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GNU Emacs Manual

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G.3 Help by Command or Variable Name

C-h f (describe-function) reads the name of a Lisp function using the minibuffer, then displays that function's documentation string in a window. Since commands are Lisp functions, you can use this to get the documentation of a command that you know by name. For example,

 
C-h f auto-fill-mode RET

displays the documentation of auto-fill-mode. This is the only way to get the documentation of a command that is not bound to any key (one which you would normally run using M-x).

C-h f is also useful for Lisp functions that you are planning to use in a Lisp program. For example, if you have just written the expression (make-vector len) and want to check that you are using make-vector properly, type C-h f make-vector RET. Because C-h f allows all function names, not just command names, you may find that some of your favorite abbreviations that work in M-x don't work in C-h f. An abbreviation may be unique among command names yet fail to be unique when other function names are allowed.

The default function name for C-h f to describe, if you type just RET, is the name of the function called by the innermost Lisp expression in the buffer around point, provided that is a valid, defined Lisp function name. For example, if point is located following the text `(make-vector (car x)', the innermost list containing point is the one that starts with `(make-vector', so the default is to describe the function make-vector.

C-h f is often useful just to verify that you have the right spelling for the function name. If C-h f mentions a name from the buffer as the default, that name must be defined as a Lisp function. If that is all you want to know, just type C-g to cancel the C-h f command, then go on editing.

C-h w command RET tells you what keys are bound to command. It displays a list of the keys in the echo area. If it says the command is not on any key, you must use M-x to run it. C-h w runs the command where-is.

C-h v (describe-variable) is like C-h f but describes Lisp variables instead of Lisp functions. Its default is the Lisp symbol around or before point, but only if that is the name of a known Lisp variable. See section AD.2 Variables.

Help buffers describing variables or functions defined in Lisp normally have hyperlinks to the Lisp definition, if you have the Lisp source files installed. If you know Lisp, this provides the ultimate documentation. If you don't know Lisp, you should learn it. If you are treating Emacs as an object file, then you are just using Emacs. For real intimacy with Emacs, you must read the source code.


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