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1. The Organization of the Screen

On a text-only terminal, the Emacs display occupies the whole screen. On a graphical display, such as on GNU/Linux using the X Window System, Emacs creates its own windows to use. We use the term frame to mean the entire text-only screen or an entire system-level window used by Emacs. Emacs uses both kinds of frames, in the same way, to display your editing. Emacs normally starts out with just one frame, but you can create additional frames if you wish. See section Frames and Graphical Displays.

When you start Emacs, the main central area of the frame, all except for the top and bottom and sides, displays the text you are editing. This area is called the window. At the top there is normally a menu bar where you can access a series of menus; then there may be a tool bar, a row of icons that perform editing commands if you click on them. Below this, the window begins, often with a scroll bar on one side. Below the window comes the last line of the frame, a special echo area or minibuffer window, where prompts appear and you enter information when Emacs asks for it. See following sections for more information about these special lines.

You can subdivide the window horizontally or vertically to make multiple text windows, each of which can independently display some file or text (see section Multiple Windows). In this manual, the word “window” refers to the initial large window if not subdivided, or any one of the multiple windows you have subdivided it into.

At any time, one window is the selected window. On graphical displays, the selected window normally shows a more prominent cursor (usually solid and blinking) while other windows show a weaker cursor (such as a hollow box). Text terminals have just one cursor, so it always appears in the selected window.

Most Emacs commands implicitly apply to the text in the selected window; the text in unselected windows is mostly visible for reference. However, mouse commands generally operate on whatever window you click them in, whether selected or not. If you use multiple frames on a graphical display, then giving the input focus to a particular frame selects a window in that frame.

Each window's last line is a mode line, which describes what is going on in that window. It appears in different color and/or a “3D” box if the terminal supports them; its contents normally begin with ‘--:--  *scratch*’ when Emacs starts. The mode line displays status information such as what buffer is being displayed above it in the window, what major and minor modes are in use, and whether the buffer contains unsaved changes.

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