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21. Command Loop

When you run Emacs, it enters the editor command loop almost immediately. This loop reads key sequences, executes their definitions, and displays the results. In this chapter, we describe how these things are done, and the subroutines that allow Lisp programs to do them.

21.1 Command Loop Overview  How the command loop reads commands.
21.2 Defining Commands  Specifying how a function should read arguments.
21.3 Interactive Call  Calling a command, so that it will read arguments.
21.4 Information from the Command Loop  Variables set by the command loop for you to examine.
21.5 Adjusting Point After Commands  Adjustment of point after a command.
21.6 Input Events  What input looks like when you read it.
21.7 Reading Input  How to read input events from the keyboard or mouse.
21.8 Special Events  Events processed immediately and individually.
21.9 Waiting for Elapsed Time or Input  Waiting for user input or elapsed time.
21.10 Quitting  How C-g works. How to catch or defer quitting.
21.11 Prefix Command Arguments  How the commands to set prefix args work.
21.12 Recursive Editing  Entering a recursive edit, and why you usually shouldn't.
21.13 Disabling Commands  How the command loop handles disabled commands.
21.14 Command History  How the command history is set up, and how accessed.
21.15 Keyboard Macros  How keyboard macros are implemented.

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21.1 Command Loop Overview

The first thing the command loop must do is read a key sequence, which is a sequence of events that translates into a command. It does this by calling the function read-key-sequence. Your Lisp code can also call this function (see section 21.7.1 Key Sequence Input). Lisp programs can also do input at a lower level with read-event (see section 21.7.2 Reading One Event) or discard pending input with discard-input (see section 21.7.5 Miscellaneous Event Input Features).

The key sequence is translated into a command through the currently active keymaps. See section 22.7 Key Lookup, for information on how this is done. The result should be a keyboard macro or an interactively callable function. If the key is M-x, then it reads the name of another command, which it then calls. This is done by the command execute-extended-command (see section 21.3 Interactive Call).

To execute a command requires first reading the arguments for it. This is done by calling command-execute (see section 21.3 Interactive Call). For commands written in Lisp, the interactive specification says how to read the arguments. This may use the prefix argument (see section 21.11 Prefix Command Arguments) or may read with prompting in the minibuffer (see section 20. Minibuffers). For example, the command find-file has an interactive specification which says to read a file name using the minibuffer. The command's function body does not use the minibuffer; if you call this command from Lisp code as a function, you must supply the file name string as an ordinary Lisp function argument.

If the command is a string or vector (i.e., a keyboard macro) then execute-kbd-macro is used to execute it. You can call this function yourself (see section 21.15 Keyboard Macros).

To terminate the execution of a running command, type C-g. This character causes quitting (see section 21.10 Quitting).

Variable: pre-command-hook
The editor command loop runs this normal hook before each command. At that time, this-command contains the command that is about to run, and last-command describes the previous command. See section 23.6 Hooks.

Variable: post-command-hook
The editor command loop runs this normal hook after each command (including commands terminated prematurely by quitting or by errors), and also when the command loop is first entered. At that time, this-command describes the command that just ran, and last-command describes the command before that. See section 23.6 Hooks.

Quitting is suppressed while running pre-command-hook and post-command-hook. If an error happens while executing one of these hooks, it terminates execution of the hook, and clears the hook variable to nil so as to prevent an infinite loop of errors.

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21.2 Defining Commands

A Lisp function becomes a command when its body contains, at top level, a form that calls the special form interactive. This form does nothing when actually executed, but its presence serves as a flag to indicate that interactive calling is permitted. Its argument controls the reading of arguments for an interactive call.

21.2.1 Using interactive  General rules for interactive.
21.2.2 Code Characters for interactive  The standard letter-codes for reading arguments in various ways.
21.2.3 Examples of Using interactive  Examples of how to read interactive arguments.

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21.2.1 Using interactive

This section describes how to write the interactive form that makes a Lisp function an interactively-callable command, and how to examine a commands's interactive form.

Special Form: interactive arg-descriptor
This special form declares that the function in which it appears is a command, and that it may therefore be called interactively (via M-x or by entering a key sequence bound to it). The argument arg-descriptor declares how to compute the arguments to the command when the command is called interactively.

A command may be called from Lisp programs like any other function, but then the caller supplies the arguments and arg-descriptor has no effect.

The interactive form has its effect because the command loop (actually, its subroutine call-interactively) scans through the function definition looking for it, before calling the function. Once the function is called, all its body forms including the interactive form are executed, but at this time interactive simply returns nil without even evaluating its argument.

There are three possibilities for the argument arg-descriptor:

Function: interactive-form function
This function returns the interactive form of function. If function is a command (see section 21.3 Interactive Call), the value is a list of the form (interactive spec), where spec is the descriptor specification used by the command's interactive form to compute the function's arguments (see section 21.2.1 Using interactive). If function is not a command, interactive-form returns nil.

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21.2.2 Code Characters for interactive

The code character descriptions below contain a number of key words, defined here as follows:

Provide completion. TAB, SPC, and RET perform name completion because the argument is read using completing-read (see section 20.5 Completion). ? displays a list of possible completions.

Require the name of an existing object. An invalid name is not accepted; the commands to exit the minibuffer do not exit if the current input is not valid.

A default value of some sort is used if the user enters no text in the minibuffer. The default depends on the code character.

No I/O
This code letter computes an argument without reading any input. Therefore, it does not use a prompt string, and any prompt string you supply is ignored.

Even though the code letter doesn't use a prompt string, you must follow it with a newline if it is not the last code character in the string.

A prompt immediately follows the code character. The prompt ends either with the end of the string or with a newline.

This code character is meaningful only at the beginning of the interactive string, and it does not look for a prompt or a newline. It is a single, isolated character.

Here are the code character descriptions for use with interactive:

Signal an error if the current buffer is read-only. Special.

Select the window mentioned in the first mouse event in the key sequence that invoked this command. Special.

A function name (i.e., a symbol satisfying fboundp). Existing, Completion, Prompt.

The name of an existing buffer. By default, uses the name of the current buffer (see section 27. Buffers). Existing, Completion, Default, Prompt.

A buffer name. The buffer need not exist. By default, uses the name of a recently used buffer other than the current buffer. Completion, Default, Prompt.

A character. The cursor does not move into the echo area. Prompt.

A command name (i.e., a symbol satisfying commandp). Existing, Completion, Prompt.

The position of point, as an integer (see section 30.1 Point). No I/O.

A directory name. The default is the current default directory of the current buffer, default-directory (see section 40.3 Operating System Environment). Existing, Completion, Default, Prompt.

The first or next mouse event in the key sequence that invoked the command. More precisely, `e' gets events that are lists, so you can look at the data in the lists. See section 21.6 Input Events. No I/O.

You can use `e' more than once in a single command's interactive specification. If the key sequence that invoked the command has n events that are lists, the nth `e' provides the nth such event. Events that are not lists, such as function keys and ASCII characters, do not count where `e' is concerned.

A file name of an existing file (see section 25.8 File Names). The default directory is default-directory. Existing, Completion, Default, Prompt.

A file name. The file need not exist. Completion, Default, Prompt.

An irrelevant argument. This code always supplies nil as the argument's value. No I/O.

A key sequence (see section 22.1 Keymap Terminology). This keeps reading events until a command (or undefined command) is found in the current key maps. The key sequence argument is represented as a string or vector. The cursor does not move into the echo area. Prompt.

This kind of input is used by commands such as describe-key and global-set-key.

A key sequence, whose definition you intend to change. This works like `k', except that it suppresses, for the last input event in the key sequence, the conversions that are normally used (when necessary) to convert an undefined key into a defined one.

The position of the mark, as an integer. No I/O.

Arbitrary text, read in the minibuffer using the current buffer's input method, and returned as a string (see section `Input Methods' in The GNU Emacs Manual). Prompt.

A number read with the minibuffer. If the input is not a number, the user is asked to try again. The prefix argument, if any, is not used. Prompt.

The numeric prefix argument; but if there is no prefix argument, read a number as with n. Requires a number. See section 21.11 Prefix Command Arguments. Prompt.

The numeric prefix argument. (Note that this `p' is lower case.) No I/O.

The raw prefix argument. (Note that this `P' is upper case.) No I/O.

Point and the mark, as two numeric arguments, smallest first. This is the only code letter that specifies two successive arguments rather than one. No I/O.

Arbitrary text, read in the minibuffer and returned as a string (see section 20.2 Reading Text Strings with the Minibuffer). Terminate the input with either C-j or RET. (C-q may be used to include either of these characters in the input.) Prompt.

An interned symbol whose name is read in the minibuffer. Any whitespace character terminates the input. (Use C-q to include whitespace in the string.) Other characters that normally terminate a symbol (e.g., parentheses and brackets) do not do so here. Prompt.

A variable declared to be a user option (i.e., satisfying the predicate user-variable-p). See section 20.5.4 High-Level Completion Functions. Existing, Completion, Prompt.

A Lisp object, specified with its read syntax, terminated with a C-j or RET. The object is not evaluated. See section 20.3 Reading Lisp Objects with the Minibuffer. Prompt.

A Lisp form is read as with x, but then evaluated so that its value becomes the argument for the command. Prompt.

A coding system name (a symbol). If the user enters null input, the argument value is nil. See section 33.10 Coding Systems. Completion, Existing, Prompt.

A coding system name (a symbol)---but only if this command has a prefix argument. With no prefix argument, `Z' provides nil as the argument value. Completion, Existing, Prompt.

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21.2.3 Examples of Using interactive

Here are some examples of interactive:

(defun foo1 ()              ; foo1 takes no arguments,
    (interactive)           ;   just moves forward two words.
    (forward-word 2))
     => foo1

(defun foo2 (n)             ; foo2 takes one argument,
    (interactive "p")       ;   which is the numeric prefix.
    (forward-word (* 2 n)))
     => foo2

(defun foo3 (n)             ; foo3 takes one argument,
    (interactive "nCount:") ;   which is read with the Minibuffer.
    (forward-word (* 2 n)))
     => foo3

(defun three-b (b1 b2 b3)
  "Select three existing buffers.
Put them into three windows, selecting the last one."
    (interactive "bBuffer1:\nbBuffer2:\nbBuffer3:")
    (split-window (selected-window) 8)
    (switch-to-buffer b1)
    (other-window 1)
    (split-window (selected-window) 8)
    (switch-to-buffer b2)
    (other-window 1)
    (switch-to-buffer b3))
     => three-b
(three-b "*scratch*" "declarations.texi" "*mail*")
     => nil

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21.3 Interactive Call

After the command loop has translated a key sequence into a command it invokes that command using the function command-execute. If the command is a function, command-execute calls call-interactively, which reads the arguments and calls the command. You can also call these functions yourself.

Function: commandp object
Returns t if object is suitable for calling interactively; that is, if object is a command. Otherwise, returns nil.

The interactively callable objects include strings and vectors (treated as keyboard macros), lambda expressions that contain a top-level call to interactive, byte-code function objects made from such lambda expressions, autoload objects that are declared as interactive (non-nil fourth argument to autoload), and some of the primitive functions.

A symbol satisfies commandp if its function definition satisfies commandp.

Keys and keymaps are not commands. Rather, they are used to look up commands (see section 22. Keymaps).

See documentation in 24.2 Access to Documentation Strings, for a realistic example of using commandp.

Function: call-interactively command &optional record-flag keys
This function calls the interactively callable function command, reading arguments according to its interactive calling specifications. An error is signaled if command is not a function or if it cannot be called interactively (i.e., is not a command). Note that keyboard macros (strings and vectors) are not accepted, even though they are considered commands, because they are not functions.

If record-flag is non-nil, then this command and its arguments are unconditionally added to the list command-history. Otherwise, the command is added only if it uses the minibuffer to read an argument. See section 21.14 Command History.

The argument keys, if given, specifies the sequence of events to supply if the command inquires which events were used to invoke it.

Function: command-execute command &optional record-flag keys special
This function executes command. The argument command must satisfy the commandp predicate; i.e., it must be an interactively callable function or a keyboard macro.

A string or vector as command is executed with execute-kbd-macro. A function is passed to call-interactively, along with the optional record-flag.

A symbol is handled by using its function definition in its place. A symbol with an autoload definition counts as a command if it was declared to stand for an interactively callable function. Such a definition is handled by loading the specified library and then rechecking the definition of the symbol.

The argument keys, if given, specifies the sequence of events to supply if the command inquires which events were used to invoke it.

The argument special, if given, means to ignore the prefix argument and not clear it. This is used for executing special events (see section 21.8 Special Events).

Command: execute-extended-command prefix-argument
This function reads a command name from the minibuffer using completing-read (see section 20.5 Completion). Then it uses command-execute to call the specified command. Whatever that command returns becomes the value of execute-extended-command.

If the command asks for a prefix argument, it receives the value prefix-argument. If execute-extended-command is called interactively, the current raw prefix argument is used for prefix-argument, and thus passed on to whatever command is run.

execute-extended-command is the normal definition of M-x, so it uses the string `M-x ' as a prompt. (It would be better to take the prompt from the events used to invoke execute-extended-command, but that is painful to implement.) A description of the value of the prefix argument, if any, also becomes part of the prompt.

(execute-extended-command 1)
---------- Buffer: Minibuffer ----------
1 M-x forward-word RET
---------- Buffer: Minibuffer ----------
     => t

Function: interactive-p
This function returns t if the containing function (the one whose code includes the call to interactive-p) was called interactively, with the function call-interactively. (It makes no difference whether call-interactively was called from Lisp or directly from the editor command loop.) If the containing function was called by Lisp evaluation (or with apply or funcall), then it was not called interactively.

The most common use of interactive-p is for deciding whether to print an informative message. As a special exception, interactive-p returns nil whenever a keyboard macro is being run. This is to suppress the informative messages and speed execution of the macro.

For example:

(defun foo ()
  (when (interactive-p)
    (message "foo")))
     => foo

(defun bar ()
  (setq foobar (list (foo) (interactive-p))))
     => bar

;; Type M-x foo.
     -| foo

;; Type M-x bar.
;; This does not print anything.

     => (nil t)

The other way to do this sort of job is to make the command take an argument print-message which should be non-nil in an interactive call, and use the interactive spec to make sure it is non-nil. Here's how:

(defun foo (&optional print-message)
  (interactive "p")
  (when print-message
    (message "foo")))

The numeric prefix argument, provided by `p', is never nil.

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21.4 Information from the Command Loop

The editor command loop sets several Lisp variables to keep status records for itself and for commands that are run.

Variable: last-command
This variable records the name of the previous command executed by the command loop (the one before the current command). Normally the value is a symbol with a function definition, but this is not guaranteed.

The value is copied from this-command when a command returns to the command loop, except when the command has specified a prefix argument for the following command.

This variable is always local to the current terminal and cannot be buffer-local. See section 29.2 Multiple Displays.

Variable: real-last-command
This variable is set up by Emacs just like last-command, but never altered by Lisp programs.

Variable: this-command
This variable records the name of the command now being executed by the editor command loop. Like last-command, it is normally a symbol with a function definition.

The command loop sets this variable just before running a command, and copies its value into last-command when the command finishes (unless the command specified a prefix argument for the following command).

Some commands set this variable during their execution, as a flag for whatever command runs next. In particular, the functions for killing text set this-command to kill-region so that any kill commands immediately following will know to append the killed text to the previous kill.

If you do not want a particular command to be recognized as the previous command in the case where it got an error, you must code that command to prevent this. One way is to set this-command to t at the beginning of the command, and set this-command back to its proper value at the end, like this:

(defun foo (args...)
  (interactive ...)
  (let ((old-this-command this-command))
    (setq this-command t)
    ...do the work...
    (setq this-command old-this-command)))

We do not bind this-command with let because that would restore the old value in case of error--a feature of let which in this case does precisely what we want to avoid.

Function: this-command-keys
This function returns a string or vector containing the key sequence that invoked the present command, plus any previous commands that generated the prefix argument for this command. The value is a string if all those events were characters. See section 21.6 Input Events.

;; Now use C-u C-x C-e to evaluate that.
     => "^U^X^E"

Function: this-command-keys-vector
Like this-command-keys, except that it always returns the events in a vector, so you don't need to deal with the complexities of storing input events in a string (see section 21.6.14 Putting Keyboard Events in Strings).

Function: clear-this-command-keys
This function empties out the table of events for this-command-keys to return, and also empties the records that the function recent-keys (see section 40.8.3 Recording Input) will subsequently return. This is useful after reading a password, to prevent the password from echoing inadvertently as part of the next command in certain cases.

Variable: last-nonmenu-event
This variable holds the last input event read as part of a key sequence, not counting events resulting from mouse menus.

One use of this variable is for telling x-popup-menu where to pop up a menu. It is also used internally by y-or-n-p (see section 20.6 Yes-or-No Queries).

Variable: last-command-event
Variable: last-command-char
This variable is set to the last input event that was read by the command loop as part of a command. The principal use of this variable is in self-insert-command, which uses it to decide which character to insert.

;; Now use C-u C-x C-e to evaluate that.
     => 5

The value is 5 because that is the ASCII code for C-e.

The alias last-command-char exists for compatibility with Emacs version 18.

Variable: last-event-frame
This variable records which frame the last input event was directed to. Usually this is the frame that was selected when the event was generated, but if that frame has redirected input focus to another frame, the value is the frame to which the event was redirected. See section 29.9 Input Focus.

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21.5 Adjusting Point After Commands

It is not easy to display a value of point in the middle of a sequence of text that has the display or composition property. So after a command finishes and returns to the command loop, if point is within such a sequence, the command loop normally moves point to the edge of the sequence.

A command can inhibit this feature by setting the variable disable-point-adjustment:

Variable: disable-point-adjustment
If this variable is non-nil when a command returns to the command loop, then the command loop does not check for text properties such as display and composition, and does not move point out of sequences that have these properties.

The command loop sets this variable to nil before each command, so if a command sets it, the effect applies only to that command.

Variable: global-disable-point-adjustment
If you set this variable to a non-nil value, the feature of moving point out of these sequences is completely turned off.

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21.6 Input Events

The Emacs command loop reads a sequence of input events that represent keyboard or mouse activity. The events for keyboard activity are characters or symbols; mouse events are always lists. This section describes the representation and meaning of input events in detail.

Function: eventp object
This function returns non-nil if object is an input event or event type.

Note that any symbol might be used as an event or an event type. eventp cannot distinguish whether a symbol is intended by Lisp code to be used as an event. Instead, it distinguishes whether the symbol has actually been used in an event that has been read as input in the current Emacs session. If a symbol has not yet been so used, eventp returns nil.

21.6.1 Keyboard Events  Ordinary characters--keys with symbols on them.
21.6.2 Function Keys  Function keys--keys with names, not symbols.
21.6.3 Mouse Events  Overview of mouse events.
21.6.4 Click Events  Pushing and releasing a mouse button.
21.6.5 Drag Events  Moving the mouse before releasing the button.
21.6.6 Button-Down Events  A button was pushed and not yet released.
21.6.7 Repeat Events  Double and triple click (or drag, or down).
21.6.8 Motion Events  Just moving the mouse, not pushing a button.
21.6.9 Focus Events  Moving the mouse between frames.
21.6.10 Miscellaneous Window System Events  Other events window systems can generate.
21.6.11 Event Examples  Examples of the lists for mouse events.
21.6.12 Classifying Events  Finding the modifier keys in an event symbol. Event types.
21.6.13 Accessing Events  Functions to extract info from events.
21.6.14 Putting Keyboard Events in Strings  Special considerations for putting keyboard character events in a string.

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21.6.1 Keyboard Events

There are two kinds of input you can get from the keyboard: ordinary keys, and function keys. Ordinary keys correspond to characters; the events they generate are represented in Lisp as characters. The event type of a character event is the character itself (an integer); see 21.6.12 Classifying Events.

An input character event consists of a basic code between 0 and 524287, plus any or all of these modifier bits:

The 2**27 bit in the character code indicates a character typed with the meta key held down.

The 2**26 bit in the character code indicates a non-ASCII control character.

ASCII control characters such as C-a have special basic codes of their own, so Emacs needs no special bit to indicate them. Thus, the code for C-a is just 1.

But if you type a control combination not in ASCII, such as % with the control key, the numeric value you get is the code for % plus 2**26 (assuming the terminal supports non-ASCII control characters).

The 2**25 bit in the character code indicates an ASCII control character typed with the shift key held down.

For letters, the basic code itself indicates upper versus lower case; for digits and punctuation, the shift key selects an entirely different character with a different basic code. In order to keep within the ASCII character set whenever possible, Emacs avoids using the 2**25 bit for those characters.

However, ASCII provides no way to distinguish C-A from C-a, so Emacs uses the 2**25 bit in C-A and not in C-a.

The 2**24 bit in the character code indicates a character typed with the hyper key held down.

The 2**23 bit in the character code indicates a character typed with the super key held down.

The 2**22 bit in the character code indicates a character typed with the alt key held down. (On some terminals, the key labeled ALT is actually the meta key.)

It is best to avoid mentioning specific bit numbers in your program. To test the modifier bits of a character, use the function event-modifiers (see section 21.6.12 Classifying Events). When making key bindings, you can use the read syntax for characters with modifier bits (`\C-', `\M-', and so on). For making key bindings with define-key, you can use lists such as (control hyper ?x) to specify the characters (see section 22.9 Changing Key Bindings). The function event-convert-list converts such a list into an event type (see section 21.6.12 Classifying Events).

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21.6.2 Function Keys

Most keyboards also have function keys---keys that have names or symbols that are not characters. Function keys are represented in Emacs Lisp as symbols; the symbol's name is the function key's label, in lower case. For example, pressing a key labeled F1 places the symbol f1 in the input stream.

The event type of a function key event is the event symbol itself. See section 21.6.12 Classifying Events.

Here are a few special cases in the symbol-naming convention for function keys:

backspace, tab, newline, return, delete
These keys correspond to common ASCII control characters that have special keys on most keyboards.

In ASCII, C-i and TAB are the same character. If the terminal can distinguish between them, Emacs conveys the distinction to Lisp programs by representing the former as the integer 9, and the latter as the symbol tab.

Most of the time, it's not useful to distinguish the two. So normally function-key-map (see section 40.8.2 Translating Input Events) is set up to map tab into 9. Thus, a key binding for character code 9 (the character C-i) also applies to tab. Likewise for the other symbols in this group. The function read-char likewise converts these events into characters.

In ASCII, BS is really C-h. But backspace converts into the character code 127 (DEL), not into code 8 (BS). This is what most users prefer.

left, up, right, down
Cursor arrow keys
kp-add, kp-decimal, kp-divide, ...
Keypad keys (to the right of the regular keyboard).
kp-0, kp-1, ...
Keypad keys with digits.
kp-f1, kp-f2, kp-f3, kp-f4
Keypad PF keys.
kp-home, kp-left, kp-up, kp-right, kp-down
Keypad arrow keys. Emacs normally translates these into the corresponding non-keypad keys home, left, ...
kp-prior, kp-next, kp-end, kp-begin, kp-insert, kp-delete
Additional keypad duplicates of keys ordinarily found elsewhere. Emacs normally translates these into the like-named non-keypad keys.

You can use the modifier keys ALT, CTRL, HYPER, META, SHIFT, and SUPER with function keys. The way to represent them is with prefixes in the symbol name:

The alt modifier.
The control modifier.
The hyper modifier.
The meta modifier.
The shift modifier.
The super modifier.

Thus, the symbol for the key F3 with META held down is M-f3. When you use more than one prefix, we recommend you write them in alphabetical order; but the order does not matter in arguments to the key-binding lookup and modification functions.

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21.6.3 Mouse Events

Emacs supports four kinds of mouse events: click events, drag events, button-down events, and motion events. All mouse events are represented as lists. The CAR of the list is the event type; this says which mouse button was involved, and which modifier keys were used with it. The event type can also distinguish double or triple button presses (see section 21.6.7 Repeat Events). The rest of the list elements give position and time information.

For key lookup, only the event type matters: two events of the same type necessarily run the same command. The command can access the full values of these events using the `e' interactive code. See section 21.2.2 Code Characters for interactive.

A key sequence that starts with a mouse event is read using the keymaps of the buffer in the window that the mouse was in, not the current buffer. This does not imply that clicking in a window selects that window or its buffer--that is entirely under the control of the command binding of the key sequence.

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21.6.4 Click Events

When the user presses a mouse button and releases it at the same location, that generates a click event. Mouse click events have this form:

 (window buffer-pos (x . y) timestamp)

Here is what the elements normally mean:

This is a symbol that indicates which mouse button was used. It is one of the symbols mouse-1, mouse-2, ..., where the buttons are numbered left to right.

You can also use prefixes `A-', `C-', `H-', `M-', `S-' and `s-' for modifiers alt, control, hyper, meta, shift and super, just as you would with function keys.

This symbol also serves as the event type of the event. Key bindings describe events by their types; thus, if there is a key binding for mouse-1, that binding would apply to all events whose event-type is mouse-1.

This is the window in which the click occurred.

x, y
These are the pixel-denominated coordinates of the click, relative to the top left corner of window, which is (0 . 0).

This is the buffer position of the character clicked on.

This is the time at which the event occurred, in milliseconds. (Since this value wraps around the entire range of Emacs Lisp integers in about five hours, it is useful only for relating the times of nearby events.)

This is the number of rapid repeated presses so far of the same mouse button. See section 21.6.7 Repeat Events.

The meanings of buffer-pos, x and y are somewhat different when the event location is in a special part of the screen, such as the mode line or a scroll bar.

If the location is in a scroll bar, then buffer-pos is the symbol vertical-scroll-bar or horizontal-scroll-bar, and the pair (x . y) is replaced with a pair (portion . whole), where portion is the distance of the click from the top or left end of the scroll bar, and whole is the length of the entire scroll bar.

If the position is on a mode line or the vertical line separating window from its neighbor to the right, then buffer-pos is the symbol mode-line, header-line, or vertical-line. For the mode line, y does not have meaningful data. For the vertical line, x does not have meaningful data.

In one special case, buffer-pos is a list containing a symbol (one of the symbols listed above) instead of just the symbol. This happens after the imaginary prefix keys for the event are inserted into the input stream. See section 21.7.1 Key Sequence Input.

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21.6.5 Drag Events

With Emacs, you can have a drag event without even changing your clothes. A drag event happens every time the user presses a mouse button and then moves the mouse to a different character position before releasing the button. Like all mouse events, drag events are represented in Lisp as lists. The lists record both the starting mouse position and the final position, like this:

 (window1 buffer-pos1 (x1 . y1) timestamp1)
 (window2 buffer-pos2 (x2 . y2) timestamp2)

For a drag event, the name of the symbol event-type contains the prefix `drag-'. For example, dragging the mouse with button 2 held down generates a drag-mouse-2 event. The second and third elements of the event give the starting and ending position of the drag. Aside from that, the data have the same meanings as in a click event (see section 21.6.4 Click Events). You can access the second element of any mouse event in the same way, with no need to distinguish drag events from others.

The `drag-' prefix follows the modifier key prefixes such as `C-' and `M-'.

If read-key-sequence receives a drag event that has no key binding, and the corresponding click event does have a binding, it changes the drag event into a click event at the drag's starting position. This means that you don't have to distinguish between click and drag events unless you want to.

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21.6.6 Button-Down Events

Click and drag events happen when the user releases a mouse button. They cannot happen earlier, because there is no way to distinguish a click from a drag until the button is released.

If you want to take action as soon as a button is pressed, you need to handle button-down events.(5) These occur as soon as a button is pressed. They are represented by lists that look exactly like click events (see section 21.6.4 Click Events), except that the event-type symbol name contains the prefix `down-'. The `down-' prefix follows modifier key prefixes such as `C-' and `M-'.

The function read-key-sequence ignores any button-down events that don't have command bindings; therefore, the Emacs command loop ignores them too. This means that you need not worry about defining button-down events unless you want them to do something. The usual reason to define a button-down event is so that you can track mouse motion (by reading motion events) until the button is released. See section 21.6.8 Motion Events.

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21.6.7 Repeat Events

If you press the same mouse button more than once in quick succession without moving the mouse, Emacs generates special repeat mouse events for the second and subsequent presses.

The most common repeat events are double-click events. Emacs generates a double-click event when you click a button twice; the event happens when you release the button (as is normal for all click events).

The event type of a double-click event contains the prefix `double-'. Thus, a double click on the second mouse button with meta held down comes to the Lisp program as M-double-mouse-2. If a double-click event has no binding, the binding of the corresponding ordinary click event is used to execute it. Thus, you need not pay attention to the double click feature unless you really want to.

When the user performs a double click, Emacs generates first an ordinary click event, and then a double-click event. Therefore, you must design the command binding of the double click event to assume that the single-click command has already run. It must produce the desired results of a double click, starting from the results of a single click.

This is convenient, if the meaning of a double click somehow "builds on" the meaning of a single click--which is recommended user interface design practice for double clicks.

If you click a button, then press it down again and start moving the mouse with the button held down, then you get a double-drag event when you ultimately release the button. Its event type contains `double-drag' instead of just `drag'. If a double-drag event has no binding, Emacs looks for an alternate binding as if the event were an ordinary drag.

Before the double-click or double-drag event, Emacs generates a double-down event when the user presses the button down for the second time. Its event type contains `double-down' instead of just `down'. If a double-down event has no binding, Emacs looks for an alternate binding as if the event were an ordinary button-down event. If it finds no binding that way either, the double-down event is ignored.

To summarize, when you click a button and then press it again right away, Emacs generates a down event and a click event for the first click, a double-down event when you press the button again, and finally either a double-click or a double-drag event.

If you click a button twice and then press it again, all in quick succession, Emacs generates a triple-down event, followed by either a triple-click or a triple-drag. The event types of these events contain `triple' instead of `double'. If any triple event has no binding, Emacs uses the binding that it would use for the corresponding double event.

If you click a button three or more times and then press it again, the events for the presses beyond the third are all triple events. Emacs does not have separate event types for quadruple, quintuple, etc. events. However, you can look at the event list to find out precisely how many times the button was pressed.

Function: event-click-count event
This function returns the number of consecutive button presses that led up to event. If event is a double-down, double-click or double-drag event, the value is 2. If event is a triple event, the value is 3 or greater. If event is an ordinary mouse event (not a repeat event), the value is 1.

Variable: double-click-fuzz
To generate repeat events, successive mouse button presses must be at approximately the same screen position. The value of double-click-fuzz specifies the maximum number of pixels the mouse may be moved between two successive clicks to make a double-click.

Variable: double-click-time
To generate repeat events, the number of milliseconds between successive button presses must be less than the value of double-click-time. Setting double-click-time to nil disables multi-click detection entirely. Setting it to t removes the time limit; Emacs then detects multi-clicks by position only.

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21.6.8 Motion Events

Emacs sometimes generates mouse motion events to describe motion of the mouse without any button activity. Mouse motion events are represented by lists that look like this:

(mouse-movement (window buffer-pos (x . y) timestamp))

The second element of the list describes the current position of the mouse, just as in a click event (see section 21.6.4 Click Events).

The special form track-mouse enables generation of motion events within its body. Outside of track-mouse forms, Emacs does not generate events for mere motion of the mouse, and these events do not appear. See section 29.13 Mouse Tracking.

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21.6.9 Focus Events

Window systems provide general ways for the user to control which window gets keyboard input. This choice of window is called the focus. When the user does something to switch between Emacs frames, that generates a focus event. The normal definition of a focus event, in the global keymap, is to select a new frame within Emacs, as the user would expect. See section 29.9 Input Focus.

Focus events are represented in Lisp as lists that look like this:

(switch-frame new-frame)

where new-frame is the frame switched to.

Most X window managers are set up so that just moving the mouse into a window is enough to set the focus there. Emacs appears to do this, because it changes the cursor to solid in the new frame. However, there is no need for the Lisp program to know about the focus change until some other kind of input arrives. So Emacs generates a focus event only when the user actually types a keyboard key or presses a mouse button in the new frame; just moving the mouse between frames does not generate a focus event.

A focus event in the middle of a key sequence would garble the sequence. So Emacs never generates a focus event in the middle of a key sequence. If the user changes focus in the middle of a key sequence--that is, after a prefix key--then Emacs reorders the events so that the focus event comes either before or after the multi-event key sequence, and not within it.

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21.6.10 Miscellaneous Window System Events

A few other event types represent occurrences within the window system.

(delete-frame (frame))
This kind of event indicates that the user gave the window manager a command to delete a particular window, which happens to be an Emacs frame.

The standard definition of the delete-frame event is to delete frame.

(iconify-frame (frame))
This kind of event indicates that the user iconified frame using the window manager. Its standard definition is ignore; since the frame has already been iconified, Emacs has no work to do. The purpose of this event type is so that you can keep track of such events if you want to.

(make-frame-visible (frame))
This kind of event indicates that the user deiconified frame using the window manager. Its standard definition is ignore; since the frame has already been made visible, Emacs has no work to do.

(mouse-wheel position delta)
This kind of event is generated by moving a wheel on a mouse (such as the MS Intellimouse). Its effect is typically a kind of scroll or zoom.

The element delta describes the amount and direction of the wheel rotation. Its absolute value is the number of increments by which the wheel was rotated. A negative delta indicates that the wheel was rotated backwards, towards the user, and a positive delta indicates that the wheel was rotated forward, away from the user.

The element position is a list describing the position of the event, in the same format as used in a mouse-click event.

This kind of event is generated only on some kinds of systems.

(drag-n-drop position files)
This kind of event is generated when a group of files is selected in an application outside of Emacs, and then dragged and dropped onto an Emacs frame.

The element position is a list describing the position of the event, in the same format as used in a mouse-click event, and files is the list of file names that were dragged and dropped. The usual way to handle this event is by visiting these files.

This kind of event is generated, at present, only on some kinds of systems.

If one of these events arrives in the middle of a key sequence--that is, after a prefix key--then Emacs reorders the events so that this event comes either before or after the multi-event key sequence, not within it.

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21.6.11 Event Examples

If the user presses and releases the left mouse button over the same location, that generates a sequence of events like this:

(down-mouse-1 (#<window 18 on NEWS> 2613 (0 . 38) -864320))
(mouse-1      (#<window 18 on NEWS> 2613 (0 . 38) -864180))

While holding the control key down, the user might hold down the second mouse button, and drag the mouse from one line to the next. That produces two events, as shown here:

(C-down-mouse-2 (#<window 18 on NEWS> 3440 (0 . 27) -731219))
(C-drag-mouse-2 (#<window 18 on NEWS> 3440 (0 . 27) -731219)
                (#<window 18 on NEWS> 3510 (0 . 28) -729648))

While holding down the meta and shift keys, the user might press the second mouse button on the window's mode line, and then drag the mouse into another window. That produces a pair of events like these:

(M-S-down-mouse-2 (#<window 18 on NEWS> mode-line (33 . 31) -457844))
(M-S-drag-mouse-2 (#<window 18 on NEWS> mode-line (33 . 31) -457844)
                  (#<window 20 on carlton-sanskrit.tex> 161 (33 . 3)

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21.6.12 Classifying Events

Every event has an event type, which classifies the event for key binding purposes. For a keyboard event, the event type equals the event value; thus, the event type for a character is the character, and the event type for a function key symbol is the symbol itself. For events that are lists, the event type is the symbol in the CAR of the list. Thus, the event type is always a symbol or a character.

Two events of the same type are equivalent where key bindings are concerned; thus, they always run the same command. That does not necessarily mean they do the same things, however, as some commands look at the whole event to decide what to do. For example, some commands use the location of a mouse event to decide where in the buffer to act.

Sometimes broader classifications of events are useful. For example, you might want to ask whether an event involved the META key, regardless of which other key or mouse button was used.

The functions event-modifiers and event-basic-type are provided to get such information conveniently.

Function: event-modifiers event
This function returns a list of the modifiers that event has. The modifiers are symbols; they include shift, control, meta, alt, hyper and super. In addition, the modifiers list of a mouse event symbol always contains one of click, drag, and down.

The argument event may be an entire event object, or just an event type.

Here are some examples:

(event-modifiers ?a)
     => nil
(event-modifiers ?\C-a)
     => (control)
(event-modifiers ?\C-%)
     => (control)
(event-modifiers ?\C-\S-a)
     => (control shift)
(event-modifiers 'f5)
     => nil
(event-modifiers 's-f5)
     => (super)
(event-modifiers 'M-S-f5)
     => (meta shift)
(event-modifiers 'mouse-1)
     => (click)
(event-modifiers 'down-mouse-1)
     => (down)

The modifiers list for a click event explicitly contains click, but the event symbol name itself does not contain `click'.

Function: event-basic-type event
This function returns the key or mouse button that event describes, with all modifiers removed. For example:

(event-basic-type ?a)
     => 97
(event-basic-type ?A)
     => 97
(event-basic-type ?\C-a)
     => 97
(event-basic-type ?\C-\S-a)
     => 97
(event-basic-type 'f5)
     => f5
(event-basic-type 's-f5)
     => f5
(event-basic-type 'M-S-f5)
     => f5
(event-basic-type 'down-mouse-1)
     => mouse-1

Function: mouse-movement-p object
This function returns non-nil if object is a mouse movement event.

Function: event-convert-list list
This function converts a list of modifier names and a basic event type to an event type which specifies all of them. For example,

(event-convert-list '(control ?a))
     => 1
(event-convert-list '(control meta ?a))
     => -134217727
(event-convert-list '(control super f1))
     => C-s-f1

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21.6.13 Accessing Events

This section describes convenient functions for accessing the data in a mouse button or motion event.

These two functions return the starting or ending position of a mouse-button event, as a list of this form:

(window buffer-position (x . y) timestamp)

Function: event-start event
This returns the starting position of event.

If event is a click or button-down event, this returns the location of the event. If event is a drag event, this returns the drag's starting position.

Function: event-end event
This returns the ending position of event.

If event is a drag event, this returns the position where the user released the mouse button. If event is a click or button-down event, the value is actually the starting position, which is the only position such events have.

These five functions take a position list as described above, and return various parts of it.

Function: posn-window position
Return the window that position is in.

Function: posn-point position
Return the buffer position in position. This is an integer.

Function: posn-x-y position
Return the pixel-based x and y coordinates in position, as a cons cell (x . y).

Function: posn-col-row position
Return the row and column (in units of characters) of position, as a cons cell (col . row). These are computed from the x and y values actually found in position.

Function: posn-timestamp position
Return the timestamp in position.

These functions are useful for decoding scroll bar events.

Function: scroll-bar-event-ratio event
This function returns the fractional vertical position of a scroll bar event within the scroll bar. The value is a cons cell (portion . whole) containing two integers whose ratio is the fractional position.

Function: scroll-bar-scale ratio total
This function multiplies (in effect) ratio by total, rounding the result to an integer. The argument ratio is not a number, but rather a pair (num . denom)---typically a value returned by scroll-bar-event-ratio.

This function is handy for scaling a position on a scroll bar into a buffer position. Here's how to do that:

(+ (point-min)
      (posn-x-y (event-start event))
      (- (point-max) (point-min))))

Recall that scroll bar events have two integers forming a ratio, in place of a pair of x and y coordinates.

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21.6.14 Putting Keyboard Events in Strings

In most of the places where strings are used, we conceptualize the string as containing text characters--the same kind of characters found in buffers or files. Occasionally Lisp programs use strings that conceptually contain keyboard characters; for example, they may be key sequences or keyboard macro definitions. However, storing keyboard characters in a string is a complex matter, for reasons of historical compatibility, and it is not always possible.

We recommend that new programs avoid dealing with these complexities by not storing keyboard events in strings. Here is how to do that:

The complexities stem from the modifier bits that keyboard input characters can include. Aside from the Meta modifier, none of these modifier bits can be included in a string, and the Meta modifier is allowed only in special cases.

The earliest GNU Emacs versions represented meta characters as codes in the range of 128 to 255. At that time, the basic character codes ranged from 0 to 127, so all keyboard character codes did fit in a string. Many Lisp programs used `\M-' in string constants to stand for meta characters, especially in arguments to define-key and similar functions, and key sequences and sequences of events were always represented as strings.

When we added support for larger basic character codes beyond 127, and additional modifier bits, we had to change the representation of meta characters. Now the flag that represents the Meta modifier in a character is 2**27 and such numbers cannot be included in a string.

To support programs with `\M-' in string constants, there are special rules for including certain meta characters in a string. Here are the rules for interpreting a string as a sequence of input characters:

Functions such as read-key-sequence that construct strings of keyboard input characters follow these rules: they construct vectors instead of strings, when the events won't fit in a string.

When you use the read syntax `\M-' in a string, it produces a code in the range of 128 to 255--the same code that you get if you modify the corresponding keyboard event to put it in the string. Thus, meta events in strings work consistently regardless of how they get into the strings.

However, most programs would do well to avoid these issues by following the recommendations at the beginning of this section.

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21.7 Reading Input

The editor command loop reads key sequences using the function read-key-sequence, which uses read-event. These and other functions for event input are also available for use in Lisp programs. See also momentary-string-display in 38.8 Temporary Displays, and sit-for in 21.9 Waiting for Elapsed Time or Input. See section 40.8 Terminal Input, for functions and variables for controlling terminal input modes and debugging terminal input. See section 40.8.2 Translating Input Events, for features you can use for translating or modifying input events while reading them.

For higher-level input facilities, see 20. Minibuffers.

21.7.1 Key Sequence Input  How to read one key sequence.
21.7.2 Reading One Event  How to read just one event.
21.7.3 Invoking the Input Method  How reading an event uses the input method.
21.7.4 Quoted Character Input  Asking the user to specify a character.
21.7.5 Miscellaneous Event Input Features  How to reread or throw away input events.

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21.7.1 Key Sequence Input

The command loop reads input a key sequence at a time, by calling read-key-sequence. Lisp programs can also call this function; for example, describe-key uses it to read the key to describe.

Function: read-key-sequence prompt
This function reads a key sequence and returns it as a string or vector. It keeps reading events until it has accumulated a complete key sequence; that is, enough to specify a non-prefix command using the currently active keymaps.

If the events are all characters and all can fit in a string, then read-key-sequence returns a string (see section 21.6.14 Putting Keyboard Events in Strings). Otherwise, it returns a vector, since a vector can hold all kinds of events--characters, symbols, and lists. The elements of the string or vector are the events in the key sequence.

The argument prompt is either a string to be displayed in the echo area as a prompt, or nil, meaning not to display a prompt.

In the example below, the prompt `?' is displayed in the echo area, and the user types C-x C-f.

(read-key-sequence "?")

---------- Echo Area ----------
?C-x C-f
---------- Echo Area ----------

     => "^X^F"

The function read-key-sequence suppresses quitting: C-g typed while reading with this function works like any other character, and does not set quit-flag. See section 21.10 Quitting.

Function: read-key-sequence-vector prompt
This is like read-key-sequence except that it always returns the key sequence as a vector, never as a string. See section 21.6.14 Putting Keyboard Events in Strings.

If an input character is an upper-case letter and has no key binding, but its lower-case equivalent has one, then read-key-sequence converts the character to lower case. Note that lookup-key does not perform case conversion in this way.

The function read-key-sequence also transforms some mouse events. It converts unbound drag events into click events, and discards unbound button-down events entirely. It also reshuffles focus events and miscellaneous window events so that they never appear in a key sequence with any other events.

When mouse events occur in special parts of a window, such as a mode line or a scroll bar, the event type shows nothing special--it is the same symbol that would normally represent that combination of mouse button and modifier keys. The information about the window part is kept elsewhere in the event--in the coordinates. But read-key-sequence translates this information into imaginary "prefix keys", all of which are symbols: header-line, horizontal-scroll-bar, menu-bar, mode-line, vertical-line, and vertical-scroll-bar. You can define meanings for mouse clicks in special window parts by defining key sequences using these imaginary prefix keys.

For example, if you call read-key-sequence and then click the mouse on the window's mode line, you get two events, like this:

(read-key-sequence "Click on the mode line: ")
     => [mode-line
          (#<window 6 on NEWS> mode-line
           (40 . 63) 5959987))]

Variable: num-input-keys
This variable's value is the number of key sequences processed so far in this Emacs session. This includes key sequences read from the terminal and key sequences read from keyboard macros being executed.

Variable: num-nonmacro-input-events
This variable holds the total number of input events received so far from the terminal--not counting those generated by keyboard macros.

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21.7.2 Reading One Event

The lowest level functions for command input are those that read a single event.

Function: read-event &optional prompt inherit-input-method
This function reads and returns the next event of command input, waiting if necessary until an event is available. Events can come directly from the user or from a keyboard macro.

If the optional argument prompt is non-nil, it should be a string to display in the echo area as a prompt. Otherwise, read-event does not display any message to indicate it is waiting for input; instead, it prompts by echoing: it displays descriptions of the events that led to or were read by the current command. See section 38.4 The Echo Area.

If inherit-input-method is non-nil, then the current input method (if any) is employed to make it possible to enter a non-ASCII character. Otherwise, input method handling is disabled for reading this event.

If cursor-in-echo-area is non-nil, then read-event moves the cursor temporarily to the echo area, to the end of any message displayed there. Otherwise read-event does not move the cursor.

If read-event gets an event that is defined as a help character, in some cases read-event processes the event directly without returning. See section 24.5 Help Functions. Certain other events, called special events, are also processed directly within read-event (see section 21.8 Special Events).

Here is what happens if you call read-event and then press the right-arrow function key:

     => right

Function: read-char &optional prompt inherit-input-method
This function reads and returns a character of command input. If the user generates an event which is not a character (i.e. a mouse click or function key event), read-char signals an error. The arguments work as in read-event.

In the first example, the user types the character 1 (ASCII code 49). The second example shows a keyboard macro definition that calls read-char from the minibuffer using eval-expression. read-char reads the keyboard macro's very next character, which is 1. Then eval-expression displays its return value in the echo area.

     => 49

;; We assume here you use M-: to evaluate this.
(symbol-function 'foo)
     => "^[:(read-char)^M1"
(execute-kbd-macro 'foo)
     -| 49
     => nil

Function: read-char-exclusive &optional prompt inherit-input-method
This function reads and returns a character of command input. If the user generates an event which is not a character, read-char-exclusive ignores it and reads another event, until it gets a character. The arguments work as in read-event.

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21.7.3 Invoking the Input Method

The event-reading functions invoke the current input method, if any (see section 33.11 Input Methods). If the value of input-method-function is non-nil, it should be a function; when read-event reads a printing character (including SPC) with no modifier bits, it calls that function, passing the character as an argument.

Variable: input-method-function
If this is non-nil, its value specifies the current input method function.

Note: Don't bind this variable with let. It is often buffer-local, and if you bind it around reading input (which is exactly when you would bind it), switching buffers asynchronously while Emacs is waiting will cause the value to be restored in the wrong buffer.

The input method function should return a list of events which should be used as input. (If the list is nil, that means there is no input, so read-event waits for another event.) These events are processed before the events in unread-command-events (see section 21.7.5 Miscellaneous Event Input Features). Events returned by the input method function are not passed to the input method function again, even if they are printing characters with no modifier bits.

If the input method function calls read-event or read-key-sequence, it should bind input-method-function to nil first, to prevent recursion.

The input method function is not called when reading the second and subsequent events of a key sequence. Thus, these characters are not subject to input method processing. The input method function should test the values of overriding-local-map and overriding-terminal-local-map; if either of these variables is non-nil, the input method should put its argument into a list and return that list with no further processing.

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21.7.4 Quoted Character Input

You can use the function read-quoted-char to ask the user to specify a character, and allow the user to specify a control or meta character conveniently, either literally or as an octal character code. The command quoted-insert uses this function.

Function: read-quoted-char &optional prompt
This function is like read-char, except that if the first character read is an octal digit (0-7), it reads any number of octal digits (but stopping if a non-octal digit is found), and returns the character represented by that numeric character code.

Quitting is suppressed when the first character is read, so that the user can enter a C-g. See section 21.10 Quitting.

If prompt is supplied, it specifies a string for prompting the user. The prompt string is always displayed in the echo area, followed by a single `-'.

In the following example, the user types in the octal number 177 (which is 127 in decimal).

(read-quoted-char "What character")

---------- Echo Area ----------
What character-177
---------- Echo Area ----------

     => 127

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21.7.5 Miscellaneous Event Input Features

This section describes how to "peek ahead" at events without using them up, how to check for pending input, and how to discard pending input. See also the function read-passwd (see section 20.8 Reading a Password).

Variable: unread-command-events
This variable holds a list of events waiting to be read as command input. The events are used in the order they appear in the list, and removed one by one as they are used.

The variable is needed because in some cases a function reads an event and then decides not to use it. Storing the event in this variable causes it to be processed normally, by the command loop or by the functions to read command input.

For example, the function that implements numeric prefix arguments reads any number of digits. When it finds a non-digit event, it must unread the event so that it can be read normally by the command loop. Likewise, incremental search uses this feature to unread events with no special meaning in a search, because these events should exit the search and then execute normally.

The reliable and easy way to extract events from a key sequence so as to put them in unread-command-events is to use listify-key-sequence (see section 21.6.14 Putting Keyboard Events in Strings).

Normally you add events to the front of this list, so that the events most recently unread will be reread first.

Function: listify-key-sequence key
This function converts the string or vector key to a list of individual events, which you can put in unread-command-events.

Variable: unread-command-char
This variable holds a character to be read as command input. A value of -1 means "empty".

This variable is mostly obsolete now that you can use unread-command-events instead; it exists only to support programs written for Emacs versions 18 and earlier.

Function: input-pending-p
This function determines whether any command input is currently available to be read. It returns immediately, with value t if there is available input, nil otherwise. On rare occasions it may return t when no input is available.

Variable: last-input-event
Variable: last-input-char
This variable records the last terminal input event read, whether as part of a command or explicitly by a Lisp program.

In the example below, the Lisp program reads the character 1, ASCII code 49. It becomes the value of last-input-event, while C-e (we assume C-x C-e command is used to evaluate this expression) remains the value of last-command-event.

(progn (print (read-char))
       (print last-command-event)
     -| 49
     -| 5
     => 49

The alias last-input-char exists for compatibility with Emacs version 18.

Function: discard-input
This function discards the contents of the terminal input buffer and cancels any keyboard macro that might be in the process of definition. It returns nil.

In the following example, the user may type a number of characters right after starting the evaluation of the form. After the sleep-for finishes sleeping, discard-input discards any characters typed during the sleep.

(progn (sleep-for 2)
     => nil

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21.8 Special Events

Special events are handled at a very low level--as soon as they are read. The read-event function processes these events itself, and never returns them.

Events that are handled in this way do not echo, they are never grouped into key sequences, and they never appear in the value of last-command-event or (this-command-keys). They do not discard a numeric argument, they cannot be unread with unread-command-events, they may not appear in a keyboard macro, and they are not recorded in a keyboard macro while you are defining one.

These events do, however, appear in last-input-event immediately after they are read, and this is the way for the event's definition to find the actual event.

The events types iconify-frame, make-frame-visible and delete-frame are normally handled in this way. The keymap which defines how to handle special events--and which events are special--is in the variable special-event-map (see section 22.6 Active Keymaps).

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21.9 Waiting for Elapsed Time or Input

The wait functions are designed to wait for a certain amount of time to pass or until there is input. For example, you may wish to pause in the middle of a computation to allow the user time to view the display. sit-for pauses and updates the screen, and returns immediately if input comes in, while sleep-for pauses without updating the screen.

Function: sit-for seconds &optional millisec nodisp
This function performs redisplay (provided there is no pending input from the user), then waits seconds seconds, or until input is available. The value is t if sit-for waited the full time with no input arriving (see input-pending-p in 21.7.5 Miscellaneous Event Input Features). Otherwise, the value is nil.

The argument seconds need not be an integer. If it is a floating point number, sit-for waits for a fractional number of seconds. Some systems support only a whole number of seconds; on these systems, seconds is rounded down.

The optional argument millisec specifies an additional waiting period measured in milliseconds. This adds to the period specified by seconds. If the system doesn't support waiting fractions of a second, you get an error if you specify nonzero millisec.

The expression (sit-for 0) is a convenient way to request a redisplay, without any delay. See section 38.2 Forcing Redisplay.

If nodisp is non-nil, then sit-for does not redisplay, but it still returns as soon as input is available (or when the timeout elapses).

Iconifying or deiconifying a frame makes sit-for return, because that generates an event. See section 21.6.10 Miscellaneous Window System Events.

The usual purpose of sit-for is to give the user time to read text that you display.

Function: sleep-for seconds &optional millisec
This function simply pauses for seconds seconds without updating the display. It pays no attention to available input. It returns nil.

The argument seconds need not be an integer. If it is a floating point number, sleep-for waits for a fractional number of seconds. Some systems support only a whole number of seconds; on these systems, seconds is rounded down.

The optional argument millisec specifies an additional waiting period measured in milliseconds. This adds to the period specified by seconds. If the system doesn't support waiting fractions of a second, you get an error if you specify nonzero millisec.

Use sleep-for when you wish to guarantee a delay.

See section 40.5 Time of Day, for functions to get the current time.

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21.10 Quitting

Typing C-g while a Lisp function is running causes Emacs to quit whatever it is doing. This means that control returns to the innermost active command loop.

Typing C-g while the command loop is waiting for keyboard input does not cause a quit; it acts as an ordinary input character. In the simplest case, you cannot tell the difference, because C-g normally runs the command keyboard-quit, whose effect is to quit. However, when C-g follows a prefix key, they combine to form an undefined key. The effect is to cancel the prefix key as well as any prefix argument.

In the minibuffer, C-g has a different definition: it aborts out of the minibuffer. This means, in effect, that it exits the minibuffer and then quits. (Simply quitting would return to the command loop within the minibuffer.) The reason why C-g does not quit directly when the command reader is reading input is so that its meaning can be redefined in the minibuffer in this way. C-g following a prefix key is not redefined in the minibuffer, and it has its normal effect of canceling the prefix key and prefix argument. This too would not be possible if C-g always quit directly.

When C-g does directly quit, it does so by setting the variable quit-flag to t. Emacs checks this variable at appropriate times and quits if it is not nil. Setting quit-flag non-nil in any way thus causes a quit.

At the level of C code, quitting cannot happen just anywhere; only at the special places that check quit-flag. The reason for this is that quitting at other places might leave an inconsistency in Emacs's internal state. Because quitting is delayed until a safe place, quitting cannot make Emacs crash.

Certain functions such as read-key-sequence or read-quoted-char prevent quitting entirely even though they wait for input. Instead of quitting, C-g serves as the requested input. In the case of read-key-sequence, this serves to bring about the special behavior of C-g in the command loop. In the case of read-quoted-char, this is so that C-q can be used to quote a C-g.

You can prevent quitting for a portion of a Lisp function by binding the variable inhibit-quit to a non-nil value. Then, although C-g still sets quit-flag to t as usual, the usual result of this--a quit--is prevented. Eventually, inhibit-quit will become nil again, such as when its binding is unwound at the end of a let form. At that time, if quit-flag is still non-nil, the requested quit happens immediately. This behavior is ideal when you wish to make sure that quitting does not happen within a "critical section" of the program.

In some functions (such as read-quoted-char), C-g is handled in a special way that does not involve quitting. This is done by reading the input with inhibit-quit bound to t, and setting quit-flag to nil before inhibit-quit becomes nil again. This excerpt from the definition of read-quoted-char shows how this is done; it also shows that normal quitting is permitted after the first character of input.

(defun read-quoted-char (&optional prompt)
  (let ((message-log-max nil) done (first t) (code 0) char)
    (while (not done)
      (let ((inhibit-quit first)
	(and prompt (message "%s-" prompt))
	(setq char (read-event))
	(if inhibit-quit (setq quit-flag nil)))
      ...set the variable code...)

Variable: quit-flag
If this variable is non-nil, then Emacs quits immediately, unless inhibit-quit is non-nil. Typing C-g ordinarily sets quit-flag non-nil, regardless of inhibit-quit.

Variable: inhibit-quit
This variable determines whether Emacs should quit when quit-flag is set to a value other than nil. If inhibit-quit is non-nil, then quit-flag has no special effect.

Command: keyboard-quit
This function signals the quit condition with (signal 'quit nil). This is the same thing that quitting does. (See signal in 10.5.3 Errors.)

You can specify a character other than C-g to use for quitting. See the function set-input-mode in 40.8 Terminal Input.

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21.11 Prefix Command Arguments

Most Emacs commands can use a prefix argument, a number specified before the command itself. (Don't confuse prefix arguments with prefix keys.) The prefix argument is at all times represented by a value, which may be nil, meaning there is currently no prefix argument. Each command may use the prefix argument or ignore it.

There are two representations of the prefix argument: raw and numeric. The editor command loop uses the raw representation internally, and so do the Lisp variables that store the information, but commands can request either representation.

Here are the possible values of a raw prefix argument:

We illustrate these possibilities by calling the following function with various prefixes:

(defun display-prefix (arg)
  "Display the value of the raw prefix arg."
  (interactive "P")
  (message "%s" arg))

Here are the results of calling display-prefix with various raw prefix arguments:

        M-x display-prefix  -| nil

C-u     M-x display-prefix  -| (4)

C-u C-u M-x display-prefix  -| (16)

C-u 3   M-x display-prefix  -| 3

M-3     M-x display-prefix  -| 3      ; (Same as C-u 3.)

C-u -   M-x display-prefix  -| -      

M--     M-x display-prefix  -| -      ; (Same as C-u -.)

C-u - 7 M-x display-prefix  -| -7     

M-- 7   M-x display-prefix  -| -7     ; (Same as C-u -7.)

Emacs uses two variables to store the prefix argument: prefix-arg and current-prefix-arg. Commands such as universal-argument that set up prefix arguments for other commands store them in prefix-arg. In contrast, current-prefix-arg conveys the prefix argument to the current command, so setting it has no effect on the prefix arguments for future commands.

Normally, commands specify which representation to use for the prefix argument, either numeric or raw, in the interactive declaration. (See section 21.2.1 Using interactive.) Alternatively, functions may look at the value of the prefix argument directly in the variable current-prefix-arg, but this is less clean.

Function: prefix-numeric-value arg
This function returns the numeric meaning of a valid raw prefix argument value, arg. The argument may be a symbol, a number, or a list. If it is nil, the value 1 is returned; if it is -, the value -1 is returned; if it is a number, that number is returned; if it is a list, the CAR of that list (which should be a number) is returned.

Variable: current-prefix-arg
This variable holds the raw prefix argument for the current command. Commands may examine it directly, but the usual method for accessing it is with (interactive "P").

Variable: prefix-arg
The value of this variable is the raw prefix argument for the next editing command. Commands such as universal-argument that specify prefix arguments for the following command work by setting this variable.

Variable: last-prefix-arg
The raw prefix argument value used by the previous command.

The following commands exist to set up prefix arguments for the following command. Do not call them for any other reason.

Command: universal-argument
This command reads input and specifies a prefix argument for the following command. Don't call this command yourself unless you know what you are doing.

Command: digit-argument arg
This command adds to the prefix argument for the following command. The argument arg is the raw prefix argument as it was before this command; it is used to compute the updated prefix argument. Don't call this command yourself unless you know what you are doing.

Command: negative-argument arg
This command adds to the numeric argument for the next command. The argument arg is the raw prefix argument as it was before this command; its value is negated to form the new prefix argument. Don't call this command yourself unless you know what you are doing.

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21.12 Recursive Editing

The Emacs command loop is entered automatically when Emacs starts up. This top-level invocation of the command loop never exits; it keeps running as long as Emacs does. Lisp programs can also invoke the command loop. Since this makes more than one activation of the command loop, we call it recursive editing. A recursive editing level has the effect of suspending whatever command invoked it and permitting the user to do arbitrary editing before resuming that command.

The commands available during recursive editing are the same ones available in the top-level editing loop and defined in the keymaps. Only a few special commands exit the recursive editing level; the others return to the recursive editing level when they finish. (The special commands for exiting are always available, but they do nothing when recursive editing is not in progress.)

All command loops, including recursive ones, set up all-purpose error handlers so that an error in a command run from the command loop will not exit the loop.

Minibuffer input is a special kind of recursive editing. It has a few special wrinkles, such as enabling display of the minibuffer and the minibuffer window, but fewer than you might suppose. Certain keys behave differently in the minibuffer, but that is only because of the minibuffer's local map; if you switch windows, you get the usual Emacs commands.

To invoke a recursive editing level, call the function recursive-edit. This function contains the command loop; it also contains a call to catch with tag exit, which makes it possible to exit the recursive editing level by throwing to exit (see section 10.5.1 Explicit Nonlocal Exits: catch and throw). If you throw a value other than t, then recursive-edit returns normally to the function that called it. The command C-M-c (exit-recursive-edit) does this. Throwing a t value causes recursive-edit to quit, so that control returns to the command loop one level up. This is called aborting, and is done by C-] (abort-recursive-edit).

Most applications should not use recursive editing, except as part of using the minibuffer. Usually it is more convenient for the user if you change the major mode of the current buffer temporarily to a special major mode, which should have a command to go back to the previous mode. (The e command in Rmail uses this technique.) Or, if you wish to give the user different text to edit "recursively", create and select a new buffer in a special mode. In this mode, define a command to complete the processing and go back to the previous buffer. (The m command in Rmail does this.)

Recursive edits are useful in debugging. You can insert a call to debug into a function definition as a sort of breakpoint, so that you can look around when the function gets there. debug invokes a recursive edit but also provides the other features of the debugger.

Recursive editing levels are also used when you type C-r in query-replace or use C-x q (kbd-macro-query).

Function: recursive-edit
This function invokes the editor command loop. It is called automatically by the initialization of Emacs, to let the user begin editing. When called from a Lisp program, it enters a recursive editing level.

In the following example, the function simple-rec first advances point one word, then enters a recursive edit, printing out a message in the echo area. The user can then do any editing desired, and then type C-M-c to exit and continue executing simple-rec.

(defun simple-rec ()
  (forward-word 1)
  (message "Recursive edit in progress")
  (forward-word 1))
     => simple-rec
     => nil

Command: exit-recursive-edit
This function exits from the innermost recursive edit (including minibuffer input). Its definition is effectively (throw 'exit nil).

Command: abort-recursive-edit
This function aborts the command that requested the innermost recursive edit (including minibuffer input), by signaling quit after exiting the recursive edit. Its definition is effectively (throw 'exit t). See section 21.10 Quitting.

Command: top-level
This function exits all recursive editing levels; it does not return a value, as it jumps completely out of any computation directly back to the main command loop.

Function: recursion-depth
This function returns the current depth of recursive edits. When no recursive edit is active, it returns 0.

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21.13 Disabling Commands

Disabling a command marks the command as requiring user confirmation before it can be executed. Disabling is used for commands which might be confusing to beginning users, to prevent them from using the commands by accident.

The low-level mechanism for disabling a command is to put a non-nil disabled property on the Lisp symbol for the command. These properties are normally set up by the user's init file (see section 40.1.2 The Init File, `.emacs') with Lisp expressions such as this:

(put 'upcase-region 'disabled t)

For a few commands, these properties are present by default (you can remove them in your init file if you wish).

If the value of the disabled property is a string, the message saying the command is disabled includes that string. For example:

(put 'delete-region 'disabled
     "Text deleted this way cannot be yanked back!\n")

See section `Disabling' in The GNU Emacs Manual, for the details on what happens when a disabled command is invoked interactively. Disabling a command has no effect on calling it as a function from Lisp programs.

Command: enable-command command
Allow command to be executed without special confirmation from now on, and (if the user confirms) alter the user's init file (see section 40.1.2 The Init File, `.emacs') so that this will apply to future sessions.

Command: disable-command command
Require special confirmation to execute command from now on, and (if the user confirms) alter the user's init file so that this will apply to future sessions.

Variable: disabled-command-hook
When the user invokes a disabled command interactively, this normal hook is run instead of the disabled command. The hook functions can use this-command-keys to determine what the user typed to run the command, and thus find the command itself. See section 23.6 Hooks.

By default, disabled-command-hook contains a function that asks the user whether to proceed.

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21.14 Command History

The command loop keeps a history of the complex commands that have been executed, to make it convenient to repeat these commands. A complex command is one for which the interactive argument reading uses the minibuffer. This includes any M-x command, any M-: command, and any command whose interactive specification reads an argument from the minibuffer. Explicit use of the minibuffer during the execution of the command itself does not cause the command to be considered complex.

Variable: command-history
This variable's value is a list of recent complex commands, each represented as a form to evaluate. It continues to accumulate all complex commands for the duration of the editing session, but when it reaches the maximum size (specified by the variable history-length), the oldest elements are deleted as new ones are added.

=> ((switch-to-buffer "chistory.texi")
    (describe-key "^X^[")
    (visit-tags-table "~/emacs/src/")
    (find-tag "repeat-complex-command"))

This history list is actually a special case of minibuffer history (see section 20.4 Minibuffer History), with one special twist: the elements are expressions rather than strings.

There are a number of commands devoted to the editing and recall of previous commands. The commands repeat-complex-command, and list-command-history are described in the user manual (see section `Repetition' in The GNU Emacs Manual). Within the minibuffer, the usual minibuffer history commands are available.

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21.15 Keyboard Macros

A keyboard macro is a canned sequence of input events that can be considered a command and made the definition of a key. The Lisp representation of a keyboard macro is a string or vector containing the events. Don't confuse keyboard macros with Lisp macros (see section 13. Macros).

Function: execute-kbd-macro kbdmacro &optional count
This function executes kbdmacro as a sequence of events. If kbdmacro is a string or vector, then the events in it are executed exactly as if they had been input by the user. The sequence is not expected to be a single key sequence; normally a keyboard macro definition consists of several key sequences concatenated.

If kbdmacro is a symbol, then its function definition is used in place of kbdmacro. If that is another symbol, this process repeats. Eventually the result should be a string or vector. If the result is not a symbol, string, or vector, an error is signaled.

The argument count is a repeat count; kbdmacro is executed that many times. If count is omitted or nil, kbdmacro is executed once. If it is 0, kbdmacro is executed over and over until it encounters an error or a failing search.

See section 21.7.2 Reading One Event, for an example of using execute-kbd-macro.

Variable: executing-macro
This variable contains the string or vector that defines the keyboard macro that is currently executing. It is nil if no macro is currently executing. A command can test this variable so as to behave differently when run from an executing macro. Do not set this variable yourself.

Variable: defining-kbd-macro
This variable indicates whether a keyboard macro is being defined. A command can test this variable so as to behave differently while a macro is being defined. The commands start-kbd-macro and end-kbd-macro set this variable--do not set it yourself.

The variable is always local to the current terminal and cannot be buffer-local. See section 29.2 Multiple Displays.

Variable: last-kbd-macro
This variable is the definition of the most recently defined keyboard macro. Its value is a string or vector, or nil.

The variable is always local to the current terminal and cannot be buffer-local. See section 29.2 Multiple Displays.

Variable: kbd-macro-termination-hook
This normal hook (see section I. Standard Hooks) is run when a keyboard macro terminates, regardless of what caused it to terminate (reaching the macro end or an error which ended the macro prematurely).

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