Skip to content

Instantly share code, notes, and snippets.

What would you like to do?
My emacs cheat sheet

In penance for cracking stupid jokes on Twitter, here's my Emacs cheat sheet. Emacs has a steep learning curve, so I've tried to order them by importance so you could learn them in stages.

One overall rule of thumb: pay attention to the minibuffer (the line at the bottom of the editor). It will often guide you through a process, and also gives you hints about what state you're in, such as the middle of a multi-chord sequence.

The other rule of thumb: when in doubt, C-g it out.

Basics (mandatory)

You simply can't get by without having these at your fingertips.

  • C-x C-c - quit
  • C-x C-s - save buffer
  • C-x C-f - open file
  • C-x b buffer name - switch to open buffer
  • C-g - cancel
  • C-x k - close current buffer
  • C-h a command name - look up docs for command
  • M-x command name - execute command
  • C-x u - undo
  • C-/ - undo

Getting around (really useful, worth learning)


  • C-a - beginning of line

  • C-e - end of line

  • C-f - forward character

  • C-b - backward character

  • C-p - down a line

  • C-n - up a line

  • M-f - forward word

  • M-b - backward word

  • S-any of the above - navigate and select

  • C-space - start selection

Cutting and pasting

  • C-w - cut
  • C-y - paste

Search and replace

  • C-s - search
  • M-% - search and replace

More advanced editing

Deletion and cutting

  • C-d - delete character ahead
  • M-d - delete word ahead
  • backspace - delete character behind
  • M-backspace - delete word behind
  • C-k - cut from cursor to end of line


  • C-o - insert newline after cursor


  • C-x 2 - split window horizontally
  • C-x 3 - split window vertically
  • C-x 1 - unsplit window
  • C-x o - switch to other pane in split window


  • M-q - auto-hard-wrap current paragraph
  • C-t - swap the two characters at the cursor
  • M-u - uppercase the word at the cursor
  • M-l - lowercase the word at the cursor
  • C-u n char - insert n copies of char

Power tools

  • M-x replace-regexp - search and replace by regexp (the quoting/escaping is so weird that this always takes me several tries)
  • C-r t - "string-rectangle" (this one's really weird but super useful sometimes; look up the docs)
Copy link

mbriggs commented Aug 20, 2012

the joke is funny because its true, but also because its totally mystifying to anyone new to emacs :)

Copy link

chrisbanm commented Dec 11, 2017

That should be C-x r t not C-r t which will perform a reverse search.

Copy link

BrainStormCenter commented Jan 30, 2018

For those of us new to emacs, which keys do the 'C' and 'M' represent?

Copy link

mbroadhead commented Feb 13, 2018


For those of us new to emacs, which keys do the 'C' and 'M' represent?

C=Control and M=Alt on my keyboard. But see here for more details:

Although only the <Control> and <META> modifier keys are commonly used, Emacs supports three other modifier keys. 
These are called <Super>, <Hyper> and <Alt>. Few terminals provide ways to use these modifiers; the key labeled <Alt> 
on most keyboards usually issues the <META> modifier, not <Alt>.

Copy link

jakewilliami commented Jan 20, 2021

I'm not that new to emacs, but I still don't get the joke from Twitter. Can you explain? Also, nice cheat sheet!

Sign up for free to join this conversation on GitHub. Already have an account? Sign in to comment