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The Mark and the Region

Many Emacs commands operate on an arbitrary contiguous part of the current buffer. To specify the text for such a command to operate on, you set the mark at one end of it, and move point to the other end. The text between point and the mark is called the region. Emacs highlights the region whenever there is one, if you enable Transient Mark mode (see section Transient Mark Mode).

You can move point or the mark to adjust the boundaries of the region. It doesn't matter which one is set first chronologically, or which one comes earlier in the text. Once the mark has been set, it remains where you put it until you set it again at another place. Each Emacs buffer has its own mark, so that when you return to a buffer that had been selected previously, it has the same mark it had before.

Many commands that insert text, such as C-y (yank) and M-x insert-buffer, position point and the mark at opposite ends of the inserted text, so that the region contains the text just inserted.

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

Setting the Mark

Here are some commands for setting the mark:

For example, suppose you wish to convert part of the buffer to all upper-case, using the C-x C-u (upcase-region) command which operates on the text in the region. You can first go to the beginning of the text to be capitalized, type C-SPC to put the mark there, move to the end, and then type C-x C-u. Or, you can set the mark at the end of the text, move to the beginning, and then type C-x C-u.

The most common way to set the mark is with the C-SPC command (set-mark-command). This sets the mark where point is. Then you can move point away, leaving the mark behind.

There are two ways to set the mark with the mouse. You can drag mouse button one across a range of text; that puts point where you release the mouse button, and sets the mark at the other end of that range. Or you can click mouse button three, which sets the mark at point (like C-SPC) and them moves point (like Mouse-1). Both of these methods copy the region into the kill ring in addition to setting the mark; that gives behavior consistent with other window-driven applications, but if you don't want to modify the kill ring, you must use keyboard commands to set the mark. See section Mouse Commands for Editing.

Ordinary terminals have only one cursor, so there is no way for Emacs to show you where the mark is located. You have to remember. The usual solution to this problem is to set the mark and then use it soon, before you forget where it is. Alternatively, you can see where the mark is with the command C-x C-x (exchange-point-and-mark) which puts the mark where point was and point where the mark was. The extent of the region is unchanged, but the cursor and point are now at the previous position of the mark. In Transient Mark mode, this command reactivates the mark.

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

There is no such character as C-SPC in ASCII; when you type SPC while holding down CTRL, what you get on most ordinary terminals is the character C-@. This key is actually bound to set-mark-command. But unless you are unlucky enough to have a terminal where typing C-SPC does not produce C-@, you might as well think of this character as C-SPC. Under X, C-SPC is actually a distinct character, but its binding is still set-mark-command.

Transient Mark Mode

Emacs can highlight the current region, using X Windows. But normally it does not. Why not?

Highlighting the region doesn't work well ordinarily in Emacs, because once you have set a mark, there is always a region (in that buffer). And highlighting the region all the time would be a nuisance.

You can turn on region highlighting by enabling Transient Mark mode. This is a more rigid mode of operation in which the region ``lasts'' only temporarily, so you must set up a region for each command that uses one. In Transient Mark mode, most of the time there is no region; therefore, highlighting the region when it exists is convenient.

To enable Transient Mark mode, type M-x transient-mark-mode. This command toggles the mode, so you can repeat the command to turn off the mode.

Here are the details of Transient Mark mode:

  • To set the mark, type C-SPC (set-mark-command). This makes the mark active; as you move point, you will see the region highlighting change in extent.

  • The mouse commands for specifying the mark also make it active. So do keyboard commands whose purpose is to specify a region, including M-@, C-M-@, M-h, C-M-h, C-x C-p, and C-x h.

  • When the mark is active, you can execute commands that operate on the region, such as killing, indentation, or writing to a file.

  • Any change to the buffer, such as inserting or deleting a character, deactivates the mark. This means any subsequent command that operates on a region will get an error and refuse to operate. You can make the region active again by typing C-x C-x.

  • Commands like M-> and C-s that ``leave the mark behind'' in addition to some other primary purpose do not activate the new mark. You can activate the new region by executing C-x C-x (exchange-point-and-mark).

  • C-s when the mark is active does not alter the mark.

  • Quitting with C-g deactivates the mark.

Transient Mark mode is also sometimes known as ``Zmacs mode'' because the Zmacs editor on the MIT Lisp Machine handled the mark in a similar way.

When multiple windows show the same buffer, they can have different regions, because they can have different values of point (though they all share common one mark position). In Transient Mark mode, each window highlights its own region. The part that is highlighted in the selected window is the region that editing commands use. See section Multiple Windows.

When Transient Mark mode is not enabled, every command that sets the mark also activates it, and nothing ever deactivates it.

Operating on the Region

Once you have a region and the mark is active, here are some of the ways you can operate on the region:

Most commands that operate on the text in the region have the word region in their names.

Commands to Mark Textual Objects

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

M-@ Set mark after end of next word (mark-word). This command and the following one do not move point. C-M-@ Set mark after end of next Lisp expression (mark-sexp). M-h Put region around current paragraph (mark-paragraph). C-M-h Put region around current Lisp defun (mark-defun). C-x h Put region around entire buffer (mark-whole-buffer). C-x C-p Put region around current page (mark-page).

M-@ (mark-word) puts the mark at the end of the next word, while C-M-@ (mark-sexp) puts it at the end of the next Lisp expression. These commands handle arguments just like M-f and C-M-f.

Other commands set both point and mark, to delimit an object in the buffer. For example, M-h (mark-paragraph) moves point to the beginning of the paragraph that surrounds or follows point, and puts the mark at the end of that paragraph (see section Paragraphs). It prepares the region so you can indent, case-convert, or kill a whole paragraph.

C-M-h (mark-defun) similarly puts point before and the mark after the current or following defun (see section Defuns). C-x C-p (mark-page) puts point before the current page, and mark at the end (see section Pages). The mark goes after the terminating page delimiter (to include it), while point goes after the preceding page delimiter (to exclude it). A numeric argument specifies a later page (if positive) or an earlier page (if negative) instead of the current page.

Finally, C-x h (mark-whole-buffer) sets up the entire buffer as the region, by putting point at the beginning and the mark at the end.

In Transient Mark mode, all of these commands activate the mark.

The Mark Ring

Aside from delimiting the region, the mark is also useful for remembering a spot that you may want to go back to. To make this feature more useful, each buffer remembers 16 previous locations of the mark, in the mark ring. Commands that set the mark also push the old mark onto this ring. To return to a marked location, use C-u C-SPC (or C-u C-@); this is the command set-mark-command given a numeric argument. It moves point to where the mark was, and restores the mark from the ring of former marks. Thus, repeated use of this command moves point to all of the old marks on the ring, one by one. The mark positions you move through in this way are not lost; they go to the end of the ring.

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

Many commands that can move long distances, such as M- (beginning-of-buffer), start by setting the mark and saving the old mark on the mark ring. This is to make it easier for you to move back later. Searches set the mark if they move point. You can tell when a command sets the mark because it displays Mark Set in the echo area.

If you want to move back to the same place over and over, the mark ring may not be convenient enough. If so, you can record the position in a register for later retrieval (see section Saving Positions in Registers).

The variable mark-ring-max specifies the maximum number of entries to keep in the mark ring. If that many entries exist and another one is pushed, the last one in the list is discarded. Repeating C-u C-SPC circulates through the positions currently in the ring.

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

The Global Mark Ring

In addition to the ordinary mark ring that belongs to each buffer, Emacs has a single global mark ring. It records a sequence of buffers in which you have recently set the mark, so you can go back to those buffers.

Setting the mark always makes an entry on the current buffer's mark ring. If you have switched buffers since the previous mark setting, the new mark position makes an entry on the global mark ring also. The result is that the global mark ring records a sequence of buffers that you have been in, and, for each buffer, a place where you set the mark.

The command C-x C-SPC (pop-global-mark) jumps to the buffer and position of the latest entry in the global ring. It also rotates the ring, so that successive uses of C-x C-SPC take you to earlier and earlier buffers.

Deletion and Killing

Most commands which erase text from the buffer save it in the kill ring so that you can move or copy it to other parts of the buffer. These commands are known as kill commands. The rest of the commands that erase text do not save it in the kill ring; they are known as delete commands. (This distinction is made only for erasure of text in the buffer.) If you do a kill or delete command by mistake, you can use the C-x u (undo) command to undo it (see section Undoing Changes).

The delete commands include C-d (delete-char) and DEL (delete-backward-char), which delete only one character at a time, and those commands that delete only spaces or newlines. Commands that can destroy significant amounts of nontrivial data generally kill. The commands' names and individual descriptions use the words kill and delete to say which they do.

  • Deletion: Commands for deleting small amounts of text and blank areas.
  • Killing by Lines: How to kill entire lines of text at one time.
  • Other Kill Commands: Commands to kill large regions of text and syntactic units such as words and sentences.


C-d Delete next character (delete-char). DEL Delete previous character (delete-backward-char). M-\ Delete spaces and tabs around point (delete-horizontal-space). M-SPC Delete spaces and tabs around point, leaving one space (just-one-space). C-x C-o Delete blank lines around the current line (delete-blank-lines). M-^ Join two lines by deleting the intervening newline, along with any indentation following it (delete-indentation).

The most basic delete commands are C-d (delete-char) and DEL (delete-backward-char). C-d deletes the character after point, the one the cursor is ``on top of''. This doesn't move point. DEL deletes the character before the cursor, and moves point back. You can delete newlines like any other characters in the buffer; deleting a newline joins two lines. Actually, C-d and DEL aren't always delete commands; when given arguments, they kill instead, since they can erase more than one character this way.

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

C-x C-o (delete-blank-lines) deletes all blank lines after the current line. If the current line is blank, it deletes all blank lines preceding the current line as well (leaving one blank line, the current line).

M-^ (delete-indentation) joins the current line and the previous line, by deleting a newline and all surrounding spaces, usually leaving a single space. See section Indentation.

Killing by Lines

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

The simplest kill command is C-k. If given at the beginning of a line, it kills all the text on the line, leaving it blank. When used on a blank line, it kills the whole line including its newline. To kill an entire non-blank line, go to the beginning and type C-k twice.

More generally, C-k kills from point up to the end of the line, unless it is at the end of a line. In that case it kills the newline following point, thus merging the next line into the current one. Spaces and tabs that you can't see at the end of the line are ignored when deciding which case applies, so if point appears to be at the end of the line, you can be sure C-k will kill the newline.

When C-k is given a positive argument, it kills that many lines and the newlines that follow them (however, text on the current line before point is spared). With a negative argument -n, it kills n lines preceding the current line (together with the text on the current line before point). Thus, C-u - 2 C-k at the front of a line kills the two previous lines.

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

If the variable kill-whole-line is non-nil, C-k at the very beginning of a line kills the entire line including the following newline. This variable is normally nil.

Other Kill Commands

C-w Kill region (from point to the mark) (kill-region). M-d Kill word (kill-word). See section Words. M-DEL Kill word backwards (backward-kill-word). C-x DEL Kill back to beginning of sentence (backward-kill-sentence). See section Sentences. M-k Kill to end of sentence (kill-sentence). C-M-k Kill sexp (kill-sexp). See section Lists and Sexps. M-z char Kill through the next occurrence of char (zap-to-char).

A kill command which is very general is C-w (kill-region), which kills everything between point and the mark. With this command, you can kill any contiguous sequence of characters, if you first set the region around them.

A convenient way of killing is combined with searching: M-z (zap-to-char) reads a character and kills from point up to (and including) the next occurrence of that character in the buffer. A numeric argument acts as a repeat count. A negative argument means to search backward and kill text before point.

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

You can use kill commands in read-only buffers. They don't actually change the buffer, and they beep to warn you of that, but they do copy the text you tried to kill into the kill ring, so you can yank it into other buffers. Most of the kill commands move point across the text they copy in this way, so that successive kill commands build up a single kill ring entry as usual.


Yanking means reinserting text previously killed. This is what some systems call ``pasting''. The usual way to move or copy text is to kill it and then yank it elsewhere one or more times.

C-y Yank last killed text (yank). M-y Replace text just yanked with an earlier batch of killed text (yank-pop). M-w Save region as last killed text without actually killing it (kill-ring-save). C-M-w Append next kill to last batch of killed text (append-next-kill).

The Kill Ring

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

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

C-u C-y leaves the cursor in front of the text, and sets the mark after it. This happens only if the argument is specified with just a C-u, precisely. Any other sort of argument, including C-u and digits, specifies an earlier kill to yank (see section Yanking Earlier Kills).

To copy a block of text, you can use M-w (kill-ring-save), which copies the region into the kill ring without removing it from the buffer. This is approximately equivalent to C-w followed by C-x u, except that M-w does not alter the undo history and does not temporarily change the screen.

Appending Kills

Normally, each kill command pushes a new entry onto the kill ring. However, two or more kill commands in a row combine their text into a single entry, so that a single C-y yanks all the text as a unit, just as it was before it was killed.

Thus, if you want to yank text as a unit, you need not kill all of it with one command; you can keep killing line after line, or word after word, until you have killed it all, and you can still get it all back at once.

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

This is a line *of sample text.

with point shown by *. If you type M-d M-DEL M-d M-DEL, killing alternately forward and backward, you end up with a line of sample as one entry in the kill ring, and This is@ @ text. in the buffer. (Note the double space, which you can clean up with M-SPC or M-q.)

Another way to kill the same text is to move back two words with M-b M-b, then kill all four words forward with C-u M-d. This produces exactly the same results in the buffer and in the kill ring. M-f M-f C-u M-DEL kills the same text, all going backward; once again, the result is the same. The text in the kill ring entry always has the same order that it had in the buffer before you killed it.

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

A kill command following M-w does not append to the text that M-w copied into the kill ring.

Yanking Earlier Kills

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

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

M-y moves the ``last yank'' pointer around the ring, but it does not change the order of the entries in the ring, which always runs from the most recent kill at the front to the oldest one still remembered.

M-y can take a numeric argument, which tells it how many entries to advance the ``last yank'' pointer by. A negative argument moves the pointer toward the front of the ring; from the front of the ring, it moves ``around'' to the last entry and continues forward from there.

Once the text you are looking for is brought into the buffer, you can stop doing M-y commands and it will stay there. It's just a copy of the kill ring entry, so editing it in the buffer does not change what's in the ring. As long as no new killing is done, the ``last yank'' pointer remains at the same place in the kill ring, so repeating C-y will yank another copy of the same previous kill.

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

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

The actual contents of the kill ring are stored in a variable named kill-ring; you can view the entire contents of the kill ring with the command C-h v kill-ring.

Accumulating Text

Usually we copy or move text by killing it and yanking it, but there are other methods convenient for copying one block of text in many places, or for copying many scattered blocks of text into one place. To copy one block to many places, store it in a register (see section Registers). Here we describe the commands to accumulate scattered pieces of text into a buffer or into a file.

M-x append-to-buffer Append region to contents of specified buffer. M-x prepend-to-buffer Prepend region to contents of specified buffer. M-x copy-to-buffer Copy region into specified buffer, deleting that buffer's old contents. M-x insert-buffer Insert contents of specified buffer into current buffer at point. M-x append-to-file Append region to contents of specified file, at the end.

To accumulate text into a buffer, use M-x append-to-buffer. This reads a buffer name, them inserts a copy of the region into the buffer specified. If you specify a nonexistent buffer, append-to-buffer creates the buffer. The text is inserted wherever point is in that buffer. If you have been using the buffer for editing, the copied text goes into the middle of the text of the buffer, wherever point happens to be in it.

Point in that buffer is left at the end of the copied text, so successive uses of append-to-buffer accumulate the text in the specified buffer in the same order as they were copied. Strictly speaking, append-to-buffer does not always append to the text already in the buffer---only if point in that buffer is at the end. However, if append-to-buffer is the only command you use to alter a buffer, then point is always at the end.

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

To retrieve the accumulated text from another buffer, use M-x insert-buffer; this too takes buffername as an argument. It inserts a copy of the text in buffer buffername into the selected buffer. You can alternatively select the other buffer for editing, then optionally move text from it by killing. See section Using Multiple Buffers, for background information on buffers.

Instead of accumulating text within Emacs, in a buffer, you can append text directly into a file with M-x append-to-file, which takes filename as an argument. It adds the text of the region to the end of the specified file. The file is changed immediately on disk.

You should use append-to-file only with files that are not being visited in Emacs. Using it on a file that you are editing in Emacs would change the file behind Emacs's back, which can lead to losing some of your editing.


The rectangle commands operate on rectangular areas of the text: all the characters between a certain pair of columns, in a certain range of lines. Commands are provided to kill rectangles, yank killed rectangles, clear them out, fill them with blanks or text, or delete them. Rectangle commands are useful with text in multicolumn formats, and for changing text into or out of such formats.

When you must specify a rectangle for a command to work on, you do it by putting the mark at one corner and point at the opposite corner. The rectangle thus specified is called the region-rectangle because you control it in about the same way the region is controlled. But remember that a given combination of point and mark values can be interpreted either as a region or as a rectangle, depending on the command that uses them.

If point and the mark are in the same column, the rectangle they delimit is empty. If they are in the same line, the rectangle is one line high. This asymmetry between lines and columns comes about because point (and likewise the mark) is between two columns, but within a line.

C-x r k Kill the text of the region-rectangle, saving its contents as the ``last killed rectangle'' (kill-rectangle). C-x r d Delete the text of the region-rectangle (delete-rectangle). C-x r y Yank the last killed rectangle with its upper left corner at point (yank-rectangle). C-x r o Insert blank space to fill the space of the region-rectangle (open-rectangle). This pushes the previous contents of the region-rectangle rightward. M-x clear-rectangle Clear the region-rectangle by replacing its contents with spaces. M-x string-rectangle RET string RET Insert string on each line of the region-rectangle.

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

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

Note that ``killing'' a rectangle is not killing in the usual sense; the rectangle is not stored in the kill ring, but in a special place that can only record the most recent rectangle killed. This is because yanking a rectangle is so different from yanking linear text that different yank commands have to be used and yank-popping is hard to make sense of.

To yank the last killed rectangle, type C-x r y (yank-rectangle). Yanking a rectangle is the opposite of killing one. Point specifies where to put the rectangle's upper left corner. The rectangle's first line is inserted there, the rectangle's second line is inserted at a position one line vertically down, and so on. The number of lines affected is determined by the height of the saved rectangle.

You can convert single-column lists into double-column lists using rectangle killing and yanking; kill the second half of the list as a rectangle and then yank it beside the first line of the list. See section Two-Column Editing, for another way to edit multi-column text.

You can also copy rectangles into and out of registers with C-x r r r and C-x r i r. See section Saving Rectangles in Registers.

There are two commands for making with blank rectangles: M-x clear-rectangle to blank out existing text, and C-x r o (open-rectangle) to insert a blank rectangle. Clearing a rectangle is equivalent to deleting it and then inserting a blank rectangle of the same size.

The command M-x string-rectangle is similar to C-x r o, but it inserts a specified string instead of blanks. You specify the string with the minibuffer. Since the length of the string specifies how many columns to insert, the width of the region-rectangle does not matter for this command. What does matter is the position of the left edge (which specifies the column position for the insertion in each line) and the range of lines that the rectangle occupies. The previous contents of the text beyond the insertion column are pushed rightward.

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