
38.14 Blinking Parentheses How Emacs shows the matching open parenthesis.
38.16 Usual Display Conventions How control characters are displayed.
38.18 Beeping Audible signal to the user.
38.19 Window Systems Which window system is being used.

GNU Emacs Internals

E.1 Building Emacs How to preload Lisp libraries into Emacs.
E.2 Pure Storage A kludge to make preloaded Lisp functions sharable.
E.3 Garbage Collection Reclaiming space for Lisp objects no longer used.
E.6 Object Internals Data formats of buffers, windows, processes.
E.5 Writing Emacs Primitives Writing C code for Emacs.

Object Internals

E.6.1 Buffer Internals Components of a buffer structure.
E.6.2 Window Internals Components of a window structure.
E.6.3 Process Internals Components of a process structure.

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1. Introduction

Most of the GNU Emacs text editor is written in the programming language called Emacs Lisp. You can write new code in Emacs Lisp and install it as an extension to the editor. However, Emacs Lisp is more than a mere "extension language"; it is a full computer programming language in its own right. You can use it as you would any other programming language.

Because Emacs Lisp is designed for use in an editor, it has special features for scanning and parsing text as well as features for handling files, buffers, displays, subprocesses, and so on. Emacs Lisp is closely integrated with the editing facilities; thus, editing commands are functions that can also conveniently be called from Lisp programs, and parameters for customization are ordinary Lisp variables.

This manual attempts to be a full description of Emacs Lisp. For a beginner's introduction to Emacs Lisp, see An Introduction to Emacs Lisp Programming, by Bob Chassell, also published by the Free Software Foundation. This manual presumes considerable familiarity with the use of Emacs for editing; see The GNU Emacs Manual for this basic information.

Generally speaking, the earlier chapters describe features of Emacs Lisp that have counterparts in many programming languages, and later chapters describe features that are peculiar to Emacs Lisp or relate specifically to editing.

This is edition 2.8.

1.1 Caveats Flaws and a request for help.
1.2 Lisp History Emacs Lisp is descended from Maclisp.
1.3 Conventions How the manual is formatted.
1.4 Version Information Which Emacs version is running?
1.5 Acknowledgements The authors, editors, and sponsors of this manual.


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1.1 Caveats

This manual has gone through numerous drafts. It is nearly complete but not flawless. There are a few topics that are not covered, either because we consider them secondary (such as most of the individual modes) or because they are yet to be written. Because we are not able to deal with them completely, we have left out several parts intentionally. This includes most information about usage on VMS.

The manual should be fully correct in what it does cover, and it is therefore open to criticism on anything it says--from specific examples and descriptive text, to the ordering of chapters and sections. If something is confusing, or you find that you have to look at the sources or experiment to learn something not covered in the manual, then perhaps the manual should be fixed. Please let us know.

As you use this manual, we ask that you send corrections as soon as you find them. If you think of a simple, real life example for a function or group of functions, please make an effort to write it up and send it in. Please reference any comments to the node name and function or variable name, as appropriate. Also state the number of the edition you are criticizing.

Please mail comments and corrections to

bug-lisp-manual@gnu.org

We let mail to this list accumulate unread until someone decides to apply the corrections. Months, and sometimes years, go by between updates. So please attach no significance to the lack of a reply--your mail will be acted on in due time. If you want to contact the Emacs maintainers more quickly, send mail to bug-gnu-emacs@gnu.org.


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1.2 Lisp History

Lisp (LISt Processing language) was first developed in the late 1950s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for research in artificial intelligence. The great power of the Lisp language makes it ideal for other purposes as well, such as writing editing commands.

Dozens of Lisp implementations have been built over the years, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Many of them were inspired by Maclisp, which was written in the 1960s at MIT's Project MAC. Eventually the implementors of the descendants of Maclisp came together and developed a standard for Lisp systems, called Common Lisp. In the meantime, Gerry Sussman and Guy Steele at MIT developed a simplified but very powerful dialect of Lisp, called Scheme.

GNU Emacs Lisp is largely inspired by Maclisp, and a little by Common Lisp. If you know Common Lisp, you will notice many similarities. However, many features of Common Lisp have been omitted or simplified in order to reduce the memory requirements of GNU Emacs. Sometimes the simplifications are so drastic that a Common Lisp user might be very confused. We will occasionally point out how GNU Emacs Lisp differs from Common Lisp. If you don't know Common Lisp, don't worry about it; this manual is self-contained.

A certain amount of Common Lisp emulation is available via the `cl' library. See section `Common Lisp Extension' in Common Lisp Extensions.

Emacs Lisp is not at all influenced by Scheme; but the GNU project has an implementation of Scheme, called Guile. We use Guile in all new GNU software that calls for extensibility.


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1.3 Conventions

This section explains the notational conventions that are used in this manual. You may want to skip this section and refer back to it later.

1.3.1 Some Terms Explanation of terms we use in this manual.
1.3.2 nil and t How the symbols nil and t are used.
1.3.3 Evaluation Notation The format we use for examples of evaluation.
1.3.4 Printing Notation The format we use when examples print text.
1.3.5 Error Messages The format we use for examples of errors.
1.3.6 Buffer Text Notation The format we use for buffer contents in examples.
1.3.7 Format of Descriptions Notation for describing functions, variables, etc.


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1.3.1 Some Terms

Throughout this manual, the phrases "the Lisp reader" and "the Lisp printer" refer to those routines in Lisp that convert textual representations of Lisp objects into actual Lisp objects, and vice versa. See section 2.1 Printed Representation and Read Syntax, for more details. You, the person reading this manual, are thought of as "the programmer" and are addressed as "you". "The user" is the person who uses Lisp programs, including those you write.

Examples of Lisp code are formatted like this: (list 1 2 3). Names that represent metasyntactic variables, or arguments to a function being described, are formatted like this: first-number.


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1.3.2 nil and t

In Lisp, the symbol nil has three separate meanings: it is a symbol with the name `nil'; it is the logical truth value false; and it is the empty list--the list of zero elements. When used as a variable, nil always has the value nil.

As far as the Lisp reader is concerned, `()' and `nil' are identical: they stand for the same object, the symbol nil. The different ways of writing the symbol are intended entirely for human readers. After the Lisp reader has read either `()' or `nil', there is no way to determine which representation was actually written by the programmer.

In this manual, we use () when we wish to emphasize that it means the empty list, and we use nil when we wish to emphasize that it means the truth value false. That is a good convention to use in Lisp programs also.

(cons 'foo ())                ; Emphasize the empty list
(not nil)                     ; Emphasize the truth value false

In contexts where a truth value is expected, any non-nil value is considered to be true. However, t is the preferred way to represent the truth value true. When you need to choose a value which represents true, and there is no other basis for choosing, use t. The symbol t always has the value t.

In Emacs Lisp, nil and t are special symbols that always evaluate to themselves. This is so that you do not need to quote them to use them as constants in a program. An attempt to change their values results in a setting-constant error. The same is true of any symbol whose name starts with a colon (`:'). See section 11.2 Variables that Never Change.


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1.3.3 Evaluation Notation

A Lisp expression that you can evaluate is called a form. Evaluating a form always produces a result, which is a Lisp object. In the examples in this manual, this is indicated with `=>':

(car '(1 2))
     => 1

You can read this as "(car '(1 2)) evaluates to 1".

When a form is a macro call, it expands into a new form for Lisp to evaluate. We show the result of the expansion with `==>'. We may or may not show the result of the evaluation of the expanded form.

(third '(a b c))
     ==> (car (cdr (cdr '(a b c))))
     => c

Sometimes to help describe one form we show another form that produces identical results. The exact equivalence of two forms is indicated with `=='.

(make-sparse-keymap) == (list 'keymap)


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1.3.4 Printing Notation

Many of the examples in this manual print text when they are evaluated. If you execute example code in a Lisp Interaction buffer (such as the buffer `*scratch*'), the printed text is inserted into the buffer. If you execute the example by other means (such as by evaluating the function eval-region), the printed text is displayed in the echo area.

Examples in this manual indicate printed text with `-|', irrespective of where that text goes. The value returned by evaluating the form (here bar) follows on a separate line.

(progn (print 'foo) (print 'bar))
     -| foo
     -| bar
     => bar


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1.3.5 Error Messages

Some examples signal errors. This normally displays an error message in the echo area. We show the error message on a line starting with `error-->'. Note that `error-->' itself does not appear in the echo area.

(+ 23 'x)
error--> Wrong type argument: number-or-marker-p, x


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1.3.6 Buffer Text Notation

Some examples describe modifications to the contents of a buffer, by showing the "before" and "after" versions of the text. These examples show the contents of the buffer in question between two lines of dashes containing the buffer name. In addition, `-!-' indicates the location of point. (The symbol for point, of course, is not part of the text in the buffer; it indicates the place between two characters where point is currently located.)

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

(insert "changed ")
     => nil
---------- Buffer: foo ----------
This is the changed -!-contents of foo.
---------- Buffer: foo ----------


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1.3.7 Format of Descriptions

Functions, variables, macros, commands, user options, and special forms are described in this manual in a uniform format. The first line of a description contains the name of the item followed by its arguments, if any. The category--function, variable, or whatever--appears at the beginning of the line. The description follows on succeeding lines, sometimes with examples.

1.3.7.1 A Sample Function Description A description of an imaginary function, foo.
1.3.7.2 A Sample Variable Description A description of an imaginary variable,
electric-future-map.


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1.3.7.1 A Sample Function Description

In a function description, the name of the function being described appears first. It is followed on the same line by a list of argument names. These names are also used in the body of the description, to stand for the values of the arguments.

The appearance of the keyword &optional in the argument list indicates that the subsequent arguments may be omitted (omitted arguments default to nil). Do not write &optional when you call the function.

The keyword &rest (which must be followed by a single argument name) indicates that any number of arguments can follow. The single following argument name will have a value, as a variable, which is a list of all these remaining arguments. Do not write &rest when you call the function.

Here is a description of an imaginary function foo:

Function: foo integer1 &optional integer2 &rest integers
The function foo subtracts integer1 from integer2, then adds all the rest of the arguments to the result. If integer2 is not supplied, then the number 19 is used by default.
(foo 1 5 3 9)
     => 16
(foo 5)
     => 14

More generally,

(foo w x y...)
==
(+ (- x w) y...)

Any argument whose name contains the name of a type (e.g., integer, integer1 or buffer) is expected to be of that type. A plural of a type (such as buffers) often means a list of objects of that type. Arguments named object may be of any type. (See section 2. Lisp Data Types, for a list of Emacs object types.) Arguments with other sorts of names (e.g., new-file) are discussed specifically in the description of the function. In some sections, features common to the arguments of several functions are described at the beginning.

See section 12.2 Lambda Expressions, for a more complete description of optional and rest arguments.

Command, macro, and special form descriptions have the same format, but the word `Function' is replaced by `Command', `Macro', or `Special Form', respectively. Commands are simply functions that may be called interactively; macros process their arguments differently from functions (the arguments are not evaluated), but are presented the same way.

Special form descriptions use a more complex notation to specify optional and repeated arguments because they can break the argument list down into separate arguments in more complicated ways. `[optional-arg]' means that optional-arg is optional and `repeated-args...' stands for zero or more arguments. Parentheses are used when several arguments are grouped into additional levels of list structure. Here is an example:

Special Form: count-loop (var [from to [inc]]) body...
This imaginary special form implements a loop that executes the body forms and then increments the variable var on each iteration. On the first iteration, the variable has the value from; on subsequent iterations, it is incremented by one (or by inc if that is given). The loop exits before executing body if var equals to. Here is an example:
(count-loop (i 0 10)
  (prin1 i) (princ " ")
  (prin1 (aref vector i))
  (terpri))

If from and to are omitted, var is bound to nil before the loop begins, and the loop exits if var is non-nil at the beginning of an iteration. Here is an example:

(count-loop (done)
  (if (pending)
      (fixit)
    (setq done t)))

In this special form, the arguments from and to are optional, but must both be present or both absent. If they are present, inc may optionally be specified as well. These arguments are grouped with the argument var into a list, to distinguish them from body, which includes all remaining elements of the form.


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1.3.7.2 A Sample Variable Description

A variable is a name that can hold a value. Although any variable can be set by the user, certain variables that exist specifically so that users can change them are called user options. Ordinary variables and user options are described using a format like that for functions except that there are no arguments.

Here is a description of the imaginary electric-future-map variable.

Variable: electric-future-map
The value of this variable is a full keymap used by Electric Command Future mode. The functions in this map allow you to edit commands you have not yet thought about executing.

User option descriptions have the same format, but `Variable' is replaced by `User Option'.


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1.4 Version Information

These facilities provide information about which version of Emacs is in use.

Command: emacs-version
This function returns a string describing the version of Emacs that is running. It is useful to include this string in bug reports.
(emacs-version)
  => "GNU Emacs 20.3.5 (i486-pc-linux-gnulibc1, X toolkit)
 of Sat Feb 14 1998 on psilocin.gnu.org"

Called interactively, the function prints the same information in the echo area.

Variable: emacs-build-time
The value of this variable indicates the time at which Emacs was built at the local site. It is a list of three integers, like the value of current-time (see section 40.5 Time of Day).
emacs-build-time
     => (13623 62065 344633)

Variable: emacs-version
The value of this variable is the version of Emacs being run. It is a string such as "20.3.1". The last number in this string is not really part of the Emacs release version number; it is incremented each time you build Emacs in any given directory. A value with four numeric components, such as "20.3.9.1", indicates an unreleased test version.

The following two variables have existed since Emacs version 19.23:

Variable: emacs-major-version
The major version number of Emacs, as an integer. For Emacs version 20.3, the value is 20.

Variable: emacs-minor-version
The minor version number of Emacs, as an integer. For Emacs version 20.3, the value is 3.


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1.5 Acknowledgements

This manual was written by Robert Krawitz, Bil Lewis, Dan LaLiberte, Richard M. Stallman and Chris Welty, the volunteers of the GNU manual group, in an effort extending over several years. Robert J. Chassell helped to review and edit the manual, with the support of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA Order 6082, arranged by Warren A. Hunt, Jr. of Computational Logic, Inc.

Corrections were supplied by Karl Berry, Jim Blandy, Bard Bloom, Stephane Boucher, David Boyes, Alan Carroll, Richard Davis, Lawrence R. Dodd, Peter Doornbosch, David A. Duff, Chris Eich, Beverly Erlebacher, David Eckelkamp, Ralf Fassel, Eirik Fuller, Stephen Gildea, Bob Glickstein, Eric Hanchrow, George Hartzell, Nathan Hess, Masayuki Ida, Dan Jacobson, Jak Kirman, Bob Knighten, Frederick M. Korz, Joe Lammens, Glenn M. Lewis, K. Richard Magill, Brian Marick, Roland McGrath, Skip Montanaro, John Gardiner Myers, Thomas A. Peterson, Francesco Potorti, Friedrich Pukelsheim, Arnold D. Robbins, Raul Rockwell, Per Starbäck, Shinichirou Sugou, Kimmo Suominen, Edward Tharp, Bill Trost, Rickard Westman, Jean White, Matthew Wilding, Carl Witty, Dale Worley, Rusty Wright, and David D. Zuhn.


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2. Lisp Data Types

A Lisp object is a piece of data used and manipulated by Lisp programs. For our purposes, a type or data type is a set of possible objects.

Every object belongs to at least one type. Objects of the same type have similar structures and may usually be used in the same contexts. Types can overlap, and objects can belong to two or more types. Consequently, we can ask whether an object belongs to a particular type, but not for "the" type of an object.

A few fundamental object types are built into Emacs. These, from which all other types are constructed, are called primitive types. Each object belongs to one and only one primitive type. These types include integer, float, cons, symbol, string, vector, hash-table, subr, and byte-code function, plus several special types, such as buffer, that are related to editing. (See section 2.4 Editing Types.)

Each primitive type has a corresponding Lisp function that checks whether an object is a member of that type.

Note that Lisp is unlike many other languages in that Lisp objects are self-typing: the primitive type of the object is implicit in the object itself. For example, if an object is a vector, nothing can treat it as a number; Lisp knows it is a vector, not a number.

In most languages, the programmer must declare the data type of each variable, and the type is known by the compiler but not represented in the data. Such type declarations do not exist in Emacs Lisp. A Lisp variable can have any type of value, and it remembers whatever value you store in it, type and all.

This chapter describes the purpose, printed representation, and read syntax of each of the standard types in GNU Emacs Lisp. Details on how to use these types can be found in later chapters.

2.1 Printed Representation and Read Syntax How Lisp objects are represented as text.
2.2 Comments Comments and their formatting conventions.
2.3 Programming Types Types found in all Lisp systems.
2.4 Editing Types Types specific to Emacs.
2.5 Read Syntax for Circular Objects Read syntax for circular structure.
2.6 Type Predicates Tests related to types.
2.7 Equality Predicates Tests of equality between any two objects.


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2.1 Printed Representation and Read Syntax

The printed representation of an object is the format of the output generated by the Lisp printer (the function prin1) for that object. The read syntax of an object is the format of the input accepted by the Lisp reader (the function read) for that object. See section 19. Reading and Printing Lisp Objects.

Most objects have more than one possible read syntax. Some types of object have no read syntax, since it may not make sense to enter objects of these types directly in a Lisp program. Except for these cases, the printed representation of an object is also a read syntax for it.

In other languages, an expression is text; it has no other form. In Lisp, an expression is primarily a Lisp object and only secondarily the text that is the object's read syntax. Often there is no need to emphasize this distinction, but you must keep it in the back of your mind, or you will occasionally be very confused.

Every type has a printed representation. Some types have no read syntax--for example, the buffer type has none. Objects of these types are printed in hash notation: the characters `#<' followed by a descriptive string (typically the type name followed by the name of the object), and closed with a matching `>'. Hash notation cannot be read at all, so the Lisp reader signals the error invalid-read-syntax whenever it encounters `#<'.

(current-buffer)
     => #<buffer objects.texi>

When you evaluate an expression interactively, the Lisp interpreter first reads the textual representation of it, producing a Lisp object, and then evaluates that object (see section 9. Evaluation). However, evaluation and reading are separate activities. Reading returns the Lisp object represented by the text that is read; the object may or may not be evaluated later. See section 19.3 Input Functions, for a description of read, the basic function for reading objects.


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2.2 Comments

A comment is text that is written in a program only for the sake of humans that read the program, and that has no effect on the meaning of the program. In Lisp, a semicolon (`;') starts a comment if it is not within a string or character constant. The comment continues to the end of line. The Lisp reader discards comments; they do not become part of the Lisp objects which represent the program within the Lisp system.

The `#@count' construct, which skips the next count characters, is useful for program-generated comments containing binary data. The Emacs Lisp byte compiler uses this in its output files (see section 16. Byte Compilation). It isn't meant for source files, however.

See section D.4 Tips on Writing Comments, for conventions for formatting comments.


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2.3 Programming Types

There are two general categories of types in Emacs Lisp: those having to do with Lisp programming, and those having to do with editing. The former exist in many Lisp implementations, in one form or another. The latter are unique to Emacs Lisp.

2.3.1 Integer Type Numbers without fractional parts.
2.3.2 Floating Point Type Numbers with fractional parts and with a large range.
2.3.3 Character Type The representation of letters, numbers and control characters.
2.3.4 Symbol Type A multi-use object that refers to a function, variable, or property list, and has a unique identity.
2.3.5 Sequence Types Both lists and arrays are classified as sequences.
2.3.6 Cons Cell and List Types Cons cells, and lists (which are made from cons cells).
2.3.7 Array Type Arrays include strings and vectors.
2.3.8 String Type An (efficient) array of characters.
2.3.9 Vector Type One-dimensional arrays.
2.3.10 Char-Table Type One-dimensional sparse arrays indexed by characters.
2.3.11 Bool-Vector Type One-dimensional arrays of t or nil.
2.3.12 Hash Table Type Super-fast lookup tables.
2.3.13 Function Type A piece of executable code you can call from elsewhere.
2.3.14 Macro Type A method of expanding an expression into another expression, more fundamental but less pretty.
2.3.15 Primitive Function Type A function written in C, callable from Lisp.
2.3.16 Byte-Code Function Type A function written in Lisp, then compiled.
2.3.17 Autoload Type A type used for automatically loading seldom-used functions.


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2.3.1 Integer Type

The range of values for integers in Emacs Lisp is -134217728 to 134217727 (28 bits; i.e., -2**27 to 2**27 - 1) on most machines. (Some machines may provide a wider range.) It is important to note that the Emacs Lisp arithmetic functions do not check for overflow. Thus (1+ 134217727) is -134217728 on most machines.

The read syntax for integers is a sequence of (base ten) digits with an optional sign at the beginning and an optional period at the end. The printed representation produced by the Lisp interpreter never has a leading `+' or a final `.'.

-1               ; The integer -1.
1                ; The integer 1.
1.               ; Also the integer 1.
+1               ; Also the integer 1.
268435457        ; Also the integer 1 on a 28-bit implementation.

See section 3. Numbers, for more information.


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2.3.2 Floating Point Type

Floating point numbers are the computer equivalent of scientific notation. The precise number of significant figures and the range of possible exponents is machine-specific; Emacs always uses the C data type double to store the value.

The printed representation for floating point numbers requires either a decimal point (with at least one digit following), an exponent, or both. For example, `1500.0', `15e2', `15.0e2', `1.5e3', and `.15e4' are five ways of writing a floating point number whose value is 1500. They are all equivalent.

See section 3. Numbers, for more information.


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2.3.3 Character Type

A character in Emacs Lisp is nothing more than an integer. In other words, characters are represented by their character codes. For example, the character A is represented as the integer 65.

Individual characters are not often used in programs. It is far more common to work with strings, which are sequences composed of characters. See section 2.3.8 String Type.

Characters in strings, buffers, and files are currently limited to the range of 0 to 524287--nineteen bits. But not all values in that range are valid character codes. Codes 0 through 127 are ASCII codes; the rest are non-ASCII (see section 33. Non-ASCII Characters). Characters that represent keyboard input have a much wider range, to encode modifier keys such as Control, Meta and Shift.

Since characters are really integers, the printed representation of a character is a decimal number. This is also a possible read syntax for a character, but writing characters that way in Lisp programs is a very bad idea. You should always use the special read syntax formats that Emacs Lisp provides for characters. These syntax formats start with a question mark.

The usual read syntax for alphanumeric characters is a question mark followed by the character; thus, `?A' for the character A, `?B' for the character B, and `?a' for the character a.

For example:

?Q => 81     ?q => 113

You can use the same syntax for punctuation characters, but it is often a good idea to add a `\' so that the Emacs commands for editing Lisp code don't get confused. For example, `?\ ' is the way to write the space character. If the character is `\', you must use a second `\' to quote it: `?\\'.

You can express the characters Control-g, backspace, tab, newline, vertical tab, formfeed, return, del, and escape as `?\a', `?\b', `?\t', `?\n', `?\v', `?\f', `?\r', `?\d', and `?\e', respectively. Thus,

?\a => 7                 ; C-g
?\b => 8                 ; backspace, BS, C-h
?\t => 9                 ; tab, TAB, C-i
?\n => 10                ; newline, C-j
?\v => 11                ; vertical tab, C-k
?\f => 12                ; formfeed character, C-l
?\r => 13                ; carriage return, RET, C-m
?\e => 27                ; escape character, ESC, C-[
?\\ => 92                ; backslash character, \
?\d => 127               ; delete character, DEL

These sequences which start with backslash are also known as escape sequences, because backslash plays the role of an escape character; this usage has nothing to do with the character ESC.

Control characters may be represented using yet another read syntax. This consists of a question mark followed by a backslash, caret, and the corresponding non-control character, in either upper or lower case. For example, both `?\^I' and `?\^i' are valid read syntax for the character C-i, the character whose value is 9.

Instead of the `^', you can use `C-'; thus, `?\C-i' is equivalent to `?\^I' and to `?\^i':

?\^I => 9     ?\C-I => 9

In strings and buffers, the only control characters allowed are those that exist in ASCII; but for keyboard input purposes, you can turn any character into a control character with `C-'. The character codes for these non-ASCII control characters include the 2**26 bit as well as the code for the corresponding non-control character. Ordinary terminals have no way of generating non-ASCII control characters, but you can generate them straightforwardly using X and other window systems.

For historical reasons, Emacs treats the DEL character as the control equivalent of ?:

?\^? => 127     ?\C-? => 127

As a result, it is currently not possible to represent the character Control-?, which is a meaningful input character under X, using `\C-'. It is not easy to change this, as various Lisp files refer to DEL in this way.

For representing control characters to be found in files or strings, we recommend the `^' syntax; for control characters in keyboard input, we prefer the `C-' syntax. Which one you use does not affect the meaning of the program, but may guide the understanding of people who read it.

A meta character is a character typed with the META modifier key. The integer that represents such a character has the 2**27 bit set (which on most machines makes it a negative number). We use high bits for this and other modifiers to make possible a wide range of basic character codes.

In a string, the 2**7 bit attached to an ASCII character indicates a meta character; thus, the meta characters that can fit in a string have codes in the range from 128 to 255, and are the meta versions of the ordinary ASCII characters. (In Emacs versions 18 and older, this convention was used for characters outside of strings as well.)

The read syntax for meta characters uses `\M-'. For example, `?\M-A' stands for M-A. You can use `\M-' together with octal character codes (see below), with `\C-', or with any other syntax for a character. Thus, you can write M-A as `?\M-A', or as `?\M-\101'. Likewise, you can write C-M-b as `?\M-\C-b', `?\C-\M-b', or `?\M-\002'.

The case of a graphic character is indicated by its character code; for example, ASCII distinguishes between the characters `a' and `A'. But ASCII has no way to represent whether a control character is upper case or lower case. Emacs uses the 2**25 bit to indicate that the shift key was used in typing a control character. This distinction is possible only when you use X terminals or other special terminals; ordinary terminals do not report the distinction to the computer in any way. The Lisp syntax for the shift bit is `\S-'; thus, `?\C-\S-o' or `?\C-\S-O' represents the shifted-control-o character.

The X Window System defines three other modifier bits that can be set in a character: hyper, super and alt. The syntaxes for these bits are `\H-', `\s-' and `\A-'. (Case is significant in these prefixes.) Thus, `?\H-\M-\A-x' represents Alt-Hyper-Meta-x. Numerically, the bit values are 2**22 for alt, 2**23 for super and 2**24 for hyper.

Finally, the most general read syntax for a character represents the character code in either octal or hex. To use octal, write a question mark followed by a backslash and the octal character code (up to three octal digits); thus, `?\101' for the character A, `?\001' for the character C-a, and ?\002 for the character C-b. Although this syntax can represent any ASCII character, it is preferred only when the precise octal value is more important than the ASCII representation.

?\012 => 10         ?\n => 10         ?\C-j => 10
?\101 => 65         ?A => 65

To use hex, write a question mark followed by a backslash, `x', and the hexadecimal character code. You can use any number of hex digits, so you can represent any character code in this way. Thus, `?\x41' for the character A, `?\x1' for the character C-a, and ?\x8e0 for the Latin-1 character `a' with grave accent.

A backslash is allowed, and harmless, preceding any character without a special escape meaning; thus, `?\+' is equivalent to `?+'. There is no reason to add a backslash before most characters. However, you should add a backslash before any of the characters `()\|;'`"#.,' to avoid confusing the Emacs commands for editing Lisp code. Also add a backslash before whitespace characters such as space, tab, newline and formfeed. However, it is cleaner to use one of the easily readable escape sequences, such as `\t', instead of an actual whitespace character such as a tab.


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2.3.4 Symbol Type

A symbol in GNU Emacs Lisp is an object with a name. The symbol name serves as the printed representation of the symbol. In ordinary use, the name is unique--no two symbols have the same name.

A symbol can serve as a variable, as a function name, or to hold a property list. Or it may serve only to be distinct from all other Lisp objects, so that its presence in a data structure may be recognized reliably. In a given context, usually only one of these uses is intended. But you can use one symbol in all of these ways, independently.

A symbol whose name starts with a colon (`:') is called a keyword symbol. These symbols automatically act as constants, and are normally used only by comparing an unknown symbol with a few specific alternatives.

A symbol name can contain any characters whatever. Most symbol names are written with letters, digits, and the punctuation characters `-+=*/'. Such names require no special punctuation; the characters of the name suffice as long as the name does not look like a number. (If it does, write a `\' at the beginning of the name to force interpretation as a symbol.) The characters `_~!@$%^&:<>{}?' are less often used but also require no special punctuation. Any other characters may be included in a symbol's name by escaping them with a backslash. In contrast to its use in strings, however, a backslash in the name of a symbol simply quotes the single character that follows the backslash. For example, in a string, `\t' represents a tab character; in the name of a symbol, however, `\t' merely quotes the letter `t'. To have a symbol with a tab character in its name, you must actually use a tab (preceded with a backslash). But it's rare to do such a thing.

Common Lisp note: In Common Lisp, lower case letters are always "folded" to upper case, unless they are explicitly escaped. In Emacs Lisp, upper case and lower case letters are distinct.

Here are several examples of symbol names. Note that the `+' in the fifth example is escaped to prevent it from being read as a number. This is not necessary in the sixth example because the rest of the name makes it invalid as a number.

foo                 ; A symbol named `foo'.
FOO                 ; A symbol named `FOO', different from `foo'.
char-to-string      ; A symbol named `char-to-string'.
1+                  ; A symbol named `1+'
                    ;   (not `+1', which is an integer).
\+1                 ; A symbol named `+1'
                    ;   (not a very readable name).
\(*\ 1\ 2\)         ; A symbol named `(* 1 2)' (a worse name).
+-*/_~!@$%^&=:<>{}  ; A symbol named `+-*/_~!@$%^&=:<>{}'.
                    ;   These characters need not be escaped.

Normally the Lisp reader interns all symbols (see section 8.3 Creating and Interning Symbols). To prevent interning, you can write `#:' before the name of the symbol.


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2.3.5 Sequence Types

A sequence is a Lisp object that represents an ordered set of elements. There are two kinds of sequence in Emacs Lisp, lists and arrays. Thus, an object of type list or of type array is also considered a sequence.

Arrays are further subdivided into strings, vectors, char-tables and bool-vectors. Vectors can hold elements of any type, but string elements must be characters, and bool-vector elements must be t or nil. Char-tables are like vectors except that they are indexed by any valid character code. The characters in a string can have text properties like characters in a buffer (see section 32.19 Text Properties), but vectors do not support text properties, even when their elements happen to be characters.

Lists, strings and the other array types are different, but they have important similarities. For example, all have a length l, and all have elements which can be indexed from zero to l minus one. Several functions, called sequence functions, accept any kind of sequence. For example, the function elt can be used to extract an element of a sequence, given its index. See section 6. Sequences, Arrays, and Vectors.

It is generally impossible to read the same sequence twice, since sequences are always created anew upon reading. If you read the read syntax for a sequence twice, you get two sequences with equal contents. There is one exception: the empty list () always stands for the same object, nil.


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2.3.6 Cons Cell and List Types

A cons cell is an object that consists of two slots, called the CAR slot and the CDR slot. Each slot can hold or refer to any Lisp object. We also say that "the CAR of this cons cell is" whatever object its CAR slot currently holds, and likewise for the CDR.

A note to C programmers: in Lisp, we do not distinguish between "holding" a value and "pointing to" the value, because pointers in Lisp are implicit.

A list is a series of cons cells, linked together so that the CDR slot of each cons cell holds either the next cons cell or the empty list. See section 5. Lists, for functions that work on lists. Because most cons cells are used as part of lists, the phrase list structure has come to refer to any structure made out of cons cells.

The names CAR and CDR derive from the history of Lisp. The original Lisp implementation ran on an IBM 704 computer which divided words into two parts, called the "address" part and the "decrement"; CAR was an instruction to extract the contents of the address part of a register, and CDR an instruction to extract the contents of the decrement. By contrast, "cons cells" are named for the function cons that creates them, which in turn was named for its purpose, the construction of cells.

Because cons cells are so central to Lisp, we also have a word for "an object which is not a cons cell". These objects are called atoms.

The read syntax and printed representation for lists are identical, and consist of a left parenthesis, an arbitrary number of elements, and a right parenthesis.

Upon reading, each object inside the parentheses becomes an element of the list. That is, a cons cell is made for each element. The CAR slot of the cons cell holds the element, and its CDR slot refers to the next cons cell of the list, which holds the next element in the list. The CDR slot of the last cons cell is set to hold nil.

A list can be illustrated by a diagram in which the cons cells are shown as pairs of boxes, like dominoes. (The Lisp reader cannot read such an illustration; unlike the textual notation, which can be understood by both humans and computers, the box illustrations can be understood only by humans.) This picture represents the three-element list (rose violet buttercup):

    --- ---      --- ---      --- ---
   |   |   |--> |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
    --- ---      --- ---      --- ---
     |            |            |
     |            |            |
      --> rose     --> violet   --> buttercup

In this diagram, each box represents a slot that can hold or refer to any Lisp object. Each pair of boxes represents a cons cell. Each arrow represents a reference to a Lisp object, either an atom or another cons cell.

In this example, the first box, which holds the CAR of the first cons cell, refers to or "holds" rose (a symbol). The second box, holding the CDR of the first cons cell, refers to the next pair of boxes, the second cons cell. The CAR of the second cons cell is violet, and its CDR is the third cons cell. The CDR of the third (and last) cons cell is nil.

Here is another diagram of the same list, (rose violet buttercup), sketched in a different manner:

 ---------------       ----------------       -------------------
| car   | cdr   |     | car    | cdr   |     | car       | cdr   |
| rose  |   o-------->| violet |   o-------->| buttercup |  nil  |
|       |       |     |        |       |     |           |       |
 ---------------       ----------------       -------------------

A list with no elements in it is the empty list; it is identical to the symbol nil. In other words, nil is both a symbol and a list.

Here are examples of lists written in Lisp syntax:

(A 2 "A")            ; A list of three elements.
()                   ; A list of no elements (the empty list).
nil                  ; A list of no elements (the empty list).
("A ()")             ; A list of one element: the string "A ()".
(A ())               ; A list of two elements: A and the empty list.
(A nil)              ; Equivalent to the previous.
((A B C))            ; A list of one element
                     ;   (which is a list of three elements).

Here is the list (A ()), or equivalently (A nil), depicted with boxes and arrows:

    --- ---      --- ---
   |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
    --- ---      --- ---
     |            |
     |            |
      --> A        --> nil
2.3.6.1 Dotted Pair Notation An alternative syntax for lists.
2.3.6.2 Association List Type A specially constructed list.


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2.3.6.1 Dotted Pair Notation

Dotted pair notation is an alternative syntax for cons cells that represents the CAR and CDR explicitly. In this syntax, (a . b) stands for a cons cell whose CAR is the object a, and whose CDR is the object b. Dotted pair notation is therefore more general than list syntax. In the dotted pair notation, the list `(1 2 3)' is written as `(1 . (2 . (3 . nil)))'. For nil-terminated lists, you can use either notation, but list notation is usually clearer and more convenient. When printing a list, the dotted pair notation is only used if the CDR of a cons cell is not a list.

Here's an example using boxes to illustrate dotted pair notation. This example shows the pair (rose . violet):

    --- ---
   |   |   |--> violet
    --- ---
     |
     |
      --> rose

You can combine dotted pair notation with list notation to represent conveniently a chain of cons cells with a non-nil final CDR. You write a dot after the last element of the list, followed by the CDR of the final cons cell. For example, (rose violet . buttercup) is equivalent to (rose . (violet . buttercup)). The object looks like this:

    --- ---      --- ---
   |   |   |--> |   |   |--> buttercup
    --- ---      --- ---
     |            |
     |            |
      --> rose     --> violet

The syntax (rose . violet . buttercup) is invalid because there is nothing that it could mean. If anything, it would say to put buttercup in the CDR of a cons cell whose CDR is already used for violet.

The list (rose violet) is equivalent to (rose . (violet)), and looks like this:

    --- ---      --- ---
   |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
    --- ---      --- ---
     |            |
     |            |
      --> rose     --> violet

Similarly, the three-element list (rose violet buttercup) is equivalent to (rose . (violet . (buttercup))). It looks like this:

    --- ---      --- ---      --- ---
   |   |   |--> |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
    --- ---      --- ---      --- ---
     |            |            |
     |            |            |
      --> rose     --> violet   --> buttercup


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2.3.6.2 Association List Type

An association list or alist is a specially-constructed list whose elements are cons cells. In each element, the CAR is considered a key, and the CDR is considered an associated value. (In some cases, the associated value is stored in the CAR of the CDR.) Association lists are often used as stacks, since it is easy to add or remove associations at the front of the list.

For example,

(setq alist-of-colors
      '((rose . red) (lily . white) (buttercup . yellow)))

sets the variable alist-of-colors to an alist of three elements. In the first element, rose is the key and red is the value.

See section 5.8 Association Lists, for a further explanation of alists and for functions that work on alists. See section 7. Hash Tables, for another kind of lookup table, which is much faster for handling a large number of keys.


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2.3.7 Array Type

An array is composed of an arbitrary number of slots for holding or referring to other Lisp objects, arranged in a contiguous block of memory. Accessing any element of an array takes approximately the same amount of time. In contrast, accessing an element of a list requires time proportional to the position of the element in the list. (Elements at the end of a list take longer to access than elements at the beginning of a list.)

Emacs defines four types of array: strings, vectors, bool-vectors, and char-tables.

A string is an array of characters and a vector is an array of arbitrary objects. A bool-vector can hold only t or nil. These kinds of array may have any length up to the largest integer. Char-tables are sparse arrays indexed by any valid character code; they can hold arbitrary objects.

The first element of an array has index zero, the second element has index 1, and so on. This is called zero-origin indexing. For example, an array of four elements has indices 0, 1, 2, and 3. The largest possible index value is one less than the length of the array. Once an array is created, its length is fixed.

All Emacs Lisp arrays are one-dimensional. (Most other programming languages support multidimensional arrays, but they are not essential; you can get the same effect with an array of arrays.) Each type of array has its own read syntax; see the following sections for details.

The array type is contained in the sequence type and contains the string type, the vector type, the bool-vector type, and the char-table type.


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2.3.8 String Type

A string is an array of characters. Strings are used for many purposes in Emacs, as can be expected in a text editor; for example, as the names of Lisp symbols, as messages for the user, and to represent text extracted from buffers. Strings in Lisp are constants: evaluation of a string returns the same string.

See section 4. Strings and Characters, for functions that operate on strings.

2.3.8.1 Syntax for Strings
2.3.8.2 Non-ASCII Characters in Strings
2.3.8.3 Nonprinting Characters in Strings
2.3.8.4 Text Properties in Strings


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2.3.8.1 Syntax for Strings

The read syntax for strings is a double-quote, an arbitrary number of characters, and another double-quote, "like this". To include a double-quote in a string, precede it with a backslash; thus, "\"" is a string containing just a single double-quote character. Likewise, you can include a backslash by preceding it with another backslash, like this: "this \\ is a single embedded backslash".

The newline character is not special in the read syntax for strings; if you write a new line between the double-quotes, it becomes a character in the string. But an escaped newline--one that is preceded by `\'---does not become part of the string; i.e., the Lisp reader ignores an escaped newline while reading a string. An escaped space `\ ' is likewise ignored.

"It is useful to include newlines
in documentation strings,
but the newline is \
ignored if escaped."
     => "It is useful to include newlines 
in documentation strings, 
but the newline is ignored if escaped."


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2.3.8.2 Non-ASCII Characters in Strings

You can include a non-ASCII international character in a string constant by writing it literally. There are two text representations for non-ASCII characters in Emacs strings (and in buffers): unibyte and multibyte. If the string constant is read from a multibyte source, such as a multibyte buffer or string, or a file that would be visited as multibyte, then the character is read as a multibyte character, and that makes the string multibyte. If the string constant is read from a unibyte source, then the character is read as unibyte and that makes the string unibyte.

You can also represent a multibyte non-ASCII character with its character code: use a hex escape, `\xnnnnnnn', with as many digits as necessary. (Multibyte non-ASCII character codes are all greater than 256.) Any character which is not a valid hex digit terminates this construct. If the next character in the string could be interpreted as a hex digit, write `\ ' (backslash and space) to terminate the hex escape--for example, `\x8e0\ ' represents one character, `a' with grave accent. `\ ' in a string constant is just like backslash-newline; it does not contribute any character to the string, but it does terminate the preceding hex escape.

Using a multibyte hex escape forces the string to multibyte. You can represent a unibyte non-ASCII character with its character code, which must be in the range from 128 (0200 octal) to 255 (0377 octal). This forces a unibyte string. See section 33.1 Text Representations, for more information about the two text representations.


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2.3.8.3 Nonprinting Characters in Strings

You can use the same backslash escape-sequences in a string constant as in character literals (but do not use the question mark that begins a character constant). For example, you can write a string containing the nonprinting characters tab and C-a, with commas and spaces between them, like this: "\t, \C-a". See section 2.3.3 Character Type, for a description of the read syntax for characters.

However, not all of the characters you can write with backslash escape-sequences are valid in strings. The only control characters that a string can hold are the ASCII control characters. Strings do not distinguish case in ASCII control characters.

Properly speaking, strings cannot hold meta characters; but when a string is to be used as a key sequence, there is a special convention that provides a way to represent meta versions of ASCII characters in a string. If you use the `\M-' syntax to indicate a meta character in a string constant, this sets the 2**7 bit of the character in the string. If the string is used in define-key or lookup-key, this numeric code is translated into the equivalent meta character. See section 2.3.3 Character Type.

Strings cannot hold characters that have the hyper, super, or alt modifiers.


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2.3.8.4 Text Properties in Strings

A string can hold properties for the characters it contains, in addition to the characters themselves. This enables programs that copy text between strings and buffers to copy the text's properties with no special effort. See section 32.19 Text Properties, for an explanation of what text properties mean. Strings with text properties use a special read and print syntax:

#("characters" property-data...)

where property-data consists of zero or more elements, in groups of three as follows:

beg end plist

The elements beg and end are integers, and together specify a range of indices in the string; plist is the property list for that range. For example,

#("foo bar" 0 3 (face bold) 3 4 nil 4 7 (face italic))

represents a string whose textual contents are `foo bar', in which the first three characters have a face property with value bold, and the last three have a face property with value italic. (The fourth character has no text properties, so its property list is nil. It is not actually necessary to mention ranges with nil as the property list, since any characters not mentioned in any range will default to having no properties.)


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2.3.9 Vector Type

A vector is a one-dimensional array of elements of any type. It takes a constant amount of time to access any element of a vector. (In a list, the access time of an element is proportional to the distance of the element from the beginning of the list.)

The printed representation of a vector consists of a left square bracket, the elements, and a right square bracket. This is also the read syntax. Like numbers and strings, vectors are considered constants for evaluation.

[1 "two" (three)]      ; A vector of three elements.
     => [1 "two" (three)]

See section 6.4 Vectors, for functions that work with vectors.


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2.3.10 Char-Table Type

A char-table is a one-dimensional array of elements of any type, indexed by character codes. Char-tables have certain extra features to make them more useful for many jobs that involve assigning information to character codes--for example, a char-table can have a parent to inherit from, a default value, and a small number of extra slots to use for special purposes. A char-table can also specify a single value for a whole character set.

The printed representation of a char-table is like a vector except that there is an extra `#^' at the beginning.

See section 6.6 Char-Tables, for special functions to operate on char-tables. Uses of char-tables include:


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2.3.11 Bool-Vector Type

A bool-vector is a one-dimensional array of elements that must be t or nil.

The printed representation of a bool-vector is like a string, except that it begins with `#&' followed by the length. The string constant that follows actually specifies the contents of the bool-vector as a bitmap--each "character" in the string contains 8 bits, which specify the next 8 elements of the bool-vector (1 stands for t, and 0 for nil). The least significant bits of the character correspond to the lowest indices in the bool-vector. If the length is not a multiple of 8, the printed representation shows extra elements, but these extras really make no difference.

(make-bool-vector 3 t)
     => #&3"\007"
(make-bool-vector 3 nil)
     => #&3"\0"
;; These are equal since only the first 3 bits are used.
(equal #&3"\377" #&3"\007")
     => t


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2.3.12 Hash Table Type

A hash table is a very fast kind of lookup table, somewhat like an alist in that it maps keys to corresponding values, but much faster. Hash tables are a new feature in Emacs 21; they have no read syntax, and print using hash notation. See section 7. Hash Tables.

(make-hash-table)
     => #<hash-table 'eql nil 0/65 0x83af980>


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2.3.13 Function Type

Just as functions in other programming languages are executable, Lisp function objects are pieces of executable code. However, functions in Lisp are primarily Lisp objects, and only secondarily the text which represents them. These Lisp objects are lambda expressions: lists whose first element is the symbol lambda (see section 12.2 Lambda Expressions).

In most programming languages, it is impossible to have a function without a name. In Lisp, a function has no intrinsic name. A lambda expression is also called an anonymous function (see section 12.7 Anonymous Functions). A named function in Lisp is actually a symbol with a valid function in its function cell (see section 12.4 Defining Functions).

Most of the time, functions are called when their names are written in Lisp expressions in Lisp programs. However, you can construct or obtain a function object at run time and then call it with the primitive functions funcall and apply. See section 12.5 Calling Functions.


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2.3.14 Macro Type

A Lisp macro is a user-defined construct that extends the Lisp language. It is represented as an object much like a function, but with different argument-passing semantics. A Lisp macro has the form of a list whose first element is the symbol macro and whose CDR is a Lisp function object, including the lambda symbol.

Lisp macro objects are usually defined with the built-in defmacro function, but any list that begins with macro is a macro as far as Emacs is concerned. See section 13. Macros, for an explanation of how to write a macro.

Warning: Lisp macros and keyboard macros (see section 21.15 Keyboard Macros) are entirely different things. When we use the word "macro" without qualification, we mean a Lisp macro, not a keyboard macro.


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2.3.15 Primitive Function Type

A primitive function is a function callable from Lisp but written in the C programming language. Primitive functions are also called subrs or built-in functions. (The word "subr" is derived from "subroutine".) Most primitive functions evaluate all their arguments when they are called. A primitive function that does not evaluate all its arguments is called a special form (see section 9.2.7 Special Forms).

It does not matter to the caller of a function whether the function is primitive. However, this does matter if you try to redefine a primitive with a function written in Lisp. The reason is that the primitive function may be called directly from C code. Calls to the redefined function from Lisp will use the new definition, but calls from C code may still use the built-in definition. Therefore, we discourage redefinition of primitive functions.

The term function refers to all Emacs functions, whether written in Lisp or C. See section 2.3.13 Function Type, for information about the functions written in Lisp.

Primitive functions have no read syntax and print in hash notation with the name of the subroutine.

(symbol-function 'car)          ; Access the function cell
                                ;   of the symbol.
     => #<subr car>
(subrp (symbol-function 'car))  ; Is this a primitive function?
     => t                       ; Yes.


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2.3.16 Byte-Code Function Type

The byte compiler produces byte-code function objects. Internally, a byte-code function object is much like a vector; however, the evaluator handles this data type specially when it appears as a function to be called. See section 16. Byte Compilation, for information about the byte compiler.

The printed representation and read syntax for a byte-code function object is like that for a vector, with an additional `#' before the opening `['.


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2.3.17 Autoload Type

An autoload object is a list whose first element is the symbol autoload. It is stored as the function definition of a symbol, where it serves as a placeholder for the real definition. The autoload object says that the real definition is found in a file of Lisp code that should be loaded when necessary. It contains the name of the file, plus some other information about the real definition.

After the file has been loaded, the symbol should have a new function definition that is not an autoload object. The new definition is then called as if it had been there to begin with. From the user's point of view, the function call works as expected, using the function definition in the loaded file.

An autoload object is usually created with the function autoload, which stores the object in the function cell of a symbol. See section 15.4 Autoload, for more details.


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2.4 Editing Types

The types in the previous section are used for general programming purposes, and most of them are common to most Lisp dialects. Emacs Lisp provides several additional data types for purposes connected with editing.

2.4.1 Buffer Type The basic object of editing.
2.4.2 Marker Type A position in a buffer.
2.4.3 Window Type Buffers are displayed in windows.
2.4.4 Frame Type Windows subdivide frames.
2.4.5 Window Configuration Type Recording the way a frame is subdivided.
2.4.6 Frame Configuration Type Recording the status of all frames.
2.4.7 Process Type A process running on the underlying OS.
2.4.8 Stream Type Receive or send characters.
2.4.9 Keymap Type What function a keystroke invokes.
2.4.10 Overlay Type How an overlay is represented.


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2.4.1 Buffer Type

A buffer is an object that holds text that can be edited (see section 27. Buffers). Most buffers hold the contents of a disk file (see section 25. Files) so they can be edited, but some are used for other purposes. Most buffers are also meant to be seen by the user, and therefore displayed, at some time, in a window (see section 28. Windows). But a buffer need not be displayed in any window.

The contents of a buffer are much like a string, but buffers are not used like strings in Emacs Lisp, and the available operations are different. For example, you can insert text efficiently into an existing buffer, altering the buffer's contents, whereas "inserting" text into a string requires concatenating substrings, and the result is an entirely new string object.

Each buffer has a designated position called point (see section 30. Positions). At any time, one buffer is the current buffer. Most editing commands act on the contents of the current buffer in the neighborhood of point. Many of the standard Emacs functions manipulate or test the characters in the current buffer; a whole chapter in this manual is devoted to describing these functions (see section 32. Text).

Several other data structures are associated with each buffer:

The local keymap and variable list contain entries that individually override global bindings or values. These are used to customize the behavior of programs in different buffers, without actually changing the programs.

A buffer may be indirect, which means it shares the text of another buffer, but presents it differently. See section 27.11 Indirect Buffers.

Buffers have no read syntax. They print in hash notation, showing the buffer name.

(current-buffer)
     => #<buffer objects.texi>


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2.4.2 Marker Type

A marker denotes a position in a specific buffer. Markers therefore have two components: one for the buffer, and one for the position. Changes in the buffer's text automatically relocate the position value as necessary to ensure that the marker always points between the same two characters in the buffer.

Markers have no read syntax. They print in hash notation, giving the current character position and the name of the buffer.

(point-marker)
     => #<marker at 10779 in objects.texi>

See section 31. Markers, for information on how to test, create, copy, and move markers.


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2.4.3 Window Type

A window describes the portion of the terminal screen that Emacs uses to display a buffer. Every window has one associated buffer, whose contents appear in the window. By contrast, a given buffer may appear in one window, no window, or several windows.

Though many windows may exist simultaneously, at any time one window is designated the selected window. This is the window where the cursor is (usually) displayed when Emacs is ready for a command. The selected window usually displays the current buffer, but this is not necessarily the case.

Windows are grouped on the screen into frames; each window belongs to one and only one frame. See section 2.4.4 Frame Type.

Windows have no read syntax. They print in hash notation, giving the window number and the name of the buffer being displayed. The window numbers exist to identify windows uniquely, since the buffer displayed in any given window can change frequently.

(selected-window)
     => #<window 1 on objects.texi>

See section 28. Windows, for a description of the functions that work on windows.


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2.4.4 Frame Type

A frame is a rectangle on the screen that contains one or more Emacs windows. A frame initially contains a single main window (plus perhaps a minibuffer window) which you can subdivide vertically or horizontally into smaller windows.

Frames have no read syntax. They print in hash notation, giving the frame's title, plus its address in core (useful to identify the frame uniquely).

(selected-frame)
     => #<frame emacs@psilocin.gnu.org 0xdac80>

See section 29. Frames, for a description of the functions that work on frames.


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2.4.5 Window Configuration Type

A window configuration stores information about the positions, sizes, and contents of the windows in a frame, so you can recreate the same arrangement of windows later.

Window configurations do not have a read syntax; their print syntax looks like `#<window-configuration>'. See section 28.17 Window Configurations, for a description of several functions related to window configurations.


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2.4.6 Frame Configuration Type

A frame configuration stores information about the positions, sizes, and contents of the windows in all frames. It is actually a list whose CAR is frame-configuration and whose CDR is an alist. Each alist element describes one frame, which appears as the CAR of that element.

See section 29.12 Frame Configurations, for a description of several functions related to frame configurations.


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2.4.7 Process Type

The word process usually means a running program. Emacs itself runs in a process of this sort. However, in Emacs Lisp, a process is a Lisp object that designates a subprocess created by the Emacs process. Programs such as shells, GDB, ftp, and compilers, running in subprocesses of Emacs, extend the capabilities of Emacs.

An Emacs subprocess takes textual input from Emacs and returns textual output to Emacs for further manipulation. Emacs can also send signals to the subprocess.

Process objects have no read syntax. They print in hash notation, giving the name of the process:

(process-list)
     => (#<process shell>)

See section 37. Processes, for information about functions that create, delete, return information about, send input or signals to, and receive output from processes.


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2.4.8 Stream Type

A stream is an object that can be used as a source or sink for characters--either to supply characters for input or to accept them as output. Many different types can be used this way: markers, buffers, strings, and functions. Most often, input streams (character sources) obtain characters from the keyboard, a buffer, or a file, and output streams (character sinks) send characters to a buffer, such as a `*Help*' buffer, or to the echo area.

The object nil, in addition to its other meanings, may be used as a stream. It stands for the value of the variable standard-input or standard-output. Also, the object t as a stream specifies input using the minibuffer (see section 20. Minibuffers) or output in the echo area (see section 38.4 The Echo Area).

Streams have no special printed representation or read syntax, and print as whatever primitive type they are.

See section 19. Reading and Printing Lisp Objects, for a description of functions related to streams, including parsing and printing functions.


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2.4.9 Keymap Type

A keymap maps keys typed by the user to commands. This mapping controls how the user's command input is executed. A keymap is actually a list whose CAR is the symbol keymap.

See section 22. Keymaps, for information about creating keymaps, handling prefix keys, local as well as global keymaps, and changing key bindings.


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2.4.10 Overlay Type

An overlay specifies properties that apply to a part of a buffer. Each overlay applies to a specified range of the buffer, and contains a property list (a list whose elements are alternating property names and values). Overlay properties are used to present parts of the buffer temporarily in a different display style. Overlays have no read syntax, and print in hash notation, giving the buffer name and range of positions.

See section 38.9 Overlays, for how to create and use overlays.


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2.5 Read Syntax for Circular Objects

In Emacs 21, to represent shared or circular structure within a complex of Lisp objects, you can use the reader constructs `#n=' and `#n#'.

Use #n= before an object to label it for later reference; subsequently, you can use #n# to refer the same object in another place. Here, n is some integer. For example, here is how to make a list in which the first element recurs as the third element:

(#1=(a) b #1#)

This differs from ordinary syntax such as this

((a) b (a))

which would result in a list whose first and third elements look alike but are not the same Lisp object. This shows the difference:

(prog1 nil
  (setq x '(#1=(a) b #1#)))
(eq (nth 0 x) (nth 2 x))
     => t
(setq x '((a) b (a)))
(eq (nth 0 x) (nth 2 x))
     => nil

You can also use the same syntax to make a circular structure, which appears as an "element" within itself. Here is an example:

#1=(a #1#)

This makes a list whose second element is the list itself. Here's how you can see that it really works:

(prog1 nil
  (setq x '#1=(a #1#)))
(eq x (cadr x))
     => t

The Lisp printer can produce this syntax to record circular and shared structure in a Lisp object, if you bind the variable print-circle to a non-nil value. See section 19.6 Variables Affecting Output.


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2.6 Type Predicates

The Emacs Lisp interpreter itself does not perform type checking on the actual arguments passed to functions when they are called. It could not do so, since function arguments in Lisp do not have declared data types, as they do in other programming languages. It is therefore up to the individual function to test whether each actual argument belongs to a type that the function can use.

All built-in functions do check the types of their actual arguments when appropriate, and signal a wrong-type-argument error if an argument is of the wrong type. For example, here is what happens if you pass an argument to + that it cannot handle:

(+ 2 'a)
     error--> Wrong type argument: number-or-marker-p, a

If you want your program to handle different types differently, you must do explicit type checking. The most common way to check the type of an object is to call a type predicate function. Emacs has a type predicate for each type, as well as some predicates for combinations of types.

A type predicate function takes one argument; it returns t if the argument belongs to the appropriate type, and nil otherwise. Following a general Lisp convention for predicate functions, most type predicates' names end with `p'.

Here is an example which uses the predicates listp to check for a list and symbolp to check for a symbol.

(defun add-on (x)
  (cond ((symbolp x)
         ;; If X is a symbol, put it on LIST.
         (setq list (cons x list)))
        ((listp x)
         ;; If X is a list, add its elements to LIST.
         (setq list (append x list)))
        (t
         ;; We handle only symbols and lists.
         (error "Invalid argument %s in add-on" x))))

Here is a table of predefined type predicates, in alphabetical order, with references to further information.

atom
See section atom.
arrayp
See section arrayp.
bool-vector-p
See section bool-vector-p.
bufferp
See section bufferp.
byte-code-function-p
See section byte-code-function-p.
case-table-p
See section case-table-p.
char-or-string-p
See section char-or-string-p.
char-table-p
See section char-table-p.
commandp
See section commandp.
consp
See section consp.
display-table-p
See section display-table-p.
floatp
See section floatp.
frame-configuration-p
See section frame-configuration-p.
frame-live-p
See section frame-live-p.
framep
See section framep.
functionp
See section functionp.
integer-or-marker-p
See section integer-or-marker-p.
integerp
See section integerp.
keymapp
See section keymapp.
keywordp
See section 11.2 Variables that Never Change.
listp
See section listp.
markerp
See section markerp.
wholenump
See section wholenump.
nlistp
See section nlistp.
numberp
See section numberp.
number-or-marker-p
See section number-or-marker-p.
overlayp
See section overlayp.
processp
See section processp.
sequencep
See section sequencep.
stringp
See section stringp.
subrp
See section subrp.
symbolp
See section symbolp.
syntax-table-p
See section syntax-table-p.
user-variable-p
See section user-variable-p.
vectorp
See section vectorp.
window-configuration-p
See section window-configuration-p.
window-live-p
See section window-live-p.
windowp
See section windowp.

The most general way to check the type of an object is to call the function type-of. Recall that each object belongs to one and only one primitive type; type-of tells you which one (see section 2. Lisp Data Types). But type-of knows nothing about non-primitive types. In most cases, it is more convenient to use type predicates than type-of.

Function: type-of object
This function returns a symbol naming the primitive type of object. The value is one of the symbols symbol, integer, float, string, cons, vector, char-table, bool-vector, hash-table, subr, compiled-function, marker, overlay, window, buffer, frame, process, or window-configuration.
(type-of 1)
     => integer
(type-of 'nil)
     => symbol
(type-of '())    ; () is nil.
     => symbol
(type-of '(x))
     => cons


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2.7 Equality Predicates

Here we describe two functions that test for equality between any two objects. Other functions test equality between objects of specific types, e.g., strings. For these predicates, see the appropriate chapter describing the data type.

Function: eq object1 object2
This function returns t if object1 and object2 are the same object, nil otherwise. The "same object" means that a change in one will be reflected by the same change in the other.

eq returns t if object1 and object2 are integers with the same value. Also, since symbol names are normally unique, if the arguments are symbols with the same name, they are eq. For other types (e.g., lists, vectors, strings), two arguments with the same contents or elements are not necessarily eq to each other: they are eq only if they are the same object.

(eq 'foo 'foo)
     => t

(eq 456 456)
     => t

(eq "asdf" "asdf")
     => nil

(eq '(1 (2 (3))) '(1 (2 (3))))
     => nil

(setq foo '(1 (2 (3))))
     => (1 (2 (3)))
(eq foo foo)
     => t
(eq foo '(1 (2 (3))))
     => nil

(eq [(1 2) 3] [(1 2) 3])
     => nil

(eq (point-marker) (point-marker))
     => nil

The make-symbol function returns an uninterned symbol, distinct from the symbol that is used if you write the name in a Lisp expression. Distinct symbols with the same name are not eq. See section 8.3 Creating and Interning Symbols.

(eq (make-symbol "foo") 'foo)
     => nil

Function: equal object1 object2
This function returns t if object1 and object2 have equal components, nil otherwise. Whereas eq tests if its arguments are the same object, equal looks inside nonidentical arguments to see if their elements or contents are the same. So, if two objects are eq, they are equal, but the converse is not always true.
(equal 'foo 'foo)
     => t

(equal 456 456)
     => t

(equal "asdf" "asdf")
     => t
(eq "asdf" "asdf")
     => nil

(equal '(1 (2 (3))) '(1 (2 (3))))
     => t
(eq '(1 (2 (3))) '(1 (2 (3))))
     => nil

(equal [(1 2) 3] [(1 2) 3])
     => t
(eq [(1 2) 3] [(1 2) 3])
     => nil

(equal (point-marker) (point-marker))
     => t

(eq (point-marker) (point-marker))
     => nil

Comparison of strings is case-sensitive, but does not take account of text properties--it compares only the characters in the strings. A unibyte string never equals a multibyte string unless the contents are entirely ASCII (see section 33.1 Text Representations).

(equal "asdf" "ASDF")
     => nil

However, two distinct buffers are never considered equal, even if their textual contents are the same.

The test for equality is implemented recursively; for example, given two cons cells x and y, (equal x y) returns t if and only if both the expressions below return t:

(equal (car x) (car y))
(equal (cdr x) (cdr y))

Because of this recursive method, circular lists may therefore cause infinite recursion (leading to an error).


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3. Numbers

GNU Emacs supports two numeric data types: integers and floating point numbers. Integers are whole numbers such as -3, 0, 7, 13, and 511. Their values are exact. Floating point numbers are numbers with fractional parts, such as -4.5, 0.0, or 2.71828. They can also be expressed in exponential notation: 1.5e2 equals 150; in this example, `e2' stands for ten to the second power, and that is multiplied by 1.5. Floating point values are not exact; they have a fixed, limited amount of precision.

3.1 Integer Basics Representation and range of integers.
3.2 Floating Point Basics Representation and range of floating point.
3.3 Type Predicates for Numbers Testing for numbers.
3.4 Comparison of Numbers Equality and inequality predicates.
3.5 Numeric Conversions Converting float to integer and vice versa.
3.6 Arithmetic Operations How to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
3.7 Rounding Operations Explicitly rounding floating point numbers.
3.8 Bitwise Operations on Integers Logical and, or, not, shifting.
3.9 Standard Mathematical Functions Trig, exponential and logarithmic functions.
3.10 Random Numbers Obtaining random integers, predictable or not.


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3.1 Integer Basics

The range of values for an integer depends on the machine. The minimum range is -134217728 to 134217727 (28 bits; i.e., -2**27 to 2**27 - 1), but some machines may provide a wider range. Many examples in this chapter assume an integer has 28 bits.

The Lisp reader reads an integer as a sequence of digits with optional initial sign and optional final period.

 1               ; The integer 1.
 1.              ; The integer 1.
+1               ; Also the integer 1.
-1               ; The integer -1.
 268435457       ; Also the integer 1, due to overflow.
 0               ; The integer 0.
-0               ; The integer 0.

In addition, the Lisp reader recognizes a syntax for integers in bases other than 10: `#Binteger' reads integer in binary (radix 2), `#Ointeger' reads integer in octal (radix 8), `#Xinteger' reads integer in hexadecimal (radix 16), and `#radixrinteger' reads integer in radix radix (where radix is between 2 and 36, inclusivley). Case is not significant for the letter after `#' (`B', `O', etc.) that denotes the radix.

To understand how various functions work on integers, especially the bitwise operators (see section 3.8 Bitwise Operations on Integers), it is often helpful to view the numbers in their binary form.

In 28-bit binary, the decimal integer 5 looks like this:

0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0101

(We have inserted spaces between groups of 4 bits, and two spaces between groups of 8 bits, to make the binary integer easier to read.)

The integer -1 looks like this:

1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1111

-1 is represented as 28 ones. (This is called two's complement notation.)

The negative integer, -5, is creating by subtracting 4 from -1. In binary, the decimal integer 4 is 100. Consequently, -5 looks like this:

1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1011

In this implementation, the largest 28-bit binary integer value is 134,217,727 in decimal. In binary, it looks like this:

0111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1111

Since the arithmetic functions do not check whether integers go outside their range, when you add 1 to 134,217,727, the value is the negative integer -134,217,728:

(+ 1 134217727)
     => -134217728
     => 1000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0000

Many of the functions described in this chapter accept markers for arguments in place of numbers. (See section 31. Markers.) Since the actual arguments to such functions may be either numbers or markers, we often give these arguments the name number-or-marker. When the argument value is a marker, its position value is used and its buffer is ignored.


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3.2 Floating Point Basics

Floating point numbers are useful for representing numbers that are not integral. The precise range of floating point numbers is machine-specific; it is the same as the range of the C data type double on the machine you are using.

The read-syntax for floating point numbers requires either a decimal point (with at least one digit following), an exponent, or both. For example, `1500.0', `15e2', `15.0e2', `1.5e3', and `.15e4' are five ways of writing a floating point number whose value is 1500. They are all equivalent. You can also use a minus sign to write negative floating point numbers, as in `-1.0'.

Most modern computers support the IEEE floating point standard, which provides for positive infinity and negative infinity as floating point values. It also provides for a class of values called NaN or "not-a-number"; numerical functions return such values in cases where there is no correct answer. For example, (sqrt -1.0) returns a NaN. For practical purposes, there's no significant difference between different NaN values in Emacs Lisp, and there's no rule for precisely which NaN value should be used in a particular case, so Emacs Lisp doesn't try to distinguish them. Here are the read syntaxes for these special floating point values:

positive infinity
`1.0e+INF'
negative infinity
`-1.0e+INF'
Not-a-number
`0.0e+NaN'.

In addition, the value -0.0 is distinguishable from ordinary zero in IEEE floating point (although equal and = consider them equal values).

You can use logb to extract the binary exponent of a floating point number (or estimate the logarithm of an integer):

Function: logb number
This function returns the binary exponent of number. More precisely, the value is the logarithm of number base 2, rounded down to an integer.
(logb 10)
     => 3
(logb 10.0e20)
     => 69


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3.3 Type Predicates for Numbers

The functions in this section test whether the argument is a number or whether it is a certain sort of number. The functions integerp and floatp can take any type of Lisp object as argument (the predicates would not be of much use otherwise); but the zerop predicate requires a number as its argument. See also integer-or-marker-p and number-or-marker-p, in 31.2 Predicates on Markers.

Function: floatp object
This predicate tests whether its argument is a floating point number and returns t if so, nil otherwise.

floatp does not exist in Emacs versions 18 and earlier.

Function: integerp object
This predicate tests whether its argument is an integer, and returns t if so, nil otherwise.

Function: numberp object
This predicate tests whether its argument is a number (either integer or floating point), and returns t if so, nil otherwise.

Function: wholenump object
The wholenump predicate (whose name comes from the phrase "whole-number-p") tests to see whether its argument is a nonnegative integer, and returns t if so, nil otherwise. 0 is considered non-negative.

natnump is an obsolete synonym for wholenump.

Function: zerop number
This predicate tests whether its argument is zero, and returns t if so, nil otherwise. The argument must be a number.

These two forms are equivalent: (zerop x) == (= x 0).


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3.4 Comparison of Numbers

To test numbers for numerical equality, you should normally use =, not eq. There can be many distinct floating point number objects with the same numeric value. If you use eq to compare them, then you test whether two values are the same object. By contrast, = compares only the numeric values of the objects.

At present, each integer value has a unique Lisp object in Emacs Lisp. Therefore, eq is equivalent to = where integers are concerned. It is sometimes convenient to use eq for comparing an unknown value with an integer, because eq does not report an error if the unknown value is not a number--it accepts arguments of any type. By contrast, = signals an error if the arguments are not numbers or markers. However, it is a good idea to use = if you can, even for comparing integers, just in case we change the representation of integers in a future Emacs version.

Sometimes it is useful to compare numbers with equal; it treats two numbers as equal if they have the same data type (both integers, or both floating point) and the same value. By contrast, = can treat an integer and a floating point number as equal.

There is another wrinkle: because floating point arithmetic is not exact, it is often a bad idea to check for equality of two floating point values. Usually it is better to test for approximate equality. Here's a function to do this:

(defvar fuzz-factor 1.0e-6)
(defun approx-equal (x y)
  (or (and (= x 0) (= y 0))
      (< (/ (abs (- x y))
            (max (abs x) (abs y)))
         fuzz-factor)))

Common Lisp note: Comparing numbers in Common Lisp always requires = because Common Lisp implements multi-word integers, and two distinct integer objects can have the same numeric value. Emacs Lisp can have just one integer object for any given value because it has a limited range of integer values.

Function: = number-or-marker1 number-or-marker2
This function tests whether its arguments are numerically equal, and returns t if so, nil otherwise.

Function: /= number-or-marker1 number-or-marker2
This function tests whether its arguments are numerically equal, and returns t if they are not, and nil if they are.

Function: < number-or-marker1 number-or-marker2
This function tests whether its first argument is strictly less than its second argument. It returns t if so, nil otherwise.

Function: <= number-or-marker1 number-or-marker2
This function tests whether its first argument is less than or equal to its second argument. It returns t if so, nil otherwise.

Function: > number-or-marker1 number-or-marker2
This function tests whether its first argument is strictly greater than its second argument. It returns t if so, nil otherwise.

Function: >= number-or-marker1 number-or-marker2
This function tests whether its first argument is greater than or equal to its second argument. It returns t if so, nil otherwise.

Function: max number-or-marker &rest numbers-or-markers
This function returns the largest of its arguments. If any of the argument is floating-point, the value is returned as floating point, even if it was given as an integer.
(max 20)
     => 20
(max 1 2.5)
     => 2.5
(max 1 3 2.5)
     => 3.0

Function: min number-or-marker &rest numbers-or-markers
This function returns the smallest of its arguments. If any of the argument is floating-point, the value is returned as floating point, even if it was given as an integer.
(min -4 1)
     => -4

Function: abs number
This function returns the absolute value of number.


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3.5 Numeric Conversions

To convert an integer to floating point, use the function float.

Function: float number
This returns number converted to floating point. If number is already a floating point number, float returns it unchanged.

There are four functions to convert floating point numbers to integers; they differ in how they round. These functions accept integer arguments also, and return such arguments unchanged.

Function: truncate number
This returns number, converted to an integer by rounding towards zero.
(truncate 1.2)
     => 1
(truncate 1.7)
     => 1
(truncate -1.2)
     => -1
(truncate -1.7)
     => -1

Function: floor number &optional divisor
This returns number, converted to an integer by rounding downward (towards negative infinity).

If divisor is specified, floor divides number by divisor and then converts to an integer; this uses the kind of division operation that corresponds to mod, rounding downward. An arith-error results if divisor is 0.

(floor 1.2)
     => 1
(floor 1.7)
     => 1
(floor -1.2)
     => -2
(floor -1.7)
     => -2
(floor 5.99 3)
     => 1

Function: ceiling number
This returns number, converted to an integer by rounding upward (towards positive infinity).
(ceiling 1.2)
     => 2
(ceiling 1.7)
     => 2
(ceiling -1.2)
     => -1
(ceiling -1.7)
     => -1

Function: round number
This returns number, converted to an integer by rounding towards the nearest integer. Rounding a value equidistant between two integers may choose the integer closer to zero, or it may prefer an even integer, depending on your machine.
(round 1.2)
     => 1
(round 1.7)
     => 2
(round -1.2)
     => -1
(round -1.7)
     => -2


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3.6 Arithmetic Operations

Emacs Lisp provides the traditional four arithmetic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Remainder and modulus functions supplement the division functions. The functions to add or subtract 1 are provided because they are traditional in Lisp and commonly used.

All of these functions except % return a floating point value if any argument is floating.

It is important to note that in Emacs Lisp, arithmetic functions do not check for overflow. Thus (1+ 134217727) may evaluate to -134217728, depending on your hardware.

Function: 1+ number-or-marker
This function returns number-or-marker plus 1. For example,
(setq foo 4)
     => 4
(1+ foo)
     => 5

This function is not analogous to the C operator ++---it does not increment a variable. It just computes a sum. Thus, if we continue,

foo
     => 4

If you want to increment the variable, you must use setq, like this:

(setq foo (1+ foo))
     => 5

Function: 1- number-or-marker
This function returns number-or-marker minus 1.

Function: + &rest numbers-or-markers
This function adds its arguments together. When given no arguments, + returns 0.
(+)
     => 0
(+ 1)
     => 1
(+ 1 2 3 4)
     => 10

Function: - &optional number-or-marker &rest more-numbers-or-markers
The - function serves two purposes: negation and subtraction. When - has a single argument, the value is the negative of the argument. When there are multiple arguments, - subtracts each of the more-numbers-or-markers from number-or-marker, cumulatively. If there are no arguments, the result is 0.
(- 10 1 2 3 4)
     => 0
(- 10)
     => -10
(-)
     => 0

Function: * &rest numbers-or-markers
This function multiplies its arguments together, and returns the product. When given no arguments, * returns 1.
(*)
     => 1
(* 1)
     => 1
(* 1 2 3 4)
     => 24

Function: / dividend divisor &rest divisors
This function divides dividend by divisor and returns the quotient. If there are additional arguments divisors, then it divides dividend by each divisor in turn. Each argument may be a number or a marker.

If all the arguments are integers, then the result is an integer too. This means the result has to be rounded. On most machines, the result is rounded towards zero after each division, but some machines may round differently with negative arguments. This is because the Lisp function / is implemented using the C division operator, which also permits machine-dependent rounding. As a practical matter, all known machines round in the standard fashion.

If you divide an integer by 0, an arith-error error is signaled. (See section 10.5.3 Errors.) Floating point division by zero returns either infinity or a NaN if your machine supports IEEE floating point; otherwise, it signals an arith-error error.

(/ 6 2)
     => 3
(/ 5 2)
     => 2
(/ 5.0 2)
     => 2.5
(/ 5 2.0)
     => 2.5
(/ 5.0 2.0)
     => 2.5
(/ 25 3 2)
     => 4
(/ -17 6)
     => -2

The result of (/ -17 6) could in principle be -3 on some machines.

Function: % dividend divisor
This function returns the integer remainder after division of dividend by divisor. The arguments must be integers or markers.

For negative arguments, the remainder is in principle machine-dependent since the quotient is; but in practice, all known machines behave alike.

An arith-error results if divisor is 0.

(% 9 4)
     => 1
(% -9 4)
     => -1
(% 9 -4)
     => 1
(% -9 -4)
     => -1

For any two integers dividend and divisor,

(+ (% dividend divisor)
   (* (/ dividend divisor) divisor))

always equals dividend.

Function: mod dividend divisor
This function returns the value of dividend modulo divisor; in other words, the remainder after division of dividend by divisor, but with the same sign as divisor. The arguments must be numbers or markers.

Unlike %, mod returns a well-defined result for negative arguments. It also permits floating point arguments; it rounds the quotient downward (towards minus infinity) to an integer, and uses that quotient to compute the remainder.

An arith-error results if divisor is 0.

(mod 9 4)
     => 1
(mod -9 4)
     => 3
(mod 9 -4)
     => -3
(mod -9 -4)
     => -1
(mod 5.5 2.5)
     => .5

For any two numbers dividend and divisor,

(+ (mod dividend divisor)
   (* (floor dividend divisor) divisor))

always equals dividend, subject to rounding error if either argument is floating point. For floor, see 3.5 Numeric Conversions.


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3.7 Rounding Operations

The functions ffloor, fceiling, fround, and ftruncate take a floating point argument and return a floating point result whose value is a nearby integer. ffloor returns the nearest integer below; fceiling, the nearest integer above; ftruncate, the nearest integer in the direction towards zero; fround, the nearest integer.

Function: ffloor float
This function rounds float to the next lower integral value, and returns that value as a floating point number.

Function: fceiling float
This function rounds float to the next higher integral value, and returns that value as a floating point number.

Function: ftruncate float
This function rounds float towards zero to an integral value, and returns that value as a floating point number.

Function: fround float
This function rounds float to the nearest integral value, and returns that value as a floating point number.


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3.8 Bitwise Operations on Integers

In a computer, an integer is represented as a binary number, a sequence of bits (digits which are either zero or one). A bitwise operation acts on the individual bits of such a sequence. For example, shifting moves the whole sequence left or right one or more places, reproducing the same pattern "moved over".

The bitwise operations in Emacs Lisp apply only to integers.

Function: lsh integer1 count
lsh, which is an abbreviation for logical shift, shifts the bits in integer1 to the left count places, or to the right if count is negative, bringing zeros into the vacated bits. If count is negative, lsh shifts zeros into the leftmost (most-significant) bit, producing a positive result even if integer1 is negative. Contrast this with ash, below.

Here are two examples of lsh, shifting a pattern of bits one place to the left. We show only the low-order eight bits of the binary pattern; the rest are all zero.

(lsh 5 1)
     => 10
;; Decimal 5 becomes decimal 10.
00000101 => 00001010

(lsh 7 1)
     => 14
;; Decimal 7 becomes decimal 14.
00000111 => 00001110

As the examples illustrate, shifting the pattern of bits one place to the left produces a number that is twice the value of the previous number.

Shifting a pattern of bits two places to the left produces results like this (with 8-bit binary numbers):

(lsh 3 2)
     => 12
;; Decimal 3 becomes decimal 12.
00000011 => 00001100       

On the other hand, shifting one place to the right looks like this:

(lsh 6 -1)
     => 3
;; Decimal 6 becomes decimal 3.
00000110 => 00000011       

(lsh 5 -1)
     => 2
;; Decimal 5 becomes decimal 2.
00000101 => 00000010       

As the example illustrates, shifting one place to the right divides the value of a positive integer by two, rounding downward.

The function lsh, like all Emacs Lisp arithmetic functions, does not check for overflow, so shifting left can discard significant bits and change the sign of the number. For example, left shifting 134,217,727 produces -2 on a 28-bit machine:

(lsh 134217727 1)          ; left shift
     => -2

In binary, in the 28-bit implementation, the argument looks like this:

;; Decimal 134,217,727
0111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1111         

which becomes the following when left shifted:

;; Decimal -2
1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1110         

Function: ash integer1 count
ash (arithmetic shift) shifts the bits in integer1 to the left count places, or to the right if count is negative.

ash gives the same results as lsh except when integer1 and count are both negative. In that case, ash puts ones in the empty bit positions on the left, while lsh puts zeros in those bit positions.

Thus, with ash, shifting the pattern of bits one place to the right looks like this:

(ash -6 -1) => -3            
;; Decimal -6 becomes decimal -3.
1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1010
     => 
1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1101

In contrast, shifting the pattern of bits one place to the right with lsh looks like this:

(lsh -6 -1) => 134217725
;; Decimal -6 becomes decimal 134,217,725.
1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1010
     => 
0111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1101

Here are other examples:

                   ;               28-bit binary values

(lsh 5 2)          ;   5  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0101
     => 20         ;      =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0001 0100
(ash 5 2)
     => 20
(lsh -5 2)         ;  -5  =  1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1011
     => -20        ;      =  1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1110 1100
(ash -5 2)
     => -20
(lsh 5 -2)         ;   5  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0101
     => 1          ;      =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0001
(ash 5 -2)
     => 1
(lsh -5 -2)        ;  -5  =  1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1011
     => 4194302    ;      =  0011  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1110
(ash -5 -2)        ;  -5  =  1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1011
     => -2         ;      =  1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1110

Function: logand &rest ints-or-markers
This function returns the "logical and" of the arguments: the nth bit is set in the result if, and only if, the nth bit is set in all the arguments. ("Set" means that the value of the bit is 1 rather than 0.)

For example, using 4-bit binary numbers, the "logical and" of 13 and 12 is 12: 1101 combined with 1100 produces 1100. In both the binary numbers, the leftmost two bits are set (i.e., they are 1's), so the leftmost two bits of the returned value are set. However, for the rightmost two bits, each is zero in at least one of the arguments, so the rightmost two bits of the returned value are 0's.

Therefore,

(logand 13 12)
     => 12

If logand is not passed any argument, it returns a value of -1. This number is an identity element for logand because its binary representation consists entirely of ones. If logand is passed just one argument, it returns that argument.

                   ;                28-bit binary values

(logand 14 13)     ; 14  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1110
                   ; 13  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1101
     => 12         ; 12  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1100

(logand 14 13 4)   ; 14  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1110
                   ; 13  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1101
                   ;  4  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0100
     => 4          ;  4  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0100

(logand)
     => -1         ; -1  =  1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1111

Function: logior &rest ints-or-markers
This function returns the "inclusive or" of its arguments: the nth bit is set in the result if, and only if, the nth bit is set in at least one of the arguments. If there are no arguments, the result is zero, which is an identity element for this operation. If logior is passed just one argument, it returns that argument.
                   ;               28-bit binary values

(logior 12 5)      ; 12  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1100
                   ;  5  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0101
     => 13         ; 13  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1101

(logior 12 5 7)    ; 12  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1100
                   ;  5  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0101
                   ;  7  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0111
     => 15         ; 15  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1111

Function: logxor &rest ints-or-markers
This function returns the "exclusive or" of its arguments: the nth bit is set in the result if, and only if, the nth bit is set in an odd number of the arguments. If there are no arguments, the result is 0, which is an identity element for this operation. If logxor is passed just one argument, it returns that argument.
                   ;               28-bit binary values

(logxor 12 5)      ; 12  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1100
                   ;  5  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0101
     => 9          ;  9  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1001

(logxor 12 5 7)    ; 12  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1100
                   ;  5  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0101
                   ;  7  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0111
     => 14         ; 14  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 1110

Function: lognot integer
This function returns the logical complement of its argument: the nth bit is one in the result if, and only if, the nth bit is zero in integer, and vice-versa.
(lognot 5)             
     => -6
;;  5  =  0000  0000 0000  0000 0000  0000 0101
;; becomes
;; -6  =  1111  1111 1111  1111 1111  1111 1010


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3.9 Standard Mathematical Functions

These mathematical functions allow integers as well as floating point numbers as arguments.

Function: sin arg
Function: cos arg
Function: tan arg
These are the ordinary trigonometric functions, with argument measured in radians.

Function: asin arg
The value of (asin arg) is a number between -pi/2 and pi/2 (inclusive) whose sine is arg; if, however, arg is out of range (outside [-1, 1]), then the result is a NaN.

Function: acos arg
The value of (acos arg) is a number between 0 and pi (inclusive) whose cosine is arg; if, however, arg is out of range (outside [-1, 1]), then the result is a NaN.

Function: atan arg
The value of (atan arg) is a number between -pi/2 and pi/2 (exclusive) whose tangent is arg.

Function: exp arg
This is the exponential function; it returns e to the power arg. e is a fundamental mathematical constant also called the base of natural logarithms.

Function: log arg &optional base
This function returns the logarithm of arg, with base base. If you don't specify base, the base e is used. If arg is negative, the result is a NaN.

Function: log10 arg
This function returns the logarithm of arg, with base 10. If arg is negative, the result is a NaN. (log10 x) == (log x 10), at least approximately.

Function: expt x y
This function returns x raised to power y. If both arguments are integers and y is positive, the result is an integer; in this case, it is truncated to fit the range of possible integer values.

Function: sqrt arg
This returns the square root of arg. If arg is negative, the value is a NaN.


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3.10 Random Numbers

A deterministic computer program cannot generate true random numbers. For most purposes, pseudo-random numbers suffice. A series of pseudo-random numbers is generated in a deterministic fashion. The numbers are not truly random, but they have certain properties that mimic a random series. For example, all possible values occur equally often in a pseudo-random series.

In Emacs, pseudo-random numbers are generated from a "seed" number. Starting from any given seed, the random function always generates the same sequence of numbers. Emacs always starts with the same seed value, so the sequence of values of random is actually the same in each Emacs run! For example, in one operating system, the first call to (random) after you start Emacs always returns -1457731, and the second one always returns -7692030. This repeatability is helpful for debugging.

If you want random numbers that don't always come out the same, execute (random t). This chooses a new seed based on the current time of day and on Emacs's process ID number.

Function: random &optional limit
This function returns a pseudo-random integer. Repeated calls return a series of pseudo-random integers.

If limit is a positive integer, the value is chosen to be nonnegative and less than limit.

If limit is t, it means to choose a new seed based on the current time of day and on Emacs's process ID number.

On some machines, any integer representable in Lisp may be the result of random. On other machines, the result can never be larger than a certain maximum or less than a certain (negative) minimum.


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4. Strings and Characters

A string in Emacs Lisp is an array that contains an ordered sequence of characters. Strings are used as names of symbols, buffers, and files; to send messages to users; to hold text being copied between buffers; and for many other purposes. Because strings are so important, Emacs Lisp has many functions expressly for manipulating them. Emacs Lisp programs use strings more often than individual characters.

See section 21.6.14 Putting Keyboard Events in Strings, for special considerations for strings of keyboard character events.

4.1 String and Character Basics Basic properties of strings and characters.
4.2 The Predicates for Strings Testing whether an object is a string or char.
4.3 Creating Strings Functions to allocate new strings.
4.4 Modifying Strings Altering the contents of an existing string.
4.5 Comparison of Characters and Strings Comparing characters or strings.
4.6 Conversion of Characters and Strings Converting to and from characters and strings.
4.7 Formatting Strings format: Emacs's analogue of printf.
4.8 Case Conversion in Lisp Case conversion functions.
4.9 The Case Table Customizing case conversion.


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4.1 String and Character Basics

Characters are represented in Emacs Lisp as integers; whether an integer is a character or not is determined only by how it is used. Thus, strings really contain integers.

The length of a string (like any array) is fixed, and cannot be altered once the string exists. Strings in Lisp are not terminated by a distinguished character code. (By contrast, strings in C are terminated by a character with ASCII code 0.)

Since strings are arrays, and therefore sequences as well, you can operate on them with the general array and sequence functions. (See section 6. Sequences, Arrays, and Vectors.) For example, you can access or change individual characters in a string using the functions aref and aset (see section 6.3 Functions that Operate on Arrays).

There are two text representations for non-ASCII characters in Emacs strings (and in buffers): unibyte and multibyte (see section 33.1 Text Representations). An ASCII character always occupies one byte in a string; in fact, when a string is all ASCII, there is no real difference between the unibyte and multibyte representations. For most Lisp programming, you don't need to be concerned with these two representations.

Sometimes key sequences are represented as strings. When a string is a key sequence, string elements in the range 128 to 255 represent meta characters (which are large integers) rather than character codes in the range 128 to 255.

Strings cannot hold characters that have the hyper, super or alt modifiers; they can hold ASCII control characters, but no other control characters. They do not distinguish case in ASCII control characters. If you want to store such characters in a sequence, such as a key sequence, you must use a vector instead of a string. See section 2.3.3 Character Type, for more information about the representation of meta and other modifiers for keyboard input characters.

Strings are useful for holding regular expressions. You can also match regular expressions against strings (see section 34.3 Regular Expression Searching). The functions match-string (see section 34.6.2 Simple Match Data Access) and replace-match (see section 34.6.1 Replacing the Text that Matched) are useful for decomposing and modifying strings based on regular expression matching.

Like a buffer, a string can contain text properties for the characters in it, as well as the characters themselves. See section 32.19 Text Properties. All the Lisp primitives that copy text from strings to buffers or other strings also copy the properties of the characters being copied.

See section 32. Text, for information about functions that display strings or copy them into buffers. See section 2.3.3 Character Type, and 2.3.8 String Type, for information about the syntax of characters and strings. See section 33. Non-ASCII Characters, for functions to convert between text representations and to encode and decode character codes.


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4.2 The Predicates for Strings

For more information about general sequence and array predicates, see 6. Sequences, Arrays, and Vectors, and 6.2 Arrays.

Function: stringp object
This function returns t if object is a string, nil otherwise.

Function: char-or-string-p object
This function returns t if object is a string or a character (i.e., an integer), nil otherwise.


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4.3 Creating Strings

The following functions create strings, either from scratch, or by putting strings together, or by taking them apart.

Function: make-string count character
This function returns a string made up of count repetitions of character. If count is negative, an error is signaled.
(make-string 5 ?x)
     => "xxxxx"
(make-string 0 ?x)
     => ""

Other functions to compare with this one include char-to-string (see section 4.6 Conversion of Characters and Strings), make-vector (see section 6.4 Vectors), and make-list (see section 5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists).

Function: string &rest characters
This returns a string containing the characters characters.
(string ?a ?b ?c)
     => "abc"

Function: substring string start &optional end
This function returns a new string which consists of those characters from string in the range from (and including) the character at the index start up to (but excluding) the character at the index end. The first character is at index zero.
(substring "abcdefg" 0 3)
     => "abc"

Here the index for `a' is 0, the index for `b' is 1, and the index for `c' is 2. Thus, three letters, `abc', are copied from the string "abcdefg". The index 3 marks the character position up to which the substring is copied. The character whose index is 3 is actually the fourth character in the string.

A negative number counts from the end of the string, so that -1 signifies the index of the last character of the string. For example:

(substring "abcdefg" -3 -1)
     => "ef"

In this example, the index for `e' is -3, the index for `f' is -2, and the index for `g' is -1. Therefore, `e' and `f' are included, and `g' is excluded.

When nil is used as an index, it stands for the length of the string. Thus,

(substring "abcdefg" -3 nil)
     => "efg"

Omitting the argument end is equivalent to specifying nil. It follows that (substring string 0) returns a copy of all of string.

(substring "abcdefg" 0)
     => "abcdefg"

But we recommend copy-sequence for this purpose (see section 6.1 Sequences).

If the characters copied from string have text properties, the properties are copied into the new string also. See section 32.19 Text Properties.

substring also accepts a vector for the first argument. For example:

(substring [a b (c) "d"] 1 3)
     => [b (c)]

A wrong-type-argument error is signaled if either start or end is not an integer or nil. An args-out-of-range error is signaled if start indicates a character following end, or if either integer is out of range for string.

Contrast this function with buffer-substring (see section 32.2 Examining Buffer Contents), which returns a string containing a portion of the text in the current buffer. The beginning of a string is at index 0, but the beginning of a buffer is at index 1.

Function: concat &rest sequences
This function returns a new string consisting of the characters in the arguments passed to it (along with their text properties, if any). The arguments may be strings, lists of numbers, or vectors of numbers; they are not themselves changed. If concat receives no arguments, it returns an empty string.
(concat "abc" "-def")
     => "abc-def"
(concat "abc" (list 120 121) [122])
     => "abcxyz"
;; nil is an empty sequence.
(concat "abc" nil "-def")
     => "abc-def"
(concat "The " "quick brown " "fox.")
     => "The quick brown fox."
(concat)
     => ""

The concat function always constructs a new string that is not eq to any existing string.

In Emacs versions before 21, when an argument was an integer (not a sequence of integers), it was converted to a string of digits making up the decimal printed representation of the integer. This obsolete usage no longer works. The proper way to convert an integer to its decimal printed form is with format (see section 4.7 Formatting Strings) or number-to-string (see section 4.6 Conversion of Characters and Strings).

For information about other concatenation functions, see the description of mapconcat in 12.6 Mapping Functions, vconcat in 6.4 Vectors, and append in 5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists.

Function: split-string string separators
This function splits string into substrings at matches for the regular expression separators. Each match for separators defines a splitting point; the substrings between the splitting points are made into a list, which is the value returned by split-string. If separators is nil (or omitted), the default is "[ \f\t\n\r\v]+".

For example,

(split-string "Soup is good food" "o")
=> ("S" "up is g" "" "d f" "" "d")
(split-string "Soup is good food" "o+")
=> ("S" "up is g" "d f" "d")

When there is a match adjacent to the beginning or end of the string, this does not cause a null string to appear at the beginning or end of the list:

(split-string "out to moo" "o+")
=> ("ut t" " m")

Empty matches do count, when not adjacent to another match:

(split-string "Soup is good food" "o*")
=>("S" "u" "p" " " "i" "s" " " "g" "d" " " "f" "d")
(split-string "Nice doggy!" "")
=>("N" "i" "c" "e" " " "d" "o" "g" "g" "y" "!")


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4.4 Modifying Strings

The most basic way to alter the contents of an existing string is with aset (see section 6.3 Functions that Operate on Arrays). (aset string idx char) stores char into string at index idx. Each character occupies one or more bytes, and if char needs a different number of bytes from the character already present at that index, aset signals an error.

A more powerful function is store-substring:

Function: store-substring string idx obj
This function alters part of the contents of the string string, by storing obj starting at index idx. The argument obj may be either a character or a (smaller) string.

Since it is impossible to change the length of an existing string, it is an error if obj doesn't fit within string's actual length, or if any new character requires a different number of bytes from the character currently present at that point in string.


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4.5 Comparison of Characters and Strings

Function: char-equal character1 character2
This function returns t if the arguments represent the same character, nil otherwise. This function ignores differences in case if case-fold-search is non-nil.
(char-equal ?x ?x)
     => t
(let ((case-fold-search nil))
  (char-equal ?x ?X))
     => nil

Function: string= string1 string2
This function returns t if the characters of the two strings match exactly. Case is always significant, regardless of case-fold-search.
(string= "abc" "abc")
     => t
(string= "abc" "ABC")
     => nil
(string= "ab" "ABC")
     => nil

The function string= ignores the text properties of the two strings. When equal (see section 2.7 Equality Predicates) compares two strings, it uses string=.

If the strings contain non-ASCII characters, and one is unibyte while the other is multibyte, then they cannot be equal. See section 33.1 Text Representations.

Function: string-equal string1 string2
string-equal is another name for string=.

Function: string< string1 string2
This function compares two strings a character at a time. It scans both the strings at the same time to find the first pair of corresponding characters that do not match. If the lesser character of these two is the character from string1, then string1 is less, and this function returns t. If the lesser character is the one from string2, then string1 is greater, and this function returns nil. If the two strings match entirely, the value is nil.

Pairs of characters are compared according to their character codes. Keep in mind that lower case letters have higher numeric values in the ASCII character set than their upper case counterparts; digits and many punctuation characters have a lower numeric value than upper case letters. An ASCII character is less than any non-ASCII character; a unibyte non-ASCII character is always less than any multibyte non-ASCII character (see section 33.1 Text Representations).

(string< "abc" "abd")
     => t
(string< "abd" "abc")
     => nil
(string< "123" "abc")
     => t

When the strings have different lengths, and they match up to the length of string1, then the result is t. If they match up to the length of string2, the result is nil. A string of no characters is less than any other string.

(string< "" "abc")
     => t
(string< "ab" "abc")
     => t
(string< "abc" "")
     => nil
(string< "abc" "ab")
     => nil
(string< "" "")
     => nil                   

Function: string-lessp string1 string2
string-lessp is another name for string<.

Function: compare-strings string1 start1 end1 string2 start2 end2 &optional ignore-case
This function compares the specified part of string1 with the specified part of string2. The specified part of string1 runs from index start1 up to index end1 (nil means the end of the string). The specified part of string2 runs from index start2 up to index end2 (nil means the end of the string).

The strings are both converted to multibyte for the comparison (see section 33.1 Text Representations) so that a unibyte string can be equal to a multibyte string. If ignore-case is non-nil, then case is ignored, so that upper case letters can be equal to lower case letters.

If the specified portions of the two strings match, the value is t. Otherwise, the value is an integer which indicates how many leading characters agree, and which string is less. Its absolute value is one plus the number of characters that agree at the beginning of the two strings. The sign is negative if string1 (or its specified portion) is less.

Function: assoc-ignore-case key alist
This function works like assoc, except that key must be a string, and comparison is done using compare-strings, ignoring case differences. See section 5.8 Association Lists.

Function: assoc-ignore-representation key alist
This function works like assoc, except that key must be a string, and comparison is done using compare-strings. Case differences are significant.

See also compare-buffer-substrings in 32.3 Comparing Text, for a way to compare text in buffers. The function string-match, which matches a regular expression against a string, can be used for a kind of string comparison; see 34.3 Regular Expression Searching.


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4.6 Conversion of Characters and Strings

This section describes functions for conversions between characters, strings and integers. format and prin1-to-string (see section 19.5 Output Functions) can also convert Lisp objects into strings. read-from-string (see section 19.3 Input Functions) can "convert" a string representation of a Lisp object into an object. The functions string-make-multibyte and string-make-unibyte convert the text representation of a string (see section 33.2 Converting Text Representations).

See section 24. Documentation, for functions that produce textual descriptions of text characters and general input events (single-key-description and text-char-description). These functions are used primarily for making help messages.

Function: char-to-string character
This function returns a new string containing one character, character. This function is semi-obsolete because the function string is more general. See section 4.3 Creating Strings.

Function: string-to-char string
This function returns the first character in string. If the string is empty, the function returns 0. The value is also 0 when the first character of string is the null character, ASCII code 0.
(string-to-char "ABC")
     => 65
(string-to-char "xyz")
     => 120
(string-to-char "")
     => 0
(string-to-char "\000")
     => 0

This function may be eliminated in the future if it does not seem useful enough to retain.

Function: number-to-string number
This function returns a string consisting of the printed base-ten representation of number, which may be an integer or a floating point number. The returned value starts with a minus sign if the argument is negative.
(number-to-string 256)
     => "256"
(number-to-string -23)
     => "-23"
(number-to-string -23.5)
     => "-23.5"

int-to-string is a semi-obsolete alias for this function.

See also the function format in 4.7 Formatting Strings.

Function: string-to-number string &optional base
This function returns the numeric value of the characters in string. If base is non-nil, integers are converted in that base. If base is nil, then base ten is used. Floating point conversion always uses base ten; we have not implemented other radices for floating point numbers, because that would be much more work and does not seem useful. If string looks like an integer but its value is too large to fit into a Lisp integer, string-to-number returns a floating point result.

The parsing skips spaces and tabs at the beginning of string, then reads as much of string as it can interpret as a number. (On some systems it ignores other whitespace at the beginning, not just spaces and tabs.) If the first character after the ignored whitespace is neither a digit, nor a plus or minus sign, nor the leading dot of a floating point number, this function returns 0.

(string-to-number "256")
     => 256
(string-to-number "25 is a perfect square.")
     => 25
(string-to-number "X256")
     => 0
(string-to-number "-4.5")
     => -4.5
(string-to-number "1e5")
     => 100000.0

string-to-int is an obsolete alias for this function.

Here are some other functions that can convert to or from a string:

concat
concat can convert a vector or a list into a string. See section 4.3 Creating Strings.
vconcat
vconcat can convert a string into a vector. See section 6.5 Functions for Vectors.
append
append can convert a string into a list. See section 5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists.


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4.7 Formatting Strings

Formatting means constructing a string by substitution of computed values at various places in a constant string. This constant string controls how the other values are printed, as well as where they appear; it is called a format string.

Formatting is often useful for computing messages to be displayed. In fact, the functions message and error provide the same formatting feature described here; they differ from format only in how they use the result of formatting.

Function: format string &rest objects
This function returns a new string that is made by copying string and then replacing any format specification in the copy with encodings of the corresponding objects. The arguments objects are the computed values to be formatted.

The characters in string, other than the format specifications, are copied directly into the output; starting in Emacs 21, if they have text properties, these are copied into the output also.

A format specification is a sequence of characters beginning with a `%'. Thus, if there is a `%d' in string, the format function replaces it with the printed representation of one of the values to be formatted (one of the arguments objects). For example:

(format "The value of fill-column is %d." fill-column)
     => "The value of fill-column is 72."

If string contains more than one format specification, the format specifications correspond to successive values from objects. Thus, the first format specification in string uses the first such value, the second format specification uses the second such value, and so on. Any extra format specifications (those for which there are no corresponding values) cause unpredictable behavior. Any extra values to be formatted are ignored.

Certain format specifications require values of particular types. If you supply a value that doesn't fit the requirements, an error is signaled.

Here is a table of valid format specifications:

`%s'
Replace the specification with the printed representation of the object, made without quoting (that is, using princ, not prin1---see section 19.5 Output Functions). Thus, strings are represented by their contents alone, with no `"' characters, and symbols appear without `\' characters.

Starting in Emacs 21, if the object is a string, its text properties are copied into the output. The text properties of the `%s' itself are also copied, but those of the object take priority.

If there is no corresponding object, the empty string is used.

`%S'
Replace the specification with the printed representation of the object, made with quoting (that is, using prin1---see section 19.5 Output Functions). Thus, strings are enclosed in `"' characters, and `\' characters appear where necessary before special characters.

If there is no corresponding object, the empty string is used.

`%o'
Replace the specification with the base-eight representation of an integer.
`%d'
Replace the specification with the base-ten representation of an integer.
`%x'
`%X'
Replace the specification with the base-sixteen representation of an integer. `%x' uses lower case and `%X' uses upper case.
`%c'
Replace the specification with the character which is the value given.
`%e'
Replace the specification with the exponential notation for a floating point number.
`%f'
Replace the specification with the decimal-point notation for a floating point number.
`%g'
Replace the specification with notation for a floating point number, using either exponential notation or decimal-point notation, whichever is shorter.
`%%'
Replace the specification with a single `%'. This format specification is unusual in that it does not use a value. For example, (format "%% %d" 30) returns "% 30".

Any other format character results in an `Invalid format operation' error.

Here are several examples:

(format "The name of this buffer is %s." (buffer-name))
     => "The name of this buffer is strings.texi."

(format "The buffer object prints as %s." (current-buffer))
     => "The buffer object prints as strings.texi."

(format "The octal value of %d is %o, 
         and the hex value is %x." 18 18 18)
     => "The octal value of 18 is 22, 
         and the hex value is 12."

All the specification characters allow an optional numeric prefix between the `%' and the character. The optional numeric prefix defines the minimum width for the object. If the printed representation of the object contains fewer characters than this, then it is padded. The padding is on the left if the prefix is positive (or starts with zero) and on the right if the prefix is negative. The padding character is normally a space, but if the numeric prefix starts with a zero, zeros are used for padding. Here are some examples of padding:

(format "%06d is padded on the left with zeros" 123)
     => "000123 is padded on the left with zeros"

(format "%-6d is padded on the right" 123)
     => "123    is padded on the right"

format never truncates an object's printed representation, no matter what width you specify. Thus, you can use a numeric prefix to specify a minimum spacing between columns with no risk of losing information.

In the following three examples, `%7s' specifies a minimum width of 7. In the first case, the string inserted in place of `%7s' has only 3 letters, so 4 blank spaces are inserted for padding. In the second case, the string "specification" is 13 letters wide but is not truncated. In the third case, the padding is on the right.

(format "The word `%7s' actually has %d letters in it."
        "foo" (length "foo"))
     => "The word `    foo' actually has 3 letters in it."  

(format "The word `%7s' actually has %d letters in it."
        "specification" (length "specification")) 
     => "The word `specification' actually has 13 letters in it."  

(format "The word `%-7s' actually has %d letters in it."
        "foo" (length "foo"))
     => "The word `foo    ' actually has 3 letters in it."  


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4.8 Case Conversion in Lisp

The character case functions change the case of single characters or of the contents of strings. The functions normally convert only alphabetic characters (the letters `A' through `Z' and `a' through `z', as well as non-ASCII letters); other characters are not altered. You can specify a different case conversion mapping by specifying a case table (see section 4.9 The Case Table).

These functions do not modify the strings that are passed to them as arguments.

The examples below use the characters `X' and `x' which have ASCII codes 88 and 120 respectively.

Function: downcase string-or-char
This function converts a character or a string to lower case.

When the argument to downcase is a string, the function creates and returns a new string in which each letter in the argument that is upper case is converted to lower case. When the argument to downcase is a character, downcase returns the corresponding lower case character. This value is an integer. If the original character is lower case, or is not a letter, then the value equals the original character.

(downcase "The cat in the hat")
     => "the cat in the hat"

(downcase ?X)
     => 120

Function: upcase string-or-char
This function converts a character or a string to upper case.

When the argument to upcase is a string, the function creates and returns a new string in which each letter in the argument that is lower case is converted to upper case.

When the argument to upcase is a character, upcase returns the corresponding upper case character. This value is an integer. If the original character is upper case, or is not a letter, then the value returned equals the original character.

(upcase "The cat in the hat")
     => "THE CAT IN THE HAT"

(upcase ?x)
     => 88

Function: capitalize string-or-char
This function capitalizes strings or characters. If string-or-char is a string, the function creates and returns a new string, whose contents are a copy of string-or-char in which each word has been capitalized. This means that the first character of each word is converted to upper case, and the rest are converted to lower case.

The definition of a word is any sequence of consecutive characters that are assigned to the word constituent syntax class in the current syntax table (see section 35.2.1 Table of Syntax Classes).

When the argument to capitalize is a character, capitalize has the same result as upcase.

(capitalize "The cat in the hat")
     => "The Cat In The Hat"

(capitalize "THE 77TH-HATTED CAT")
     => "The 77th-Hatted Cat"

(capitalize ?x)
     => 88

Function: upcase-initials string
This function capitalizes the initials of the words in string, without altering any letters other than the initials. It returns a new string whose contents are a copy of string, in which each word has had its initial letter converted to upper case.

The definition of a word is any sequence of consecutive characters that are assigned to the word constituent syntax class in the current syntax table (see section 35.2.1 Table of Syntax Classes).

(upcase-initials "The CAT in the hAt")
     => "The CAT In The HAt"

See section 4.5 Comparison of Characters and Strings, for functions that compare strings; some of them ignore case differences, or can optionally ignore case differences.


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4.9 The Case Table

You can customize case conversion by installing a special case table. A case table specifies the mapping between upper case and lower case letters. It affects both the case conversion functions for Lisp objects (see the previous section) and those that apply to text in the buffer (see section 32.18 Case Changes). Each buffer has a case table; there is also a standard case table which is used to initialize the case table of new buffers.

A case table is a char-table (see section 6.6 Char-Tables) whose subtype is case-table. This char-table maps each character into the corresponding lower case character. It has three extra slots, which hold related tables:

upcase
The upcase table maps each character into the corresponding upper case character.
canonicalize
The canonicalize table maps all of a set of case-related characters into a particular member of that set.
equivalences
The equivalences table maps each one of a set of case-related characters into the next character in that set.

In simple cases, all you need to specify is the mapping to lower-case; the three related tables will be calculated automatically from that one.

For some languages, upper and lower case letters are not in one-to-one correspondence. There may be two different lower case letters with the same upper case equivalent. In these cases, you need to specify the maps for both lower case and upper case.

The extra table canonicalize maps each character to a canonical equivalent; any two characters that are related by case-conversion have the same canonical equivalent character. For example, since `a' and `A' are related by case-conversion, they should have the same canonical equivalent character (which should be either `a' for both of them, or `A' for both of them).

The extra table equivalences is a map that cyclicly permutes each equivalence class (of characters with the same canonical equivalent). (For ordinary ASCII, this would map `a' into `A' and `A' into `a', and likewise for each set of equivalent characters.)

When you construct a case table, you can provide nil for canonicalize; then Emacs fills in this slot from the lower case and upper case mappings. You can also provide nil for equivalences; then Emacs fills in this slot from canonicalize. In a case table that is actually in use, those components are non-nil. Do not try to specify equivalences without also specifying canonicalize.

Here are the functions for working with case tables:

Function: case-table-p object
This predicate returns non-nil if object is a valid case table.

Function: set-standard-case-table table
This function makes table the standard case table, so that it will be used in any buffers created subsequently.

Function: standard-case-table
This returns the standard case table.

Function: current-case-table
This function returns the current buffer's case table.

Function: set-case-table table
This sets the current buffer's case table to table.

The following three functions are convenient subroutines for packages that define non-ASCII character sets. They modify the specified case table case-table; they also modify the standard syntax table. See section 35. Syntax Tables. Normally you would use these functions to change the standard case table.

Function: set-case-syntax-pair uc lc case-table
This function specifies a pair of corresponding letters, one upper case and one lower case.

Function: set-case-syntax-delims l r case-table
This function makes characters l and r a matching pair of case-invariant delimiters.

Function: set-case-syntax char syntax case-table
This function makes char case-invariant, with syntax syntax.

Command: describe-buffer-case-table
This command displays a description of the contents of the current buffer's case table.


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5. Lists

A list represents a sequence of zero or more elements (which may be any Lisp objects). The important difference between lists and vectors is that two or more lists can share part of their structure; in addition, you can insert or delete elements in a list without copying the whole list.

5.1 Lists and Cons Cells How lists are made out of cons cells.
5.2 Lists as Linked Pairs of Boxes Graphical notation to explain lists.
5.3 Predicates on Lists Is this object a list? Comparing two lists.
5.4 Accessing Elements of Lists Extracting the pieces of a list.
5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists Creating list structure.
5.6 Modifying Existing List Structure Storing new pieces into an existing list.
5.7 Using Lists as Sets A list can represent a finite mathematical set.
5.8 Association Lists A list can represent a finite relation or mapping.


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5.1 Lists and Cons Cells

Lists in Lisp are not a primitive data type; they are built up from cons cells. A cons cell is a data object that represents an ordered pair. That is, it has two slots, and each slot holds, or refers to, some Lisp object. One slot is known as the CAR, and the other is known as the CDR. (These names are traditional; see 2.3.6 Cons Cell and List Types.) CDR is pronounced "could-er."

We say that "the CAR of this cons cell is" whatever object its CAR slot currently holds, and likewise for the CDR.

A list is a series of cons cells "chained together," so that each cell refers to the next one. There is one cons cell for each element of the list. By convention, the CARs of the cons cells hold the elements of the list, and the CDRs are used to chain the list: the CDR slot of each cons cell refers to the following cons cell. The CDR of the last cons cell is nil. This asymmetry between the CAR and the CDR is entirely a matter of convention; at the level of cons cells, the CAR and CDR slots have the same characteristics.

Because most cons cells are used as part of lists, the phrase list structure has come to mean any structure made out of cons cells.

The symbol nil is considered a list as well as a symbol; it is the list with no elements. For convenience, the symbol nil is considered to have nil as its CDR (and also as its CAR).

The CDR of any nonempty list l is a list containing all the elements of l except the first.


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5.2 Lists as Linked Pairs of Boxes

A cons cell can be illustrated as a pair of boxes. The first box represents the CAR and the second box represents the CDR. Here is an illustration of the two-element list, (tulip lily), made from two cons cells:

 ---------------         ---------------
| car   | cdr   |       | car   | cdr   |
| tulip |   o---------->| lily  |  nil  |
|       |       |       |       |       |
 ---------------         ---------------

Each pair of boxes represents a cons cell. Each box "refers to", "points to" or "holds" a Lisp object. (These terms are synonymous.) The first box, which describes the CAR of the first cons cell, contains the symbol tulip. The arrow from the CDR box of the first cons cell to the second cons cell indicates that the CDR of the first cons cell is the second cons cell.

The same list can be illustrated in a different sort of box notation like this:

    --- ---      --- ---
   |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
    --- ---      --- ---
     |            |
     |            |
      --> tulip    --> lily

Here is a more complex illustration, showing the three-element list, ((pine needles) oak maple), the first element of which is a two-element list:

    --- ---      --- ---      --- ---
   |   |   |--> |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
    --- ---      --- ---      --- ---
     |            |            |
     |            |            |
     |             --> oak      --> maple
     |
     |     --- ---      --- ---
      --> |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
           --- ---      --- ---
            |            |
            |            |
             --> pine     --> needles

The same list represented in the first box notation looks like this:

 --------------       --------------       --------------
| car   | cdr  |     | car   | cdr  |     | car   | cdr  |
|   o   |   o------->| oak   |   o------->| maple |  nil |
|   |   |      |     |       |      |     |       |      |
 -- | ---------       --------------       --------------
    |
    |
    |        --------------       ----------------
    |       | car   | cdr  |     | car     | cdr  |
     ------>| pine  |   o------->| needles |  nil |
            |       |      |     |         |      |
             --------------       ----------------

See section 2.3.6 Cons Cell and List Types, for the read and print syntax of cons cells and lists, and for more "box and arrow" illustrations of lists.


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5.3 Predicates on Lists

The following predicates test whether a Lisp object is an atom, is a cons cell or is a list, or whether it is the distinguished object nil. (Many of these predicates can be defined in terms of the others, but they are used so often that it is worth having all of them.)

Function: consp object
This function returns t if object is a cons cell, nil otherwise. nil is not a cons cell, although it is a list.

Function: atom object
This function returns t if object is an atom, nil otherwise. All objects except cons cells are atoms. The symbol nil is an atom and is also a list; it is the only Lisp object that is both.
(atom object) == (not (consp object))

Function: listp object
This function returns t if object is a cons cell or nil. Otherwise, it returns nil.
(listp '(1))
     => t
(listp '())
     => t

Function: nlistp object
This function is the opposite of listp: it returns t if object is not a list. Otherwise, it returns nil.
(listp object) == (not (nlistp object))

Function: null object
This function returns t if object is nil, and returns nil otherwise. This function is identical to not, but as a matter of clarity we use null when object is considered a list and not when it is considered a truth value (see not in 10.3 Constructs for Combining Conditions).
(null '(1))
     => nil
(null '())
     => t


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5.4 Accessing Elements of Lists

Function: car cons-cell
This function returns the value referred to by the first slot of the cons cell cons-cell. Expressed another way, this function returns the CAR of cons-cell.

As a special case, if cons-cell is nil, then car is defined to return nil; therefore, any list is a valid argument for car. An error is signaled if the argument is not a cons cell or nil.

(car '(a b c))
     => a
(car '())
     => nil

Function: cdr cons-cell
This function returns the value referred to by the second slot of the cons cell cons-cell. Expressed another way, this function returns the CDR of cons-cell.

As a special case, if cons-cell is nil, then cdr is defined to return nil; therefore, any list is a valid argument for cdr. An error is signaled if the argument is not a cons cell or nil.

(cdr '(a b c))
     => (b c)
(cdr '())
     => nil

Function: car-safe object
This function lets you take the CAR of a cons cell while avoiding errors for other data types. It returns the CAR of object if object is a cons cell, nil otherwise. This is in contrast to car, which signals an error if object is not a list.
(car-safe object)
==
(let ((x object))
  (if (consp x)
      (car x)
    nil))

Function: cdr-safe object
This function lets you take the CDR of a cons cell while avoiding errors for other data types. It returns the CDR of object if object is a cons cell, nil otherwise. This is in contrast to cdr, which signals an error if object is not a list.
(cdr-safe object)
==
(let ((x object))
  (if (consp x)
      (cdr x)
    nil))

Macro: pop listname
This macro is a way of examining the CAR of a list, and taking it off the list, all at once. It is new in Emacs 21.

It operates on the list which is stored in the symbol listname. It removes this element from the list by setting listname to the CDR of its old value--but it also returns the CAR of that list, which is the element being removed.

x
     => (a b c)
(pop x)
     => a
x
     => (b c)

Function: nth n list
This function returns the nth element of list. Elements are numbered starting with zero, so the CAR of list is element number zero. If the length of list is n or less, the value is nil.

If n is negative, nth returns the first element of list.

(nth 2 '(1 2 3 4))
     => 3
(nth 10 '(1 2 3 4))
     => nil
(nth -3 '(1 2 3 4))
     => 1

(nth n x) == (car (nthcdr n x))

The function elt is similar, but applies to any kind of sequence. For historical reasons, it takes its arguments in the opposite order. See section 6.1 Sequences.

Function: nthcdr n list
This function returns the nth CDR of list. In other words, it skips past the first n links of list and returns what follows.

If n is zero or negative, nthcdr returns all of list. If the length of list is n or less, nthcdr returns nil.

(nthcdr 1 '(1 2 3 4))
     => (2 3 4)
(nthcdr 10 '(1 2 3 4))
     => nil
(nthcdr -3 '(1 2 3 4))
     => (1 2 3 4)

Function: last list &optional n
This function returns the last link of list. The car of this link is the list's last element. If list is null, nil is returned. If n is non-nil the n-th-to-last link is returned instead, or the whole list if n is bigger than list's length.

Function: safe-length list
This function returns the length of list, with no risk of either an error or an infinite loop.

If list is not really a list, safe-length returns 0. If list is circular, it returns a finite value which is at least the number of distinct elements.

The most common way to compute the length of a list, when you are not worried that it may be circular, is with length. See section 6.1 Sequences.

Function: caar cons-cell
This is the same as (car (car cons-cell)).

Function: cadr cons-cell
This is the same as (car (cdr cons-cell)) or (nth 1 cons-cell).

Function: cdar cons-cell
This is the same as (cdr (car cons-cell)).

Function: cddr cons-cell
This is the same as (cdr (cdr cons-cell)) or (nthcdr 2 cons-cell).

Function: butlast x &optional n
This function returns the list x with the last element, or the last n elements, removed. If n is greater than zero it makes a copy of the list so as not to damage the original list. In general, (append (butlast x n) (last x n)) will return a list equal to x.

Function: nbutlast x &optional n
This is a version of butlast that works by destructively modifying the cdr of the appropriate element, rather than making a copy of the list.


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5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists

Many functions build lists, as lists reside at the very heart of Lisp. cons is the fundamental list-building function; however, it is interesting to note that list is used more times in the source code for Emacs than cons.

Function: cons object1 object2
This function is the fundamental function used to build new list structure. It creates a new cons cell, making object1 the CAR, and object2 the CDR. It then returns the new cons cell. The arguments object1 and object2 may be any Lisp objects, but most often object2 is a list.
(cons 1 '(2))
     => (1 2)
(cons 1 '())
     => (1)
(cons 1 2)
     => (1 . 2)

cons is often used to add a single element to the front of a list. This is called consing the element onto the list. (1) For example:

(setq list (cons newelt list))

Note that there is no conflict between the variable named list used in this example and the function named list described below; any symbol can serve both purposes.

Macro: push newelt listname
This macro provides an alternative way to write (setq listname (cons newelt listname)). It is new in Emacs 21.
(setq l '(a b)) 
     => (a b)
(push 'c l)
     => (c a b)
l
     => (c a b)

Function: list &rest objects
This function creates a list with objects as its elements. The resulting list is always nil-terminated. If no objects are given, the empty list is returned.
(list 1 2 3 4 5)
     => (1 2 3 4 5)
(list 1 2 '(3 4 5) 'foo)
     => (1 2 (3 4 5) foo)
(list)
     => nil

Function: make-list length object
This function creates a list of length elements, in which each element is object. Compare make-list with make-string (see section 4.3 Creating Strings).
(make-list 3 'pigs)
     => (pigs pigs pigs)
(make-list 0 'pigs)
     => nil
(setq l (make-list 3 '(a b))
     => ((a b) (a b) (a b))
(eq (car l) (cadr l))
     => t

Function: append &rest sequences
This function returns a list containing all the elements of sequences. The sequences may be lists, vectors, bool-vectors, or strings, but the last one should usually be a list. All arguments except the last one are copied, so none of the arguments is altered. (See nconc in 5.6.3 Functions that Rearrange Lists, for a way to join lists with no copying.)

More generally, the final argument to append may be any Lisp object. The final argument is not copied or converted; it becomes the CDR of the last cons cell in the new list. If the final argument is itself a list, then its elements become in effect elements of the result list. If the final element is not a list, the result is a "dotted list" since its final CDR is not nil as required in a true list.

The append function also allows integers as arguments. It converts them to strings of digits, making up the decimal print representation of the integer, and then uses the strings instead of the original integers. Don't use this feature; we plan to eliminate it. If you already use this feature, change your programs now! The proper way to convert an integer to a decimal number in this way is with format (see section 4.7 Formatting Strings) or number-to-string (see section 4.6 Conversion of Characters and Strings).

Here is an example of using append:

(setq trees '(pine oak))
     => (pine oak)
(setq more-trees (append '(maple birch) trees))
     => (maple birch pine oak)

trees
     => (pine oak)
more-trees
     => (maple birch pine oak)
(eq trees (cdr (cdr more-trees)))
     => t

You can see how append works by looking at a box diagram. The variable trees is set to the list (pine oak) and then the variable more-trees is set to the list (maple birch pine oak). However, the variable trees continues to refer to the original list:

more-trees                trees
|                           |
|     --- ---      --- ---   -> --- ---      --- ---
 --> |   |   |--> |   |   |--> |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
      --- ---      --- ---      --- ---      --- ---
       |            |            |            |
       |            |            |            |
        --> maple    -->birch     --> pine     --> oak

An empty sequence contributes nothing to the value returned by append. As a consequence of this, a final nil argument forces a copy of the previous argument:

trees
     => (pine oak)
(setq wood (append trees nil))
     => (pine oak)
wood
     => (pine oak)
(eq wood trees)
     => nil

This once was the usual way to copy a list, before the function copy-sequence was invented. See section 6. Sequences, Arrays, and Vectors.

Here we show the use of vectors and strings as arguments to append:

(append [a b] "cd" nil)
     => (a b 99 100)

With the help of apply (see section 12.5 Calling Functions), we can append all the lists in a list of lists:

(apply 'append '((a b c) nil (x y z) nil))
     => (a b c x y z)

If no sequences are given, nil is returned:

(append)
     => nil

Here are some examples where the final argument is not a list:

(append '(x y) 'z)
     => (x y . z)
(append '(x y) [z])
     => (x y . [z])

The second example shows that when the final argument is a sequence but not a list, the sequence's elements do not become elements of the resulting list. Instead, the sequence becomes the final CDR, like any other non-list final argument.

Function: reverse list
This function creates a new list whose elements are the elements of list, but in reverse order. The original argument list is not altered.
(setq x '(1 2 3 4))
     => (1 2 3 4)
(reverse x)
     => (4 3 2 1)
x
     => (1 2 3 4)

Function: remq object list
This function returns a copy of list, with all elements removed which are eq to object. The letter `q' in remq says that it uses eq to compare object against the elements of list.
(setq sample-list '(a b c a b c))
     => (a b c a b c)
(remq 'a sample-list)
     => (b c b c)
sample-list
     => (a b c a b c)
The function delq offers a way to perform this operation destructively. See 5.7 Using Lists as Sets.


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5.6 Modifying Existing List Structure

You can modify the CAR and CDR contents of a cons cell with the primitives setcar and setcdr. We call these "destructive" operations because they change existing list structure.

Common Lisp note: Common Lisp uses functions rplaca and rplacd to alter list structure; they change structure the same way as setcar and setcdr, but the Common Lisp functions return the cons cell while setcar and setcdr return the new CAR or CDR.
5.6.1 Altering List Elements with setcar Replacing an element in a list.
5.6.2 Altering the CDR of a List Replacing part of the list backbone. This can be used to remove or add elements.
5.6.3 Functions that Rearrange Lists Reordering the elements in a list; combining lists.


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5.6.1 Altering List Elements with setcar

Changing the CAR of a cons cell is done with setcar. When used on a list, setcar replaces one element of a list with a different element.

Function: setcar cons object
This function stores object as the new CAR of cons, replacing its previous CAR. In other words, it changes the CAR slot of cons to refer to object. It returns the value object. For example:
(setq x '(1 2))
     => (1 2)
(setcar x 4)
     => 4
x
     => (4 2)

When a cons cell is part of the shared structure of several lists, storing a new CAR into the cons changes one element of each of these lists. Here is an example:

;; Create two lists that are partly shared.
(setq x1 '(a b c))
     => (a b c)
(setq x2 (cons 'z (cdr x1)))
     => (z b c)

;; Replace the CAR of a shared link.
(setcar (cdr x1) 'foo)
     => foo
x1                           ; Both lists are changed.
     => (a foo c)
x2
     => (z foo c)

;; Replace the CAR of a link that is not shared.
(setcar x1 'baz)
     => baz
x1                           ; Only one list is changed.
     => (baz foo c)
x2
     => (z foo c)

Here is a graphical depiction of the shared structure of the two lists in the variables x1 and x2, showing why replacing b changes them both:

        --- ---        --- ---      --- ---
x1---> |   |   |----> |   |   |--> |   |   |--> nil
        --- ---        --- ---      --- ---
         |        -->   |            |
         |       |      |            |
          --> a  |       --> b        --> c
                 |
       --- ---   |
x2--> |   |   |--
       --- ---
        |
        |
         --> z

Here is an alternative form of box diagram, showing the same relationship:

x1:
 --------------       --------------       --------------
| car   | cdr  |     | car   | cdr  |     | car   | cdr  |
|   a   |   o------->|   b   |   o------->|   c   |  nil |
|       |      |  -->|       |      |     |       |      |
 --------------  |    --------------       --------------
                 |
x2:              |
 --------------  |
| car   | cdr  | |
|   z   |   o----
|       |      |
 --------------


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5.6.2 Altering the CDR of a List

The lowest-level primitive for modifying a CDR is setcdr:

Function: setcdr cons object
This function stores object as the new CDR of cons, replacing its previous CDR. In other words, it changes the CDR slot of cons to refer to object. It returns the value object.

Here is an example of replacing the CDR of a list with a different list. All but the first element of the list are removed in favor of a different sequence of elements. The first element is unchanged, because it resides in the CAR of the list, and is not reached via the CDR.

(setq x '(1 2 3))
     => (1 2 3)
(setcdr x '(4))
     => (4)
x
     => (1 4)

You can delete elements from the middle of a list by altering the CDRs of the cons cells in the list. For example, here we delete the second element, b, from the list (a b c), by changing the CDR of the first cons cell:

(setq x1 '(a b c))
     => (a b c)
(setcdr x1 (cdr (cdr x1)))
     => (c)
x1
     => (a c)

Here is the result in box notation:

                   --------------------
                  |                    |
 --------------   |   --------------   |    --------------
| car   | cdr  |  |  | car   | cdr  |   -->| car   | cdr  |
|   a   |   o-----   |   b   |   o-------->|   c   |  nil |
|       |      |     |       |      |      |       |      |
 --------------       --------------        --------------

The second cons cell, which previously held the element b, still exists and its CAR is still b, but it no longer forms part of this list.

It is equally easy to insert a new element by changing CDRs:

(setq x1 '(a b c))
     => (a b c)
(setcdr x1 (cons 'd (cdr x1)))
     => (d b c)
x1
     => (a d b c)

Here is this result in box notation:

 --------------        -------------       -------------
| car  | cdr   |      | car  | cdr  |     | car  | cdr  |
|   a  |   o   |   -->|   b  |   o------->|   c  |  nil |
|      |   |   |  |   |      |      |     |      |      |
 --------- | --   |    -------------       -------------
           |      |
     -----         --------
    |                      |
    |    ---------------   |
    |   | car   | cdr   |  |
     -->|   d   |   o------
        |       |       |
         ---------------


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5.6.3 Functions that Rearrange Lists

Here are some functions that rearrange lists "destructively" by modifying the CDRs of their component cons cells. We call these functions "destructive" because they chew up the original lists passed to them as arguments, relinking their cons cells to form a new list that is the returned value.

See delq, in 5.7 Using Lists as Sets, for another function that modifies cons cells.

Function: nconc &rest lists
This function returns a list containing all the elements of lists. Unlike append (see section 5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists), the lists are not copied. Instead, the last CDR of each of the lists is changed to refer to the following list. The last of the lists is not altered. For example:
(setq x '(1 2 3))
     => (1 2 3)
(nconc x '(4 5))
     => (1 2 3 4 5)
x
     => (1 2 3 4 5)

Since the last argument of nconc is not itself modified, it is reasonable to use a constant list, such as '(4 5), as in the above example. For the same reason, the last argument need not be a list:

(setq x '(1 2 3))
     => (1 2 3)
(nconc x 'z)
     => (1 2 3 . z)
x
     => (1 2 3 . z)

However, the other arguments (all but the last) must be lists.

A common pitfall is to use a quoted constant list as a non-last argument to nconc. If you do this, your program will change each time you run it! Here is what happens:

(defun add-foo (x)            ; We want this function to add
  (nconc '(foo) x))           ;   foo to the front of its arg.

(symbol-function 'add-foo)
     => (lambda (x) (nconc (quote (foo)) x))

(setq xx (add-foo '(1 2)))    ; It seems to work.
     => (foo 1 2)
(setq xy (add-foo '(3 4)))    ; What happened?
     => (foo 1 2 3 4)
(eq xx xy)
     => t

(symbol-function 'add-foo)
     => (lambda (x) (nconc (quote (foo 1 2 3 4) x)))

Function: nreverse list
This function reverses the order of the elements of list. Unlike reverse, nreverse alters its argument by reversing the CDRs in the cons cells forming the list. The cons cell that used to be the last one in list becomes the first cons cell of the value.

For example:

(setq x '(a b c))
     => (a b c)
x
     => (a b c)
(nreverse x)
     => (c b a)
;; The cons cell that was first is now last.
x
     => (a)

To avoid confusion, we usually store the result of nreverse back in the same variable which held the original list:

(setq x (nreverse x))

Here is the nreverse of our favorite example, (a b c), presented graphically:

Original list head:                       Reversed list:
 -------------        -------------        ------------
| car  | cdr  |      | car  | cdr  |      | car | cdr  |
|   a  |  nil |<--   |   b  |   o  |<--   |   c |   o  |
|      |      |   |  |      |   |  |   |  |     |   |  |
 -------------    |   --------- | -    |   -------- | -
                  |             |      |            |
                   -------------        ------------

Function: sort list predicate
This function sorts list stably, though destructively, and returns the sorted list. It compares elements using predicate. A stable sort is one in which elements with equal sort keys maintain their relative order before and after the sort. Stability is important when successive sorts are used to order elements according to different criteria.

The argument predicate must be a function that accepts two arguments. It is called with two elements of list. To get an increasing order sort, the predicate should return t if the first element is "less than" the second, or nil if not.

The comparison function predicate must give reliable results for any given pair of arguments, at least within a single call to sort. It must be antisymmetric; that is, if a is less than b, b must not be less than a. It must be transitive---that is, if a is less than b, and b is less than c, then a must be less than c. If you use a comparison function which does not meet these requirements, the result of sort is unpredictable.

The destructive aspect of sort is that it rearranges the cons cells forming list by changing CDRs. A nondestructive sort function would create new cons cells to store the elements in their sorted order. If you wish to make a sorted copy without destroying the original, copy it first with copy-sequence and then sort.

Sorting does not change the CARs of the cons cells in list; the cons cell that originally contained the element a in list still has a in its CAR after sorting, but it now appears in a different position in the list due to the change of CDRs. For example:

(setq nums '(1 3 2 6 5 4 0))
     => (1 3 2 6 5 4 0)
(sort nums '<)
     => (0 1 2 3 4 5 6)
nums
     => (1 2 3 4 5 6)

Warning: Note that the list in nums no longer contains 0; this is the same cons cell that it was before, but it is no longer the first one in the list. Don't assume a variable that formerly held the argument now holds the entire sorted list! Instead, save the result of sort and use that. Most often we store the result back into the variable that held the original list:

(setq nums (sort nums '<))

See section 32.15 Sorting Text, for more functions that perform sorting. See documentation in 24.2 Access to Documentation Strings, for a useful example of sort.


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5.7 Using Lists as Sets

A list can represent an unordered mathematical set--simply consider a value an element of a set if it appears in the list, and ignore the order of the list. To form the union of two sets, use append (as long as you don't mind having duplicate elements). Other useful functions for sets include memq and delq, and their equal versions, member and delete.

Common Lisp note: Common Lisp has functions union (which avoids duplicate elements) and intersection for set operations, but GNU Emacs Lisp does not have them. You can write them in Lisp if you wish.

Function: memq object list
This function tests to see whether object is a member of list. If it is, memq returns a list starting with the first occurrence of object. Otherwise, it returns nil. The letter `q' in memq says that it uses eq to compare object against the elements of the list. For example:
(memq 'b '(a b c b a))
     => (b c b a)
(memq '(2) '((1) (2)))    ; (2) and (2) are not eq.
     => nil

Function: member-ignore-case object list
This function is like member, except that it ignores differences in letter-case and text representation: upper-case and lower-case letters are treated as equal, and unibyte strings are converted to multibyte prior to comparison.

Function: delq object list
This function destructively removes all elements eq to object from list. The letter `q' in delq says that it uses eq to compare object against the elements of the list, like memq and remq.

When delq deletes elements from the front of the list, it does so simply by advancing down the list and returning a sublist that starts after those elements:

(delq 'a '(a b c)) == (cdr '(a b c))

When an element to be deleted appears in the middle of the list, removing it involves changing the CDRs (see section 5.6.2 Altering the CDR of a List).

(setq sample-list '(a b c (4)))
     => (a b c (4))
(delq 'a sample-list)
     => (b c (4))
sample-list
     => (a b c (4))
(delq 'c sample-list)
     => (a b (4))
sample-list
     => (a b (4))

Note that (delq 'c sample-list) modifies sample-list to splice out the third element, but (delq 'a sample-list) does not splice anything--it just returns a shorter list. Don't assume that a variable which formerly held the argument list now has fewer elements, or that it still holds the original list! Instead, save the result of delq and use that. Most often we store the result back into the variable that held the original list:

(setq flowers (delq 'rose flowers))

In the following example, the (4) that delq attempts to match and the (4) in the sample-list are not eq:

(delq '(4) sample-list)
     => (a c (4))

The following two functions are like memq and delq but use equal rather than eq to compare elements. See section 2.7 Equality Predicates.

Function: member object list
The function member tests to see whether object is a member of list, comparing members with object using equal. If object is a member, member returns a list starting with its first occurrence in list. Otherwise, it returns nil.

Compare this with memq:

(member '(2) '((1) (2)))  ; (2) and (2) are equal.
     => ((2))
(memq '(2) '((1) (2)))    ; (2) and (2) are not eq.
     => nil
;; Two strings with the same contents are equal.
(member "foo" '("foo" "bar"))
     => ("foo" "bar")

Function: delete object sequence
If sequence is a list, this function destructively removes all elements equal to object from sequence. For lists, delete is to delq as member is to memq: it uses equal to compare elements with object, like member; when it finds an element that matches, it removes the element just as delq would.

If sequence is a vector or string, delete returns a copy of sequence with all elements equal to object removed.

For example:

(delete '(2) '((2) (1) (2)))
     => ((1))
(delete '(2) [(2) (1) (2)])
     => [(1)]

Function: remove object sequence
This function is the non-destructive counterpart of delete. If returns a copy of sequence, a list, vector, or string, with elements equal to object removed. For example:
(remove '(2) '((2) (1) (2)))
     => ((1))
(remove '(2) [(2) (1) (2)])
     => [(1)]
Common Lisp note: The functions member, delete and remove in GNU Emacs Lisp are derived from Maclisp, not Common Lisp. The Common Lisp versions do not use equal to compare elements.

See also the function add-to-list, in 11.8 How to Alter a Variable Value, for another way to add an element to a list stored in a variable.


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5.8 Association Lists

An association list, or alist for short, records a mapping from keys to values. It is a list of cons cells called associations: the CAR of each cons cell is the key, and the CDR is the associated value.(2)

Here is an example of an alist. The key pine is associated with the value cones; the key oak is associated with acorns; and the key maple is associated with seeds.

((pine . cones)
 (oak . acorns)
 (maple . seeds))

The associated values in an alist may be any Lisp objects; so may the keys. For example, in the following alist, the symbol a is associated with the number 1, and the string "b" is associated with the list (2 3), which is the CDR of the alist element:

((a . 1) ("b" 2 3))

Sometimes it is better to design an alist to store the associated value in the CAR of the CDR of the element. Here is an example of such an alist:

((rose red) (lily white) (buttercup yellow))

Here we regard red as the value associated with rose. One advantage of this kind of alist is that you can store other related information--even a list of other items--in the CDR of the CDR. One disadvantage is that you cannot use rassq (see below) to find the element containing a given value. When neither of these considerations is important, the choice is a matter of taste, as long as you are consistent about it for any given alist.

Note that the same alist shown above could be regarded as having the associated value in the CDR of the element; the value associated with rose would be the list (red).

Association lists are often used to record information that you might otherwise keep on a stack, since new associations may be added easily to the front of the list. When searching an association list for an association with a given key, the first one found is returned, if there is more than one.

In Emacs Lisp, it is not an error if an element of an association list is not a cons cell. The alist search functions simply ignore such elements. Many other versions of Lisp signal errors in such cases.

Note that property lists are similar to association lists in several respects. A property list behaves like an association list in which each key can occur only once. See section 8.4 Property Lists, for a comparison of property lists and association lists.

Function: assoc key alist
This function returns the first association for key in alist. It compares key against the alist elements using equal (see section 2.7 Equality Predicates). It returns nil if no association in alist has a CAR equal to key. For example:
(setq trees '((pine . cones) (oak . acorns) (maple . seeds)))
     => ((pine . cones) (oak . acorns) (maple . seeds))
(assoc 'oak trees)
     => (oak . acorns)
(cdr (assoc 'oak trees))
     => acorns
(assoc 'birch trees)
     => nil

Here is another example, in which the keys and values are not symbols:

(setq needles-per-cluster
      '((2 "Austrian Pine" "Red Pine")
        (3 "Pitch Pine")
        (5 "White Pine")))

(cdr (assoc 3 needles-per-cluster))
     => ("Pitch Pine")
(cdr (assoc 2 needles-per-cluster))
     => ("Austrian Pine" "Red Pine")

The functions assoc-ignore-representation and assoc-ignore-case are much like assoc except using compare-strings to do the comparison. See section 4.5 Comparison of Characters and Strings.

Function: rassoc value alist
This function returns the first association with value value in alist. It returns nil if no association in alist has a CDR equal to value.

rassoc is like assoc except that it compares the CDR of each alist association instead of the CAR. You can think of this as "reverse assoc", finding the key for a given value.

Function: assq key alist
This function is like assoc in that it returns the first association for key in alist, but it makes the comparison using eq instead of equal. assq returns nil if no association in alist has a CAR eq to key. This function is used more often than assoc, since eq is faster than equal and most alists use symbols as keys. See section 2.7 Equality Predicates.
(setq trees '((pine . cones) (oak . acorns) (maple . seeds)))
     => ((pine . cones) (oak . acorns) (maple . seeds))
(assq 'pine trees)
     => (pine . cones)

On the other hand, assq is not usually useful in alists where the keys may not be symbols:

(setq leaves
      '(("simple leaves" . oak)
        ("compound leaves" . horsechestnut)))

(assq "simple leaves" leaves)
     => nil
(assoc "simple leaves" leaves)
     => ("simple leaves" . oak)

Function: rassq value alist
This function returns the first association with value value in alist. It returns nil if no association in alist has a CDR eq to value.

rassq is like assq except that it compares the CDR of each alist association instead of the CAR. You can think of this as "reverse assq", finding the key for a given value.

For example:

(setq trees '((pine . cones) (oak . acorns) (maple . seeds)))

(rassq 'acorns trees)
     => (oak . acorns)
(rassq 'spores trees)
     => nil

Note that rassq cannot search for a value stored in the CAR of the CDR of an element:

(setq colors '((rose red) (lily white) (buttercup yellow)))

(rassq 'white colors)
     => nil

In this case, the CDR of the association (lily white) is not the symbol white, but rather the list (white). This becomes clearer if the association is written in dotted pair notation:

(lily white) == (lily . (white))

Function: assoc-default key alist &optional test default
This function searches alist for a match for key. For each element of alist, it compares the element (if it is an atom) or the element's CAR (if it is a cons) against key, by calling test with two arguments: the element or its CAR, and key. The arguments are passed in that order so that you can get useful results using string-match with an alist that contains regular expressions (see section 34.3 Regular Expression Searching). If test is omitted or nil, equal is used for comparison.

If an alist element matches key by this criterion, then assoc-default returns a value based on this element. If the element is a cons, then the value is the element's CDR. Otherwise, the return value is default.

If no alist element matches key, assoc-default returns nil.

Function: copy-alist alist
This function returns a two-level deep copy of alist: it creates a new copy of each association, so that you can alter the associations of the new alist without changing the old one.
(setq needles-per-cluster
      '((2 . ("Austrian Pine" "Red Pine"))
        (3 . ("Pitch Pine"))
        (5 . ("White Pine"))))
=>
((2 "Austrian Pine" "Red Pine")
 (3 "Pitch Pine")
 (5 "White Pine"))

(setq copy (copy-alist needles-per-cluster))
=>
((2 "Austrian Pine" "Red Pine")
 (3 "Pitch Pine")
 (5 "White Pine"))

(eq needles-per-cluster copy)
     => nil
(equal needles-per-cluster copy)
     => t
(eq (car needles-per-cluster) (car copy))
     => nil
(cdr (car (cdr needles-per-cluster)))
     => ("Pitch Pine")
(eq (cdr (car (cdr needles-per-cluster)))
    (cdr (car (cdr copy))))
     => t

This example shows how copy-alist makes it possible to change the associations of one copy without affecting the other:

(setcdr (assq 3 copy) '("Martian Vacuum Pine"))
(cdr (assq 3 needles-per-cluster))
     => ("Pitch Pine")

Function: assq-delete-all key alist
This function deletes from alist all the elements whose CAR is eq to key. It returns alist, modified in this way. Note that it modifies the original list structure of alist.
(assq-delete-all 'foo
                 '((foo 1) (bar 2) (foo 3) (lose 4)))
     => ((bar 2) (lose 4))

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6. Sequences, Arrays, and Vectors

Recall that the sequence type is the union of two other Lisp types: lists and arrays. In other words, any list is a sequence, and any array is a sequence. The common property that all sequences have is that each is an ordered collection of elements.

An array is a single primitive object that has a slot for each of its elements. All the elements are accessible in constant time, but the length of an existing array cannot be changed. Strings, vectors, char-tables and bool-vectors are the four types of arrays.

A list is a sequence of elements, but it is not a single primitive object; it is made of cons cells, one cell per element. Finding the nth element requires looking through n cons cells, so elements farther from the beginning of the list take longer to access. But it is possible to add elements to the list, or remove elements.

The following diagram shows the relationship between these types:

          _____________________________________________
         |                                             |
         |          Sequence                           |
         |  ______   ________________________________  |
         | |      | |                                | |
         | | List | |             Array              | |
         | |      | |    ________       ________     | |
         | |______| |   |        |     |        |    | |
         |          |   | Vector |     | String |    | |
         |          |   |________|     |________|    | |
         |          |  ____________   _____________  | |
         |          | |            | |             | | |
         |          | | Char-table | | Bool-vector | | |
         |          | |____________| |_____________| | |
         |          |________________________________| |
         |_____________________________________________|

The elements of vectors and lists may be any Lisp objects. The elements of strings are all characters.

6.1 Sequences Functions that accept any kind of sequence.
6.2 Arrays Characteristics of arrays in Emacs Lisp.
6.3 Functions that Operate on Arrays Functions specifically for arrays.
6.4 Vectors Special characteristics of Emacs Lisp vectors.
6.5 Functions for Vectors Functions specifically for vectors.
6.6 Char-Tables How to work with char-tables.
6.7 Bool-vectors How to work with bool-vectors.


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6.1 Sequences

In Emacs Lisp, a sequence is either a list or an array. The common property of all sequences is that they are ordered collections of elements. This section describes functions that accept any kind of sequence.

Function: sequencep object
Returns t if object is a list, vector, or string, nil otherwise.

Function: length sequence
This function returns the number of elements in sequence. If sequence is a cons cell that is not a list (because the final CDR is not nil), a wrong-type-argument error is signaled.

See section 5.4 Accessing Elements of Lists, for the related function safe-length.

(length '(1 2 3))
    => 3
(length ())
    => 0
(length "foobar")
    => 6
(length [1 2 3])
    => 3
(length (make-bool-vector 5 nil))
    => 5

Function: elt sequence index
This function returns the element of sequence indexed by index. Legitimate values of index are integers ranging from 0 up to one less than the length of sequence. If sequence is a list, then out-of-range values of index return nil; otherwise, they trigger an args-out-of-range error.
(elt [1 2 3 4] 2)
     => 3
(elt '(1 2 3 4) 2)
     => 3
;; We use string to show clearly which character elt returns.
(string (elt "1234" 2))
     => "3"
(elt [1 2 3 4] 4)
     error--> Args out of range: [1 2 3 4], 4
(elt [1 2 3 4] -1)
     error--> Args out of range: [1 2 3 4], -1

This function generalizes aref (see section 6.3 Functions that Operate on Arrays) and nth (see section 5.4 Accessing Elements of Lists).

Function: copy-sequence sequence
Returns a copy of sequence. The copy is the same type of object as the original sequence, and it has the same elements in the same order.

Storing a new element into the copy does not affect the original sequence, and vice versa. However, the elements of the new sequence are not copies; they are identical (eq) to the elements of the original. Therefore, changes made within these elements, as found via the copied sequence, are also visible in the original sequence.

If the sequence is a string with text properties, the property list in the copy is itself a copy, not shared with the original's property list. However, the actual values of the properties are shared. See section 32.19 Text Properties.

See also append in 5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists, concat in 4.3 Creating Strings, and vconcat in 6.4 Vectors, for other ways to copy sequences.

(setq bar '(1 2))
     => (1 2)
(setq x (vector 'foo bar))
     => [foo (1 2)]
(setq y (copy-sequence x))
     => [foo (1 2)]

(eq x y)
     => nil
(equal x y)
     => t
(eq (elt x 1) (elt y 1))
     => t

;; Replacing an element of one sequence.
(aset x 0 'quux)
x => [quux (1 2)]
y => [foo (1 2)]

;; Modifying the inside of a shared element.
(setcar (aref x 1) 69)
x => [quux (69 2)]
y => [foo (69 2)]


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6.2 Arrays

An array object has slots that hold a number of other Lisp objects, called the elements of the array. Any element of an array may be accessed in constant time. In contrast, an element of a list requires access time that is proportional to the position of the element in the list.

Emacs defines four types of array, all one-dimensional: strings, vectors, bool-vectors and char-tables. A vector is a general array; its elements can be any Lisp objects. A string is a specialized array; its elements must be characters. Each type of array has its own read syntax. See section 2.3.8 String Type, and 2.3.9 Vector Type.

All four kinds of array share these characteristics:

When you create an array, other than a char-table, you must specify its length. You cannot specify the length of a char-table, because that is determined by the range of character codes.

In principle, if you want an array of text characters, you could use either a string or a vector. In practice, we always choose strings for such applications, for four reasons:

By contrast, for an array of keyboard input characters (such as a key sequence), a vector may be necessary, because many keyboard input characters are outside the range that will fit in a string. See section 21.7.1 Key Sequence Input.


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6.3 Functions that Operate on Arrays

In this section, we describe the functions that accept all types of arrays.

Function: arrayp object
This function returns t if object is an array (i.e., a vector, a string, a bool-vector or a char-table).
(arrayp [a])
     => t
(arrayp "asdf")
     => t
(arrayp (syntax-table))    ;; A char-table.
     => t

Function: aref array index
This function returns the indexth element of array. The first element is at index zero.
(setq primes [2 3 5 7 11 13])
     => [2 3 5 7 11 13]
(aref primes 4)
     => 11
(aref "abcdefg" 1)
     => 98           ; `b' is ASCII code 98.

See also the function elt, in 6.1 Sequences.

Function: aset array index object
This function sets the indexth element of array to be object. It returns object.
(setq w [foo bar baz])
     => [foo bar baz]
(aset w 0 'fu)
     => fu
w
     => [fu bar baz]

(setq x "asdfasfd")
     => "asdfasfd"
(aset x 3 ?Z)
     => 90
x
     => "asdZasfd"

If array is a string and object is not a character, a wrong-type-argument error results. The function converts a unibyte string to multibyte if necessary to insert a character.

Function: fillarray array object
This function fills the array array with object, so that each element of array is object. It returns array.
(setq a [a b c d e f g])
     => [a b c d e f g]
(fillarray a 0)
     => [0 0 0 0 0 0 0]
a
     => [0 0 0 0 0 0 0]
(setq s "When in the course")
     => "When in the course"
(fillarray s ?-)
     => "------------------"

If array is a string and object is not a character, a wrong-type-argument error results.

The general sequence functions copy-sequence and length are often useful for objects known to be arrays. See section 6.1 Sequences.


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6.4 Vectors

Arrays in Lisp, like arrays in most languages, are blocks of memory whose elements can be accessed in constant time. A vector is a general-purpose array of specified length; its elements can be any Lisp objects. (By contrast, a string can hold only characters as elements.) Vectors in Emacs are used for obarrays (vectors of symbols), and as part of keymaps (vectors of commands). They are also used internally as part of the representation of a byte-compiled function; if you print such a function, you will see a vector in it.

In Emacs Lisp, the indices of the elements of a vector start from zero and count up from there.

Vectors are printed with square brackets surrounding the elements. Thus, a vector whose elements are the symbols a, b and a is printed as [a b a]. You can write vectors in the same way in Lisp input.

A vector, like a string or a number, is considered a constant for evaluation: the result of evaluating it is the same vector. This does not evaluate or even examine the elements of the vector. See section 9.2.1 Self-Evaluating Forms.

Here are examples illustrating these principles:

(setq avector [1 two '(three) "four" [five]])
     => [1 two (quote (three)) "four" [five]]
(eval avector)
     => [1 two (quote (three)) "four" [five]]
(eq avector (eval avector))
     => t


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6.5 Functions for Vectors

Here are some functions that relate to vectors:

Function: vectorp object
This function returns t if object is a vector.
(vectorp [a])
     => t
(vectorp "asdf")
     => nil

Function: vector &rest objects
This function creates and returns a vector whose elements are the arguments, objects.
(vector 'foo 23 [bar baz] "rats")
     => [foo 23 [bar baz] "rats"]
(vector)
     => []

Function: make-vector length object
This function returns a new vector consisting of length elements, each initialized to object.
(setq sleepy (make-vector 9 'Z))
     => [Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z]

Function: vconcat &rest sequences
This function returns a new vector containing all the elements of the sequences. The arguments sequences may be any kind of arrays, including lists, vectors, or strings. If no sequences are given, an empty vector is returned.

The value is a newly constructed vector that is not eq to any existing vector.

(setq a (vconcat '(A B C) '(D E F)))
     => [A B C D E F]
(eq a (vconcat a))
     => nil
(vconcat)
     => []
(vconcat [A B C] "aa" '(foo (6 7)))
     => [A B C 97 97 foo (6 7)]

The vconcat function also allows byte-code function objects as arguments. This is a special feature to make it easy to access the entire contents of a byte-code function object. See section 16.6 Byte-Code Function Objects.

The vconcat function also allows integers as arguments. It converts them to strings of digits, making up the decimal print representation of the integer, and then uses the strings instead of the original integers. Don't use this feature; we plan to eliminate it. If you already use this feature, change your programs now! The proper way to convert an integer to a decimal number in this way is with format (see section 4.7 Formatting Strings) or number-to-string (see section 4.6 Conversion of Characters and Strings).

For other concatenation functions, see mapconcat in 12.6 Mapping Functions, concat in 4.3 Creating Strings, and append in 5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists.

The append function provides a way to convert a vector into a list with the same elements (see section 5.5 Building Cons Cells and Lists):

(setq avector [1 two (quote (three)) "four" [five]])
     => [1 two (quote (three)) "four" [five]]
(append avector nil)
     => (1 two (quote (three)) "four" [five])


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6.6 Char-Tables

A char-table is much like a vector, except that it is indexed by character codes. Any valid character code, without modifiers, can be used as an index in a char-table. You can access a char-table's elements with aref and aset, as with any array. In addition, a char-table can have extra slots to hold additional data not associated with particular character codes. Char-tables are constants when evaluated.

Each char-table has a subtype which is a symbol. The subtype has two purposes: to distinguish char-tables meant for different uses, and to control the number of extra slots. For example, display tables are char-tables with display-table as the subtype, and syntax tables are char-tables with syntax-table as the subtype. A valid subtype must have a char-table-extra-slots property which is an integer between 0 and 10. This integer specifies the number of extra slots in the char-table.

A char-table can have a parent, which is another char-table. If it does, then whenever the char-table specifies nil for a particular character c, it inherits the value specified in the parent. In other words, (aref char-table c) returns the value from the parent of char-table if char-table itself specifies nil.

A char-table can also have a default value. If so, then (aref char-table c) returns the default value whenever the char-table does not specify any other non-nil value.

Function: make-char-table subtype &optional init
Return a newly created char-table, with subtype subtype. Each element is initialized to init, which defaults to nil. You cannot alter the subtype of a char-table after the char-table is created.

There is no argument to specify the length of the char-table, because all char-tables have room for any valid character code as an index.

Function: char-table-p object
This function returns t if object is a char-table, otherwise nil.

Function: char-table-subtype char-table
This function returns the subtype symbol of char-table.

Function: set-char-table-default char-table new-default
This function sets the default value of char-table to new-default.

There is no special function to access the default value of a char-table. To do that, use (char-table-range char-table nil).

Function: char-table-parent char-table
This function returns the parent of char-table. The parent is always either nil or another char-table.

Function: set-char-table-parent char-table new-parent
This function sets the parent of char-table to new-parent.

Function: char-table-extra-slot char-table n
This function returns the contents of extra slot n of char-table. The number of extra slots in a char-table is determined by its subtype.

Function: set-char-table-extra-slot char-table n value
This function stores value in extra slot n of char-table.

A char-table can specify an element value for a single character code; it can also specify a value for an entire character set.

Function: char-table-range char-table range
This returns the value specified in char-table for a range of characters range. Here are the possibilities for range:
nil
Refers to the default value.
char
Refers to the element for character char (supposing char is a valid character code).
charset
Refers to the value specified for the whole character set charset (see section 33.5 Character Sets).
generic-char
A generic character stands for a character set; specifying the generic character as argument is equivalent to specifying the character set name. See section 33.7 Splitting Characters, for a description of generic characters.

Function: set-char-table-range char-table range value
This function sets the value in char-table for a range of characters range. Here are the possibilities for range:
nil
Refers to the default value.
t
Refers to the whole range of character codes.
char
Refers to the element for character char (supposing char is a valid character code).
charset
Refers to the value specified for the whole character set charset (see section 33.5 Character Sets).
generic-char
A generic character stands for a character set; specifying the generic character as argument is equivalent to specifying the character set name. See section 33.7 Splitting Characters, for a description of generic characters.

Function: map-char-table function char-table
This function calls function for each element of char-table. function is called with two arguments, a key and a value. The key is a possible range argument for char-table-range---either a valid character or a generic character--and the value is (char-table-range char-table key).

Overall, the key-value pairs passed to function describe all the values stored in char-table.

The return value is always nil; to make this function useful, function should have side effects. For example, here is how to examine each element of the syntax table:

(let (accumulator)
  (map-char-table
   #'(lambda (key value)
       (setq accumulator
             (cons (list key value) accumulator)))
   (syntax-table))
  accumulator)
=>
((475008 nil) (474880 nil) (474752 nil) (474624 nil)
 ... (5 (3)) (4 (3)) (3 (3)) (2 (3)) (1 (3)) (0 (3)))


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6.7 Bool-vectors

A bool-vector is much like a vector, except that it stores only the values t and nil. If you try to store any non-nil value into an element of the bool-vector, the effect is to store t there. As with all arrays, bool-vector indices start from 0, and the length cannot be changed once the bool-vector is created. Bool-vectors are constants when evaluated.

There are two special functions for working with bool-vectors; aside from that, you manipulate them with same functions used for other kinds of arrays.

Function: make-bool-vector length initial
Return a new bool-vector of length elements, each one initialized to initial.

Function: bool-vector-p object
This returns t if object is a bool-vector, and nil otherwise.

Here is an example of creating, examining, and updating a bool-vector. Note that the printed form represents up to 8 boolean values as a single character.

(setq bv (make-bool-vector 5 t))
     => #&5"^_"
(aref bv 1)
     => t
(aset bv 3 nil)
     => nil
bv
     => #&5"^W"

These results make sense because the binary codes for control-_ and control-W are 11111 and 10111, respectively.


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7. Hash Tables

A hash table is a very fast kind of lookup table, somewhat like an alist in that it maps keys to corresponding values. It differs from an alist in these ways:

Emacs Lisp (starting with Emacs 21) provides a general-purpose hash table data type, along with a series of functions for operating on them. Hash tables have no read syntax, and print in hash notation, like this:

(make-hash-table)
     => #<hash-table 'eql nil 0/65 0x83af980>

(The term "hash notation" refers to the initial `#' character---see section 2.1 Printed Representation and Read Syntax---and has nothing to do with the term "hash table.")

Obarrays are also a kind of hash table, but they are a different type of object and are used only for recording interned symbols (see section 8.3 Creating and Interning Symbols).

7.1 Creating Hash Tables
7.2 Hash Table Access
7.3 Defining Hash Comparisons
7.4 Other Hash Table Functions


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7.1 Creating Hash Tables

The principal function for creating a hash table is make-hash-table.

Function: make-hash-table &rest keyword-args
This function creates a new hash table according to the specified arguments. The arguments should consist of alternating keywords (particular symbols recognized specially) and values corresponding to them.

Several keywords make sense in make-hash-table, but the only two that you really need to know about are :test and :weakness.

:test test
This specifies the method of key lookup for this hash table. The default is eql; eq and equal are other alternatives:
eql
Keys which are numbers are "the same" if they are equal in value; otherwise, two distinct objects are never "the same".
eq
Any two distinct Lisp objects are "different" as keys.
equal
Two Lisp objects are "the same", as keys, if they are equal according to equal.

You can use define-hash-table-test (see section 7.3 Defining Hash Comparisons) to define additional possibilities for test.

:weakness weak
The weakness of a hash table specifies whether the presence of a key or value in the hash table preserves it from garbage collection.

The value, weak, must be one of nil, key, value, key-or-value, key-and-value, or t which is an alias for key-and-value. If weak is key then the hash table does not prevent its keys from being collected as garbage (if they are not referenced anywhere else); if a particular key does get collected, the corresponding association is removed from the hash table.

If weak is value, then the hash table does not prevent values from being collected as garbage (if they are not referenced anywhere else); if a particular value does get collected, the corresponding association is removed from the hash table.

If weak is key-or-value or t, the hash table does not protect either keys or values from garbage collection; if either one is collected as garbage, the association is removed.

If weak is key-and-value, associations are removed from the hash table when both their key and value would be collected as garbage, again not considering references to the key and value from weak hash tables.

The default for weak is nil, so that all keys and values referenced in the hash table are preserved from garbage collection. If weak is t, neither keys nor values are protected (that is, both are weak).

:size size
This specifies a hint for how many associations you plan to store in the hash table. If you know the approximate number, you can make things a little more efficient by specifying it this way. If you specify too small a size, the hash table will grow automatically when necessary, but doing that takes some extra time.

The default size is 65.

:rehash-size rehash-size
When you add an association to a hash table and the table is "full," it grows automatically. This value specifies how to make the hash table larger, at that time.

If rehash-size is an integer, it should be positive, and the hash table grows by adding that much to the nominal size. If rehash-size is a floating point number, it had better be greater than 1, and the hash table grows by multiplying the old size by that number.

The default value is 1.5.

:rehash-threshold threshold
This specifies the criterion for when the hash table is "full." The value, threshold, should be a positive floating point number, no greater than 1. The hash table is "full" whenever the actual number of entries exceeds this fraction of the nominal size. The default for threshold is 0.8.

Function: makehash &optional test
This is equivalent to make-hash-table, but with a different style argument list. The argument test specifies the method of key lookup.

If you want to specify other parameters, you should use make-hash-table.


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7.2 Hash Table Access

This section describes the functions for accessing and storing associations in a hash table.

Function: gethash key table &optional default
This function looks up key in table, and returns its associated value---or default, if key has no association in table.

Function: puthash key value table
This function enters an association for key in table, with value value. If key already has an association in table, value replaces the old associated value.

Function: remhash key table
This function removes the association for key from table, if there is one. If key has no association, remhash does nothing.

Function: clrhash table
This function removes all the associations from hash table table, so that it becomes empty. This is also called clearing the hash table.

Function: maphash function table
This function calls function once for each of the associations in table. The function function should accept two arguments--a key listed in table, and its associated value.


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7.3 Defining Hash Comparisons

You can define new methods of key lookup by means of define-hash-table-test. In order to use this feature, you need to understand how hash tables work, and what a hash code means.

You can think of a hash table conceptually as a large array of many slots, each capable of holding one association. To look up a key, gethash first computes an integer, the hash code, from the key. It reduces this integer modulo the length of the array, to produce an index in the array. Then it looks in that slot, and if necessary in other nearby slots, to see if it has found the key being sought.

Thus, to define a new method of key lookup, you need to specify both a function to compute the hash code from a key, and a function to compare two keys directly.

Function: define-hash-table-test name test-fn hash-fn
This function defines a new hash table test, named name.

After defining name in this way, you can use it as the test argument in make-hash-table. When you do that, the hash table will use test-fn to compare key values, and hash-fn to compute a "hash code" from a key value.

The function test-fn should accept two arguments, two keys, and return non-nil if they are considered "the same."

The function hash-fn should accept one argument, a key, and return an integer that is the "hash code" of that key. For good results, the function should use the whole range of integer values for hash codes, including negative integers.

The specified functions are stored in the property list of name under the property hash-table-test; the property value's form is (test-fn hash-fn).

Function: sxhash obj
This function returns a hash code for Lisp object obj. This is an integer which reflects the contents of obj and the other Lisp objects it points to.

If two objects obj1 and obj2 are equal, then (sxhash obj1) and (sxhash obj2) are the same integer.

If the two objects are not equal, the values returned by sxhash are usually different, but not always; but once in a rare while, by luck, you will encounter two distinct-looking objects that give the same result from sxhash.

This example creates a hash table whose keys are strings that are compared case-insensitively.

(defun case-fold-string= (a b)
  (compare-strings a nil nil b nil nil t))

(defun case-fold-string-hash (a)
  (sxhash (upcase a)))

(define-hash-table-test 'case-fold 'case-fold-string= 
                        'case-fold-string-hash))

(make-hash-table :test 'case-fold)

Here is how you could define a hash table test equivalent to the predefined test value equal. The keys can be any Lisp object, and equal-looking objects are considered the same key.

(define-hash-table-test 'contents-hash 'equal 'sxhash)

(make-hash-table :test 'contents-hash)


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7.4 Other Hash Table Functions

Here are some other functions for working with hash tables.

Function: hash-table-p table
This returns non-nil if table is a hash table object.

Function: copy-hash-table table
This function creates and returns a copy of table. Only the table itself is copied--the keys and values are shared.

Function: hash-table-count table
This function returns the actual number of entries in table.

Function: hash-table-test table
This returns the test value that was given when table was created, to specify how to hash and compare keys. See make-hash-table (see section 7.1 Creating Hash Tables).

Function: hash-table-weakness table
This function returns the weak value that was specified for hash table table.

Function: hash-table-rehash-size table
This returns the rehash size of table.

Function: hash-table-rehash-threshold table
This returns the rehash threshold of table.

Function: hash-table-size table
This returns the current nominal size of table.

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8. Symbols

A symbol is an object with a unique name. This chapter describes symbols, their components, their property lists, and how they are created and interned. Separate chapters describe the use of symbols as variables and as function names; see 11. Variables, and 12. Functions. For the precise read syntax for symbols, see 2.3.4 Symbol Type.

You can test whether an arbitrary Lisp object is a symbol with symbolp:

Function: symbolp object
This function returns t if object is a symbol, nil otherwise.
8.1 Symbol Components Symbols have names, values, function definitions and property lists.
8.2 Defining Symbols A definition says how a symbol will be used.
8.3 Creating and Interning Symbols How symbols are kept unique.
8.4 Property Lists Each symbol has a property list for recording miscellaneous information.


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8.1 Symbol Components

Each symbol has four components (or "cells"), each of which references another object:

Print name
The print name cell holds a string that names the symbol for reading and printing. See symbol-name in 8.3 Creating and Interning Symbols.
Value
The value cell holds the current value of the symbol as a variable. When a symbol is used as a form, the value of the form is the contents of the symbol's value cell. See symbol-value in 11.7 Accessing Variable Values.
Function
The function cell holds the function definition of the symbol. When a symbol is used as a function, its function definition is used in its place. This cell is also used to make a symbol stand for a keymap or a keyboard macro, for editor command execution. Because each symbol has separate value and function cells, variables names and function names do not conflict. See symbol-function in 12.8 Accessing Function Cell Contents.
Property list
The property list cell holds the property list of the symbol. See symbol-plist in 8.4 Property Lists.

The print name cell always holds a string, and cannot be changed. The other three cells can be set individually to any specified Lisp object.

The print name cell holds the string that is the name of the symbol. Since symbols are represented textually by their names, it is important not to have two symbols with the same name. The Lisp reader ensures this: every time it reads a symbol, it looks for an existing symbol with the specified name before it creates a new one. (In GNU Emacs Lisp, this lookup uses a hashing algorithm and an obarray; see 8.3 Creating and Interning Symbols.)

The value cell holds the symbol's value as a variable (see section 11. Variables). That is what you get if you evaluate the symbol as a Lisp expression (see section 9. Evaluation). Any Lisp object is a legitimate value. Certain symbols have values that cannot be changed; these include nil and t, and any symbol whose name starts with `:' (those are called keywords). See section 11.2 Variables that Never Change.

We often refer to "the function foo" when we really mean the function stored in the function cell of the symbol foo. We make the distinction explicit only when necessary. In normal usage, the function cell usually contains a function (see section 12. Functions) or a macro (see section 13. Macros), as that is what the Lisp interpreter expects to see there (see section 9. Evaluation). Keyboard macros (see section 21.15 Keyboard Macros), keymaps (see section 22. Keymaps) and autoload objects (see section 9.2.8 Autoloading) are also sometimes stored in the function cells of symbols.

The property list cell normally should hold a correctly formatted property list (see section 8.4 Property Lists), as a number of functions expect to see a property list there.

The function cell or the value cell may be void, which means that the cell does not reference any object. (This is not the same thing as holding the symbol void, nor the same as holding the symbol nil.) Examining a function or value cell that is void results in an error, such as `Symbol's value as variable is void'.

The four functions symbol-name, symbol-value, symbol-plist, and symbol-function return the contents of the four cells of a symbol. Here as an example we show the contents of the four cells of the symbol buffer-file-name:

(symbol-name 'buffer-file-name)
     => "buffer-file-name"
(symbol-value 'buffer-file-name)
     => "/gnu/elisp/symbols.texi"
(symbol-plist 'buffer-file-name)
     => (variable-documentation 29529)
(symbol-function 'buffer-file-name)
     => #<subr buffer-file-name>

Because this symbol is the variable which holds the name of the file being visited in the current buffer, the value cell contents we see are the name of the source file of this chapter of the Emacs Lisp Manual. The property list cell contains the list (variable-documentation 29529) which tells the documentation functions where to find the documentation string for the variable buffer-file-name in the `DOC-version' file. (29529 is the offset from the beginning of the `DOC-version' file to where that documentation string begins--see 24.1 Documentation Basics.) The function cell contains the function for returning the name of the file. buffer-file-name names a primitive function, which has no read syntax and prints in hash notation (see section 2.3.15 Primitive Function Type). A symbol naming a function written in Lisp would have a lambda expression (or a byte-code object) in this cell.


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8.2 Defining Symbols

A definition in Lisp is a special form that announces your intention to use a certain symbol in a particular way. In Emacs Lisp, you can define a symbol as a variable, or define it as a function (or macro), or both independently.

A definition construct typically specifies a value or meaning for the symbol for one kind of use, plus documentation for its meaning when used in this way. Thus, when you define a symbol as a variable, you can supply an initial value for the variable, plus documentation for the variable.

defvar and defconst are special forms that define a symbol as a global variable. They are documented in detail in 11.5 Defining Global Variables. For defining user option variables that can be customized, use defcustom (see section 14. Writing Customization Definitions).

defun defines a symbol as a function, creating a lambda expression and storing it in the function cell of the symbol. This lambda expression thus becomes the function definition of the symbol. (The term "function definition", meaning the contents of the function cell, is derived from the idea that defun gives the symbol its definition as a function.) defsubst and defalias are two other ways of defining a function. See section 12. Functions.

defmacro defines a symbol as a macro. It creates a macro object and stores it in the function cell of the symbol. Note that a given symbol can be a macro or a function, but not both at once, because both macro and function definitions are kept in the function cell, and that cell can hold only one Lisp object at any given time. See section 13. Macros.

In Emacs Lisp, a definition is not required in order to use a symbol as a variable or function. Thus, you can make a symbol a global variable with setq, whether you define it first or not. The real purpose of definitions is to guide programmers and programming tools. They inform programmers who read the code that certain symbols are intended to be used as variables, or as functions. In addition, utilities such as `etags' and `make-docfile' recognize definitions, and add appropriate information to tag tables and the `DOC-version' file. See section 24.2 Access to Documentation Strings.


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8.3 Creating and Interning Symbols

To understand how symbols are created in GNU Emacs Lisp, you must know how Lisp reads them. Lisp must ensure that it finds the same symbol every time it reads the same set of characters. Failure to do so would cause complete confusion.

When the Lisp reader encounters a symbol, it reads all the characters of the name. Then it "hashes" those characters to find an index in a table called an obarray. Hashing is an efficient method of looking something up. For example, instead of searching a telephone book cover to cover when looking up Jan Jones, you start with the J's and go from there. That is a simple version of hashing. Each element of the obarray is a bucket which holds all the symbols with a given hash code; to look for a given name, it is sufficient to look through all the symbols in the bucket for that name's hash code. (The same idea is used for general Emacs hash tables, but they are a different data type; see 7. Hash Tables.)

If a symbol with the desired name is found, the reader uses that symbol. If the obarray does not contain a symbol with that name, the reader makes a new symbol and adds it to the obarray. Finding or adding a symbol with a certain name is called interning it, and the symbol is then called an interned symbol.

Interning ensures that each obarray has just one symbol with any particular name. Other like-named symbols may exist, but not in the same obarray. Thus, the reader gets the same symbols for the same names, as long as you keep reading with the same obarray.

Interning usually happens automatically in the reader, but sometimes other programs need to do it. For example, after the M-x command obtains the command name as a string using the minibuffer, it then interns the string, to get the interned symbol with that name.

No obarray contains all symbols; in fact, some symbols are not in any obarray. They are called uninterned symbols. An uninterned symbol has the same four cells as other symbols; however, the only way to gain access to it is by finding it in some other object or as the value of a variable.

Creating an uninterned symbol is useful in generating Lisp code, because an uninterned symbol used as a variable in the code you generate cannot clash with any variables used in other Lisp programs.

In Emacs Lisp, an obarray is actually a vector. Each element of the vector is a bucket; its value is either an interned symbol whose name hashes to that bucket, or 0 if the bucket is empty. Each interned symbol has an internal link (invisible to the user) to the next symbol in the bucket. Because these links are invisible, there is no way to find all the symbols in an obarray except using mapatoms (below). The order of symbols in a bucket is not significant.

In an empty obarray, every element is 0, so you can create an obarray with (make-vector length 0). This is the only valid way to create an obarray. Prime numbers as lengths tend to result in good hashing; lengths one less than a power of two are also good.

Do not try to put symbols in an obarray yourself. This does not work--only intern can enter a symbol in an obarray properly.

Common Lisp note: In Common Lisp, a single symbol may be interned in several obarrays.

Most of the functions below take a name and sometimes an obarray as arguments. A wrong-type-argument error is signaled if the name is not a string, or if the obarray is not a vector.

Function: symbol-name symbol
This function returns the string that is symbol's name. For example:
(symbol-name 'foo)
     => "foo"

Warning: Changing the string by substituting characters does change the name of the symbol, but fails to update the obarray, so don't do it!

Function: make-symbol name
This function returns a newly-allocated, uninterned symbol whose name is name (which must be a string). Its value and function definition are void, and its property list is nil. In the example below, the value of sym is not eq to foo because it is a distinct uninterned symbol whose name is also `foo'.
(setq sym (make-symbol "foo"))
     => foo
(eq sym 'foo)
     => nil

Function: intern name &optional obarray
This function returns the interned symbol whose name is name. If there is no such symbol in the obarray obarray, intern creates a new one, adds it to the obarray, and returns it. If obarray is omitted, the value of the global variable obarray is used.
(setq sym (intern "foo"))
     => foo
(eq sym 'foo)
     => t

(setq sym1 (intern "foo" other-obarray))
     => foo
(eq sym1 'foo)
     => nil

Common Lisp note: In Common Lisp, you can intern an existing symbol in an obarray. In Emacs Lisp, you cannot do this, because the argument to intern must be a string, not a symbol.

Function: intern-soft name &optional obarray
This function returns the symbol in obarray whose name is name, or nil if obarray has no symbol with that name. Therefore, you can use intern-soft to test whether a symbol with a given name is already interned. If obarray is omitted, the value of the global variable obarray is used.

The argument name may also be a symbol; in that case, the function returns name if name is interned in the specified obarray, and otherwise nil.

(intern-soft "frazzle")        ; No such symbol exists.
     => nil
(make-symbol "frazzle")        ; Create an uninterned one.
     => frazzle
(intern-soft "frazzle")        ; That one cannot be found.
     => nil
(setq sym (intern "frazzle"))  ; Create an interned one.
     => frazzle
(intern-soft "frazzle")        ; That one can be found!
     => frazzle
(eq sym 'frazzle)              ; And it is the same one.
     => t

Variable: obarray
This variable is the standard obarray for use by intern and read.

Function: mapatoms function &optional obarray
This function calls function once with each symbol in the obarray obarray. Then it returns nil. If obarray is omitted, it defaults to the value of obarray, the standard obarray for ordinary symbols.
(setq count 0)
     => 0
(defun count-syms (s)
  (setq count (1+ count)))
     => count-syms
(mapatoms 'count-syms)
     => nil
count
     => 1871

See documentation in 24.2 Access to Documentation Strings, for another example using mapatoms.

Function: unintern symbol &optional obarray
This function deletes symbol from the obarray obarray. If symbol is not actually in the obarray, unintern does nothing. If obarray is nil, the current obarray is used.

If you provide a string instead of a symbol as symbol, it stands for a symbol name. Then unintern deletes the symbol (if any) in the obarray which has that name. If there is no such symbol, unintern does nothing.

If unintern does delete a symbol, it returns t. Otherwise it returns nil.


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8.4 Property Lists

A property list (plist for short) is a list of paired elements stored in the property list cell of a symbol. Each of the pairs associates a property name (usually a symbol) with a property or value. Property lists are generally used to record information about a symbol, such as its documentation as a variable, the name of the file where it was defined, or perhaps even the grammatical class of the symbol (representing a word) in a language-understanding system.

Character positions in a string or buffer can also have property lists. See section 32.19 Text Properties.

The property names and values in a property list can be any Lisp objects, but the names are usually symbols. Property list functions compare the property names using eq. Here is an example of a property list, found on the symbol progn when the compiler is loaded:

(lisp-indent-function 0 byte-compile byte-compile-progn)

Here lisp-indent-function and byte-compile are property names, and the other two elements are the corresponding values.

8.4.1 Property Lists and Association Lists Comparison of the advantages of property lists and association lists.
8.4.2 Property List Functions for Symbols Functions to access symbols' property lists.
8.4.3 Property Lists Outside Symbols Accessing property lists stored elsewhere.


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8.4.1 Property Lists and Association Lists

Association lists (see section 5.8 Association Lists) are very similar to property lists. In contrast to association lists, the order of the pairs in the property list is not significant since the property names must be distinct.

Property lists are better than association lists for attaching information to various Lisp function names or variables. If your program keeps all of its associations in one association list, it will typically need to search that entire list each time it checks for an association. This could be slow. By contrast, if you keep the same information in the property lists of the function names or variables themselves, each search will scan only the length of one property list, which is usually short. This is why the documentation for a variable is recorded in a property named variable-documentation. The byte compiler likewise uses properties to record those functions needing special treatment.

However, association lists have their own advantages. Depending on your application, it may be faster to add an association to the front of an association list than to update a property. All properties for a symbol are stored in the same property list, so there is a possibility of a conflict between different uses of a property name. (For this reason, it is a good idea to choose property names that are probably unique, such as by beginning the property name with the program's usual name-prefix for variables and functions.) An association list may be used like a stack where associations are pushed on the front of the list and later discarded; this is not possible with a property list.


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8.4.2 Property List Functions for Symbols

Function: symbol-plist symbol
This function returns the property list of symbol.

Function: setplist symbol plist
This function sets symbol's property list to plist. Normally, plist should be a well-formed property list, but this is not enforced.
(setplist 'foo '(a 1 b (2 3) c nil))
     => (a 1 b (2 3) c nil)
(symbol-plist 'foo)
     => (a 1 b (2 3) c nil)

For symbols in special obarrays, which are not used for ordinary purposes, it may make sense to use the property list cell in a nonstandard fashion; in fact, the abbrev mechanism does so (see section 36. Abbrevs and Abbrev Expansion).

Function: get symbol property
This function finds the value of the property named property in symbol's property list. If there is no such property, nil is returned. Thus, there is no distinction between a value of nil and the absence of the property.

The name property is compared with the existing property names using eq, so any object is a legitimate property.

See put for an example.

Function: put symbol property value
This function puts value onto symbol's property list under the property name property, replacing any previous property value. The put function returns value.
(put 'fly 'verb 'transitive)
     =>'transitive
(put 'fly 'noun '(a buzzing little bug))
     => (a buzzing little bug)
(get 'fly 'verb)
     => transitive
(symbol-plist 'fly)
     => (verb transitive noun (a buzzing little bug))


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8.4.3 Property Lists Outside Symbols

These functions are useful for manipulating property lists that are stored in places other than symbols:

Function: plist-get plist property
This returns the value of the property property stored in the property list plist. For example,
(plist-get '(foo 4) 'foo)
     => 4

Function: plist-put plist property value
This stores value as the value of the property property in the property list plist. It may modify plist destructively, or it may construct a new list structure without altering the old. The function returns the modified property list, so you can store that back in the place where you got plist. For example,
(setq my-plist '(bar t foo 4))
     => (bar t foo 4)
(setq my-plist (plist-put my-plist 'foo 69))
     => (bar t foo 69)
(setq my-plist (plist-put my-plist 'quux '(a)))
     => (bar t foo 69 quux (a))

You could define put in terms of plist-put as follows:

(defun put (symbol prop value)
  (setplist symbol
            (plist-put (symbol-plist symbol) prop value)))

Function: plist-member plist property
This returns non-nil if plist contains the given property. Unlike plist-get, this allows you to distinguish between a missing property and a property with the value nil. The value is actually the tail of plist whose car is property.

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9. Evaluation

The evaluation of expressions in Emacs Lisp is performed by the Lisp interpreter---a program that receives a Lisp object as input and computes its value as an expression. How it does this depends on the data type of the object, according to rules described in this chapter. The interpreter runs automatically to evaluate portions of your program, but can also be called explicitly via the Lisp primitive function eval.

9.1 Introduction to Evaluation Evaluation in the scheme of things.
9.2 Kinds of Forms How various sorts of objects are evaluated.
9.3 Quoting Avoiding evaluation (to put constants in the program).
9.4 Eval How to invoke the Lisp interpreter explicitly.


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9.1 Introduction to Evaluation

The Lisp interpreter, or evaluator, is the program that computes the value of an expression that is given to it. When a function written in Lisp is called, the evaluator computes the value of the function by evaluating the expressions in the function body. Thus, running any Lisp program really means running the Lisp interpreter.

How the evaluator handles an object depends primarily on the data type of the object.

A Lisp object that is intended for evaluation is called an expression or a form. The fact that expressions are data objects and not merely text is one of the fundamental differences between Lisp-like languages and typical programming languages. Any object can be evaluated, but in practice only numbers, symbols, lists and strings are evaluated very often.

It is very common to read a Lisp expression and then evaluate the expression, but reading and evaluation are separate activities, and either can be performed alone. Reading per se does not evaluate anything; it converts the printed representation of a Lisp object to the object itself. It is up to the caller of read whether this object is a form to be evaluated, or serves some entirely different purpose. See section 19.3 Input Functions.

Do not confuse evaluation with command key interpretation. The editor command loop translates keyboard input into a command (an interactively callable function) using the active keymaps, and then uses call-interactively to invoke the command. The execution of the command itself involves evaluation if the command is written in Lisp, but that is not a part of command key interpretation itself. See section 21. Command Loop.

Evaluation is a recursive process. That is, evaluation of a form may call eval to evaluate parts of the form. For example, evaluation of a function call first evaluates each argument of the function call, and then evaluates each form in the function body. Consider evaluation of the form (car x): the subform x must first be evaluated recursively, so that its value can be passed as an argument to the function car.

Evaluation of a function call ultimately calls the function specified in it. See section 12. Functions. The execution of the function may itself work by evaluating the function definition; or the function may be a Lisp primitive implemented in C, or it may be a byte-compiled function (see section 16. Byte Compilation).

The evaluation of forms takes place in a context called the environment, which consists of the current values and bindings of all Lisp variables.(3) Whenever a form refers to a variable without creating a new binding for it, the value of the variable's binding in the current environment is used. See section 11. Variables.

Evaluation of a form may create new environments for recursive evaluation by binding variables (see section 11.3 Local Variables). These environments are temporary and vanish by the time evaluation of the form is complete. The form may also make changes that persist; these changes are called side effects. An example of a form that produces side effects is (setq foo 1).

The details of what evaluation means for each kind of form are described below (see section 9.2 Kinds of Forms).


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9.2 Kinds of Forms

A Lisp object that is intended to be evaluated is called a form. How Emacs evaluates a form depends on its data type. Emacs has three different kinds of form that are evaluated differently: symbols, lists, and "all other types". This section describes all three kinds, one by one, starting with the "all other types" which are self-evaluating forms.

9.2.1 Self-Evaluating Forms Forms that evaluate to themselves.
9.2.2 Symbol Forms Symbols evaluate as variables.
9.2.3 Classification of List Forms How to distinguish various sorts of list forms.
9.2.4 Symbol Function Indirection When a symbol appears as the car of a list, we find the real function via the symbol.
9.2.5 Evaluation of Function Forms Forms that call functions.
9.2.6 Lisp Macro Evaluation Forms that call macros.
9.2.7 Special Forms "Special forms" are idiosyncratic primitives, most of them extremely important.
9.2.8 Autoloading Functions set up to load files containing their real definitions.


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9.2.1 Self-Evaluating Forms

A self-evaluating form is any form that is not a list or symbol. Self-evaluating forms evaluate to themselves: the result of evaluation is the same object that was evaluated. Thus, the number 25 evaluates to 25, and the string "foo" evaluates to the string "foo". Likewise, evaluation of a vector does not cause evaluation of the elements of the vector--it returns the same vector with its contents unchanged.

'123               ; A number, shown without evaluation.
     => 123
123                ; Evaluated as usual---result is the same.
     => 123
(eval '123)        ; Evaluated ``by hand''---result is the same.
     => 123
(eval (eval '123)) ; Evaluating twice changes nothing.
     => 123

It is common to write numbers, characters, strings, and even vectors in Lisp code, taking advantage of the fact that they self-evaluate. However, it is quite unusual to do this for types that lack a read syntax, because there's no way to write them textually. It is possible to construct Lisp expressions containing these types by means of a Lisp program. Here is an example:

;; Build an expression containing a buffer object.
(setq print-exp (list 'print (current-buffer)))
     => (print #<buffer eval.texi>)
;; Evaluate it.
(eval print-exp)
     -| #<buffer eval.texi>
     => #<buffer eval.texi>


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9.2.2 Symbol Forms

When a symbol is evaluated, it is treated as a variable. The result is the variable's value, if it has one. If it has none (if its value cell is void), an error is signaled. For more information on the use of variables, see 11. Variables.

In the following example, we set the value of a symbol with setq. Then we evaluate the symbol, and get back the value that setq stored.

(setq a 123)
     => 123
(eval 'a)
     => 123
a
     => 123

The symbols nil and t are treated specially, so that the value of nil is always nil, and the value of t is always t; you cannot set or bind them to any other values. Thus, these two symbols act like self-evaluating forms, even though eval treats them like any other symbol. A symbol whose name starts with `:' also self-evaluates in the same way; likewise, its value ordinarily cannot be changed. See section 11.2 Variables that Never Change.


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9.2.3 Classification of List Forms

A form that is a nonempty list is either a function call, a macro call, or a special form, according to its first element. These three kinds of forms are evaluated in different ways, described below. The remaining list elements constitute the arguments for the function, macro, or special form.

The first step in evaluating a nonempty list is to examine its first element. This element alone determines what kind of form the list is and how the rest of the list is to be processed. The first element is not evaluated, as it would be in some Lisp dialects such as Scheme.


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9.2.4 Symbol Function Indirection

If the first element of the list is a symbol then evaluation examines the symbol's function cell, and uses its contents instead of the original symbol. If the contents are another symbol, this process, called symbol function indirection, is repeated until it obtains a non-symbol. See section 12.3 Naming a Function, for more information about using a symbol as a name for a function stored in the function cell of the symbol.

One possible consequence of this process is an infinite loop, in the event that a symbol's function cell refers to the same symbol. Or a symbol may have a void function cell, in which case the subroutine symbol-function signals a void-function error. But if neither of these things happens, we eventually obtain a non-symbol, which ought to be a function or other suitable object.

More precisely, we should now have a Lisp function (a lambda expression), a byte-code function, a primitive function, a Lisp macro, a special form, or an autoload object. Each of these types is a case described in one of the following sections. If the object is not one of these types, the error invalid-function is signaled.

The following example illustrates the symbol indirection process. We use fset to set the function cell of a symbol and symbol-function to get the function cell contents (see section 12.8 Accessing Function Cell Contents). Specifically, we store the symbol car into the function cell of first, and the symbol first into the function cell of erste.

;; Build this function cell linkage:
;;   -------------       -----        -------        -------
;;  | #<subr car> | <-- | car |  <-- | first |  <-- | erste |
;;   -------------       -----        -------        -------
(symbol-function 'car)
     => #<subr car>
(fset 'first 'car)
     => car
(fset 'erste 'first)
     => first
(erste '(1 2 3))   ; Call the function referenced by erste.
     => 1

By contrast, the following example calls a function without any symbol function indirection, because the first element is an anonymous Lisp function, not a symbol.

((lambda (arg) (erste arg))
 '(1 2 3)) 
     => 1

Executing the function itself evaluates its body; this does involve symbol function indirection when calling erste.

The built-in function indirect-function provides an easy way to perform symbol function indirection explicitly.

Function: indirect-function function
This function returns the meaning of function as a function. If function is a symbol, then it finds function's function definition and starts over with that value. If function is not a symbol, then it returns function itself.

Here is how you could define indirect-function in Lisp:

(defun indirect-function (function)
  (if (symbolp function)
      (indirect-function (symbol-function function))
    function))


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9.2.5 Evaluation of Function Forms

If the first element of a list being evaluated is a Lisp function object, byte-code object or primitive function object, then that list is a function call. For example, here is a call to the function +:

(+ 1 x)

The first step in evaluating a function call is to evaluate the remaining elements of the list from left to right. The results are the actual argument values, one value for each list element. The next step is to call the function with this list of arguments, effectively using the function apply (see section 12.5 Calling Functions). If the function is written in Lisp, the arguments are used to bind the argument variables of the function (see section 12.2 Lambda Expressions); then the forms in the function body are evaluated in order, and the value of the last body form becomes the value of the function call.


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9.2.6 Lisp Macro Evaluation

If the first element of a list being evaluated is a macro object, then the list is a macro call. When a macro call is evaluated, the elements of the rest of the list are not initially evaluated. Instead, these elements themselves are used as the arguments of the macro. The macro definition computes a replacement form, called the expansion of the macro, to be evaluated in place of the original form. The expansion may be any sort of form: a self-evaluating constant, a symbol, or a list. If the expansion is itself a macro call, this process of expansion repeats until some other sort of form results.

Ordinary evaluation of a macro call finishes by evaluating the expansion. However, the macro expansion is not necessarily evaluated right away, or at all, because other programs also expand macro calls, and they may or may not evaluate the expansions.

Normally, the argument expressions are not evaluated as part of computing the macro expansion, but instead appear as part of the expansion, so they are computed when the expansion is evaluated.

For example, given a macro defined as follows:

(defmacro cadr (x)
  (list 'car (list 'cdr x)))

an expression such as (cadr (assq 'handler list)) is a macro call, and its expansion is:

(car (cdr (assq 'handler list)))

Note that the argument (assq 'handler list) appears in the expansion.

See section 13. Macros, for a complete description of Emacs Lisp macros.


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9.2.7 Special Forms

A special form is a primitive function specially marked so that its arguments are not all evaluated. Most special forms define control structures or perform variable bindings--things which functions cannot do.

Each special form has its own rules for which arguments are evaluated and which are used without evaluation. Whether a particular argument is evaluated may depend on the results of evaluating other arguments.

Here is a list, in alphabetical order, of all of the special forms in Emacs Lisp with a reference to where each is described.

and
see section 10.3 Constructs for Combining Conditions
catch
see section 10.5.1 Explicit Nonlocal Exits: catch and throw
cond
see section 10.2 Conditionals
condition-case
see section 10.5.3.3 Writing Code to Handle Errors
defconst
see section 11.5 Defining Global Variables
defmacro
see section 13.4 Defining Macros
defun
see section 12.4 Defining Functions
defvar
see section 11.5 Defining Global Variables
function
see section 12.7 Anonymous Functions
if
see section 10.2 Conditionals
interactive
see section 21.3 Interactive Call
let
let*
see section 11.3 Local Variables
or
see section 10.3 Constructs for Combining Conditions
prog1
prog2
progn
see section 10.1 Sequencing
quote
see section 9.3 Quoting
save-current-buffer
see section 27.2 The Current Buffer
save-excursion
see section 30.3 Excursions
save-restriction
see section 30.4 Narrowing
save-window-excursion
see section 28.17 Window Configurations
setq
see section 11.8 How to Alter a Variable Value
setq-default
see section 11.10.2 Creating and Deleting Buffer-Local Bindings
track-mouse
see section 29.13 Mouse Tracking
unwind-protect
see section 10.5 Nonlocal Exits
while
see section 10.4 Iteration
with-output-to-temp-buffer
see section 38.8 Temporary Displays

Common Lisp note: Here are some comparisons of special forms in GNU Emacs Lisp and Common Lisp. setq, if, and catch are special forms in both Emacs Lisp and Common Lisp. defun is a special form in Emacs Lisp, but a macro in Common Lisp. save-excursion is a special form in Emacs Lisp, but doesn't exist in Common Lisp. throw is a special form in Common Lisp (because it must be able to throw multiple values), but it is a function in Emacs Lisp (which doesn't have multiple values).


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9.2.8 Autoloading

The autoload feature allows you to call a function or macro whose function definition has not yet been loaded into Emacs. It specifies which file contains the definition. When an autoload object appears as a symbol's function definition, calling that symbol as a function automatically loads the specified file; then it calls the real definition loaded from that file. See section 15.4 Autoload.


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9.3 Quoting

The special form quote returns its single argument, as written, without evaluating it. This provides a way to include constant symbols and lists, which are not self-evaluating objects, in a program. (It is not necessary to quote self-evaluating objects such as numbers, strings, and vectors.)

Special Form: quote object
This special form returns object, without evaluating it.

Because quote is used so often in programs, Lisp provides a convenient read syntax for it. An apostrophe character (`'') followed by a Lisp object (in read syntax) expands to a list whose first element is quote, and whose second element is the object. Thus, the read syntax 'x is an abbreviation for (quote x).

Here are some examples of expressions that use quote:

(quote (+ 1 2))
     => (+ 1 2)
(quote foo)
     => foo
'foo
     => foo
''foo
     => (quote foo)
'(quote foo)
     => (quote foo)
['foo]
     => [(quote foo)]

Other quoting constructs include function (see section 12.7 Anonymous Functions), which causes an anonymous lambda expression written in Lisp to be compiled, and ``' (see section 13.5 Backquote), which is used to quote only part of a list, while computing and substituting other parts.


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9.4 Eval

Most often, forms are evaluated automatically, by virtue of their occurrence in a program being run. On rare occasions, you may need to write code that evaluates a form that is computed at run time, such as after reading a form from text being edited or getting one from a property list. On these occasions, use the eval function.

The functions and variables described in this section evaluate forms, specify limits to the evaluation process, or record recently returned values. Loading a file also does evaluation (see section 15. Loading).

Note: it is generally cleaner and more flexible to store a function in a data structure, and call it with funcall or apply, than to store an expression in the data structure and evaluate it. Using functions provides the ability to pass information to them as arguments.

Function: eval form
This is the basic function evaluating an expression. It evaluates form in the current environment and returns the result. How the evaluation proceeds depends on the type of the object (see section 9.2 Kinds of Forms).

Since eval is a function, the argument expression that appears in a call to eval is evaluated twice: once as preparation before eval is called, and again by the eval function itself. Here is an example:

(setq foo 'bar)
     => bar
(setq bar 'baz)
     => baz
;; Here eval receives argument foo
(eval 'foo)
     => bar
;; Here eval receives argument bar, which is the value of foo
(eval foo)
     => baz

The number of currently active calls to eval is limited to max-lisp-eval-depth (see below).

Command: eval-region start end &optional stream read-function
This function evaluates the forms in the current buffer in the region defined by the positions start and end. It reads forms from the region and calls eval on them until the end of the region is reached, or until an error is signaled and not handled.

If stream is non-nil, the values that result from evaluating the expressions in the region are printed using stream. See section 19.4 Output Streams.

If read-function is non-nil, it should be a function, which is used instead of read to read expressions one by one. This function is called with one argument, the stream for reading input. You can also use the variable load-read-function (see section 15.1 How Programs Do Loading) to specify this function, but it is more robust to use the read-function argument.

eval-region always returns nil.

Command: eval-current-buffer &optional stream
This is like eval-region except that it operates on the whole buffer.

Variable: max-lisp-eval-depth
This variable defines the maximum depth allowed in calls to eval, apply, and funcall before an error is signaled (with error message "Lisp nesting exceeds max-lisp-eval-depth"). This limit, with the associated error when it is exceeded, is one way that Lisp avoids infinite recursion on an ill-defined function.

The depth limit counts internal uses of eval, apply, and funcall, such as for calling the functions mentioned in Lisp expressions, and recursive evaluation of function call arguments and function body forms, as well as explicit calls in Lisp code.

The default value of this variable is 300. If you set it to a value less than 100, Lisp will reset it to 100 if the given value is reached. Entry to the Lisp debugger increases the value, if there is little room left, to make sure the debugger itself has room to execute.

max-specpdl-size provides another limit on nesting. See section 11.3 Local Variables.

Variable: values
The value of this variable is a list of the values returned by all the expressions that were read, evaluated, and printed from buffers (including the minibuffer) by the standard Emacs commands which do this. The elements are ordered most recent first.
(setq x 1)
     => 1
(list 'A (1+ 2) auto-save-default)
     => (A 3 t)
values
     => ((A 3 t) 1 ...)

This variable is useful for referring back to values of forms recently evaluated. It is generally a bad idea to print the value of values itself, since this may be very long. Instead, examine particular elements, like this:

;; Refer to the most recent evaluation result.
(nth 0 values)
     => (A 3 t)
;; That put a new element on,
;;   so all elements move back one.
(nth 1 values)
     => (A 3 t)
;; This gets the element that was next-to-most-recent
;;   before this example.
(nth 3 values)
     => 1


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10. Control Structures

A Lisp program consists of expressions or forms (see section 9.2 Kinds of Forms). We control the order of execution of these forms by enclosing them in control structures. Control structures are special forms which control when, whether, or how many times to execute the forms they contain.

The simplest order of execution is sequential execution: first form a, then form b, and so on. This is what happens when you write several forms in succession in the body of a function, or at top level in a file of Lisp code--the forms are executed in the order written. We call this textual order. For example, if a function body consists of two forms a and b, evaluation of the function evaluates first a and then b. The result of evaluating b becomes the value of the function.

Explicit control structures make possible an order of execution other than sequential.

Emacs Lisp provides several kinds of control structure, including other varieties of sequencing, conditionals, iteration, and (controlled) jumps--all discussed below. The built-in control structures are special forms since their subforms are not necessarily evaluated or not evaluated sequentially. You can use macros to define your own control structure constructs (see section 13. Macros).

10.1 Sequencing Evaluation in textual order.
10.2 Conditionals if, cond, when, unless.
10.3 Constructs for Combining Conditions and, or, not.
10.4 Iteration while loops.
10.5 Nonlocal Exits Jumping out of a sequence.


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10.1 Sequencing

Evaluating forms in the order they appear is the most common way control passes from one form to another. In some contexts, such as in a function body, this happens automatically. Elsewhere you must use a control structure construct to do this: progn, the simplest control construct of Lisp.

A progn special form looks like this:

(progn a b c ...)

and it says to execute the forms a, b, c, and so on, in that order. These forms are called the body of the progn form. The value of the last form in the body becomes the value of the entire progn. (progn) returns nil.

In the early days of Lisp, progn was the only way to execute two or more forms in succession and use the value of the last of them. But programmers found they often needed to use a progn in the body of a function, where (at that time) only one form was allowed. So the body of a function was made into an "implicit progn": several forms are allowed just as in the body of an actual progn. Many other control structures likewise contain an implicit progn. As a result, progn is not used as much as it was many years ago. It is needed now most often inside an unwind-protect, and, or, or in the then-part of an if.

Special Form: progn forms...
This special form evaluates all of the forms, in textual order, returning the result of the final form.
(progn (print "The first form")
       (print "The second form")
       (print "The third form"))
     -| "The first form"
     -| "The second form"
     -| "The third form"
=> "The third form"

Two other control constructs likewise evaluate a series of forms but return a different value:

Special Form: prog1 form1 forms...
This special form evaluates form1 and all of the forms, in textual order, returning the result of form1.
(prog1 (print "The first form")
       (print "The second form")
       (print "The third form"))
     -| "The first form"
     -| "The second form"
     -| "The third form"
=> "The first form"

Here is a way to remove the first element from a list in the variable x, then return the value of that former element:

(prog1 (car x) (setq x (cdr x)))

Special Form: prog2 form1 form2 forms...
This special form evaluates form1, form2, and all of the following forms, in textual order, returning the result of form2.
(prog2 (print "The first form")
       (print "The second form")
       (print "The third form"))
     -| "The first form"
     -| "The second form"
     -| "The third form"
=> "The second form"


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10.2 Conditionals

Conditional control structures choose among alternatives. Emacs Lisp has four conditional forms: if, which is much the same as in other languages; when and unless, which are variants of if; and cond, which is a generalized case statement.

Special Form: if condition then-form else-forms...
if chooses between the then-form and the else-forms based on the value of condition. If the evaluated condition is non-nil, then-form is evaluated and the result returned. Otherwise, the else-forms are evaluated in textual order, and the value of the last one is returned. (The else part of if is an example of an implicit progn. See section 10.1 Sequencing.)

If condition has the value nil, and no else-forms are given, if returns nil.

if is a special form because the branch that is not selected is never evaluated--it is ignored. Thus, in the example below, true is not printed because print is never called.

(if nil 
    (print 'true) 
  'very-false)
=> very-false

Macro: when condition then-forms...
This is a variant of if where there are no else-forms, and possibly several then-forms. In particular,
(when condition a b c)

is entirely equivalent to

(if condition (progn a b c) nil)

Macro: unless condition forms...
This is a variant of if where there is no then-form:
(unless condition a b c)

is entirely equivalent to

(if condition nil
   a b c)

Special Form: cond clause...
cond chooses among an arbitrary number of alternatives. Each clause in the cond must be a list. The CAR of this list is the condition; the remaining elements, if any, the body-forms. Thus, a clause looks like this:
(condition body-forms...)

cond tries the clauses in textual order, by evaluating the condition of each clause. If the value of condition is non-nil, the clause "succeeds"; then cond evaluates its body-forms, and the value of the last of body-forms becomes the value of the cond. The remaining clauses are ignored.

If the value of condition is nil, the clause "fails", so the cond moves on to the following clause, trying its condition.

If every condition evaluates to nil, so that every clause fails, cond returns nil.

A clause may also look like this:

(condition)

Then, if condition is non-nil when tested, the value of condition becomes the value of the cond form.

The following example has four clauses, which test for the cases where the value of x is a number, string, buffer and symbol, respectively:

(cond ((numberp x) x)
      ((stringp x) x)
      ((bufferp x)
       (setq temporary-hack x) ; multiple body-forms
       (buffer-name x))        ; in one clause
      ((symbolp x) (symbol-value x)))

Often we want to execute the last clause whenever none of the previous clauses was successful. To do this, we use t as the condition of the last clause, like this: (t body-forms). The form t evaluates to t, which is never nil, so this clause never fails, provided the cond gets to it at all.

For example,

(setq a 5)
(cond ((eq a 'hack) 'foo)
      (t "default"))
=> "default"

This cond expression returns foo if the value of a is hack, and returns the string "default" otherwise.

Any conditional construct can be expressed with cond or with if. Therefore, the choice between them is a matter of style. For example:

(if a b c)
==
(cond (a b) (t c))


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10.3 Constructs for Combining Conditions

This section describes three constructs that are often used together with if and cond to express complicated conditions. The constructs and and or can also be used individually as kinds of multiple conditional constructs.

Function: not condition
This function tests for the falsehood of condition. It returns t if condition is nil, and nil otherwise. The function not is identical to null, and we recommend using the name null if you are testing for an empty list.

Special Form: and conditions...
The and special form tests whether all the conditions are true. It works by evaluating the conditions one by one in the order written.

If any of the conditions evaluates to nil, then the result of the and must be nil regardless of the remaining conditions; so and returns nil right away, ignoring the remaining conditions.

If all the conditions turn out non-nil, then the value of the last of them becomes the value of the and form. Just (and), with no conditions, returns t, appropriate because all the conditions turned out non-nil. (Think about it; which one did not?)

Here is an example. The first condition returns the integer 1, which is not nil. Similarly, the second condition returns the integer 2, which is not nil. The third condition is nil, so the remaining condition is never evaluated.

(and (print 1) (print 2) nil (print 3))
     -| 1
     -| 2
=> nil

Here is a more realistic example of using and:

(if (and (consp foo) (eq (car foo) 'x))
    (message "foo is a list starting with x"))

Note that (car foo) is not executed if (consp foo) returns nil, thus avoiding an error.

and can be expressed in terms of either if or cond. For example:

(and arg1 arg2 arg3)
==
(if arg1 (if arg2 arg3))
==
(cond (arg1 (cond (arg2 arg3))))

Special Form: or conditions...
The or special form tests whether at least one of the conditions is true. It works by evaluating all the conditions one by one in the order written.

If any of the conditions evaluates to a non-nil value, then the result of the or must be non-nil; so or returns right away, ignoring the remaining conditions. The value it returns is the non-nil value of the condition just evaluated.

If all the conditions turn out nil, then the or expression returns nil. Just (or), with no conditions, returns nil, appropriate because all the conditions turned out nil. (Think about it; which one did not?)

For example, this expression tests whether x is either nil or the integer zero:

(or (eq x nil) (eq x 0))

Like the and construct, or can be written in terms of cond. For example:

(or arg1 arg2 arg3)
==
(cond (arg1)
      (arg2)
      (arg3))

You could almost write or in terms of if, but not quite:

(if arg1 arg1
  (if arg2 arg2 
    arg3))

This is not completely equivalent because it can evaluate arg1 or arg2 twice. By contrast, (or arg1 arg2 arg3) never evaluates any argument more than once.


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10.4 Iteration

Iteration means executing part of a program repetitively. For example, you might want to repeat some computation once for each element of a list, or once for each integer from 0 to n. You can do this in Emacs Lisp with the special form while:

Special Form: while condition forms...
while first evaluates condition. If the result is non-nil, it evaluates forms in textual order. Then it reevaluates condition, and if the result is non-nil, it evaluates forms again. This process repeats until condition evaluates to nil.

There is no limit on the number of iterations that may occur. The loop will continue until either condition evaluates to nil or until an error or throw jumps out of it (see section 10.5 Nonlocal Exits).

The value of a while form is always nil.

(setq num 0)
     => 0
(while (< num 4)
  (princ (format "Iteration %d." num))
  (setq num (1+ num)))
     -| Iteration 0.
     -| Iteration 1.
     -| Iteration 2.
     -| Iteration 3.
     => nil

To write a "repeat...until" loop, which will execute something on each iteration and then do the end-test, put the body followed by the end-test in a progn as the first argument of while, as shown here:

(while (progn
         (forward-line 1)
         (not (looking-at "^$"))))

This moves forward one line and continues moving by lines until it reaches an empty line. It is peculiar in that the while has no body, just the end test (which also does the real work of moving point).

The dolist and dotimes macros provide convenient ways to write two common kinds of loops.

Macro: dolist (var list [result]) body...
This construct executes body once for each element of list, using the variable var to hold the current element. Then it returns the value of evaluating result, or nil if result is omitted. For example, here is how you could use dolist to define the reverse function:
(defun reverse (list)
  (let (value)
    (dolist (elt list value)
      (setq value (cons elt value)))))

Macro: dotimes (var count [result]) body...
This construct executes body once for each integer from 0 (inclusive) to count (exclusive), using the variable var to hold the integer for the current iteration. Then it returns the value of evaluating result, or nil if result is omitted. Here is an example of using dotimes do something 100 times:
(dotimes (i 100)
  (insert "I will not obey absurd orders\n"))


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10.5 Nonlocal Exits

A nonlocal exit is a transfer of control from one point in a program to another remote point. Nonlocal exits can occur in Emacs Lisp as a result of errors; you can also use them under explicit control. Nonlocal exits unbind all variable bindings made by the constructs being exited.

10.5.1 Explicit Nonlocal Exits: catch and throw Nonlocal exits for the program's own purposes.
10.5.2 Examples of catch and throw Showing how such nonlocal exits can be written.
10.5.3 Errors How errors are signaled and handled.
10.5.4 Cleaning Up from Nonlocal Exits Arranging to run a cleanup form if an error happens.


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10.5.1 Explicit Nonlocal Exits: catch and throw

Most control constructs affect only the flow of control within the construct itself. The function throw is the exception to this rule of normal program execution: it performs a nonlocal exit on request. (There are other exceptions, but they are for error handling only.) throw is used inside a catch, and jumps back to that catch. For example:

(defun foo-outer ()
  (catch 'foo
    (foo-inner)))

(defun foo-inner ()
  ...
  (if x
      (throw 'foo t))
  ...)

The throw form, if executed, transfers control straight back to the corresponding catch, which returns immediately. The code following the throw is not executed. The second argument of throw is used as the return value of the catch.

The function throw finds the matching catch based on the first argument: it searches for a catch whose first argument is eq to the one specified in the throw. If there is more than one applicable catch, the innermost one takes precedence. Thus, in the above example, the throw specifies foo, and the catch in foo-outer specifies the same symbol, so that catch is the applicable one (assuming there is no other matching catch in between).

Executing throw exits all Lisp constructs up to the matching catch, including function calls. When binding constructs such as let or function calls are exited in this way, the bindings are unbound, just as they are when these constructs exit normally (see section 11.3 Local Variables). Likewise, throw restores the buffer and position saved by save-excursion (see section 30.3 Excursions), and the narrowing status saved by save-restriction and the window selection saved by save-window-excursion (see section 28.17 Window Configurations). It also runs any cleanups established with the unwind-protect special form when it exits that form (see section 10.5.4 Cleaning Up from Nonlocal Exits).

The throw need not appear lexically within the catch that it jumps to. It can equally well be called from another function called within the catch. As long as the throw takes place chronologically after entry to the catch, and chronologically before exit from it, it has access to that catch. This is why throw can be used in commands such as exit-recursive-edit that throw back to the editor command loop (see section 21.12 Recursive Editing).

Common Lisp note: Most other versions of Lisp, including Common Lisp, have several ways of transferring control nonsequentially: return, return-from, and go, for example. Emacs Lisp has only throw.

Special Form: catch tag body...
catch establishes a return point for the throw function. The return point is distinguished from other such return points by tag, which may be any Lisp object except nil. The argument tag is evaluated normally before the return point is established.

With the return point in effect, catch evaluates the forms of the body in textual order. If the forms execute normally (without error or nonlocal exit) the value of the last body form is returned from the catch.

If a throw is executed during the execution of body, specifying the same value tag, the catch form exits immediately; the value it returns is whatever was specified as the second argument of throw.

Function: throw tag value
The purpose of throw is to return from a return point previously established with catch. The argument tag is used to choose among the various existing return points; it must be eq to the value specified in the catch. If multiple return points match tag, the innermost one is used.

The argument value is used as the value to return from that catch.

If no return point is in effect with tag tag, then a no-catch error is signaled with data (tag value).


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10.5.2 Examples of catch and throw

One way to use catch and throw is to exit from a doubly nested loop. (In most languages, this would be done with a "go to".) Here we compute (foo i j) for i and j varying from 0 to 9:

(defun search-foo ()
  (catch 'loop
    (let ((i 0))
      (while (< i 10)
        (let ((j 0))
          (while (< j 10)
            (if (foo i j)
                (throw 'loop (list i j)))
            (setq j (1+ j))))
        (setq i (1+ i))))))

If foo ever returns non-nil, we stop immediately and return a list of i and j. If foo always returns nil, the catch returns normally, and the value is nil, since that is the result of the while.

Here are two tricky examples, slightly different, showing two return points at once. First, two return points with the same tag, hack:

(defun catch2 (tag)
  (catch tag
    (throw 'hack 'yes)))
=> catch2

(catch 'hack 
  (print (catch2 'hack))
  'no)
-| yes
=> no

Since both return points have tags that match the throw, it goes to the inner one, the one established in catch2. Therefore, catch2 returns normally with value yes, and this value is printed. Finally the second body form in the outer catch, which is 'no, is evaluated and returned from the outer catch.

Now let's change the argument given to catch2:

(catch 'hack
  (print (catch2 'quux))
  'no)
=> yes

We still have two return points, but this time only the outer one has the tag hack; the inner one has the tag quux instead. Therefore, throw makes the outer catch return the value yes. The function print is never called, and the body-form 'no is never evaluated.


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10.5.3 Errors

When Emacs Lisp attempts to evaluate a form that, for some reason, cannot be evaluated, it signals an error.

When an error is signaled, Emacs's default reaction is to print an error message and terminate execution of the current command. This is the right thing to do in most cases, such as if you type C-f at the end of the buffer.

In complicated programs, simple termination may not be what you want. For example, the program may have made temporary changes in data structures, or created temporary buffers that should be deleted before the program is finished. In such cases, you would use unwind-protect to establish cleanup expressions to be evaluated in case of error. (See section 10.5.4 Cleaning Up from Nonlocal Exits.) Occasionally, you may wish the program to continue execution despite an error in a subroutine. In these cases, you would use condition-case to establish error handlers to recover control in case of error.

Resist the temptation to use error handling to transfer control from one part of the program to another; use catch and throw instead. See section 10.5.1 Explicit Nonlocal Exits: catch and throw.

10.5.3.1 How to Signal an Error How to report an error.
10.5.3.2 How Emacs Processes Errors What Emacs does when you report an error.
10.5.3.3 Writing Code to Handle Errors How you can trap errors and continue execution.
10.5.3.4 Error Symbols and Condition Names How errors are classified for trapping them.


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10.5.3.1 How to Signal an Error

Most errors are signaled "automatically" within Lisp primitives which you call for other purposes, such as if you try to take the CAR of an integer or move forward a character at the end of the buffer. You can also signal errors explicitly with the functions error and signal.

Quitting, which happens when the user types C-g, is not considered an error, but it is handled almost like an error. See section 21.10 Quitting.

The error message should state what is wrong ("File does not exist"), not how things ought to be ("File must exist"). The convention in Emacs Lisp is that error messages should start with a capital letter, but should not end with any sort of punctuation.

Function: error format-string &rest args
This function signals an error with an error message constructed by applying format (see section 4.6 Conversion of Characters and Strings) to format-string and args.

These examples show typical uses of error:

(error "That is an error -- try something else")
     error--> That is an error -- try something else

(error "You have committed %d errors" 10)
     error--> You have committed 10 errors

error works by calling signal with two arguments: the error symbol error, and a list containing the string returned by format.

Warning: If you want to use your own string as an error message verbatim, don't just write (error string). If string contains `%', it will be interpreted as a format specifier, with undesirable results. Instead, use (error "%s" string).

Function: signal error-symbol data
This function signals an error named by error-symbol. The argument data is a list of additional Lisp objects relevant to the circumstances of the error.

The argument error-symbol must be an error symbol---a symbol bearing a property error-conditions whose value is a list of condition names. This is how Emacs Lisp classifies different sorts of errors.

The number and significance of the objects in data depends on error-symbol. For example, with a wrong-type-arg error, there should be two objects in the list: a predicate that describes the type that was expected, and the object that failed to fit that type. See section 10.5.3.4 Error Symbols and Condition Names, for a description of error symbols.

Both error-symbol and data are available to any error handlers that handle the error: condition-case binds a local variable to a list of the form (error-symbol . data) (see section 10.5.3.3 Writing Code to Handle Errors). If the error is not handled, these two values are used in printing the error message.

The function signal never returns (though in older Emacs versions it could sometimes return).

(signal 'wrong-number-of-arguments '(x y))
     error--> Wrong number of arguments: x, y

(signal 'no-such-error '("My unknown error condition"))
     error--> peculiar error: "My unknown error condition"

Common Lisp note: Emacs Lisp has nothing like the Common Lisp concept of continuable errors.


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10.5.3.2 How Emacs Processes Errors

When an error is signaled, signal searches for an active handler for the error. A handler is a sequence of Lisp expressions designated to be executed if an error happens in part of the Lisp program. If the error has an applicable handler, the handler is executed, and control resumes following the handler. The handler executes in the environment of the condition-case that established it; all functions called within that condition-case have already been exited, and the handler cannot return to them.

If there is no applicable handler for the error, the current command is terminated and control returns to the editor command loop, because the command loop has an implicit handler for all kinds of errors. The command loop's handler uses the error symbol and associated data to print an error message.

An error that has no explicit handler may call the Lisp debugger. The debugger is enabled if the variable debug-on-error (see section 18.1.1 Entering the Debugger on an Error) is non-nil. Unlike error handlers, the debugger runs in the environment of the error, so that you can examine values of variables precisely as they were at the time of the error.


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10.5.3.3 Writing Code to Handle Errors

The usual effect of signaling an error is to terminate the command that is running and return immediately to the Emacs editor command loop. You can arrange to trap errors occurring in a part of your program by establishing an error handler, with the special form condition-case. A simple example looks like this:

(condition-case nil
    (delete-file filename)
  (error nil))

This deletes the file named filename, catching any error and returning nil if an error occurs.

The second argument of condition-case is called the protected form. (In the example above, the protected form is a call to delete-file.) The error handlers go into effect when this form begins execution and are deactivated when this form returns. They remain in effect for all the intervening time. In particular, they are in effect during the execution of functions called by this form, in their subroutines, and so on. This is a good thing, since, strictly speaking, errors can be signaled only by Lisp primitives (including signal and error) called by the protected form, not by the protected form itself.

The arguments after the protected form are handlers. Each handler lists one or more condition names (which are symbols) to specify which errors it will handle. The error symbol specified when an error is signaled also defines a list of condition names. A handler applies to an error if they have any condition names in common. In the example above, there is one handler, and it specifies one condition name, error, which covers all errors.

The search for an applicable handler checks all the established handlers starting with the most recently established one. Thus, if two nested condition-case forms offer to handle the same error, the inner of the two gets to handle it.

If an error is handled by some condition-case form, this ordinarily prevents the debugger from being run, even if debug-on-error says this error should invoke the debugger. See section 18.1.1 Entering the Debugger on an Error. If you want to be able to debug errors that are caught by a condition-case, set the variable debug-on-signal to a non-nil value.

When an error is handled, control returns to the handler. Before this happens, Emacs unbinds all variable bindings made by binding constructs that are being exited and executes the cleanups of all unwind-protect forms that are exited. Once control arrives at the handler, the body of the handler is executed.

After execution of the handler body, execution returns from the condition-case form. Because the protected form is exited completely before execution of the handler, the handler cannot resume execution at the point of the error, nor can it examine variable bindings that were made within the protected form. All it can do is clean up and proceed.

The condition-case construct is often used to trap errors that are predictable, such as failure to open a file in a call to insert-file-contents. It is also used to trap errors that are totally unpredictable, such as when the program evaluates an expression read from the user.

Error signaling and handling have some resemblance to throw and catch (see section 10.5.1 Explicit Nonlocal Exits: catch and throw), but they are entirely separate facilities. An error cannot be caught by a catch, and a throw cannot be handled by an error handler (though using throw when there is no suitable catch signals an error that can be handled).

Special Form: condition-case var protected-form handlers...
This special form establishes the error handlers handlers around the execution of protected-form. If protected-form executes without error, the value it returns becomes the value of the condition-case form; in this case, the condition-case has no effect. The condition-case form makes a difference when an error occurs during protected-form.

Each of the handlers is a list of the form (conditions body...). Here conditions is an error condition name to be handled, or a list of condition names; body is one or more Lisp expressions to be executed when this handler handles an error. Here are examples of handlers:

(error nil)

(arith-error (message "Division by zero"))

((arith-error file-error)
 (message
  "Either division by zero or failure to open a file"))

Each error that occurs has an error symbol that describes what kind of error it is. The error-conditions property of this symbol is a list of condition names (see section 10.5.3.4 Error Symbols and Condition Names). Emacs searches all the active condition-case forms for a handler that specifies one or more of these condition names; the innermost matching condition-case handles the error. Within this condition-case, the first applicable handler handles the error.

After executing the body of the handler, the condition-case returns normally, using the value of the last form in the handler body as the overall value.

The argument var is a variable. condition-case does not bind this variable when executing the protected-form, only when it handles an error. At that time, it binds var locally to an error description, which is a list giving the particulars of the error. The error description has the form (error-symbol . data). The handler can refer to this list to decide what to do. For example, if the error is for failure opening a file, the file name is the second element of data---the third element of the error description.

If var is nil, that means no variable is bound. Then the error symbol and associated data are not available to the handler.

Function: error-message-string error-description
This function returns the error message string for a given error descriptor. It is useful if you want to handle an error by printing the usual error message for that error.

Here is an example of using condition-case to handle the error that results from dividing by zero. The handler displays the error message (but without a beep), then returns a very large number.

(defun safe-divide (dividend divisor)
  (condition-case err                
      ;; Protected form.
      (/ dividend divisor)              
    ;; The handler.
    (arith-error                        ; Condition.
     ;; Display the usual message for this error.
     (message "%s" (error-message-string err))
     1000000)))
=> safe-divide

(safe-divide 5 0)
     -| Arithmetic error: (arith-error)
=> 1000000

The handler specifies condition name arith-error so that it will handle only division-by-zero errors. Other kinds of errors will not be handled, at least not by this condition-case. Thus,

(safe-divide nil 3)
     error--> Wrong type argument: number-or-marker-p, nil

Here is a condition-case that catches all kinds of errors, including those signaled with error:

(setq baz 34)
     => 34

(condition-case err
    (if (eq baz 35)
        t
      ;; This is a call to the function error.
      (error "Rats!  The variable %s was %s, not 35" 'baz baz))
  ;; This is the handler; it is not a form.
  (error (princ (format "The error was: %s" err)) 
         2))
-| The error was: (error "Rats!  The variable baz was 34, not 35")
=> 2


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10.5.3.4 Error Symbols and Condition Names

When you signal an error, you specify an error symbol to specify the kind of error you have in mind. Each error has one and only one error symbol to categorize it. This is the finest classification of errors defined by the Emacs Lisp language.

These narrow classifications are grouped into a hierarchy of wider classes called error conditions, identified by condition names. The narrowest such classes belong to the error symbols themselves: each error symbol is also a condition name. There are also condition names for more extensive classes, up to the condition name error which takes in all kinds of errors. Thus, each error has one or more condition names: error, the error symbol if that is distinct from error, and perhaps some intermediate classifications.

In order for a symbol to be an error symbol, it must have an error-conditions property which gives a list of condition names. This list defines the conditions that this kind of error belongs to. (The error symbol itself, and the symbol error, should always be members of this list.) Thus, the hierarchy of condition names is defined by the error-conditions properties of the error symbols.

In addition to the error-conditions list, the error symbol should have an error-message property whose value is a string to be printed when that error is signaled but not handled. If the error-message property exists, but is not a string, the error message `peculiar error' is used.

Here is how we define a new error symbol, new-error:

(put 'new-error
     'error-conditions
     '(error my-own-errors new-error))       
=> (error my-own-errors new-error)
(put 'new-error 'error-message "A new error")
=> "A new error"

This error has three condition names: new-error, the narrowest classification; my-own-errors, which we imagine is a wider classification; and error, which is the widest of all.

The error string should start with a capital letter but it should not end with a period. This is for consistency with the rest of Emacs. Naturally, Emacs will never signal new-error on its own; only an explicit call to signal (see section 10.5.3.1 How to Signal an Error) in your code can do this:

(signal 'new-error '(x y))
     error--> A new error: x, y

This error can be handled through any of the three condition names. This example handles new-error and any other errors in the class my-own-errors:

(condition-case foo
    (bar nil t)
  (my-own-errors nil))

The significant way that errors are classified is by their condition names--the names used to match errors with handlers. An error symbol serves only as a convenient way to specify the intended error message and list of condition names. It would be cumbersome to give signal a list of condition names rather than one error symbol.

By contrast, using only error symbols without condition names would seriously decrease the power of condition-case. Condition names make it possible to categorize errors at various levels of generality when you write an error handler. Using error symbols alone would eliminate all but the narrowest level of classification.

See section F. Standard Errors, for a list of all the standard error symbols and their conditions.


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10.5.4 Cleaning Up from Nonlocal Exits

The unwind-protect construct is essential whenever you temporarily put a data structure in an inconsistent state; it permits you to make the data consistent again in the event of an error or throw.

Special Form: unwind-protect body cleanup-forms...
unwind-protect executes the body with a guarantee that the cleanup-forms will be evaluated if control leaves body, no matter how that happens. The body may complete normally, or execute a throw out of the unwind-protect, or cause an error; in all cases, the cleanup-forms will be evaluated.

If the body forms finish normally, unwind-protect returns the value of the last body form, after it evaluates the cleanup-forms. If the body forms do not finish, unwind-protect does not return any value in the normal sense.

Only the body is protected by the unwind-protect. If any of the cleanup-forms themselves exits nonlocally (via a throw or an error), unwind-protect is not guaranteed to evaluate the rest of them. If the failure of one of the cleanup-forms has the potential to cause trouble, then protect it with another unwind-protect around that form.

The number of currently active unwind-protect forms counts, together with the number of local variable bindings, against the limit max-specpdl-size (see section 11.3 Local Variables).

For example, here we make an invisible buffer for temporary use, and make sure to kill it before finishing:

(save-excursion
  (let ((buffer (get-buffer-create " *temp*")))
    (set-buffer buffer)
    (unwind-protect
        body
      (kill-buffer buffer))))

You might think that we could just as well write (kill-buffer (current-buffer)) and dispense with the variable buffer. However, the way shown above is safer, if body happens to get an error after switching to a different buffer! (Alternatively, you could write another save-excursion around the body, to ensure that the temporary buffer becomes current again in time to kill it.)

Emacs includes a standard macro called with-temp-buffer which expands into more or less the code shown above (see section 27.2 The Current Buffer). Several of the macros defined in this manual use unwind-protect in this way.

Here is an actual example derived from an FTP package. It creates a process (see section 37. Processes) to try to establish a connection to a remote machine. As the function ftp-login is highly susceptible to numerous problems that the writer of the function cannot anticipate, it is protected with a form that guarantees deletion of the process in the event of failure. Otherwise, Emacs might fill up with useless subprocesses.

(let ((win nil))
  (unwind-protect
      (progn
        (setq process (ftp-setup-buffer host file))
        (if (setq win (ftp-login process host user password))
            (message "Logged in")
          (error "Ftp login failed")))
    (or win (and process (delete-process process)))))

This example has a small bug: if the user types C-g to quit, and the quit happens immediately after the function ftp-setup-buffer returns but before the variable process is set, the process will not be killed. There is no easy way to fix this bug, but at least it is very unlikely.


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11. Variables

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

In Lisp, unlike most programming languages, programs are represented primarily as Lisp objects and only secondarily as text. The Lisp objects used for variables are symbols: the symbol name is the variable name, and the variable's value is stored in the value cell of the symbol. The use of a symbol as a variable is independent of its use as a function name. See section 8.1 Symbol Components.

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

11.1 Global Variables Variable values that exist permanently, everywhere.
11.2 Variables that Never Change Certain "variables" have values that never change.
11.3 Local Variables Variable values that exist only temporarily.
11.4 When a Variable is "Void" Symbols that lack values.
11.5 Defining Global Variables A definition says a symbol is used as a variable.
11.6 Tips for Defining Variables Robustly Things you should think about when you define a variable.
11.7 Accessing Variable Values Examining values of variables whose names are known only at run time.
11.8 How to Alter a Variable Value Storing new values in variables.
11.9 Scoping Rules for Variable Bindings How Lisp chooses among local and global values.
11.10 Buffer-Local Variables Variable values in effect only in one buffer.
11.11 Frame-Local Variables Variable values in effect only in one frame.
11.12 Possible Future Local Variables New kinds of local values we might add some day.
11.13 File Local Variables Handling local variable lists in files.


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11.1 Global Variables

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

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

(setq x '(a b))

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

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

x => (a b)

assuming the setq form shown above has already been executed.

If you do set the same variable again, the new value replaces the old one:

x
     => (a b)
(setq x 4)
     => 4
x
     => 4


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11.2 Variables that Never Change

In Emacs Lisp, certain symbols normally evaluate to themselves. These include nil and t, as well as any symbol whose name starts with `:' (these are called keywords). These symbols cannot be rebound, nor can their values be changed. Any attempt to set or bind nil or t signals a setting-constant error. The same is true for a keyword (a symbol whose name starts with `:'), if it is interned in the standard obarray, except that setting such a symbol to itself is not an error.

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

Function: keywordp object
function returns t if object is a symbol whose name starts with `:', interned in the standard obarray, and returns nil otherwise.


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11.3 Local Variables

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

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

Establishing a local value saves away the previous value (or lack of one) of the variable. When the life span of the local value is over, the previous value is restored. In the mean time, we say that the previous value is shadowed and not visible. Both global and local values may be shadowed (see section 11.9.1 Scope).

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

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

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

A variable can have more than one local binding at a time (for example, if there are nested let forms that bind it). In such a case, the most recently created local binding that still exists is the current binding of the variable. (This rule is called dynamic scoping; see 11.9 Scoping Rules for Variable Bindings.) If there are no local bindings, the variable's global binding is its current binding. We sometimes call the current binding the most-local existing binding, for emphasis. Ordinary evaluation of a symbol always returns the value of its current binding.

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

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

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

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

(setq Y 2)
     => 2
(let ((Y 1) 
      (Z Y))
  (list Y Z))
     => (1 2)

Special Form: let* (bindings...) forms...
This special form is like let, but it binds each variable right after computing its local value, before computing the local value for the next variable. Therefore, an expression in bindings can reasonably refer to the preceding symbols bound in this let* form. Compare the following example with the example above for let.
(setq Y 2)
     => 2
(let* ((Y 1)
       (Z Y))    ; Use the just-established value of Y.
  (list Y Z))
     => (1 1)

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

Variables can also have buffer-local bindings (see section 11.10 Buffer-Local Variables) and frame-local bindings (see section 11.11 Frame-Local Variables); a few variables have terminal-local bindings (see section 29.2 Multiple Displays). These kinds of bindings work somewhat like ordinary local bindings, but they are localized depending on "where" you are in Emacs, rather than localized in time.

Variable: max-specpdl-size
This variable defines the limit on the total number of local variable bindings and unwind-protect cleanups (see section 10.5 Nonlocal Exits) that are allowed before signaling an error (with data "Variable binding depth exceeds max-specpdl-size").

This limit, with the associated error when it is exceeded, is one way that Lisp avoids infinite recursion on an ill-defined function. max-lisp-eval-depth provides another limit on depth of nesting. See section 9.4 Eval.

The default value is 600. Entry to the Lisp debugger increases the value, if there is little room left, to make sure the debugger itself has room to execute.


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11.4 When a Variable is "Void"

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

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

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

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

makunbound returns symbol.

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

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

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

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

(let ((x 2))
  (let ((x 3))
    (makunbound 'x))     ; Void inner binding, then remove it.
  x)                     ; Now outer let binding is visible.
     => 2

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

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

Function: boundp variable
boundp returns t if variable (a symbol) is not void; more precisely, if its current binding is not void. It returns nil otherwise.
(boundp 'abracadabra)          ; Starts out void.
     => nil
(let ((abracadabra 5))         ; Locally bind it.
  (boundp 'abracadabra))
     => t
(boundp 'abracadabra)          ; Still globally void.
     => nil
(setq abracadabra 5)           ; Make it globally nonvoid.
     => 5
(boundp 'abracadabra)
     => t


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11.5 Defining Global Variables

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

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

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

Special Form: defvar symbol [value [doc-string]]
This special form defines symbol as a variable and can also initialize and document it. The definition informs a person reading your code that symbol is used as a variable that might be set or changed. Note that symbol is not evaluated; the symbol to be defined must appear explicitly in the defvar.

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

If symbol has a buffer-local binding in the current buffer, defvar operates on the default value, which is buffer-independent, not the current (buffer-local) binding. It sets the default value if the default value is void. See section 11.10 Buffer-Local Variables.

When you evaluate a top-level defvar form with C-M-x in Emacs Lisp mode (eval-defun), a special feature of eval-defun arranges to set the variable unconditionally, without testing whether its value is void.

If the doc-string argument appears, it specifies the documentation for the variable. (This opportunity to specify documentation is one of the main benefits of defining the variable.) The documentation is stored in the symbol's variable-documentation property. The Emacs help functions (see section 24. Documentation) look for this property.

If the variable is a user option that users would want to set interactively, you should use `*' as the first character of doc-string. This lets users set the variable conveniently using the set-variable command. Note that you should nearly always use defcustom instead of defvar to define these variables, so that users can use M-x customize and related commands to set them. See section 14. Writing Customization Definitions.

Here are some examples. This form defines foo but does not initialize it:

(defvar foo)
     => foo

This example initializes the value of bar to 23, and gives it a documentation string:

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

The following form changes the documentation string for bar, making it a user option, but does not change the value, since bar already has a value. (The addition (1+ nil) would get an error if it were evaluated, but since it is not evaluated, there is no error.)

(defvar bar (1+ nil)
  "*The normal weight of a bar.")
     => bar
bar
     => 23

Here is an equivalent expression for the defvar special form:

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

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

Special Form: defconst symbol [value [doc-string]]
This special form defines symbol as a value and initializes it. It informs a person reading your code that symbol has a standard global value, established here, that should not be changed by the user or by other programs. Note that symbol is not evaluated; the symbol to be defined must appear explicitly in the defconst.

defconst always evaluates value, and sets the value of symbol to the result if value is given. If symbol does have a buffer-local binding in the current buffer, defconst sets the default value, not the buffer-local value. (But you should not be making buffer-local bindings for a symbol that is defined with defconst.)

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

(defconst pi 3.1415 "Pi to five places.")
     => pi
(setq pi 3)
     => pi
pi
     => 3

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

User option variables are distinguished from other variables either though being declared using defcustom(4) or by the first character of their variable-documentation property. If the property exists and is a string, and its first character is `*', then the variable is a user option.

If a user option variable has a variable-interactive property, the set-variable command uses that value to control reading the new value for the variable. The property's value is used as if it were specified in interactive (see section 21.2.1 Using interactive). However, this feature is largely obsoleted by defcustom (see section 14. Writing Customization Definitions).

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


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11.6 Tips for Defining Variables Robustly

When you define a variable whose value is a function, or a list of functions, use a name that ends in `-function' or `-functions', respectively.

There are several other variable name conventions; here is a complete list:

`...-hook'
The variable is a normal hook (see section 23.6 Hooks).
`...-function'
The value is a function.
`...-functions'
The value is a list of functions.
`...-form'
The value is a form (an expression).
`...-forms'
The value is a list of forms (expressions).
`...-predicate'
The value is a predicate--a function of one argument that returns non-nil for "good" arguments and nil for "bad" arguments.
`...-flag'
The value is significant only as to whether it is nil or not.
`...-program'
The value is a program name.
`...-command'
The value is a whole shell command.
``'-switches'
The value specifies options for a command.

When you define a variable, always consider whether you should mark it as "risky"; see 11.13 File Local Variables.

When defining and initializing a variable that holds a complicated value (such as a keymap with bindings in it), it's best to put the entire computation of the value into the defvar, like this:

(defvar my-mode-map
  (let ((map (make-sparse-keymap)))
    (define-key map "\C-c\C-a" 'my-command)
    ...
    map)
  docstring)

This method has several benefits. First, if the user quits while loading the file, the variable is either still uninitialized or initialized properly, never in-between. If it is still uninitialized, reloading the file will initialize it properly. Second, reloading the file once the variable is initialized will not alter it; that is important if the user has run hooks to alter part of the contents (such as, to rebind keys). Third, evaluating the defvar form with C-M-x will reinitialize the map completely.

Putting so much code in the defvar form has one disadvantage: it puts the documentation string far away from the line which names the variable. Here's a safe way to avoid that:

(defvar my-mode-map nil
  docstring)
(unless my-mode-map
  (let ((map (make-sparse-keymap)))
    (define-key map "\C-c\C-a" 'my-command)
    ...
    (setq my-mode-map map)))

This has all the same advantages as putting the initialization inside the defvar, except that you must type C-M-x twice, once on each form, if you do want to reinitialize the variable.

But be careful not to write the code like this:

(defvar my-mode-map nil
  docstring)
(unless my-mode-map
  (setq my-mode-map (make-sparse-keymap))
  (define-key my-mode-map "\C-c\C-a" 'my-command)
  ...)

This code sets the variable, then alters it, but it does so in more than one step. If the user quits just after the setq, that leaves the variable neither correctly initialized nor void nor nil. Once that happens, reloading the file will not initialize the variable; it will remain incomplete.


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11.7 Accessing Variable Values

The usual way to reference a variable is to write the symbol which names it (see section 9.2.2 Symbol Forms). This requires you to specify the variable name when you write the program. Usually that is exactly what you want to do. Occasionally you need to choose at run time which variable to reference; then you can use symbol-value.

Function: symbol-value symbol
This function returns the value of symbol. This is the value in the innermost local binding of the symbol, or its global value if it has no local bindings.
(setq abracadabra 5)
     => 5
(setq foo 9)
     => 9

;; Here the symbol abracadabra
;;   is the symbol whose value is examined.
(let ((abracadabra 'foo))
  (symbol-value 'abracadabra))
     => foo

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

(symbol-value 'abracadabra)
     => 5

A void-variable error is signaled if the current binding of symbol is void.


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11.8 How to Alter a Variable Value

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

Special Form: setq [symbol form]...
This special form is the most common method of changing a variable's value. Each symbol is given a new value, which is the result of evaluating the corresponding form. The most-local existing binding of the symbol is changed.

setq does not evaluate symbol; it sets the symbol that you write. We say that this argument is automatically quoted. The `q' in setq stands for "quoted."

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

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

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

(setq x 10          ; Notice that x is set before
      y (1+ x))     ;   the value of y is computed.
     => 11             

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Lisp note: In Common Lisp, set always changes the symbol's "special" or dynamic value, ignoring any lexical bindings. In Emacs Lisp, all variables and all bindings are dynamic, so set always affects the most local existing binding.

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

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

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

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

(setq foo '(a b))
     => (a b)

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

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

foo                       ;; foo was changed.
     => (c a b)

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

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


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11.9 Scoping Rules for Variable Bindings

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

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

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

Common Lisp note: Variables declared "special" in Common Lisp are dynamically scoped, like all variables in Emacs Lisp.
11.9.1 Scope Scope means where in the program a value is visible. Comparison with other languages.
11.9.2 Extent Extent means how long in time a value exists.
11.9.3 Implementation of Dynamic Scoping Two ways to implement dynamic scoping.
11.9.4 Proper Use of Dynamic Scoping How to use dynamic scoping carefully and avoid problems.


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11.9.1 Scope

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

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

(defun user ()      ; x is used ``free'' in user.
  (list x))

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

Emacs Lisp uses dynamic scoping because simple implementations of lexical scoping are slow. In addition, every Lisp system needs to offer dynamic scoping at least as an option; if lexical scoping is the norm, there must be a way to specify dynamic scoping instead for a particular variable. It might not be a bad thing for Emacs to offer both, but implementing it with dynamic scoping only was much easier.


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11.9.2 Extent

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

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

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

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

Some Lisp dialects have "closures", objects that are like functions but record additional variable bindings. Emacs Lisp does not have closures.


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11.9.3 Implementation of Dynamic Scoping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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11.9.4 Proper Use of Dynamic Scoping

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

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


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11.10 Buffer-Local Variables

Global and local variable bindings are found in most programming languages in one form or another. Emacs, however, also supports additional, unusual kinds of variable binding: buffer-local bindings, which apply only in one buffer, and frame-local bindings, which apply only in one frame. Having different values for a variable in different buffers and/or frames is an important customization method.

This section describes buffer-local bindings; for frame-local bindings, see the following section, 11.11 Frame-Local Variables. (A few variables have bindings that are local to each terminal; see 29.2 Multiple Displays.)

11.10.1 Introduction to Buffer-Local Variables Introduction and concepts.
11.10.2 Creating and Deleting Buffer-Local Bindings Creating and destroying buffer-local bindings.
11.10.3 The Default Value of a Buffer-Local Variable The default value is seen in buffers that don't have their own buffer-local values.


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11.10.1 Introduction to Buffer-Local Variables

A buffer-local variable has a buffer-local binding associated with a particular buffer. The binding is in effect when that buffer is current; otherwise, it is not in effect. If you set the variable while a buffer-local binding is in effect, the new value goes in that binding, so its other bindings are unchanged. This means that the change is visible only in the buffer where you made it.

The variable's ordinary binding, which is not associated with any specific buffer, is called the default binding. In most cases, this is the global binding.

A variable can have buffer-local bindings in some buffers but not in other buffers. The default binding is shared by all the buffers that don't have their own bindings for the variable. (This includes all newly-created buffers.) If you set the variable in a buffer that does not have a buffer-local binding for it, this sets the default binding (assuming there are no frame-local bindings to complicate the matter), so the new value is visible in all the buffers that see the default binding.

The most common use of buffer-local bindings is for major modes to change variables that control the behavior of commands. For example, C mode and Lisp mode both set the variable paragraph-start to specify that only blank lines separate paragraphs. They do this by making the variable buffer-local in the buffer that is being put into C mode or Lisp mode, and then setting it to the new value for that mode. See section 23.1 Major Modes.

The usual way to make a buffer-local binding is with make-local-variable, which is what major mode commands typically use. This affects just the current buffer; all other buffers (including those yet to be created) will continue to share the default value unless they are explicitly given their own buffer-local bindings.

A more powerful operation is to mark the variable as automatically buffer-local by calling make-variable-buffer-local. You can think of this as making the variable local in all buffers, even those yet to be created. More precisely, the effect is that setting the variable automatically makes the variable local to the current buffer if it is not already so. All buffers start out by sharing the default value of the variable as usual, but setting the variable creates a buffer-local binding for the current buffer. The new value is stored in the buffer-local binding, leaving the default binding untouched. This means that the default value cannot be changed with setq in any buffer; the only way to change it is with setq-default.

Warning: When a variable has buffer-local values in one or more buffers, you can get Emacs very confused by binding the variable with let, changing to a different current buffer in which a different binding is in effect, and then exiting the let. This can scramble the values of the buffer-local and default bindings.

To preserve your sanity, avoid using a variable in that way. If you use save-excursion around each piece of code that changes to a different current buffer, you will not have this problem (see section 30.3 Excursions). Here is an example of what to avoid:

(setq foo 'b)
(set-buffer "a")
(make-local-variable 'foo)
(setq foo 'a)
(let ((foo 'temp))
  (set-buffer "b")
  body...)
foo => 'a      ; The old buffer-local value from buffer `a'
               ;   is now the default value.
(set-buffer "a")
foo => 'temp   ; The local let value that should be gone
               ;   is now the buffer-local value in buffer `a'.

But save-excursion as shown here avoids the problem:

(let ((foo 'temp))
  (save-excursion
    (set-buffer "b")
    body...))

Note that references to foo in body access the buffer-local binding of buffer `b'.

When a file specifies local variable values, these become buffer-local values when you visit the file. See section `File Variables' in The GNU Emacs Manual.


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11.10.2 Creating and Deleting Buffer-Local Bindings

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

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

;; In buffer `b1':
(setq foo 5)                ; Affects all buffers.
     => 5
(make-local-variable 'foo)  ; Now it is local in `b1'.
     => foo
foo                         ; That did not change
     => 5                   ;   the value.
(setq foo 6)                ; Change the value
     => 6                   ;   in `b1'.
foo
     => 6

;; In buffer `b2', the value hasn't changed.
(save-excursion
  (set-buffer "b2")
  foo)
     => 5

Making a variable buffer-local within a let-binding for that variable does not work reliably, unless the buffer in which you do this is not current either on entry to or exit from the let. This is because let does not distinguish between different kinds of bindings; it knows only which variable the binding was made for.

If the variable is terminal-local, this function signals an error. Such variables cannot have buffer-local bindings as well. See section 29.2 Multiple Displays.

Note: Do not use make-local-variable for a hook variable. Instead, use make-local-hook. See section 23.6 Hooks.

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

A peculiar wrinkle of this feature is that binding the variable (with let or other binding constructs) does not create a buffer-local binding for it. Only setting the variable (with set or setq) does so.

The value returned is variable.

Warning: Don't assume that you should use make-variable-buffer-local for user-option variables, simply because users might want to customize them differently in different buffers. Users can make any variable local, when they wish to. It is better to leave the choice to them.

The time to use make-variable-buffer-local is when it is crucial that no two buffers ever share the same binding. For example, when a variable is used for internal purposes in a Lisp program which depends on having separate values in separate buffers, then using make-variable-buffer-local can be the best solution.

Function: local-variable-p variable &optional buffer
This returns t if variable is buffer-local in buffer buffer (which defaults to the current buffer); otherwise, nil.

Function: buffer-local-variables &optional buffer
This function returns a list describing the buffer-local variables in buffer buffer. (If buffer is omitted, the current buffer is used.) It returns an association list (see section 5.8 Association Lists) in which each element contains one buffer-local variable and its value. However, when a variable's buffer-local binding in buffer is void, then the variable appears directly in the resulting list.
(make-local-variable 'foobar)
(makunbound 'foobar)
(make-local-variable 'bind-me)
(setq bind-me 69)
(setq lcl (buffer-local-variables))
    ;; First, built-in variables local in all buffers:
=> ((mark-active . nil)
    (buffer-undo-list . nil)
    (mode-name . "Fundamental")
    ...
    ;; Next, non-built-in buffer-local variables. 
    ;; This one is buffer-local and void:
    foobar
    ;; This one is buffer-local and nonvoid:
    (bind-me . 69))

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

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

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

kill-local-variable returns variable.

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

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

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

The very first thing this function does is run the normal hook change-major-mode-hook (see below).

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

kill-all-local-variables returns nil.

Variable: change-major-mode-hook
The function kill-all-local-variables runs this normal hook before it does anything else. This gives major modes a way to arrange for something special to be done if the user switches to a different major mode. For best results, make this variable buffer-local, so that it will disappear after doing its job and will not interfere with the subsequent major mode. See section 23.6 Hooks.

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


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11.10.3 The Default Value of a Buffer-Local Variable

The global value of a variable with buffer-local bindings is also called the default value, because it is the value that is in effect whenever neither the current buffer nor the selected frame has its own binding for the variable.

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

The special forms defvar and defconst