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GNU Emacs Manual

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AD.7.1 Init File Syntax

The `.emacs' file contains one or more Lisp function call expressions. Each of these consists of a function name followed by arguments, all surrounded by parentheses. For example, (setq fill-column 60) calls the function setq to set the variable fill-column (see section T.5 Filling Text) to 60.

The second argument to setq is an expression for the new value of the variable. This can be a constant, a variable, or a function call expression. In `.emacs', constants are used most of the time. They can be:

Numbers:
Numbers are written in decimal, with an optional initial minus sign.

Strings:
Lisp string syntax is the same as C string syntax with a few extra features. Use a double-quote character to begin and end a string constant.

In a string, you can include newlines and special characters literally. But often it is cleaner to use backslash sequences for them: `\n' for newline, `\b' for backspace, `\r' for carriage return, `\t' for tab, `\f' for formfeed (control-L), `\e' for escape, `\\' for a backslash, `\"' for a double-quote, or `\ooo' for the character whose octal code is ooo. Backslash and double-quote are the only characters for which backslash sequences are mandatory.

`\C-' can be used as a prefix for a control character, as in `\C-s' for ASCII control-S, and `\M-' can be used as a prefix for a Meta character, as in `\M-a' for Meta-A or `\M-\C-a' for Control-Meta-A.

If you want to include non-ASCII characters in strings in your init file, you should consider putting a `-*-coding: coding-system-*-' tag on the first line which states the coding system used to save your `.emacs', as explained in Q.8 Recognizing Coding Systems. This is because the defaults for decoding non-ASCII text might not yet be set up by the time Emacs reads those parts of your init file which use such strings, possibly leading Emacs to decode those strings incorrectly.

Characters:
Lisp character constant syntax consists of a `?' followed by either a character or an escape sequence starting with `\'. Examples: ?x, ?\n, ?\", ?\). Note that strings and characters are not interchangeable in Lisp; some contexts require one and some contexts require the other.

See section AD.4.9 Non-ASCII Characters on the Keyboard, for information about binding commands to keys which send non-ASCII characters.

True:
t stands for `true'.

False:
nil stands for `false'.

Other Lisp objects:
Write a single-quote (') followed by the Lisp object you want.


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