Getting started with Emacs

So you want to learn how to use Emacs…

First of all install Emacs (I suggest versions >=24). Then start using it. It is going to be hard in the beginning, but day by day you will get used to it and learn new things.

Your friends

  1. Reference cards (will help you learn the most basic commands)
  2. The Emacs built in tutorial (Control-h t).
  3. (Includes everything about Emacs)
    a good place to start is
  4. The manual (


  • buffer: an open document in Emacs
  • **window: **A window displays the contents of a single buffer (see this picture)
  • frame: the operating systems window (see this picture)
  • kill(for buffer): close file
  • kill(for text): cut
  • yank: paste

for more terms have a look here.

Configuration file

Emacs’ configuration is stored in ~/.emacs (Windows users read this). In this file you can permanently store your preferences. To get you started I suggest having a look at emacs24-starter-kit.


Two of the most popular and usefull packages are smex and ido-obiquitous. There a lot more external packages out there that can make emacs even more powerful. I am currently using the following packages.

  • rainbow-mode(Preview colors in css files)
  • rainbow-delimiters (Paints each pair of parentheses/brackets with different colors)
  • tuareg (Mode for editing OCaml files)
  • whole-line-or-region (Lets you kill the whole line without selecting it)
  • smartparens(A smarter parenthesis matching package)
  • auto-complete (Suggests possible completions for what you are typing)
  • undo-tree(A better approach for undoing, supports virtualization of the undo history as a tree and more)
  • auctex​ (Write and edit LaTeX)

For that package system and the repositories have a look here.

Programming with emacs

Programmers should also read this.