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Emacs editing environment, Part 5: Shape your Emacs view

Get going with this famous open source editor

Michael Stutz, Author, Consultant
Photo of Michael Stutz
Michael Stutz is author of The Linux Cookbook, which he also designed and typeset using only open source software. His research interests include digital publishing and the future of the book. He has used various UNIX operating systems for 20 years.

Summary:  This tutorial, the fifth in a series, shows you how to manage and manipulate the shape your Emacs session—examine how to partition the Emacs screen, create multiple X client windows for a single Emacs session, and display multiple buffers in each window, dividing the screen with horizontal and vertical divisions. You also learn about mouse window control and characteristics so that by the time you're through, you can make your Emacs session look and work the way you want it to.

View more content in this series

Date:  07 Aug 2007
Level:  Intermediate PDF:  A4 and Letter (1247 KB | 26 pages)Get Adobe® Reader®

Activity:  22894 views

Before you start

Learn what to expect from this tutorial, and how to get the most out of it.

About this series

The Emacs editing environment is a favorite of UNIX® developers. It's known around the world as the king of editors, but many users find it has a bit of a learning curve. The Emacs environment doesn't seem intuitive at first glance, and it doesn't work like other editors and word processors. But learning Emacs doesn't have to be difficult. Once you get going, you'll see how intuitive it is and become more comfortable with it after each use. This tutorial series (see Resources) shows you the way, taking you from the basics of Emacs, such as its features, philosophy, key-command layout, and methods for editing text, through many of its powerful editing features.

After completing this series (see Resources), you'll be able to comfortably use Emacs for everyday editing, be well on your way to Emacs proficiency, and have a good feel for many of the advanced capabilities of Emacs.

About this tutorial

This intermediate-level, hands-on tutorial builds on what you learned in previous installments, and shows you how to customize and tool the system for your specific needs.

In this tutorial, you learn how to manage and manipulate the viewport of your Emacs session—the main Emacs X client window and the space inside it that displays buffers and other information. You find out the best way to partition this area for your use, including creating multiple X client windows for a single Emacs session and displaying multiple buffers in each window by dividing the screen with horizontal and vertical divisions. You also examine how to use the mouse to manipulate these divisions.


This tutorial illustrates how to manipulate your view into Emacs: how to partition and divide an Emacs window and how to make more Emacs windows that attach to a single Emacs session.

After working through this tutorial, you'll know how to manipulate frames and the windows they contain, including using mouse techniques to do so.


Before working through this tutorial, you should complete the previous tutorials in this series. They lay down the basic foundation and explain many of the Emacs concepts you use in this tutorial (see Resources).

The special Emacs notation for representing keystrokes, which is used in this tutorial and throughout the series, is described in the introduction of the first tutorial of the series, "Learning the Emacs editing environment, Part 1: The basics of Emacs."

Although this tutorial is written for all levels of UNIX expertise, it's helpful if you have at least a rudimentary understanding of the UNIX file system:

  • Files
  • Directories
  • Permissions
  • File system hierarchy

System requirements

This tutorial requires a user account on any UNIX-based system that has a recent copy of Emacs installed.

There are several varieties of Emacs; the original and most popular is GNU Emacs, which is published online by the GNU Project (see Resources).

You should have a recent copy of GNU Emacs—one that is at version 20 or greater. Versions 20 and 21 are the most commonly available, and development snapshots of version 22 are also available. This tutorial works with any of these versions for Emacs. If your system is running something older, it's time to upgrade.

To know what version of Emacs you have running, use the GNU-style --version flag:

$ emacs --version
GNU Emacs
Copyright (C) 2006 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
You may redistribute copies of Emacs
under the terms of the GNU General Public License.
For more information about these matters, see the file named COPYING.

Because this tutorial deals exclusively with graphical elements of Emacs operation in the X Window System environment, you should also have an X server up and running.

This tutorial uses a two-file sample data set, which is available as a single archive file (see the Downloads section for the link).

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Zone=AIX and UNIX, Open source
TutorialTitle=Emacs editing environment, Part 5: Shape your Emacs view