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26. Backups and Auto-Saving

Backup files and auto-save files are two methods by which Emacs tries to protect the user from the consequences of crashes or of the user's own errors. Auto-saving preserves the text from earlier in the current editing session; backup files preserve file contents prior to the current session.

26.1 Backup Files  How backup files are made; how their names are chosen.
26.2 Auto-Saving  How auto-save files are made; how their names are chosen.
26.3 Reverting  revert-buffer, and how to customize what it does.

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26.1 Backup Files

A backup file is a copy of the old contents of a file you are editing. Emacs makes a backup file the first time you save a buffer into its visited file. Normally, this means that the backup file contains the contents of the file as it was before the current editing session. The contents of the backup file normally remain unchanged once it exists.

Backups are usually made by renaming the visited file to a new name. Optionally, you can specify that backup files should be made by copying the visited file. This choice makes a difference for files with multiple names; it also can affect whether the edited file remains owned by the original owner or becomes owned by the user editing it.

By default, Emacs makes a single backup file for each file edited. You can alternatively request numbered backups; then each new backup file gets a new name. You can delete old numbered backups when you don't want them any more, or Emacs can delete them automatically.

26.1.1 Making Backup Files  How Emacs makes backup files, and when.
26.1.2 Backup by Renaming or by Copying?  Two alternatives: renaming the old file or copying it.
26.1.3 Making and Deleting Numbered Backup Files  Keeping multiple backups for each source file.
26.1.4 Naming Backup Files  How backup file names are computed; customization.

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26.1.1 Making Backup Files

Function: backup-buffer
This function makes a backup of the file visited by the current buffer, if appropriate. It is called by save-buffer before saving the buffer the first time.

Variable: buffer-backed-up
This buffer-local variable indicates whether this buffer's file has been backed up on account of this buffer. If it is non-nil, then the backup file has been written. Otherwise, the file should be backed up when it is next saved (if backups are enabled). This is a permanent local; kill-all-local-variables does not alter it.

User Option: make-backup-files
This variable determines whether or not to make backup files. If it is non-nil, then Emacs creates a backup of each file when it is saved for the first time--provided that backup-inhibited is nil (see below).

The following example shows how to change the make-backup-files variable only in the Rmail buffers and not elsewhere. Setting it nil stops Emacs from making backups of these files, which may save disk space. (You would put this code in your init file.)

(add-hook 'rmail-mode-hook 
          (function (lambda ()
                      (setq make-backup-files nil))))

Variable: backup-enable-predicate
This variable's value is a function to be called on certain occasions to decide whether a file should have backup files. The function receives one argument, a file name to consider. If the function returns nil, backups are disabled for that file. Otherwise, the other variables in this section say whether and how to make backups.

The default value is normal-backup-enable-predicate, which checks for files in temporary-file-directory and small-temporary-file-directory.

Variable: backup-inhibited
If this variable is non-nil, backups are inhibited. It records the result of testing backup-enable-predicate on the visited file name. It can also coherently be used by other mechanisms that inhibit backups based on which file is visited. For example, VC sets this variable non-nil to prevent making backups for files managed with a version control system.

This is a permanent local, so that changing the major mode does not lose its value. Major modes should not set this variable--they should set make-backup-files instead.

Variable: backup-directory-alist
This variable's value is an alist of filename patterns and backup directory names. Each element looks like
(regexp . directory)

Backups of files with names matching regexp will be made in directory. directory may be relative or absolute. If it is absolute, so that all matching files are backed up into the same directory, the file names in this directory will be the full name of the file backed up with all directory separators changed to `!' to prevent clashes. This will not work correctly if your filesystem truncates the resulting name.

For the common case of all backups going into one directory, the alist should contain a single element pairing `"."' with the appropriate directory name.

If this variable is nil, or it fails to match a filename, the backup is made in the original file's directory.

On MS-DOS filesystems without long names this variable is always ignored.

Variable: make-backup-file-name-function
This variable's value is a function to use for making backups instead of the default make-backup-file-name. A value of nil gives the default make-backup-file-name behaviour.

This could be buffer-local to do something special for specific files. If you define it, you may need to change backup-file-name-p and file-name-sans-versions too.

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26.1.2 Backup by Renaming or by Copying?

There are two ways that Emacs can make a backup file:

The first method, renaming, is the default.

The variable backup-by-copying, if non-nil, says to use the second method, which is to copy the original file and overwrite it with the new buffer contents. The variable file-precious-flag, if non-nil, also has this effect (as a sideline of its main significance). See section 25.2 Saving Buffers.

Variable: backup-by-copying
If this variable is non-nil, Emacs always makes backup files by copying.

The following two variables, when non-nil, cause the second method to be used in certain special cases. They have no effect on the treatment of files that don't fall into the special cases.

Variable: backup-by-copying-when-linked
If this variable is non-nil, Emacs makes backups by copying for files with multiple names (hard links).

This variable is significant only if backup-by-copying is nil, since copying is always used when that variable is non-nil.

Variable: backup-by-copying-when-mismatch
If this variable is non-nil, Emacs makes backups by copying in cases where renaming would change either the owner or the group of the file.

The value has no effect when renaming would not alter the owner or group of the file; that is, for files which are owned by the user and whose group matches the default for a new file created there by the user.

This variable is significant only if backup-by-copying is nil, since copying is always used when that variable is non-nil.

Variable: backup-by-copying-when-privileged-mismatch
This variable, if non-nil, specifies the same behavior as backup-by-copying-when-mismatch, but only for certain user-id values: namely, those less than or equal to a certain number. You set this variable to that number.

Thus, if you set backup-by-copying-when-privileged-mismatch to 0, backup by copying is done for the superuser only, when necessary to prevent a change in the owner of the file.

The default is 200.

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26.1.3 Making and Deleting Numbered Backup Files

If a file's name is `foo', the names of its numbered backup versions are `foo.~v~', for various integers v, like this: `foo.~1~', `foo.~2~', `foo.~3~', ..., `foo.~259~', and so on.

User Option: version-control
This variable controls whether to make a single non-numbered backup file or multiple numbered backups.

Make numbered backups if the visited file already has numbered backups; otherwise, do not.

Do not make numbered backups.

anything else
Make numbered backups.

The use of numbered backups ultimately leads to a large number of backup versions, which must then be deleted. Emacs can do this automatically or it can ask the user whether to delete them.

User Option: kept-new-versions
The value of this variable is the number of newest versions to keep when a new numbered backup is made. The newly made backup is included in the count. The default value is 2.

User Option: kept-old-versions
The value of this variable is the number of oldest versions to keep when a new numbered backup is made. The default value is 2.

If there are backups numbered 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7, and both of these variables have the value 2, then the backups numbered 1 and 2 are kept as old versions and those numbered 5 and 7 are kept as new versions; backup version 3 is excess. The function find-backup-file-name (see section 26.1.4 Naming Backup Files) is responsible for determining which backup versions to delete, but does not delete them itself.

User Option: delete-old-versions
If this variable is t, then saving a file deletes excess backup versions silently. If it is nil, that means to ask for confirmation before deleting excess backups. Otherwise, they are not deleted at all.

User Option: dired-kept-versions
This variable specifies how many of the newest backup versions to keep in the Dired command . (dired-clean-directory). That's the same thing kept-new-versions specifies when you make a new backup file. The default value is 2.

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26.1.4 Naming Backup Files

The functions in this section are documented mainly because you can customize the naming conventions for backup files by redefining them. If you change one, you probably need to change the rest.

Function: backup-file-name-p filename
This function returns a non-nil value if filename is a possible name for a backup file. A file with the name filename need not exist; the function just checks the name.

(backup-file-name-p "foo")
     => nil
(backup-file-name-p "foo~")
     => 3

The standard definition of this function is as follows:

(defun backup-file-name-p (file)
  "Return non-nil if FILE is a backup file \
name (numeric or not)..."
  (string-match "~\\'" file))

Thus, the function returns a non-nil value if the file name ends with a `~'. (We use a backslash to split the documentation string's first line into two lines in the text, but produce just one line in the string itself.)

This simple expression is placed in a separate function to make it easy to redefine for customization.

Function: make-backup-file-name filename
This function returns a string that is the name to use for a non-numbered backup file for file filename. On Unix, this is just filename with a tilde appended.

The standard definition of this function, on most operating systems, is as follows:

(defun make-backup-file-name (file)
  "Create the non-numeric backup file name for FILE..."
  (concat file "~"))

You can change the backup-file naming convention by redefining this function. The following example redefines make-backup-file-name to prepend a `.' in addition to appending a tilde:

(defun make-backup-file-name (filename)
    (concat "." (file-name-nondirectory filename) "~")
    (file-name-directory filename)))

(make-backup-file-name "backups.texi")
     => ".backups.texi~"

Some parts of Emacs, including some Dired commands, assume that backup file names end with `~'. If you do not follow that convention, it will not cause serious problems, but these commands may give less-than-desirable results.

Function: find-backup-file-name filename
This function computes the file name for a new backup file for filename. It may also propose certain existing backup files for deletion. find-backup-file-name returns a list whose CAR is the name for the new backup file and whose CDR is a list of backup files whose deletion is proposed.

Two variables, kept-old-versions and kept-new-versions, determine which backup versions should be kept. This function keeps those versions by excluding them from the CDR of the value. See section 26.1.3 Making and Deleting Numbered Backup Files.

In this example, the value says that `~rms/foo.~5~' is the name to use for the new backup file, and `~rms/foo.~3~' is an "excess" version that the caller should consider deleting now.

(find-backup-file-name "~rms/foo")
     => ("~rms/foo.~5~" "~rms/foo.~3~")

Function: file-newest-backup filename
This function returns the name of the most recent backup file for filename, or nil if that file has no backup files.

Some file comparison commands use this function so that they can automatically compare a file with its most recent backup.

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26.2 Auto-Saving

Emacs periodically saves all files that you are visiting; this is called auto-saving. Auto-saving prevents you from losing more than a limited amount of work if the system crashes. By default, auto-saves happen every 300 keystrokes, or after around 30 seconds of idle time. See section `Auto-Saving: Protection Against Disasters' in The GNU Emacs Manual, for information on auto-save for users. Here we describe the functions used to implement auto-saving and the variables that control them.

Variable: buffer-auto-save-file-name
This buffer-local variable is the name of the file used for auto-saving the current buffer. It is nil if the buffer should not be auto-saved.

     => "/xcssun/users/rms/lewis/#backups.texi#"

Command: auto-save-mode arg
When used interactively without an argument, this command is a toggle switch: it turns on auto-saving of the current buffer if it is off, and vice versa. With an argument arg, the command turns auto-saving on if the value of arg is t, a nonempty list, or a positive integer. Otherwise, it turns auto-saving off.

Function: auto-save-file-name-p filename
This function returns a non-nil value if filename is a string that could be the name of an auto-save file. It assumes the usual naming convention for auto-save files: a name that begins and ends with hash marks (`#') is a possible auto-save file name. The argument filename should not contain a directory part.

     => "/xcssun/users/rms/lewis/#backups.texi#"
(auto-save-file-name-p "#backups.texi#")
     => 0
(auto-save-file-name-p "backups.texi")
     => nil

The standard definition of this function is as follows:

(defun auto-save-file-name-p (filename)
  "Return non-nil if FILENAME can be yielded by..."
  (string-match "^#.*#$" filename))

This function exists so that you can customize it if you wish to change the naming convention for auto-save files. If you redefine it, be sure to redefine the function make-auto-save-file-name correspondingly.

Function: make-auto-save-file-name
This function returns the file name to use for auto-saving the current buffer. This is just the file name with hash marks (`#') prepended and appended to it. This function does not look at the variable auto-save-visited-file-name (described below); callers of this function should check that variable first.

     => "/xcssun/users/rms/lewis/#backups.texi#"

The standard definition of this function is as follows:

(defun make-auto-save-file-name ()
  "Return file name to use for auto-saves \
of current buffer.."
  (if buffer-file-name
       (file-name-directory buffer-file-name)
       (file-name-nondirectory buffer-file-name)
     (concat "#%" (buffer-name) "#"))))

This exists as a separate function so that you can redefine it to customize the naming convention for auto-save files. Be sure to change auto-save-file-name-p in a corresponding way.

Variable: auto-save-visited-file-name
If this variable is non-nil, Emacs auto-saves buffers in the files they are visiting. That is, the auto-save is done in the same file that you are editing. Normally, this variable is nil, so auto-save files have distinct names that are created by make-auto-save-file-name.

When you change the value of this variable, the new value does not take effect in an existing buffer until the next time auto-save mode is reenabled in it. If auto-save mode is already enabled, auto-saves continue to go in the same file name until auto-save-mode is called again.

Function: recent-auto-save-p
This function returns t if the current buffer has been auto-saved since the last time it was read in or saved.

Function: set-buffer-auto-saved
This function marks the current buffer as auto-saved. The buffer will not be auto-saved again until the buffer text is changed again. The function returns nil.

User Option: auto-save-interval
The value of this variable specifies how often to do auto-saving, in terms of number of input events. Each time this many additional input events are read, Emacs does auto-saving for all buffers in which that is enabled.

User Option: auto-save-timeout
The value of this variable is the number of seconds of idle time that should cause auto-saving. Each time the user pauses for this long, Emacs does auto-saving for all buffers in which that is enabled. (If the current buffer is large, the specified timeout is multiplied by a factor that increases as the size increases; for a million-byte buffer, the factor is almost 4.)

If the value is zero or nil, then auto-saving is not done as a result of idleness, only after a certain number of input events as specified by auto-save-interval.

Variable: auto-save-hook
This normal hook is run whenever an auto-save is about to happen.

User Option: auto-save-default
If this variable is non-nil, buffers that are visiting files have auto-saving enabled by default. Otherwise, they do not.

Command: do-auto-save &optional no-message current-only
This function auto-saves all buffers that need to be auto-saved. It saves all buffers for which auto-saving is enabled and that have been changed since the previous auto-save.

Normally, if any buffers are auto-saved, a message that says `Auto-saving...' is displayed in the echo area while auto-saving is going on. However, if no-message is non-nil, the message is inhibited.

If current-only is non-nil, only the current buffer is auto-saved.

Function: delete-auto-save-file-if-necessary
This function deletes the current buffer's auto-save file if delete-auto-save-files is non-nil. It is called every time a buffer is saved.

Variable: delete-auto-save-files
This variable is used by the function delete-auto-save-file-if-necessary. If it is non-nil, Emacs deletes auto-save files when a true save is done (in the visited file). This saves disk space and unclutters your directory.

Function: rename-auto-save-file
This function adjusts the current buffer's auto-save file name if the visited file name has changed. It also renames an existing auto-save file. If the visited file name has not changed, this function does nothing.

Variable: buffer-saved-size
The value of this buffer-local variable is the length of the current buffer, when it was last read in, saved, or auto-saved. This is used to detect a substantial decrease in size, and turn off auto-saving in response.

If it is -1, that means auto-saving is temporarily shut off in this buffer due to a substantial decrease in size. Explicitly saving the buffer stores a positive value in this variable, thus reenabling auto-saving. Turning auto-save mode off or on also updates this variable, so that the substantial decrease in size is forgotten.

Variable: auto-save-list-file-name
This variable (if non-nil) specifies a file for recording the names of all the auto-save files. Each time Emacs does auto-saving, it writes two lines into this file for each buffer that has auto-saving enabled. The first line gives the name of the visited file (it's empty if the buffer has none), and the second gives the name of the auto-save file.

When Emacs exits normally, it deletes this file; if Emacs crashes, you can look in the file to find all the auto-save files that might contain work that was otherwise lost. The recover-session command uses this file to find them.

The default name for this file specifies your home directory and starts with `.saves-'. It also contains the Emacs process ID and the host name.

Variable: auto-save-list-file-prefix
After Emacs reads your init file, it initializes auto-save-list-file-name (if you have not already set it non-nil) based on this prefix, adding the host name and process ID. If you set this to nil in your init file, then Emacs does not initialize auto-save-list-file-name.

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26.3 Reverting

If you have made extensive changes to a file and then change your mind about them, you can get rid of them by reading in the previous version of the file with the revert-buffer command. See section `Reverting a Buffer' in The GNU Emacs Manual.

Command: revert-buffer &optional ignore-auto noconfirm
This command replaces the buffer text with the text of the visited file on disk. This action undoes all changes since the file was visited or saved.

By default, if the latest auto-save file is more recent than the visited file, and the argument ignore-auto is nil, revert-buffer asks the user whether to use that auto-save instead. When you invoke this command interactively, ignore-auto is t if there is no numeric prefix argument; thus, the interactive default is not to check the auto-save file.

Normally, revert-buffer asks for confirmation before it changes the buffer; but if the argument noconfirm is non-nil, revert-buffer does not ask for confirmation.

Reverting tries to preserve marker positions in the buffer by using the replacement feature of insert-file-contents. If the buffer contents and the file contents are identical before the revert operation, reverting preserves all the markers. If they are not identical, reverting does change the buffer; in that case, it preserves the markers in the unchanged text (if any) at the beginning and end of the buffer. Preserving any additional markers would be problematical.

You can customize how revert-buffer does its work by setting the variables described in the rest of this section.

Variable: revert-without-query
This variable holds a list of files that should be reverted without query. The value is a list of regular expressions. If the visited file name matches one of these regular expressions, and the file has changed on disk but the buffer is not modified, then revert-buffer reverts the file without asking the user for confirmation.

Some major modes customize revert-buffer by making buffer-local bindings for these variables:

Variable: revert-buffer-function
The value of this variable is the function to use to revert this buffer. If non-nil, it is called as a function with no arguments to do the work of reverting. If the value is nil, reverting works the usual way.

Modes such as Dired mode, in which the text being edited does not consist of a file's contents but can be regenerated in some other fashion, can give this variable a buffer-local value that is a function to regenerate the contents.

Variable: revert-buffer-insert-file-contents-function
The value of this variable, if non-nil, specifies the function to use to insert the updated contents when reverting this buffer. The function receives two arguments: first the file name to use; second, t if the user has asked to read the auto-save file.

The reason for a mode to set this variable instead of revert-buffer-function is to avoid duplicating or replacing the rest of what revert-buffer does: asking for confirmation, clearing the undo list, deciding the proper major mode, and running the hooks listed below.

Variable: before-revert-hook
This normal hook is run by revert-buffer before inserting the modified contents--but only if revert-buffer-function is nil.

Variable: after-revert-hook
This normal hook is run by revert-buffer after inserting the modified contents--but only if revert-buffer-function is nil.

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