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GNU Emacs Manual

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M.3.1 Backup Files

On most operating systems, rewriting a file automatically destroys all record of what the file used to contain. Thus, saving a file from Emacs throws away the old contents of the file--or it would, except that Emacs carefully copies the old contents to another file, called the backup file, before actually saving.

For most files, the variable make-backup-files determines whether to make backup files. On most operating systems, its default value is t, so that Emacs does write backup files.

For files managed by a version control system (see section M.7 Version Control), the variable vc-make-backup-files determines whether to make backup files. By default it is nil, since backup files are redundant when you store all the previous versions in a version control system. See section M.7.10.1 General Options.

The default value of the backup-enable-predicate variable prevents backup files being written for files in the directories used for temporary files, specified by temporary-file-directory or small-temporary-file-directory.

At your option, Emacs can keep either a single backup file or a series of numbered backup files for each file that you edit.

Emacs makes a backup for a file only the first time the file is saved from one buffer. No matter how many times you save a file, its backup file continues to contain the contents from before the file was visited. Normally this means that the backup file contains the contents from before the current editing session; however, if you kill the buffer and then visit the file again, a new backup file will be made by the next save.

You can also explicitly request making another backup file from a buffer even though it has already been saved at least once. If you save the buffer with C-u C-x C-s, the version thus saved will be made into a backup file if you save the buffer again. C-u C-u C-x C-s saves the buffer, but first makes the previous file contents into a new backup file. C-u C-u C-u C-x C-s does both things: it makes a backup from the previous contents, and arranges to make another from the newly saved contents if you save again.

M.3.1.1 Single or Numbered Backups  How backup files are named; choosing single or numbered backup files.
M.3.1.2 Automatic Deletion of Backups  Emacs deletes excess numbered backups.
M.3.1.3 Copying vs. Renaming  Backups can be made by copying or renaming.


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