Killing means erasing text and copying it into the kill ring, from which it can be retrieved by yanking it. Some systems use the terms "cutting" and "pasting" for these operations.
The commonest way of moving or copying text within Emacs is to kill it and later yank elsewhere it in one or more places. This is very safe because Emacs remembers several recent kills, not just the last one. It is versatile, because the many commands for killing syntactic units can also be used for moving those units. But there are other ways of copying text for special purposes.
Emacs has only one kill ring for all buffers, so you can kill text in one buffer and yank it in another buffer.
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-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.
The most basic delete commands are C-d (
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
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).
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.
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
kill-word). See section Words.
backward-kill-sentence). See section Sentences.
kill-sexp). See section Lists and Sexps.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
append-to-buffer does not always append to the text
already in the buffer--only if point in that buffer is at the end.
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
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.
open-rectangle). This pushes the previous contents of the region-rectangle rightward.
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 (
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
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.