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19.7 Font Lock mode

Font Lock mode is a minor mode, always local to a particular buffer, which highlights (or “fontifies”) the buffer contents according to the syntax of the text you are editing. It can recognize comments and strings in most languages; in several languages, it can also recognize and properly highlight various other important constructs—for example, names of functions being defined or reserved keywords. Some special modes, such as Occur mode and Info mode, have completely specialized ways of assigning fonts for Font Lock mode.

Font Lock mode is turned on by default in all modes which support it. You can toggle font-lock for each buffer with the command M-x font-lock-mode. Using a positive argument unconditionally turns Font Lock mode on, and a negative or zero argument turns it off.

If you do not wish Font Lock mode to be turned on by default, customize the variable global-font-lock-mode using the Customize interface (see section Easy Customization Interface), or use the function global-font-lock-mode in your ‘.emacs’ file, like this:

(global-font-lock-mode 0)

This variable, like all the variables that control Font Lock mode, take effect whenever fontification is done; that is, potentially at any time.

If you have disabled Global Font Lock mode, you can still enable Font Lock for specific major modes by adding the function turn-on-font-lock to the mode hooks (see section Hooks). For example, to enable Font Lock mode for editing C files, you can do this:

(add-hook 'c-mode-hook 'turn-on-font-lock)

Font Lock mode uses several specifically named faces to do its job, including font-lock-string-face, font-lock-comment-face, and others. The easiest way to find them all is to use M-x customize-group <RET> font-lock-faces <RET>. You can then use that customization buffer to customize the appearance of these faces. See section Customizing Faces.

You can also customize these faces using M-x set-face-foreground or M-x set-face-background. See section Using Multiple Typefaces.

The variable font-lock-maximum-decoration specifies the preferred level of fontification, for modes that provide multiple levels. Level 1 is the least amount of fontification; some modes support levels as high as 3. The normal default is “as high as possible.” You can specify an integer, which applies to all modes, or you can specify different numbers for particular major modes; for example, to use level 1 for C/C++ modes, and the default level otherwise, use this:

(setq font-lock-maximum-decoration
      '((c-mode . 1) (c++-mode . 1)))

Fontification can be too slow for large buffers, so you can suppress it for buffers above a certain size. The variable font-lock-maximum-size specifies a buffer size, beyond which buffer fontification is suppressed.

Comment and string fontification (or “syntactic” fontification) relies on analysis of the syntactic structure of the buffer text. For the sake of speed, some modes, including Lisp mode, rely on a special convention: an open-parenthesis or open-brace in the leftmost column always defines the beginning of a defun, and is thus always outside any string or comment. (See section Left Margin Convention.) If you don't follow this convention, Font Lock mode can misfontify the text that follows an open-parenthesis or open-brace in the leftmost column that is inside a string or comment.

The variable font-lock-beginning-of-syntax-function (always buffer-local) specifies how Font Lock mode can find a position guaranteed to be outside any comment or string. In modes which use the leftmost column parenthesis convention, the default value of the variable is beginning-of-defun—that tells Font Lock mode to use the convention. If you set this variable to nil, Font Lock no longer relies on the convention. This avoids incorrect results, but the price is that, in some cases, fontification for a changed text must rescan buffer text from the beginning of the buffer. This can considerably slow down redisplay while scrolling, particularly if you are close to the end of a large buffer.

Font Lock highlighting patterns already exist for many modes, but you may want to fontify additional patterns. You can use the function font-lock-add-keywords, to add your own highlighting patterns for a particular mode. For example, to highlight ‘FIXME:’ words in C comments, use this:

 '(("\\<\\(FIXME\\):" 1 font-lock-warning-face t)))

To remove keywords from the font-lock highlighting patterns, use the function font-lock-remove-keywords. See (elisp)Search-based Fontification section `Search-based Fontification' in The Emacs Lisp Reference Manual, for documentation of the format of this list.

Fontifying large buffers can take a long time. To avoid large delays when a file is visited, Emacs fontifies only the visible portion of a buffer. As you scroll through the buffer, each portion that becomes visible is fontified as soon as it is displayed. The parts of the buffer that are not displayed are fontified “stealthily,” in the background, i.e. when Emacs is idle. You can control this background fontification, also called Just-In-Time (or JIT) Lock, by customizing variables in the customization group ‘jit-lock’. See section Customizing Specific Items.

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