In the first part of this series, I introduced the ideas behind Emacs lisp. Since you understand the basics of what lisp code looks like and means, it makes sense to learn how to get around the documentation. These methods will be useful to you for as long as you use emacs.

Emacs has excellent self-documenting features. I cannot recommend that you learn about them highly enough. Some of the documentation is available online, but that is not nearly the same

Help documentation

The command help-for-help, bound to C-h ?, is the self-documenting starting point. However, I myself even found it to be confusing (specifically, it is overly complete when what you may be looking for is only a guide). So, look at it quickly, remember it is there, and maybe move on.

A better place to start is with the command describe-key, which is bound to C-h k. The command allows you to type in a key sequence that you are used to using, and tells you what command that runs, along with the documentation for that command.

This is an easy way to start writing emacs lisp scripts. Every keybinding maps to an elisp function. And, since these are just regular functions, they can be called just like regular functions. So, if you know how to do something with a keybinding, you also know how to do it in elisp.

Another key feature to note is that many of these help windows contain "links" to the actual function definitions that these describe. Clicking on the link or moving point to the link and pressing RET will take you to the source code for that function, which lets you see how this command is implemented, as long as it was implemented in elisp (functions that are implemented in C cannot be browsed in this way).

You will occasionally come across a function that you do not understand. The command describe-function, bound to C-h f, asks for a function name, and displays the documentation for that function.

Similar to describe-function is describe-variable, which is bound to C-h v. This command does the same thing as describe-function, except that it works for variables.

Lastly, the various apropos-* commands. These commands search through every symbol in emacs, returning what matches the string you provided. The command apropos will search everything, such as functions, variables, and commands, while apropos-command and apropos-variable will only search for commands and variables, respectively.

This isn't strictly about writing emacs lisp, but my favorite way to get to know some feature is via describe-mode, bound to C-h m. This command gives you information about the current modes that a buffer is in, both its major mode and its minor modes. This is a great way to explore Emacs, and basically provides a "cheat-sheet" for every mode that you'd use.

Info manuals: the full documentation

Emacs' has extensive documentation provided by info files. These are essentially hypertext documentation files. They're really, really great. However, it takes a while to get the "feel" for it.

Access info with the command info, which is bound to C-h i. This shows you a directory of info files.

The key s is bound to Info-search, which performs a regular-expression search on the current info document you are viewing. The command clone-buffer (M-n) is very useful for opening another info buffer to continue exploring Emacs documentation.


These commands will get you where you need to be. At this point, you should be familiar enough with using Emacs to be able to answer your own questions as they come up.