This chapter describes the Emacs commands that add, remove, or adjust indentation.
delete-indentation). This would cancel out the effect of LFD.
Most programming languages have some indentation convention. For Lisp code, lines are indented according to their nesting in parentheses. The same general idea is used for C code, though many details are different.
Whatever the language, to indent a line, use the TAB command. Each major mode defines this command to perform the sort of indentation appropriate for the particular language. In Lisp mode, TAB aligns the line according to its depth in parentheses. No matter where in the line you are when you type TAB, it aligns the line as a whole. In C mode, TAB implements a subtle and sophisticated indentation style that knows about many aspects of C syntax.
In Text mode, TAB runs the command
indents to the next tab stop column. You can set the tab stops with
To move over the indentation on a line, do M-m
back-to-indentation). This command, given anywhere on a line,
positions point at the first nonblank character on the line.
To insert an indented line before the current line, do C-a C-o TAB. To make an indented line after the current line, use C-e LFD.
If you just want to insert a tab character in the buffer, you can type C-q TAB.
split-line) moves the text from point to the end of
the line vertically down, so that the current line becomes two lines.
C-M-o first moves point forward over any spaces and tabs. Then it
inserts after point a newline and enough indentation to reach the same
column point is on. Point remains before the inserted newline; in this
regard, C-M-o resembles C-o.
To join two lines cleanly, use the M-^
delete-indentation) command. It deletes the indentation at the
front of the current line, and the line boundary as well, replacing them
with a single space. As a special case (useful for Lisp code) the
single space is omitted if the characters to be joined are consecutive
open parentheses or closing parentheses, or if the junction follows
another newline. To delete just the indentation of a line, go to the
beginning of the line and use M-\
delete-horizontal-space), which deletes all spaces and tabs
around the cursor.
If you have a fill prefix, M-^ deletes the fill prefix if it appears after the newline that is deleted. See section The Fill Prefix.
There are also commands for changing the indentation of several lines
at once. C-M-\ (
indent-region) applies to all the lines
that begin in the region; it indents each line in the "usual" way, as
if you had typed TAB at the beginning of the line. A numeric
argument specifies the column to indent to, and each line is shifted
left or right so that its first nonblank character appears in that
column. C-x TAB (
indent-rigidly) moves all of the
lines in the region right by its argument (left, for negative
arguments). The whole group of lines moves rigidly sideways, which is
how the command gets its name.
M-x indent-relative indents at point based on the previous line
(actually, the last nonempty line). It inserts whitespace at point, moving
point, until it is underneath an indentation point in the previous line.
An indentation point is the end of a sequence of whitespace or the end of
the line. If point is farther right than any indentation point in the
previous line, the whitespace before point is deleted and the first
indentation point then applicable is used. If no indentation point is
applicable even then,
(see next section).
indent-relative is the definition of TAB in Indented Text
mode. See section Commands for Human Languages.
For typing in tables, you can use Text mode's definition of TAB,
tab-to-tab-stop. This command inserts indentation before point,
enough to reach the next tab stop column. If you are not in Text mode,
this command can be found on the key M-i.
You can specify the tab stops used by M-i. They are stored in a
tab-stop-list, as a list of column-numbers in
The convenient way to set the tab stops is with M-x edit-tab-stops,
which creates and selects a buffer containing a description of the tab stop
settings. You can edit this buffer to specify different tab stops, and
then type C-c C-c to make those new tab stops take effect. In the
tab stop buffer, C-c C-c runs the function
edit-tab-stops-note-changes rather than its usual definition
edit-tab-stops records which buffer was current
when you invoked it, and stores the tab stops back in that buffer; normally
all buffers share the same tab stops and changing them in one buffer
affects all, but if you happen to make
tab-stop-list local in one
edit-tab-stops in that buffer will edit the local
Here is what the text representing the tab stops looks like for ordinary tab stops every eight columns.
: : : : : : 0 1 2 3 4 0123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678 To install changes, type C-c C-c
The first line contains a colon at each tab stop. The remaining lines are present just to help you see where the colons are and know what to do.
Note that the tab stops that control
tab-to-tab-stop have nothing
to do with displaying tab characters in the buffer. See section Variables Controlling Display,
for more information on that.
Emacs normally uses both tabs and spaces to indent lines. If you prefer,
all indentation can be made from spaces only. To request this, set
nil. This is a per-buffer variable;
altering the variable affects only the current buffer, but there is a
default value which you can change as well. See section Local Variables.
There are also commands to convert tabs to spaces or vice versa, always preserving the columns of all nonblank text. M-x tabify scans the region for sequences of spaces, and converts sequences of at least three spaces to tabs if that can be done without changing indentation. M-x untabify changes all tabs in the region to appropriate numbers of spaces.