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GNU Emacs Manual

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C. Entering and Exiting Emacs

The usual way to invoke Emacs is with the shell command emacs. Emacs clears the screen and then displays an initial help message and copyright notice. Some operating systems discard all type-ahead when Emacs starts up; they give Emacs no way to prevent this. Therefore, it is advisable to wait until Emacs clears the screen before typing your first editing command.

If you run Emacs from a shell window under the X Window System, run it in the background with emacs&. This way, Emacs does not tie up the shell window, so you can use that to run other shell commands while Emacs operates its own X windows. You can begin typing Emacs commands as soon as you direct your keyboard input to the Emacs frame.

When Emacs starts up, it creates a buffer named `*scratch*'. That's the buffer you start out in. The `*scratch*' buffer uses Lisp Interaction mode; you can use it to type Lisp expressions and evaluate them, or you can ignore that capability and simply doodle. (You can specify a different major mode for this buffer by setting the variable initial-major-mode in your init file. See section AD.7 The Init File, `~/.emacs'.)

It is possible to specify files to be visited, Lisp files to be loaded, and functions to be called, by giving Emacs arguments in the shell command line. See section AE. Command Line Arguments. But we don't recommend doing this. The feature exists mainly for compatibility with other editors.

Many other editors are designed to be started afresh each time you want to edit. You edit one file and then exit the editor. The next time you want to edit either another file or the same one, you must run the editor again. With these editors, it makes sense to use a command-line argument to say which file to edit.

But starting a new Emacs each time you want to edit a different file does not make sense. For one thing, this would be annoyingly slow. For another, this would fail to take advantage of Emacs's ability to visit more than one file in a single editing session. And it would lose the other accumulated context, such as the kill ring, registers, undo history, and mark ring.

The recommended way to use GNU Emacs is to start it only once, just after you log in, and do all your editing in the same Emacs session. Each time you want to edit a different file, you visit it with the existing Emacs, which eventually comes to have many files in it ready for editing. Usually you do not kill the Emacs until you are about to log out. See section M. File Handling, for more information on visiting more than one file.


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