Each time you visit a file, auto-saving is turned on for that file's
buffer if the variable
auto-save-default is non-
nil (but not
in batch mode; see section Entering and Exiting Emacs). The default for this variable is
t, so auto-saving is the usual practice for file-visiting buffers.
Auto-saving can be turned on or off for any existing buffer with the
command M-x auto-save-mode. Like other minor mode commands, M-x
auto-save-mode turns auto-saving on with a positive argument, off with a
zero or negative argument; with no argument, it toggles.
Emacs does auto-saving periodically based on counting how many characters
you have typed since the last time auto-saving was done. The variable
auto-save-interval specifies how many characters there are between
auto-saves. By default, it is 300.
Auto-saving also takes place when you stop typing for a while. The
auto-save-timeout says how many seconds Emacs should
wait before it does an auto save (and perhaps also a garbage
collection). (The actual time period is longer if the current buffer is
long; this is a heuristic which aims to keep out of your way when you
are editing long buffers, in which auto-save takes an appreciable amount
of time.) Auto-saving during idle periods accomplishes two things:
first, it makes sure all your work is saved if you go away from the
terminal for a while; second, it may avoid some auto-saving while you
are actually typing.
Emacs also does auto-saving whenever it gets a fatal error. This includes killing the Emacs job with a shell command such as `kill %emacs', or disconnecting a phone line or network connection.
You can request an auto-save explicitly with the command M-x do-auto-save.
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