This manual is full of passages that tell you what particular keys do. But Emacs does not assign meanings to keys directly. Instead, Emacs assigns meanings to named commands, and then gives keys their meanings by binding them to commands.
Every command has a name chosen by a programmer. The name is usually
made of a few English words separated by dashes; for example,
forward-word. A command also has a
function definition which is a Lisp program; this is what makes
the command do what it does. In Emacs Lisp, a command is actually a
special kind of Lisp function; one which specifies how to read arguments
for it and call it interactively. For more information on commands and
functions, see section `What Is a Function' in The Emacs Lisp Reference Manual. (The definition we use in this manual is
The bindings between keys and commands are recorded in various tables called keymaps. See section Keymaps.
When we say that "C-n moves down vertically one line" we are
glossing over a distinction that is irrelevant in ordinary use but is vital
in understanding how to customize Emacs. It is the command
next-line that is programmed to move down vertically. C-n has
this effect because it is bound to that command. If you rebind
C-n to the command
forward-word then C-n will move
forward by words instead. Rebinding keys is a common method of
In the rest of this manual, we usually ignore this subtlety to keep
things simple. To give the information needed for customization, we
state the name of the command which really does the work in parentheses
after mentioning the key that runs it. For example, we will say that
"The command C-n (
next-line) moves point vertically
down," meaning that
next-line is a command that moves vertically
down and C-n is a key that is standardly bound to it.
While we are on the subject of information for customization only,
it's a good time to tell you about variables. Often the
description of a command will say, "To change this, set the variable
mumble-foo." A variable is a name used to remember a value.
Most of the variables documented in this manual exist just to facilitate
customization: some command or other part of Emacs examines the variable
and behaves differently according to the value that you set. Until you
are interested in customizing, you can ignore the information about
variables. When you are ready to be interested, read the basic
information on variables, and then the information on individual
variables will make sense. See section Variables.
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