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1 Keyboard Macros

In this chapter we describe how to record a sequence of editing commands so you can repeat it conveniently later.

A keyboard macro is a command defined by an Emacs user to stand for another sequence of keys. For example, if you discover that you are about to type C-n M-d C-d forty times, you can speed your work by defining a keyboard macro to do C-n M-d C-d, and then executing it 39 more times.

You define a keyboard macro by executing and recording the commands which are its definition. Put differently, as you define a keyboard macro, the definition is being executed for the first time. This way, you can see the effects of your commands, so that you don’t have to figure them out in your head. When you close the definition, the keyboard macro is defined and also has been, in effect, executed once. You can then do the whole thing over again by invoking the macro.

Keyboard macros differ from ordinary Emacs commands in that they are written in the Emacs command language rather than in Lisp. This makes it easier for the novice to write them, and makes them more convenient as temporary hacks. However, the Emacs command language is not powerful enough as a programming language to be useful for writing anything intelligent or general. For such things, Lisp must be used.

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1.1 Basic Use


Start defining a keyboard macro (kmacro-start-macro-or-insert-counter).


If a keyboard macro is being defined, end the definition; otherwise, execute the most recent keyboard macro (kmacro-end-or-call-macro).

C-u <F3>

Re-execute last keyboard macro, then append keys to its definition.

C-u C-u <F3>

Append keys to the last keyboard macro without re-executing it.

C-x C-k r

Run the last keyboard macro on each line that begins in the region (apply-macro-to-region-lines).

To start defining a keyboard macro, type <F3>. From then on, your keys continue to be executed, but also become part of the definition of the macro. ‘Def’ appears in the mode line to remind you of what is going on. When you are finished, type <F4> (kmacro-end-or-call-macro) to terminate the definition. For example,

<F3> M-f foo <F4>

defines a macro to move forward a word and then insert ‘foo’. Note that <F3> and <F4> do not become part of the macro.

After defining the macro, you can call it with <F4>. For the above example, this has the same effect as typing M-f foo again. (Note the two roles of the <F4> command: it ends the macro if you are in the process of defining one, or calls the last macro otherwise.) You can also supply <F4> with a numeric prefix argument ‘n’, which means to invoke the macro ‘n’ times. An argument of zero repeats the macro indefinitely, until it gets an error or you type C-g (or, on MS-DOS, C-<BREAK>).

The above example demonstrates a handy trick that you can employ with keyboard macros: if you wish to repeat an operation at regularly spaced places in the text, include a motion command as part of the macro. In this case, repeating the macro inserts the string ‘foo’ after each successive word.

After terminating the definition of a keyboard macro, you can append more keystrokes to its definition by typing C-u <F3>. This is equivalent to plain <F3> followed by retyping the whole definition so far. As a consequence, it re-executes the macro as previously defined. If you change the variable kmacro-execute-before-append to nil, the existing macro will not be re-executed before appending to it (the default is t). You can also add to the end of the definition of the last keyboard macro without re-executing it by typing C-u C-u <F3>.

When a command reads an argument with the minibuffer, your minibuffer input becomes part of the macro along with the command. So when you replay the macro, the command gets the same argument as when you entered the macro. For example,

<F3> C-a C-k C-x b foo <RET> C-y C-x b <RET> <F4>

defines a macro that kills the current line, yanks it into the buffer ‘foo’, then returns to the original buffer.

Most keyboard commands work as usual in a keyboard macro definition, with some exceptions. Typing C-g (keyboard-quit) quits the keyboard macro definition. Typing C-M-c (exit-recursive-edit) can be unreliable: it works as you’d expect if exiting a recursive edit that started within the macro, but if it exits a recursive edit that started before you invoked the keyboard macro, it also necessarily exits the keyboard macro too. Mouse events are also unreliable, even though you can use them in a keyboard macro: when the macro replays the mouse event, it uses the original mouse position of that event, the position that the mouse had while you were defining the macro. The effect of this may be hard to predict.

The command C-x C-k r (apply-macro-to-region-lines) repeats the last defined keyboard macro on each line that begins in the region. It does this line by line, by moving point to the beginning of the line and then executing the macro.

In addition to the <F3> and <F4> commands described above, Emacs also supports an older set of key bindings for defining and executing keyboard macros. To begin a macro definition, type C-x ( (kmacro-start-macro); as with <F3>, a prefix argument appends this definition to the last keyboard macro. To end a macro definition, type C-x ) (kmacro-end-macro). To execute the most recent macro, type C-x e (kmacro-end-and-call-macro). If you enter C-x e while defining a macro, the macro is terminated and executed immediately. Immediately after typing C-x e, you can type e repeatedly to immediately repeat the macro one or more times. You can also give C-x e a repeat argument, just like <F4> (when it is used to execute a macro).

C-x ) can be given a repeat count as an argument. This means to repeat the macro right after defining it. The macro definition itself counts as the first repetition, since it is executed as you define it, so C-u 4 C-x ) executes the macro immediately 3 additional times.

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1.2 The Keyboard Macro Ring

All defined keyboard macros are recorded in the keyboard macro ring. There is only one keyboard macro ring, shared by all buffers.

C-x C-k C-k

Execute the keyboard macro at the head of the ring (kmacro-end-or-call-macro-repeat).

C-x C-k C-n

Rotate the keyboard macro ring to the next macro (defined earlier) (kmacro-cycle-ring-next).

C-x C-k C-p

Rotate the keyboard macro ring to the previous macro (defined later) (kmacro-cycle-ring-previous).

All commands which operate on the keyboard macro ring use the same C-x C-k prefix. Most of these commands can be executed and repeated immediately after each other without repeating the C-x C-k prefix. For example,

C-x C-k C-p C-p C-k C-k C-k C-n C-n C-k C-p C-k C-d

will rotate the keyboard macro ring to the second-previous macro, execute the resulting head macro three times, rotate back to the original head macro, execute that once, rotate to the previous macro, execute that, and finally delete it from the macro ring.

The command C-x C-k C-k (kmacro-end-or-call-macro-repeat) executes the keyboard macro at the head of the macro ring. You can repeat the macro immediately by typing another C-k, or you can rotate the macro ring immediately by typing C-n or C-p.

When a keyboard macro is being defined, C-x C-k C-k behaves like <F4> except that, immediately afterward, you can use most key bindings of this section without the C-x C-k prefix. For instance, another C-k will re-execute the macro.

The commands C-x C-k C-n (kmacro-cycle-ring-next) and C-x C-k C-p (kmacro-cycle-ring-previous) rotate the macro ring, bringing the next or previous keyboard macro to the head of the macro ring. The definition of the new head macro is displayed in the echo area. You can continue to rotate the macro ring immediately by repeating just C-n and C-p until the desired macro is at the head of the ring. To execute the new macro ring head immediately, just type C-k.

Note that Emacs treats the head of the macro ring as the last defined keyboard macro. For instance, <F4> will execute that macro, and C-x C-k n will give it a name.

The maximum number of macros stored in the keyboard macro ring is determined by the customizable variable kmacro-ring-max.

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1.3 The Keyboard Macro Counter

Each keyboard macro has an associated counter, which is initialized to 0 when you start defining the macro. This counter allows you to insert a number into the buffer that depends on the number of times the macro has been called. The counter is incremented each time its value is inserted into the buffer.


In a keyboard macro definition, insert the keyboard macro counter value in the buffer (kmacro-start-macro-or-insert-counter).

C-x C-k C-i

Insert the keyboard macro counter value in the buffer (kmacro-insert-counter).

C-x C-k C-c

Set the keyboard macro counter (kmacro-set-counter).

C-x C-k C-a

Add the prefix arg to the keyboard macro counter (kmacro-add-counter).

C-x C-k C-f

Specify the format for inserting the keyboard macro counter (kmacro-set-format).

When you are defining a keyboard macro, the command <F3> (kmacro-start-macro-or-insert-counter) inserts the current value of the keyboard macro’s counter into the buffer, and increments the counter by 1. (If you are not defining a macro, <F3> begins a macro definition instead. See section Basic Use.) You can use a numeric prefix argument to specify a different increment. If you just specify a C-u prefix, that is the same as an increment of zero: it inserts the current counter value without changing it.

As an example, let us show how the keyboard macro counter can be used to build a numbered list. Consider the following key sequence:

<F3> C-a <F3> . <SPC> <F4>

As part of this keyboard macro definition, the string ‘0. ’ was inserted into the beginning of the current line. If you now move somewhere else in the buffer and type <F4> to invoke the macro, the string ‘1. ’ is inserted at the beginning of that line. Subsequent invocations insert ‘2. ’, ‘3. ’, and so forth.

The command C-x C-k C-i (kmacro-insert-counter) does the same thing as <F3>, but it can be used outside a keyboard macro definition. When no keyboard macro is being defined or executed, it inserts and increments the counter of the macro at the head of the keyboard macro ring.

The command C-x C-k C-c (kmacro-set-counter) sets the current macro counter to the value of the numeric argument. If you use it inside the macro, it operates on each repetition of the macro. If you specify just C-u as the prefix, while executing the macro, that resets the counter to the value it had at the beginning of the current repetition of the macro (undoing any increments so far in this repetition).

The command C-x C-k C-a (kmacro-add-counter) adds the prefix argument to the current macro counter. With just C-u as argument, it resets the counter to the last value inserted by any keyboard macro. (Normally, when you use this, the last insertion will be in the same macro and it will be the same counter.)

The command C-x C-k C-f (kmacro-set-format) prompts for the format to use when inserting the macro counter. The default format is ‘%d’, which means to insert the number in decimal without any padding. You can exit with empty minibuffer to reset the format to this default. You can specify any format string that the format function accepts and that makes sense with a single integer extra argument (see Formatting Strings in The Emacs Lisp Reference Manual). Do not put the format string inside double quotes when you insert it in the minibuffer.

If you use this command while no keyboard macro is being defined or executed, the new format affects all subsequent macro definitions. Existing macros continue to use the format in effect when they were defined. If you set the format while defining a keyboard macro, this affects the macro being defined from that point on, but it does not affect subsequent macros. Execution of the macro will, at each step, use the format in effect at that step during its definition. Changes to the macro format during execution of a macro, like the corresponding changes during its definition, have no effect on subsequent macros.

The format set by C-x C-k C-f does not affect insertion of numbers stored in registers.

If you use a register as a counter, incrementing it on each repetition of the macro, that accomplishes the same thing as a keyboard macro counter. @xref{Number Registers}. For most purposes, it is simpler to use a keyboard macro counter.

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1.4 Executing Macros with Variations

In a keyboard macro, you can create an effect similar to that of query-replace, in that the macro asks you each time around whether to make a change.

C-x q

When this point is reached during macro execution, ask for confirmation (kbd-macro-query).

While defining the macro, type C-x q at the point where you want the query to occur. During macro definition, the C-x q does nothing, but when you run the macro later, C-x q asks you interactively whether to continue.

The valid responses when C-x q asks are:

<SPC> (or y)

Continue executing the keyboard macro.

<DEL> (or n)

Skip the remainder of this repetition of the macro, and start right away with the next repetition.

<RET> (or q)

Skip the remainder of this repetition and cancel further repetitions.


Enter a recursive editing level, in which you can perform editing which is not part of the macro. When you exit the recursive edit using C-M-c, you are asked again how to continue with the keyboard macro. If you type a <SPC> at this time, the rest of the macro definition is executed. It is up to you to leave point and the text in a state such that the rest of the macro will do what you want.

C-u C-x q, which is C-x q with a numeric argument, performs a completely different function. It enters a recursive edit reading input from the keyboard, both when you type it during the definition of the macro, and when it is executed from the macro. During definition, the editing you do inside the recursive edit does not become part of the macro. During macro execution, the recursive edit gives you a chance to do some particularized editing on each repetition. @xref{Recursive Edit}.

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1.5 Naming and Saving Keyboard Macros

C-x C-k n

Give a command name (for the duration of the Emacs session) to the most recently defined keyboard macro (kmacro-name-last-macro).

C-x C-k b

Bind the most recently defined keyboard macro to a key sequence (for the duration of the session) (kmacro-bind-to-key).

M-x insert-kbd-macro

Insert in the buffer a keyboard macro’s definition, as Lisp code.

If you wish to save a keyboard macro for later use, you can give it a name using C-x C-k n (kmacro-name-last-macro). This reads a name as an argument using the minibuffer and defines that name to execute the last keyboard macro, in its current form. (If you later add to the definition of this macro, that does not alter the name’s definition as a macro.) The macro name is a Lisp symbol, and defining it in this way makes it a valid command name for calling with M-x or for binding a key to with global-set-key (@pxref{Keymaps}). If you specify a name that has a prior definition other than a keyboard macro, an error message is shown and nothing is changed.

You can also bind the last keyboard macro (in its current form) to a key, using C-x C-k b (kmacro-bind-to-key) followed by the key sequence you want to bind. You can bind to any key sequence in the global keymap, but since most key sequences already have other bindings, you should select the key sequence carefully. If you try to bind to a key sequence with an existing binding (in any keymap), this command asks you for confirmation before replacing the existing binding.

To avoid problems caused by overriding existing bindings, the key sequences C-x C-k 0 through C-x C-k 9 and C-x C-k A through C-x C-k Z are reserved for your own keyboard macro bindings. In fact, to bind to one of these key sequences, you only need to type the digit or letter rather than the whole key sequences. For example,

C-x C-k b 4

will bind the last keyboard macro to the key sequence C-x C-k 4.

Once a macro has a command name, you can save its definition in a file. Then it can be used in another editing session. First, visit the file you want to save the definition in. Then use this command:

M-x insert-kbd-macro <RET> macroname <RET>

This inserts some Lisp code that, when executed later, will define the same macro with the same definition it has now. (You don’t need to understand Lisp code to do this, because insert-kbd-macro writes the Lisp code for you.) Then save the file. You can load the file later with load-file (@pxref{Lisp Libraries}). If the file you save in is your init file ‘~/.emacs’ (@pxref{Init File}) then the macro will be defined each time you run Emacs.

If you give insert-kbd-macro a numeric argument, it makes additional Lisp code to record the keys (if any) that you have bound to macroname, so that the macro will be reassigned the same keys when you load the file.

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1.6 Editing a Keyboard Macro

C-x C-k C-e

Edit the last defined keyboard macro (kmacro-edit-macro).

C-x C-k e name <RET>

Edit a previously defined keyboard macro name (edit-kbd-macro).

C-x C-k l

Edit the last 300 keystrokes as a keyboard macro (kmacro-edit-lossage).

You can edit the last keyboard macro by typing C-x C-k C-e or C-x C-k <RET> (kmacro-edit-macro). This formats the macro definition in a buffer and enters a specialized major mode for editing it. Type C-h m once in that buffer to display details of how to edit the macro. When you are finished editing, type C-c C-c.

You can edit a named keyboard macro or a macro bound to a key by typing C-x C-k e (edit-kbd-macro). Follow that with the keyboard input that you would use to invoke the macro—C-x e or M-x name or some other key sequence.

You can edit the last 300 keystrokes as a macro by typing C-x C-k l (kmacro-edit-lossage).

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1.7 Stepwise Editing a Keyboard Macro

You can interactively replay and edit the last keyboard macro, one command at a time, by typing C-x C-k <SPC> (kmacro-step-edit-macro). Unless you quit the macro using q or C-g, the edited macro replaces the last macro on the macro ring.

This macro editing feature shows the last macro in the minibuffer together with the first (or next) command to be executed, and prompts you for an action. You can enter ? to get a summary of your options. These actions are available:

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