Key Bindings

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In Emacs, almost any keystroke, optionally combined with one or more modifier keys, or any sequence of such keystrokes, can be "bound" to any command.

Modifier keys naming convention[edit]

Modifier key Abbr. Remarks Example Action
Alt A Relatively seldom used in Emacs, because Meta is often "logically" mapped to the "physical" Alt key. A-x Type "x" while holding down the (non-Meta) Alt key
Control C C-x C-f While holding down Ctrl, type first "x" then "f". (This runs the command find-file).
Hyper h Often not mapped to any key (by default). h-x Type "x" while holding down hyper
Meta M Often mapped to Alt on your keyboard M-x find-file RET Either:
  • type "x" while holding down Meta, or
  • type "Esc" then "x"

(M-x activates the minibuffer)

Then type "find-file" in the minibuffer, then Return.

Shift S S-x Type "x" while holding down Shift
Super s On OS X this is the Command ⌘ key.

On other systems often not mapped to any key by default, or to Window or Menu if present

s-x Type "x" while holding down super

By convention, when multiple modifiers are specified, they go in alphabetical order: [C-M-x] not [M-C-x].

Printable cheat sheet for popular modes[edit]

Emacs ships with cheat sheets of common and useful key bindings. The pdf files are located in the refcards/ subdirectory of data-directory.

Change key bindings[edit]

You can add, remove and change key bindings for any command by using the Emacs Lisp function global-set-key or local-set-key.

M-x global-set-key or M-x local-set-key
Hit the key sequence you want to bind
Type the command to bind to that key sequence
Invoke [C-x ESC ESC]. The output you see is the full lisp command which does the binding. You can copy this to your Emacs configuration file.


  • global-set-key bind keys globally (i.e. global-mode-map), which means other modes would override key bindings set by global-set-key.
  • local-set-key bind keys in the current buffer major mode, which affects all buffers sharing the mode.

External Links[edit]