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57.4.6 Rebinding Keys in Your Init File

If you have a set of key bindings that you like to use all the time, you can specify them in your ‘.emacs’ file by using their Lisp syntax. (See section The Init File, ‘~/.emacs.)

The simplest method for doing this works for ASCII characters and Meta-modified ASCII characters only. This method uses a string to represent the key sequence you want to rebind. For example, here's how to bind C-z to shell:

(global-set-key "\C-z" 'shell)

This example uses a string constant containing one character, C-z. (‘\C-’ is string syntax for a control character.) The single-quote before the command name, shell, marks it as a constant symbol rather than a variable. If you omit the quote, Emacs would try to evaluate shell immediately as a variable. This probably causes an error; it certainly isn't what you want.

Here is another example that binds the key sequence C-x M-l:

(global-set-key "\C-x\M-l" 'make-symbolic-link)

To put <TAB>, <RET>, <ESC>, or <DEL> in the string, you can use the Emacs Lisp escape sequences, ‘\t’, ‘\r’, ‘\e’, and ‘\d’. Here is an example which binds C-x <TAB>:

(global-set-key "\C-x\t" 'indent-rigidly)

These examples show how to write some other special ASCII characters in strings for key bindings:

(global-set-key "\r" 'newline)               ;; <RET>
(global-set-key "\d" 'delete-backward-char)  ;; <DEL>
(global-set-key "\C-x\e\e" 'repeat-complex-command)  ;; <ESC>

When the key sequence includes function keys or mouse button events, or non-ASCII characters such as C-= or H-a, you must use the more general method of rebinding, which uses a vector to specify the key sequence.

The way to write a vector in Emacs Lisp is with square brackets around the vector elements. Use spaces to separate the elements. If an element is a symbol, simply write the symbol's name—no other delimiters or punctuation are needed. If a vector element is a character, write it as a Lisp character constant: ‘?’ followed by the character as it would appear in a string.

Here are examples of using vectors to rebind C-= (a control character not in ASCII), C-M-= (not in ASCII because C-= is not), H-a (a Hyper character; ASCII doesn't have Hyper at all), <F7> (a function key), and C-Mouse-1 (a keyboard-modified mouse button):

(global-set-key [?\C-=] 'make-symbolic-link)
(global-set-key [?\M-\C-=] 'make-symbolic-link)
(global-set-key [?\H-a] 'make-symbolic-link)
(global-set-key [f7] 'make-symbolic-link)
(global-set-key [C-mouse-1] 'make-symbolic-link)

You can use a vector for the simple cases too. Here's how to rewrite the first six examples above to use vectors:

(global-set-key [?\C-z] 'shell)
(global-set-key [?\C-x ?l] 'make-symbolic-link)
(global-set-key [?\C-x ?\t] 'indent-rigidly)
(global-set-key [?\r] 'newline)
(global-set-key [?\d] 'delete-backward-char)
(global-set-key [?\C-x ?\e ?\e] 'repeat-complex-command)

As you see, you represent a multi-character key sequence with a vector by listing all of the characters, in order, within the square brackets that delimit the vector.

Language and coding systems can cause problems with key bindings for non-ASCII characters. See section Non-ASCII Characters in Init Files.

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