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Using Emacs as a Server

Various programs such as mail can invoke your choice of editor to edit a particular piece of text, such as a message that you are sending. By convention, most of these programs use the environment variable EDITOR to specify which editor to run. If you set EDITOR to `emacs', they invoke Emacs--but in an inconvenient fashion, by starting a new, separate Emacs process. This is inconvenient because it takes time and because the new Emacs process doesn't share the buffers in the existing Emacs process.

You can arrange to use your existing Emacs process as the editor for programs like mail by using the Emacs client and Emacs server programs. Here is how.

First, the preparation. Within Emacs, call the function server-start. (Your `.emacs' file can do this automatically if you add the expression (server-start) to it.) Then, outside Emacs, set the EDITOR environment variable to `emacsclient'. (Note that some programs use a different environment variable; for example, to make TeX use `emacsclient', you should set the TEXEDIT environment variable to `emacsclient +%d %s'.)

Then, whenever any program invokes your specified EDITOR program, the effect is to send a message to your principal Emacs telling it to visit a file. (That's what the program emacsclient does.) Emacs displays the buffer immediately and you can immediately begin editing it.

When you've finished editing that buffer, type C-x # (server-edit). This saves the file and sends a message back to the emacsclient program telling it to exit. The programs that use EDITOR wait for the "editor" (actually, emacsclient) to exit. C-x # also checks for other pending external requests to edit various files, and selects the next such file.

You can switch to a server buffer manually if you wish; you don't have to arrive at it with C-x #. But C-x # is the only way to say that you are "finished" with one.

If you set the variable server-window to a window or a frame, C-x # displays the server buffer in that window or in that frame.

While mail or another application is waiting for emacsclient to finish, emacsclient does not read terminal input. So the terminal that mail was using is effectively blocked for the duration. In order to edit with your principal Emacs, you need to be able to use it without using that terminal. There are two ways to do this:

Some programs write temporary files for you to edit. After you edit the temporary file, the program reads it back and deletes it. If the Emacs server is later asked to edit the same file name, it should assume this has nothing to do with the previous occasion for that file name. The server accomplishes this by killing the temporary file's buffer when you finish with the file. Use the variable server-temp-file-regexp to specify which files are temporary in this sense; its value should be a regular expression that matches file names that are temporary.

If you run emacsclient with the option `--no-wait', it returns immediately without waiting for you to "finish" the buffer in Emacs.

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