Emacs Series – Everything You Need to Know About GNU Emacs

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Okay, so you are bogged down, and you have to keep toggling from one window to the next while coding. That is no way for anyone to work! In this post, we discuss the benefits of working on GNU Emacs, and in the process maybe we’ll convince you to switch over.

But before we get started, let’s just answer the question, what exactly is GNU Emacs?

In the plainest way of putting it, it is a family of “text editors characterized by their extensibility” (Wikipedia).

What it does is it allows you, the developer, to insert characters with correlating keys and move the editing point with your arrow keys. The display is very different from other text editors, in the sense that you don’t have to move around from one window to the other the whole time, which is fantastic for productivity. It really doesn’t come as a surprise that it has been called the most powerful text editor.

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This text editor has a layered architecture that uses a Turing complete language that runs on a small central core. The majority of GNU Emacs is written in Elisp, which means Elisp features are present as soon as the C core has been ported. This is a key feature of GNU Emacs as this makes it very simple to port Emacs to another platform. When you have ported the core the portions that are put in place in Elisp is very easy to do.

GNU Emacs is able to display files in multiple character sets, and most noticeably known for its place in the free software movement.


What you see when looking at your screen and seeing data structures is referred to as buffers. These are accessed either via an Emacs Lisp program or user interface. You can create new buffers and reject the ones you don’t need. The only limitation on buffers is your hardware’s memory capacity.

You can also see other forms of data, for example, dired directory listings, output commands, and notifications. The difference between Emacs and other text editors, in this case, is the fact that notifications are displayed in the same window or buffer, and not in a dialog box.

You are also able to utilize a buffer as input or an output area for a shell or REPL.

What you see when you have your GNU Emacs window open is a full screen, where you are able to divide the screen or editing area between different areas or windows.

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You are able to see and edit different text types and GNU Emac will change behavior and automatically start add-on modes. You will find different kinds of modes on Emacs, such as major modes, minor modes, and batch modes.

In major modes allows the developer to easily navigate between different types of texts and fonts and allows functionality such as automatic indentation.

Minor modes are specifically for more detailed work and customisation. When in major mode, you will only be able to have one open at a time. Minor modes, however, allow you to have more than one running at the same time. A specific example is the ability to do syntax checking.

Platforms you are able to use it on

Now that you have a basic idea of how GNU Emacs work, you are probably wondering which platforms are compatible with this text editor. You’ll be very happy to know that you are able to use it on almost every operating system out there, for example, DOS, Microsoft, Solaris, Linux, and MacOS.

So you see, this user-friendly, completely free text editor is probably something worth checking out if you haven’t already. Not only is it conducive to productivity, it is also easy to deploy and just as easy to run on an operating system you are probably using already.

We hope that you have enjoyed this short introduction to GNU Emacs and that you will be able to get started working on it in no-time. In the meantime, you can also download a comprehensive manual on GNU Emacs here. If you are interested in reading more content like this, be sure to keep an eye out for other articles on our blog, like this one.

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