Prev: Easy Emacs install Next: Simple outlines with org-mode, Up: (dir)


Emacs is a powerful text editor with a wide medley of features. In this tutorial, we'll explore how to use Emacs as a bare text editor without relying on those dreaded control keys. This will make it accessible to users who aren't quite up to complex keys yet. Don't worry, you soon will be using them like a pro!

Starting Emacs

Launch Emacs by opening up your terminal and typing `emacs`, or by double-clicking on the Emacs icon (if you have a GUI).

The Emacs Interface

Launch Emacs by opening up your terminal and typing `emacs`, or by double-clicking on the Emacs icon (if you have a GUI). After Emacs starts, you'll view a window with a big menu bar on the top. The toolbar just below has icons for lots of functions also in the menu.

The menu & toolbars change some depending on what you're trying to do at the moment. We'll come back to that a bit later.

The editing area is centered, & that is where you'll do most of your editing work.

Opening a File

Click on the "File" menu on the menu bar, or click the tool-bar icon that provides that command (you can uncover what each tool does by hovering).

Pick "Open File…" to open any existing file, or choose "Visit new file…" if you want a new, empty file to work on.

Choose the file you want loaded using the arrow keys. You could open the chosen file by hitting "Enter" or clicking on the file with the mouse.

Navigating Text

Move the cursor as you'd think, with the arrow keys. The cursor moves in the expected ways.

Editing Text

To insert text, you can either click on the screen, where you want to start adding new text, or you can move there with the mouse.

The block that travels to that spot is called the cursor, and it sits on the point.

Start typing. You'll see added text appear right at point and the cursor will move to right, as you type. Normal behavior.

To delete text, push backspace to remove letters, to the left of point.

Point comes up a lot in emacs, so best to memorize that gem.

Copy and Paste

Highlight some text, setting the point on the first letter of the passage you want to copy. Select the text to copy with the mouse. Click the "Edit" menu item, pull down to "Copy", and select it.

Next, move the point to the spot where you want to paste the text and click "Edit>Paste" to insert the text.

Note that the "Edit" submenu has an additional option labelled as "Paste from Kill Menu." Click on that instead, and a emacs offers you a list of the last few dozen copied strings that you can use, in place of the most recent one.

Saving a File

From the "File" menu, click the "Save" option to write the text currently on the screen (in the buffer) in the filename which is associated with the buffer.

This saves your work. Note that the buffer is distinct from the file, in emacs parlance. You'd write a buffer to a file if you want to save it, & emacs has an autosave feature that's on most of the time, by default.

Undo and Redo

If you make a mistake while you are entering text, click on the "Edit" menu &choose "Undo." The last edit you made reverts.

To repeat some typing, you want to choose "Edit > Redo" & emacs will repeat your last change at wherever point is now.

Finding and Replacing Text

You can find & replace any text in your document. You should go to "Edit," and then "Search" to make this happen. To get a feel for the process, you'll want to just try it. Don't worry at all about the "regular expressions" message that comes up, just put in whatever you're seeking, and emacs should find it for you, & replace it if you specify.

Exiting Emacs

To exit Emacs, click on "File > Quit". If you haven't saved the work, a reminder will pop up to let you know.


Emacs can be quite the friendly editor, even for those who care to only use using the keyboard, the mouse, and menus.

With this guide, you should see that basic editing can be done, very easily, with Emacs, no odd control keys needed.

Go on, practice a while! It may well be worth it.

Copyright (C) 2020-2023 by stormrider; All Rights Reserved