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1 International Character Set Support

Emacs supports a wide variety of international character sets, including European and Vietnamese variants of the Latin alphabet, as well as Arabic scripts, Brahmic scripts (for languages such as Bengali, Hindi, and Thai), Cyrillic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Greek, Han (for Chinese and Japanese), Hangul (for Korean), Hebrew and IPA. Emacs also supports various encodings of these characters that are used by other internationalized software, such as word processors and mailers.

Emacs allows editing text with international characters by supporting all the related activities:

The rest of this chapter describes these issues in detail.

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1.1 Introduction to International Character Sets

The users of international character sets and scripts have established many more-or-less standard coding systems for storing files. These coding systems are typically multibyte, meaning that sequences of two or more bytes are used to represent individual non-ASCII characters.

Internally, Emacs uses its own multibyte character encoding, which is a superset of the Unicode standard. This internal encoding allows characters from almost every known script to be intermixed in a single buffer or string. Emacs translates between the multibyte character encoding and various other coding systems when reading and writing files, and when exchanging data with subprocesses.

The command C-h h (view-hello-file) displays the file ‘etc/HELLO’, which illustrates various scripts by showing how to say “hello” in many languages. If some characters can’t be displayed on your terminal, they appear as ‘?’ or as hollow boxes (see section Undisplayable Characters).

Keyboards, even in the countries where these character sets are used, generally don’t have keys for all the characters in them. You can insert characters that your keyboard does not support, using C-x 8 <RET> (insert-char). @xref{Inserting Text}. Shorthands are available for some common characters; for example, you can insert a left single quotation mark by typing C-x 8 [, or in Electric Quote mode often by simply typing `. @xref{Quotation Marks}. Emacs also supports various input methods, typically one for each script or language, which make it easier to type characters in the script. See section Input Methods.

The prefix key C-x <RET> is used for commands that pertain to multibyte characters, coding systems, and input methods.

The command C-x = (what-cursor-position) shows information about the character at point. In addition to the character position, which was described in @ref{Position Info}, this command displays how the character is encoded. For instance, it displays the following line in the echo area for the character ‘c’:

Char: c (99, #o143, #x63) point=28062 of 36168 (78%) column=53

The four values after ‘Char:’ describe the character that follows point, first by showing it and then by giving its character code in decimal, octal and hex. For a non-ASCII multibyte character, these are followed by ‘file’ and the character’s representation, in hex, in the buffer’s coding system, if that coding system encodes the character safely and with a single byte (see section Coding Systems). If the character’s encoding is longer than one byte, Emacs shows ‘file ...’.

As a special case, if the character lies in the range 128 (0200 octal) through 159 (0237 octal), it stands for a raw byte that does not correspond to any specific displayable character. Such a character lies within the eight-bit-control character set, and is displayed as an escaped octal character code. In this case, C-x = shows ‘part of display ...’ instead of ‘file’.

With a prefix argument (C-u C-x =), this command displays a detailed description of the character in a window:

Here’s an example, with some lines folded to fit into this manual:

             position: 1 of 1 (0%), column: 0
            character: ê (displayed as ê) (codepoint 234, #o352, #xea)
    preferred charset: unicode (Unicode (ISO10646))
code point in charset: 0xEA
               script: latin
               syntax: w        which means: word
             category: .:Base, L:Left-to-right (strong), c:Chinese,
                       j:Japanese, l:Latin, v:Viet
             to input: type "C-x 8 RET ea" or
                       "C-x 8 RET LATIN SMALL LETTER E WITH CIRCUMFLEX"
          buffer code: #xC3 #xAA
            file code: #xC3 #xAA (encoded by coding system utf-8-unix)
              display: by this font (glyph code)
    xft:-PfEd-DejaVu Sans Mono-normal-normal-
        normal-*-15-*-*-*-m-0-iso10646-1 (#xAC)

Character code properties: customize what to show
  general-category: Ll (Letter, Lowercase)
  decomposition: (101 770) ('e' '^')

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1.2 Language Environments

All supported character sets are supported in Emacs buffers whenever multibyte characters are enabled; there is no need to select a particular language in order to display its characters. However, it is important to select a language environment in order to set various defaults. Roughly speaking, the language environment represents a choice of preferred script rather than a choice of language.

The language environment controls which coding systems to recognize when reading text (see section Recognizing Coding Systems). This applies to files, incoming mail, and any other text you read into Emacs. It may also specify the default coding system to use when you create a file. Each language environment also specifies a default input method.

To select a language environment, customize current-language-environment or use the command M-x set-language-environment. It makes no difference which buffer is current when you use this command, because the effects apply globally to the Emacs session. See the variable language-info-alist for the list of supported language environments, and use the command C-h L lang-env <RET> (describe-language-environment) for more information about the language environment lang-env. Supported language environments include:

ASCII, Arabic, Belarusian, Bengali, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cham, Chinese-BIG5, Chinese-CNS, Chinese-EUC-TW, Chinese-GB, Chinese-GB18030, Chinese-GBK, Croatian, Cyrillic-ALT, Cyrillic-ISO, Cyrillic-KOI8, Czech, Devanagari, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Ethiopic, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, IPA, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Latin-1, Latin-2, Latin-3, Latin-4, Latin-5, Latin-6, Latin-7, Latin-8, Latin-9, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Oriya, Persian, Polish, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Sinhala, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, TaiViet, Tajik, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, UTF-8, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Welsh, and Windows-1255.

To display the script(s) used by your language environment on a graphical display, you need to have suitable fonts. See section Fontsets, for more details about setting up your fonts.

Some operating systems let you specify the character-set locale you are using by setting the locale environment variables LC_ALL, LC_CTYPE, or LANG. (If more than one of these is set, the first one that is nonempty specifies your locale for this purpose.) During startup, Emacs looks up your character-set locale’s name in the system locale alias table, matches its canonical name against entries in the value of the variables locale-charset-language-names and locale-language-names (the former overrides the latter), and selects the corresponding language environment if a match is found. It also adjusts the display table and terminal coding system, the locale coding system, the preferred coding system as needed for the locale, and—last but not least—the way Emacs decodes non-ASCII characters sent by your keyboard.

If you modify the LC_ALL, LC_CTYPE, or LANG environment variables while running Emacs (by using M-x setenv), you may want to invoke the set-locale-environment function afterwards to readjust the language environment from the new locale.

The set-locale-environment function normally uses the preferred coding system established by the language environment to decode system messages. But if your locale matches an entry in the variable locale-preferred-coding-systems, Emacs uses the corresponding coding system instead. For example, if the locale ‘ja_JP.PCK’ matches japanese-shift-jis in locale-preferred-coding-systems, Emacs uses that encoding even though it might normally use japanese-iso-8bit.

You can override the language environment chosen at startup with explicit use of the command set-language-environment, or with customization of current-language-environment in your init file.

To display information about the effects of a certain language environment lang-env, use the command C-h L lang-env <RET> (describe-language-environment). This tells you which languages this language environment is useful for, and lists the character sets, coding systems, and input methods that go with it. It also shows some sample text to illustrate scripts used in this language environment. If you give an empty input for lang-env, this command describes the chosen language environment.

You can customize any language environment with the normal hook set-language-environment-hook. The command set-language-environment runs that hook after setting up the new language environment. The hook functions can test for a specific language environment by checking the variable current-language-environment. This hook is where you should put non-default settings for specific language environments, such as coding systems for keyboard input and terminal output, the default input method, etc.

Before it starts to set up the new language environment, set-language-environment first runs the hook exit-language-environment-hook. This hook is useful for undoing customizations that were made with set-language-environment-hook. For instance, if you set up a special key binding in a specific language environment using set-language-environment-hook, you should set up exit-language-environment-hook to restore the normal binding for that key.

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1.3 Input Methods

An input method is a kind of character conversion designed specifically for interactive input. In Emacs, typically each language has its own input method; sometimes several languages that use the same characters can share one input method. A few languages support several input methods.

The simplest kind of input method works by mapping ASCII letters into another alphabet; this allows you to use one other alphabet instead of ASCII. The Greek and Russian input methods work this way.

A more powerful technique is composition: converting sequences of characters into one letter. Many European input methods use composition to produce a single non-ASCII letter from a sequence that consists of a letter followed by accent characters (or vice versa). For example, some methods convert the sequence o ^ into a single accented letter. These input methods have no special commands of their own; all they do is compose sequences of printing characters.

The input methods for syllabic scripts typically use mapping followed by composition. The input methods for Thai and Korean work this way. First, letters are mapped into symbols for particular sounds or tone marks; then, sequences of these that make up a whole syllable are mapped into one syllable sign.

Chinese and Japanese require more complex methods. In Chinese input methods, first you enter the phonetic spelling of a Chinese word (in input method chinese-py, among others), or a sequence of portions of the character (input methods chinese-4corner and chinese-sw, and others). One input sequence typically corresponds to many possible Chinese characters. You select the one you mean using keys such as C-f, C-b, C-n, C-p (or the arrow keys), and digits, which have special meanings in this situation.

The possible characters are conceptually arranged in several rows, with each row holding up to 10 alternatives. Normally, Emacs displays just one row at a time, in the echo area; (i/j) appears at the beginning, to indicate that this is the ith row out of a total of j rows. Type C-n or C-p to display the next row or the previous row.

Type C-f and C-b to move forward and backward among the alternatives in the current row. As you do this, Emacs highlights the current alternative with a special color; type C-<SPC> to select the current alternative and use it as input. The alternatives in the row are also numbered; the number appears before the alternative. Typing a number selects the associated alternative of the current row and uses it as input.

<TAB> in these Chinese input methods displays a buffer showing all the possible characters at once; then clicking mouse-2 on one of them selects that alternative. The keys C-f, C-b, C-n, C-p, and digits continue to work as usual, but they do the highlighting in the buffer showing the possible characters, rather than in the echo area.

In Japanese input methods, first you input a whole word using phonetic spelling; then, after the word is in the buffer, Emacs converts it into one or more characters using a large dictionary. One phonetic spelling corresponds to a number of different Japanese words; to select one of them, use C-n and C-p to cycle through the alternatives.

Sometimes it is useful to cut off input method processing so that the characters you have just entered will not combine with subsequent characters. For example, in input method latin-1-postfix, the sequence o ^ combines to form an ‘o’ with an accent. What if you want to enter them as separate characters?

One way is to type the accent twice; this is a special feature for entering the separate letter and accent. For example, o ^ ^ gives you the two characters ‘o^’. Another way is to type another letter after the o—something that won’t combine with that—and immediately delete it. For example, you could type o o <DEL> ^ to get separate ‘o’ and ‘^’.

Another method, more general but not quite as easy to type, is to use C-\ C-\ between two characters to stop them from combining. This is the command C-\ (toggle-input-method) used twice. See section Selecting an Input Method.

C-\ C-\ is especially useful inside an incremental search, because it stops waiting for more characters to combine, and starts searching for what you have already entered.

To find out how to input the character after point using the current input method, type C-u C-x =. @xref{Position Info}.

The variables input-method-highlight-flag and input-method-verbose-flag control how input methods explain what is happening. If input-method-highlight-flag is non-nil, the partial sequence is highlighted in the buffer (for most input methods—some disable this feature). If input-method-verbose-flag is non-nil, the list of possible characters to type next is displayed in the echo area (but not when you are in the minibuffer).

You can modify how an input method works by making your changes in a function that you add to the hook variable quail-activate-hook. @xref{Hooks}. For example, you can redefine some of the input method’s keys by defining key bindings in the keymap returned by the function quail-translation-keymap, using define-key. @xref{Init Rebinding}.

Another facility for typing characters not on your keyboard is by using C-x 8 <RET> (insert-char) to insert a single character based on its Unicode name or code-point; see @ref{Inserting Text}.

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1.4 Selecting an Input Method


Enable or disable use of the selected input method (toggle-input-method).

C-x <RET> C-\ method <RET>

Select a new input method for the current buffer (set-input-method).

C-h I method <RET>
C-h C-\ method <RET>

Describe the input method method (describe-input-method). By default, it describes the current input method (if any). This description should give you the full details of how to use any particular input method.

M-x list-input-methods

Display a list of all the supported input methods.

To choose an input method for the current buffer, use C-x <RET> C-\ (set-input-method). This command reads the input method name from the minibuffer; the name normally starts with the language environment that it is meant to be used with. The variable current-input-method records which input method is selected.

Input methods use various sequences of ASCII characters to stand for non-ASCII characters. Sometimes it is useful to turn off the input method temporarily. To do this, type C-\ (toggle-input-method). To reenable the input method, type C-\ again.

If you type C-\ and you have not yet selected an input method, it prompts you to specify one. This has the same effect as using C-x <RET> C-\ to specify an input method.

When invoked with a numeric argument, as in C-u C-\, toggle-input-method always prompts you for an input method, suggesting the most recently selected one as the default.

Selecting a language environment specifies a default input method for use in various buffers. When you have a default input method, you can select it in the current buffer by typing C-\. The variable default-input-method specifies the default input method (nil means there is none).

In some language environments, which support several different input methods, you might want to use an input method different from the default chosen by set-language-environment. You can instruct Emacs to select a different default input method for a certain language environment, if you wish, by using set-language-environment-hook (see section set-language-environment-hook). For example:

(defun my-chinese-setup ()
  "Set up my private Chinese environment."
  (if (equal current-language-environment "Chinese-GB")
      (setq default-input-method "chinese-tonepy")))
(add-hook 'set-language-environment-hook 'my-chinese-setup)

This sets the default input method to be chinese-tonepy whenever you choose a Chinese-GB language environment.

You can instruct Emacs to activate a certain input method automatically. For example:

(add-hook 'text-mode-hook
  (lambda () (set-input-method "german-prefix")))

This automatically activates the input method german-prefix in Text mode.

Some input methods for alphabetic scripts work by (in effect) remapping the keyboard to emulate various keyboard layouts commonly used for those scripts. How to do this remapping properly depends on your actual keyboard layout. To specify which layout your keyboard has, use the command M-x quail-set-keyboard-layout.

You can use the command M-x quail-show-key to show what key (or key sequence) to type in order to input the character following point, using the selected keyboard layout. The command C-u C-x = also shows that information, in addition to other information about the character.

M-x list-input-methods displays a list of all the supported input methods. The list gives information about each input method, including the string that stands for it in the mode line.

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1.5 Coding Systems

Users of various languages have established many more-or-less standard coding systems for representing them. Emacs does not use these coding systems internally; instead, it converts from various coding systems to its own system when reading data, and converts the internal coding system to other coding systems when writing data. Conversion is possible in reading or writing files, in sending or receiving from the terminal, and in exchanging data with subprocesses.

Emacs assigns a name to each coding system. Most coding systems are used for one language, and the name of the coding system starts with the language name. Some coding systems are used for several languages; their names usually start with ‘iso’. There are also special coding systems, such as no-conversion, raw-text, and emacs-internal.

A special class of coding systems, collectively known as codepages, is designed to support text encoded by MS-Windows and MS-DOS software. The names of these coding systems are cpnnnn, where nnnn is a 3- or 4-digit number of the codepage. You can use these encodings just like any other coding system; for example, to visit a file encoded in codepage 850, type C-x <RET> c cp850 <RET> C-x C-f filename <RET>.

In addition to converting various representations of non-ASCII characters, a coding system can perform end-of-line conversion. Emacs handles three different conventions for how to separate lines in a file: newline (Unix), carriage-return linefeed (DOS), and just carriage-return (Mac).

C-h C coding <RET>

Describe coding system coding (describe-coding-system).

C-h C <RET>

Describe the coding systems currently in use.

M-x list-coding-systems

Display a list of all the supported coding systems.

The command C-h C (describe-coding-system) displays information about particular coding systems, including the end-of-line conversion specified by those coding systems. You can specify a coding system name as the argument; alternatively, with an empty argument, it describes the coding systems currently selected for various purposes, both in the current buffer and as the defaults, and the priority list for recognizing coding systems (see section Recognizing Coding Systems).

To display a list of all the supported coding systems, type M-x list-coding-systems. The list gives information about each coding system, including the letter that stands for it in the mode line (@pxref{Mode Line}).

Each of the coding systems that appear in this list—except for no-conversion, which means no conversion of any kind—specifies how and whether to convert printing characters, but leaves the choice of end-of-line conversion to be decided based on the contents of each file. For example, if the file appears to use the sequence carriage-return linefeed to separate lines, DOS end-of-line conversion will be used.

Each of the listed coding systems has three variants, which specify exactly what to do for end-of-line conversion:


Don’t do any end-of-line conversion; assume the file uses newline to separate lines. (This is the convention normally used on Unix and GNU systems, and macOS.)


Assume the file uses carriage-return linefeed to separate lines, and do the appropriate conversion. (This is the convention normally used on Microsoft systems.(1))


Assume the file uses carriage-return to separate lines, and do the appropriate conversion. (This was the convention used in Classic Mac OS.)

These variant coding systems are omitted from the list-coding-systems display for brevity, since they are entirely predictable. For example, the coding system iso-latin-1 has variants iso-latin-1-unix, iso-latin-1-dos and iso-latin-1-mac.

The coding systems unix, dos, and mac are aliases for undecided-unix, undecided-dos, and undecided-mac, respectively. These coding systems specify only the end-of-line conversion, and leave the character code conversion to be deduced from the text itself.

The coding system raw-text is good for a file which is mainly ASCII text, but may contain byte values above 127 that are not meant to encode non-ASCII characters. With raw-text, Emacs copies those byte values unchanged, and sets enable-multibyte-characters to nil in the current buffer so that they will be interpreted properly. raw-text handles end-of-line conversion in the usual way, based on the data encountered, and has the usual three variants to specify the kind of end-of-line conversion to use.

In contrast, the coding system no-conversion specifies no character code conversion at all—none for non-ASCII byte values and none for end of line. This is useful for reading or writing binary files, tar files, and other files that must be examined verbatim. It, too, sets enable-multibyte-characters to nil.

The easiest way to edit a file with no conversion of any kind is with the M-x find-file-literally command. This uses no-conversion, and also suppresses other Emacs features that might convert the file contents before you see them. @xref{Visiting}.

The coding system emacs-internal (or utf-8-emacs, which is equivalent) means that the file contains non-ASCII characters stored with the internal Emacs encoding. This coding system handles end-of-line conversion based on the data encountered, and has the usual three variants to specify the kind of end-of-line conversion.

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1.6 Recognizing Coding Systems

Whenever Emacs reads a given piece of text, it tries to recognize which coding system to use. This applies to files being read, output from subprocesses, text from X selections, etc. Emacs can select the right coding system automatically most of the time—once you have specified your preferences.

Some coding systems can be recognized or distinguished by which byte sequences appear in the data. However, there are coding systems that cannot be distinguished, not even potentially. For example, there is no way to distinguish between Latin-1 and Latin-2; they use the same byte values with different meanings.

Emacs handles this situation by means of a priority list of coding systems. Whenever Emacs reads a file, if you do not specify the coding system to use, Emacs checks the data against each coding system, starting with the first in priority and working down the list, until it finds a coding system that fits the data. Then it converts the file contents assuming that they are represented in this coding system.

The priority list of coding systems depends on the selected language environment (see section Language Environments). For example, if you use French, you probably want Emacs to prefer Latin-1 to Latin-2; if you use Czech, you probably want Latin-2 to be preferred. This is one of the reasons to specify a language environment.

However, you can alter the coding system priority list in detail with the command M-x prefer-coding-system. This command reads the name of a coding system from the minibuffer, and adds it to the front of the priority list, so that it is preferred to all others. If you use this command several times, each use adds one element to the front of the priority list.

If you use a coding system that specifies the end-of-line conversion type, such as iso-8859-1-dos, what this means is that Emacs should attempt to recognize iso-8859-1 with priority, and should use DOS end-of-line conversion when it does recognize iso-8859-1.

Sometimes a file name indicates which coding system to use for the file. The variable file-coding-system-alist specifies this correspondence. There is a special function modify-coding-system-alist for adding elements to this list. For example, to read and write all ‘.txt’ files using the coding system chinese-iso-8bit, you can execute this Lisp expression:

(modify-coding-system-alist 'file "\\.txt\\'" 'chinese-iso-8bit)

The first argument should be file, the second argument should be a regular expression that determines which files this applies to, and the third argument says which coding system to use for these files.

Emacs recognizes which kind of end-of-line conversion to use based on the contents of the file: if it sees only carriage-returns, or only carriage-return linefeed sequences, then it chooses the end-of-line conversion accordingly. You can inhibit the automatic use of end-of-line conversion by setting the variable inhibit-eol-conversion to non-nil. If you do that, DOS-style files will be displayed with the ‘^M’ characters visible in the buffer; some people prefer this to the more subtle ‘(DOS)’ end-of-line type indication near the left edge of the mode line (@pxref{Mode Line, eol-mnemonic}).

By default, the automatic detection of coding system is sensitive to escape sequences. If Emacs sees a sequence of characters that begin with an escape character, and the sequence is valid as an ISO-2022 code, that tells Emacs to use one of the ISO-2022 encodings to decode the file.

However, there may be cases that you want to read escape sequences in a file as is. In such a case, you can set the variable inhibit-iso-escape-detection to non-nil. Then the code detection ignores any escape sequences, and never uses an ISO-2022 encoding. The result is that all escape sequences become visible in the buffer.

The default value of inhibit-iso-escape-detection is nil. We recommend that you not change it permanently, only for one specific operation. That’s because some Emacs Lisp source files in the Emacs distribution contain non-ASCII characters encoded in the coding system iso-2022-7bit, and they won’t be decoded correctly when you visit those files if you suppress the escape sequence detection.

The variables auto-coding-alist and auto-coding-regexp-alist are the strongest way to specify the coding system for certain patterns of file names, or for files containing certain patterns, respectively. These variables even override ‘-*-coding:-*-’ tags in the file itself (see section Specifying a File’s Coding System). For example, Emacs uses auto-coding-alist for tar and archive files, to prevent it from being confused by a ‘-*-coding:-*-’ tag in a member of the archive and thinking it applies to the archive file as a whole.

Another way to specify a coding system is with the variable auto-coding-functions. For example, one of the builtin auto-coding-functions detects the encoding for XML files. Unlike the previous two, this variable does not override any ‘-*-coding:-*-’ tag.

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1.7 Specifying a File’s Coding System

If Emacs recognizes the encoding of a file incorrectly, you can reread the file using the correct coding system with C-x <RET> r (revert-buffer-with-coding-system). This command prompts for the coding system to use. To see what coding system Emacs actually used to decode the file, look at the coding system mnemonic letter near the left edge of the mode line (@pxref{Mode Line}), or type C-h C (describe-coding-system).

You can specify the coding system for a particular file in the file itself, using the ‘-*--*-’ construct at the beginning, or a local variables list at the end (@pxref{File Variables}). You do this by defining a value for the “variable” named coding. Emacs does not really have a variable coding; instead of setting a variable, this uses the specified coding system for the file. For example, ‘-*-mode: C; coding: latin-1;-*-’ specifies use of the Latin-1 coding system, as well as C mode. When you specify the coding explicitly in the file, that overrides file-coding-system-alist.

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1.8 Choosing Coding Systems for Output

Once Emacs has chosen a coding system for a buffer, it stores that coding system in buffer-file-coding-system. That makes it the default for operations that write from this buffer into a file, such as save-buffer and write-region. You can specify a different coding system for further file output from the buffer using set-buffer-file-coding-system (see section Specifying a Coding System for File Text).

You can insert any character Emacs supports into any Emacs buffer, but most coding systems can only handle a subset of these characters. Therefore, it’s possible that the characters you insert cannot be encoded with the coding system that will be used to save the buffer. For example, you could visit a text file in Polish, encoded in iso-8859-2, and add some Russian words to it. When you save that buffer, Emacs cannot use the current value of buffer-file-coding-system, because the characters you added cannot be encoded by that coding system.

When that happens, Emacs tries the most-preferred coding system (set by M-x prefer-coding-system or M-x set-language-environment). If that coding system can safely encode all of the characters in the buffer, Emacs uses it, and stores its value in buffer-file-coding-system. Otherwise, Emacs displays a list of coding systems suitable for encoding the buffer’s contents, and asks you to choose one of those coding systems.

If you insert the unsuitable characters in a mail message, Emacs behaves a bit differently. It additionally checks whether the most-preferred coding system is recommended for use in MIME messages; if not, it informs you of this fact and prompts you for another coding system. This is so you won’t inadvertently send a message encoded in a way that your recipient’s mail software will have difficulty decoding. (You can still use an unsuitable coding system if you enter its name at the prompt.)

When you send a mail message (@pxref{Sending Mail}), Emacs has four different ways to determine the coding system to use for encoding the message text. It tries the buffer’s own value of buffer-file-coding-system, if that is non-nil. Otherwise, it uses the value of sendmail-coding-system, if that is non-nil. The third way is to use the default coding system for new files, which is controlled by your choice of language environment, if that is non-nil. If all of these three values are nil, Emacs encodes outgoing mail using the Latin-1 coding system.

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1.9 Specifying a Coding System for File Text

In cases where Emacs does not automatically choose the right coding system for a file’s contents, you can use these commands to specify one:

C-x <RET> f coding <RET>

Use coding system coding to save or revisit the file in the current buffer (set-buffer-file-coding-system).

C-x <RET> c coding <RET>

Specify coding system coding for the immediately following command (universal-coding-system-argument).

C-x <RET> r coding <RET>

Revisit the current file using the coding system coding (revert-buffer-with-coding-system).

M-x recode-region <RET> right <RET> wrong <RET>

Convert a region that was decoded using coding system wrong, decoding it using coding system right instead.

The command C-x <RET> f (set-buffer-file-coding-system) sets the file coding system for the current buffer (i.e., the coding system to use when saving or reverting the file). You specify which coding system using the minibuffer. You can also invoke this command by clicking with mouse-3 on the coding system indicator in the mode line (@pxref{Mode Line}).

If you specify a coding system that cannot handle all the characters in the buffer, Emacs will warn you about the troublesome characters, and ask you to choose another coding system, when you try to save the buffer (see section Choosing Coding Systems for Output).

You can also use this command to specify the end-of-line conversion (see section end-of-line conversion) for encoding the current buffer. For example, C-x <RET> f dos <RET> will cause Emacs to save the current buffer’s text with DOS-style carriage-return linefeed line endings.

Another way to specify the coding system for a file is when you visit the file. First use the command C-x <RET> c (universal-coding-system-argument); this command uses the minibuffer to read a coding system name. After you exit the minibuffer, the specified coding system is used for the immediately following command.

So if the immediately following command is C-x C-f, for example, it reads the file using that coding system (and records the coding system for when you later save the file). Or if the immediately following command is C-x C-w, it writes the file using that coding system. When you specify the coding system for saving in this way, instead of with C-x <RET> f, there is no warning if the buffer contains characters that the coding system cannot handle.

Other file commands affected by a specified coding system include C-x i and C-x C-v, as well as the other-window variants of C-x C-f. C-x <RET> c also affects commands that start subprocesses, including M-x shell (@pxref{Shell}). If the immediately following command does not use the coding system, then C-x <RET> c ultimately has no effect.

An easy way to visit a file with no conversion is with the M-x find-file-literally command. @xref{Visiting}.

The default value of the variable buffer-file-coding-system specifies the choice of coding system to use when you create a new file. It applies when you find a new file, and when you create a buffer and then save it in a file. Selecting a language environment typically sets this variable to a good choice of default coding system for that language environment.

If you visit a file with a wrong coding system, you can correct this with C-x <RET> r (revert-buffer-with-coding-system). This visits the current file again, using a coding system you specify.

If a piece of text has already been inserted into a buffer using the wrong coding system, you can redo the decoding of it using M-x recode-region. This prompts you for the proper coding system, then for the wrong coding system that was actually used, and does the conversion. It first encodes the region using the wrong coding system, then decodes it again using the proper coding system.

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1.10 Coding Systems for Interprocess Communication

This section explains how to specify coding systems for use in communication with other processes.

C-x <RET> x coding <RET>

Use coding system coding for transferring selections to and from other graphical applications (set-selection-coding-system).

C-x <RET> X coding <RET>

Use coding system coding for transferring one selection—the next one—to or from another graphical application (set-next-selection-coding-system).

C-x <RET> p input-coding <RET> output-coding <RET>

Use coding systems input-coding and output-coding for subprocess input and output in the current buffer (set-buffer-process-coding-system).

The command C-x <RET> x (set-selection-coding-system) specifies the coding system for sending selected text to other windowing applications, and for receiving the text of selections made in other applications. This command applies to all subsequent selections, until you override it by using the command again. The command C-x <RET> X (set-next-selection-coding-system) specifies the coding system for the next selection made in Emacs or read by Emacs.

The variable x-select-request-type specifies the data type to request from the X Window System for receiving text selections from other applications. If the value is nil (the default), Emacs tries UTF8_STRING and COMPOUND_TEXT, in this order, and uses various heuristics to choose the more appropriate of the two results; if none of these succeed, Emacs falls back on STRING. If the value of x-select-request-type is one of the symbols COMPOUND_TEXT, UTF8_STRING, STRING, or TEXT, Emacs uses only that request type. If the value is a list of some of these symbols, Emacs tries only the request types in the list, in order, until one of them succeeds, or until the list is exhausted.

The command C-x <RET> p (set-buffer-process-coding-system) specifies the coding system for input and output to a subprocess. This command applies to the current buffer; normally, each subprocess has its own buffer, and thus you can use this command to specify translation to and from a particular subprocess by giving the command in the corresponding buffer.

You can also use C-x <RET> c (universal-coding-system-argument) just before the command that runs or starts a subprocess, to specify the coding system for communicating with that subprocess. See section Specifying a Coding System for File Text.

The default for translation of process input and output depends on the current language environment.

The variable locale-coding-system specifies a coding system to use when encoding and decoding system strings such as system error messages and format-time-string formats and time stamps. That coding system is also used for decoding non-ASCII keyboard input on the X Window System and for encoding text sent to the standard output and error streams when in batch mode. You should choose a coding system that is compatible with the underlying system’s text representation, which is normally specified by one of the environment variables LC_ALL, LC_CTYPE, and LANG. (The first one, in the order specified above, whose value is nonempty is the one that determines the text representation.)

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1.11 Coding Systems for File Names

C-x <RET> F coding <RET>

Use coding system coding for encoding and decoding file names (set-file-name-coding-system).

The command C-x <RET> F (set-file-name-coding-system) specifies a coding system to use for encoding file names. It has no effect on reading and writing the contents of files.

In fact, all this command does is set the value of the variable file-name-coding-system. If you set the variable to a coding system name (as a Lisp symbol or a string), Emacs encodes file names using that coding system for all file operations. This makes it possible to use non-ASCII characters in file names—or, at least, those non-ASCII characters that the specified coding system can encode.

If file-name-coding-system is nil, Emacs uses a default coding system determined by the selected language environment, and stored in the default-file-name-coding-system variable. In the default language environment, non-ASCII characters in file names are not encoded specially; they appear in the file system using the internal Emacs representation.

When Emacs runs on MS-Windows versions that are descendants of the NT family (Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8), the value of file-name-coding-system is largely ignored, as Emacs by default uses APIs that allow passing Unicode file names directly. By contrast, on Windows 9X, file names are encoded using file-name-coding-system, which should be set to the codepage (see section codepage) pertinent for the current system locale. The value of the variable w32-unicode-filenames controls whether Emacs uses the Unicode APIs when it calls OS functions that accept file names. This variable is set by the startup code to nil on Windows 9X, and to t on newer versions of MS-Windows.

Warning: if you change file-name-coding-system (or the language environment) in the middle of an Emacs session, problems can result if you have already visited files whose names were encoded using the earlier coding system and cannot be encoded (or are encoded differently) under the new coding system. If you try to save one of these buffers under the visited file name, saving may use the wrong file name, or it may encounter an error. If such a problem happens, use C-x C-w to specify a new file name for that buffer.

If a mistake occurs when encoding a file name, use the command M-x recode-file-name to change the file name’s coding system. This prompts for an existing file name, its old coding system, and the coding system to which you wish to convert.

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1.12 Coding Systems for Terminal I/O

C-x <RET> t coding <RET>

Use coding system coding for terminal output (set-terminal-coding-system).

C-x <RET> k coding <RET>

Use coding system coding for keyboard input (set-keyboard-coding-system).

The command C-x <RET> t (set-terminal-coding-system) specifies the coding system for terminal output. If you specify a character code for terminal output, all characters output to the terminal are translated into that coding system.

This feature is useful for certain character-only terminals built to support specific languages or character sets—for example, European terminals that support one of the ISO Latin character sets. You need to specify the terminal coding system when using multibyte text, so that Emacs knows which characters the terminal can actually handle.

By default, output to the terminal is not translated at all, unless Emacs can deduce the proper coding system from your terminal type or your locale specification (see section Language Environments).

The command C-x <RET> k (set-keyboard-coding-system), or the variable keyboard-coding-system, specifies the coding system for keyboard input. Character-code translation of keyboard input is useful for terminals with keys that send non-ASCII graphic characters—for example, some terminals designed for ISO Latin-1 or subsets of it.

By default, keyboard input is translated based on your system locale setting. If your terminal does not really support the encoding implied by your locale (for example, if you find it inserts a non-ASCII character if you type M-i), you will need to set keyboard-coding-system to nil to turn off encoding. You can do this by putting

(set-keyboard-coding-system nil)

in your init file.

There is a similarity between using a coding system translation for keyboard input, and using an input method: both define sequences of keyboard input that translate into single characters. However, input methods are designed to be convenient for interactive use by humans, and the sequences that are translated are typically sequences of ASCII printing characters. Coding systems typically translate sequences of non-graphic characters.

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1.13 Fontsets

A font typically defines shapes for a single alphabet or script. Therefore, displaying the entire range of scripts that Emacs supports requires a collection of many fonts. In Emacs, such a collection is called a fontset. A fontset is defined by a list of font specifications, each assigned to handle a range of character codes, and may fall back on another fontset for characters that are not covered by the fonts it specifies.

Each fontset has a name, like a font. However, while fonts are stored in the system and the available font names are defined by the system, fontsets are defined within Emacs itself. Once you have defined a fontset, you can use it within Emacs by specifying its name, anywhere that you could use a single font. Of course, Emacs fontsets can use only the fonts that the system supports. If some characters appear on the screen as empty boxes or hex codes, this means that the fontset in use for them has no font for those characters. In this case, or if the characters are shown, but not as well as you would like, you may need to install extra fonts. Your operating system may have optional fonts that you can install; or you can install the GNU Intlfonts package, which includes fonts for most supported scripts.(2)

Emacs creates three fontsets automatically: the standard fontset, the startup fontset and the default fontset. The default fontset is most likely to have fonts for a wide variety of non-ASCII characters, and is the default fallback for the other two fontsets, and if you set a default font rather than fontset. However, it does not specify font family names, so results can be somewhat random if you use it directly. You can specify use of a particular fontset by starting Emacs with the ‘-fn’ option. For example,

emacs -fn fontset-standard

You can also specify a fontset with the ‘Font’ resource (@pxref{X Resources}).

If no fontset is specified for use, then Emacs uses an ASCII font, with ‘fontset-default’ as a fallback for characters the font does not cover. The standard fontset is only used if explicitly requested, despite its name.

To show the information about a specific fontset, use the M-x describe-fontset command. It prompts for a fontset name, defaulting to the one used by the current frame, and then displays all the subranges of characters and the fonts assigned to them in that fontset.

A fontset does not necessarily specify a font for every character code. If a fontset specifies no font for a certain character, or if it specifies a font that does not exist on your system, then it cannot display that character properly. It will display that character as a hex code or thin space or an empty box instead. (@xref{Text Display, , glyphless characters}, for details.)

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1.14 Defining fontsets

When running on X, Emacs creates a standard fontset automatically according to the value of standard-fontset-spec. This fontset’s name is


or just ‘fontset-standard’ for short.

On GNUstep and macOS, the standard fontset is created using the value of ns-standard-fontset-spec, and on MS Windows it is created using the value of w32-standard-fontset-spec.

Bold, italic, and bold-italic variants of the standard fontset are created automatically. Their names have ‘bold’ instead of ‘medium’, or ‘i’ instead of ‘r’, or both.

Emacs generates a fontset automatically, based on any default ASCII font that you specify with the ‘Font’ resource or the ‘-fn’ argument, or the default font that Emacs found when it started. This is the startup fontset and its name is fontset-startup. It does this by replacing the charset_registry field with ‘fontset’, and replacing charset_encoding field with ‘startup’, then using the resulting string to specify a fontset.

For instance, if you start Emacs with a font of this form,

emacs -fn "*courier-medium-r-normal--14-140-*-iso8859-1"

Emacs generates the following fontset and uses it for the initial X window frame:


The startup fontset will use the font that you specify, or a variant with a different registry and encoding, for all the characters that are supported by that font, and fallback on ‘fontset-default’ for other characters.

With the X resource ‘Emacs.Font’, you can specify a fontset name just like an actual font name. But be careful not to specify a fontset name in a wildcard resource like ‘Emacs*Font’—that wildcard specification matches various other resources, such as for menus, and menus cannot handle fontsets. @xref{X Resources}.

You can specify additional fontsets using X resources named ‘Fontset-n’, where n is an integer starting from 0. The resource value should have this form:

fontpattern, [charset:font]…

fontpattern should have the form of a standard X font name (see the previous fontset-startup example), except for the last two fields. They should have the form ‘fontset-alias’.

The fontset has two names, one long and one short. The long name is fontpattern. The short name is ‘fontset-alias’. You can refer to the fontset by either name.

The construct ‘charset:font’ specifies which font to use (in this fontset) for one particular character set. Here, charset is the name of a character set, and font is the font to use for that character set. You can use this construct any number of times in defining one fontset.

For the other character sets, Emacs chooses a font based on fontpattern. It replaces ‘fontset-alias’ with values that describe the character set. For the ASCII character font, ‘fontset-alias’ is replaced with ‘ISO8859-1’.

In addition, when several consecutive fields are wildcards, Emacs collapses them into a single wildcard. This is to prevent use of auto-scaled fonts. Fonts made by scaling larger fonts are not usable for editing, and scaling a smaller font is not also useful, because it is better to use the smaller font in its own size, which is what Emacs does.

Thus if fontpattern is this,


the font specification for ASCII characters would be this:


and the font specification for Chinese GB2312 characters would be this:


You may not have any Chinese font matching the above font specification. Most X distributions include only Chinese fonts that have ‘song ti’ or ‘fangsong ti’ in the family field. In such a case, ‘Fontset-n’ can be specified as:

Emacs.Fontset-0: -*-fixed-medium-r-normal-*-24-*-*-*-*-*-fontset-24,\

Then, the font specifications for all but Chinese GB2312 characters have ‘fixed’ in the family field, and the font specification for Chinese GB2312 characters has a wild card ‘*’ in the family field.

The function that processes the fontset resource value to create the fontset is called create-fontset-from-fontset-spec. You can also call this function explicitly to create a fontset.

@xref{Fonts}, for more information about font naming.

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1.15 Modifying Fontsets

Fontsets do not always have to be created from scratch. If only minor changes are required it may be easier to modify an existing fontset. Modifying ‘fontset-default’ will also affect other fontsets that use it as a fallback, so can be an effective way of fixing problems with the fonts that Emacs chooses for a particular script.

Fontsets can be modified using the function set-fontset-font, specifying a character, a charset, a script, or a range of characters to modify the font for, and a font specification for the font to be used. Some examples are:

;; Use Liberation Mono for latin-3 charset.
(set-fontset-font "fontset-default" 'iso-8859-3
                  "Liberation Mono")

;; Prefer a big5 font for han characters
(set-fontset-font "fontset-default"
                  'han (font-spec :registry "big5")
                  nil 'prepend)

;; Use DejaVu Sans Mono as a fallback in fontset-startup
;; before resorting to fontset-default.
(set-fontset-font "fontset-startup" nil "DejaVu Sans Mono"
                  nil 'append)

;; Use MyPrivateFont for the Unicode private use area.
(set-fontset-font "fontset-default"  '(#xe000 . #xf8ff)

Some fonts installed on your system might be broken, or produce unpleasant results for characters for which they are used, and you may wish to instruct Emacs to completely ignore them while searching for a suitable font required to display a character. You can do that by adding the offending fonts to the value of face-ignored-fonts variable, which is a list. Here’s an example to put in your ‘~/.emacs’:

(add-to-list 'face-ignored-fonts "Some Bad Font")

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1.16 Undisplayable Characters

There may be some non-ASCII characters that your terminal cannot display. Most text terminals support just a single character set (use the variable default-terminal-coding-system to tell Emacs which one, Coding Systems for Terminal I/O); characters that can’t be encoded in that coding system are displayed as ‘?’ by default.

Graphical displays can display a broader range of characters, but you may not have fonts installed for all of them; characters that have no font appear as a hollow box.

If you use Latin-1 characters but your terminal can’t display Latin-1, you can arrange to display mnemonic ASCII sequences instead, e.g., ‘"o’ for o-umlaut. Load the library ‘iso-ascii’ to do this.

If your terminal can display Latin-1, you can display characters from other European character sets using a mixture of equivalent Latin-1 characters and ASCII mnemonics. Customize the variable latin1-display to enable this. The mnemonic ASCII sequences mostly correspond to those of the prefix input methods.

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1.17 Unibyte Editing Mode

The ISO 8859 Latin-n character sets define character codes in the range 0240 to 0377 octal (160 to 255 decimal) to handle the accented letters and punctuation needed by various European languages (and some non-European ones). Note that Emacs considers bytes with codes in this range as raw bytes, not as characters, even in a unibyte buffer, i.e., if you disable multibyte characters. However, Emacs can still handle these character codes as if they belonged to one of the single-byte character sets at a time. To specify which of these codes to use, invoke M-x set-language-environment and specify a suitable language environment such as ‘Latin-n’. See Disabling Multibyte Characters in GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual.

Emacs can also display bytes in the range 160 to 255 as readable characters, provided the terminal or font in use supports them. This works automatically. On a graphical display, Emacs can also display single-byte characters through fontsets, in effect by displaying the equivalent multibyte characters according to the current language environment. To request this, set the variable unibyte-display-via-language-environment to a non-nil value. Note that setting this only affects how these bytes are displayed, but does not change the fundamental fact that Emacs treats them as raw bytes, not as characters.

If your terminal does not support display of the Latin-1 character set, Emacs can display these characters as ASCII sequences which at least give you a clear idea of what the characters are. To do this, load the library iso-ascii. Similar libraries for other Latin-n character sets could be implemented, but have not been so far.

Normally non-ISO-8859 characters (decimal codes between 128 and 159 inclusive) are displayed as octal escapes. You can change this for non-standard extended versions of ISO-8859 character sets by using the function standard-display-8bit in the disp-table library.

There are two ways to input single-byte non-ASCII characters:

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1.18 Charsets

In Emacs, charset is short for “character set”. Emacs supports most popular charsets (such as ascii, iso-8859-1, cp1250, big5, and unicode), in addition to some charsets of its own (such as emacs, unicode-bmp, and eight-bit). All supported characters belong to one or more charsets.

Emacs normally does the right thing with respect to charsets, so that you don’t have to worry about them. However, it is sometimes helpful to know some of the underlying details about charsets.

One example is font selection (@pxref{Fonts}). Each language environment (see section Language Environments) defines a priority list for the various charsets. When searching for a font, Emacs initially attempts to find one that can display the highest-priority charsets. For instance, in the Japanese language environment, the charset japanese-jisx0208 has the highest priority, so Emacs tries to use a font whose registry property is ‘JISX0208.1983-0’.

There are two commands that can be used to obtain information about charsets. The command M-x list-charset-chars prompts for a charset name, and displays all the characters in that character set. The command M-x describe-character-set prompts for a charset name, and displays information about that charset, including its internal representation within Emacs.

M-x list-character-sets displays a list of all supported charsets. The list gives the names of charsets and additional information to identity each charset; for more details, see the ISO International Register of Coded Character Sets to be Used with Escape Sequences (ISO-IR) maintained by the Information Processing Society of Japan/Information Technology Standards Commission of Japan (IPSJ/ITSCJ). In this list, charsets are divided into two categories: normal charsets are listed first, followed by supplementary charsets. A supplementary charset is one that is used to define another charset (as a parent or a subset), or to provide backward-compatibility for older Emacs versions.

To find out which charset a character in the buffer belongs to, put point before it and type C-u C-x = (see section Introduction to International Character Sets).

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1.19 Bidirectional Editing

Emacs supports editing text written in scripts, such as Arabic and Hebrew, whose natural ordering of horizontal text for display is from right to left. However, digits and Latin text embedded in these scripts are still displayed left to right. It is also not uncommon to have small portions of text in Arabic or Hebrew embedded in an otherwise Latin document; e.g., as comments and strings in a program source file. For these reasons, text that uses these scripts is actually bidirectional: a mixture of runs of left-to-right and right-to-left characters.

This section describes the facilities and options provided by Emacs for editing bidirectional text.

Emacs stores right-to-left and bidirectional text in the so-called logical (or reading) order: the buffer or string position of the first character you read precedes that of the next character. Reordering of bidirectional text into the visual order happens at display time. As result, character positions no longer increase monotonically with their positions on display. Emacs implements the Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm described in the Unicode Standard Annex #9, for reordering of bidirectional text for display.

The buffer-local variable bidi-display-reordering controls whether text in the buffer is reordered for display. If its value is non-nil, Emacs reorders characters that have right-to-left directionality when they are displayed. The default value is t.

Each paragraph of bidirectional text can have its own base direction, either right-to-left or left-to-right. (Paragraph boundaries are empty lines, i.e., lines consisting entirely of whitespace characters.) Text in left-to-right paragraphs begins on the screen at the left margin of the window and is truncated or continued when it reaches the right margin. By contrast, text in right-to-left paragraphs is displayed starting at the right margin and is continued or truncated at the left margin.

Emacs determines the base direction of each paragraph dynamically, based on the text at the beginning of the paragraph. However, sometimes a buffer may need to force a certain base direction for its paragraphs. The variable bidi-paragraph-direction, if non-nil, disables the dynamic determination of the base direction, and instead forces all paragraphs in the buffer to have the direction specified by its buffer-local value. The value can be either right-to-left or left-to-right. Any other value is interpreted as nil.

Alternatively, you can control the base direction of a paragraph by inserting special formatting characters in front of the paragraph. The special character RIGHT-TO-LEFT MARK, or RLM, forces the right-to-left direction on the following paragraph, while LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK, or LRM forces the left-to-right direction. (You can use C-x 8 <RET> to insert these characters.) In a GUI session, the LRM and RLM characters display as very thin blank characters; on text terminals they display as blanks.

Because characters are reordered for display, Emacs commands that operate in the logical order or on stretches of buffer positions may produce unusual effects. For example, C-f and C-b commands move point in the logical order, so the cursor will sometimes jump when point traverses reordered bidirectional text. Similarly, a highlighted region covering a contiguous range of character positions may look discontinuous if the region spans reordered text. This is normal and similar to the behavior of other programs that support bidirectional text. If you set visual-order-cursor-movement to a non-nil value, cursor motion by the arrow keys follows the visual order on screen (@pxref{Moving Point, visual-order movement}).

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It is also specified for MIME ‘text/*’ bodies and in other network transport contexts. It is different from the SGML reference syntax record-start/record-end format, which Emacs doesn’t support directly.


If you run Emacs on X, you may need to inform the X server about the location of the newly installed fonts with commands such as:

 xset fp+ /usr/local/share/emacs/fonts
 xset fp rehash

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