Before you start
Learn what to expect from this tutorial, and how to get the most out of it.
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.
This is the seventh in a series of tutorials on learning Emacs (see Resources). Previous tutorials in this series took you through the basics; this intermediate-level, hands-on tutorial builds on what you learned in the early tutorials, and shows those already familiar with the rudimentary controls of Emacs how to obtain assistance from Emacs using the many built-in help features.
Emacs is called the self-documenting editor, because assistance is available from the application for every keystroke or action you make. From describing keystrokes, commands, and functions you give it to reading and browsing the many documentation files and a complete reference manual, you learn all the best ways to get instant help from the Emacs editor.
This tutorial shows you how to obtain help from Emacs in various ways. After working through this tutorial, you'll know how to get descriptions of keystrokes, commands, functions, and read and browse through the many documentation resources that come with this world-famous open source editor.
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" (see Resources).
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:
File system hierarchy
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
$ emacs --version GNU Emacs 22.214.171.124 Copyright (C) 2006 Free Software Foundation, Inc. GNU Emacs comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY. 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. $
You should also have the GNU Emacs documentation installed on your system. Although it's often bundled with the editor, sometimes the Info manual is available separately. Check with your system administrator to make sure you have it installed.