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The Art of Unix Programming
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Unix Programming - Choosing an Editor - Useful Things to Know about Emacs

Useful Things to Know about Emacs

Emacs stands for ‘EDiting MACroS’ (pronounce it /eemaks/). It was originally written in the late 1970s as a set of macros in an editor called TECO, then reimplemented several times in different ways. In an amusing twist, modern Emacs implementations include a TECO emulation mode.

In our earlier discussion of editors and optional complexity, we noted that many people consider Emacs excessively heavyweight. However, investing the time to learn it can yield rich rewards in productivity. Emacs supports many powerful editing modes that offer help with the syntax of various programming languages and markups. We'll see later in this chapter how Emacs can be used in combination with other development tools to give capabilities comparable to (and in many ways surpassing) those of conventional IDEs.

The standard Emacs, universally available on modern Unixes, is GNU Emacs; this is what generally runs if you type emacs to a Unix shell prompt. GNU Emacs sources and documentation are available at the Free Software Foundation archive site .

The only major variant is called XEmacs; it has a better X interface but otherwise quite similar capabilities (it forked from Emacs 19). XEmacs has a home page. Emacs (and Emacs Lisp) is universally available under modern Unixes. It has been ported to MS-DOS (where it works poorly) and Windows 95 and NT (where it is said to work reasonably well).

Emacs includes its own interactive tutorial and very complete on-line documentation; you'll find instructions on how to invoke both on the default Emacs startup screen. A good introduction on paper is Learning GNU Emacs [Cameron].

The keystroke commands used in the Unix ports of Netscape/Mozilla and Internet Explorer text windows (in forms and the mailer) are copied from the stock Emacs bindings for basic text editing. These bindings are the closest thing to a cross-platform standard for editor keystrokes.


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The Art of Unix Programming
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