Like other editors, Emacs has commands for searching for occurrences of a string. The principal search command is unusual in that it is incremental; it begins to search before you have finished typing the search string. There are also nonincremental search commands more like those of other editors.
Besides the usual
replace-string command that finds all
occurrences of one string and replaces them with another, Emacs has a fancy
replacement command called
query-replace which asks interactively
which occurrences to replace.
An incremental search begins searching as soon as you type the first character of the search string. As you type in the search string, Emacs shows you where the string (as you have typed it so far) would be found. When you have typed enough characters to identify the place you want, you can stop. Depending on what you plan to do next, you may or may not need to terminate the search explicitly with RET.
C-s starts an incremental search. C-s reads characters from the keyboard and positions the cursor at the first occurrence of the characters that you have typed. If you type C-s and then F, the cursor moves right after the first `F'. Type an O, and see the cursor move to after the first `FO'. After another O, the cursor is after the first `FOO' after the place where you started the search. At each step, the buffer text that matches the search string is highlighted, if the terminal can do that; at each step, the current search string is updated in the echo area.
If you make a mistake in typing the search string, you can cancel characters with DEL. Each DEL cancels the last character of search string. This does not happen until Emacs is ready to read another input character; first it must either find, or fail to find, the character you want to erase. If you do not want to wait for this to happen, use C-g as described below.
When you are satisfied with the place you have reached, you can type RET, which stops searching, leaving the cursor where the search brought it. Also, any command not specially meaningful in searches stops the searching and is then executed. Thus, typing C-a would exit the search and then move to the beginning of the line. RET is necessary only if the next command you want to type is a printing character, DEL, RET, or another control character that is special within searches (C-q, C-w, C-r, C-s, C-y, M-y, M-r, or M-s).
Sometimes you search for `FOO' and find it, but not the one you expected to find. There was a second `FOO' that you forgot about, before the one you were aiming for. In this event, type another C-s to move to the next occurrence of the search string. This can be done any number of times. If you overshoot, you can cancel some C-s characters with DEL.
After you exit a search, you can search for the same string again by typing just C-s C-s: the first C-s is the key that invokes incremental search, and the second C-s means "search again."
To reuse earlier search strings, use the search ring. The commands M-p and M-n move through the ring to pick a search string to reuse. These commands leave the selected search ring element in the minibuffer, where you can edit it. Type C-s or C-r to terminate editing the string and search for it.
If your string is not found at all, the echo area says `Failing I-Search'. The cursor is after the place where Emacs found as much of your string as it could. Thus, if you search for `FOOT', and there is no `FOOT', you might see the cursor after the `FOO' in `FOOL'. At this point there are several things you can do. If your string was mistyped, you can rub some of it out and correct it. If you like the place you have found, you can type RET or some other Emacs command to "accept what the search offered." Or you can type C-g, which removes from the search string the characters that could not be found (the `T' in `FOOT'), leaving those that were found (the `FOO' in `FOOT'). A second C-g at that point cancels the search entirely, returning point to where it was when the search started.
An upper-case letter in the search string makes the search case-sensitive. If you delete the upper-case character from the search string, it ceases to have this effect. See section Searching and Case.
If a search is failing and you ask to repeat it by typing another C-s, it starts again from the beginning of the buffer. Repeating a failing reverse search with C-r starts again from the end. This is called wrapping around. `Wrapped' appears in the search prompt once this has happened. If you keep on going past the original starting point of the search, it changes to `Overwrapped', which means that you are revisiting matches that you have already seen.
The C-g "quit" character does special things during searches; just what it does depends on the status of the search. If the search has found what you specified and is waiting for input, C-g cancels the entire search. The cursor moves back to where you started the search. If C-g is typed when there are characters in the search string that have not been found--because Emacs is still searching for them, or because it has failed to find them--then the search string characters which have not been found are discarded from the search string. With them gone, the search is now successful and waiting for more input, so a second C-g will cancel the entire search.
To search for a newline, type C-j. To search for another control character, such as control-S or carriage return, you must quote it by typing C-q first. This function of C-q is analogous to its use for insertion (see section Inserting Text): it causes the following character to be treated the way any "ordinary" character is treated in the same context. You can also specify a character by its octal code: enter C-q followed by a sequence of octal digits.
You can change to searching backwards with C-r. If a search fails because the place you started was too late in the file, you should do this. Repeated C-r keeps looking for more occurrences backwards. A C-s starts going forwards again. C-r in a search can be canceled with DEL.
If you know initially that you want to search backwards, you can use
C-r instead of C-s to start the search, because C-r as
a key runs a command (
isearch-backward) to search backward. A
backward search finds matches that are entirely before the starting
point, just as a forward search finds matches that begin after it.
The characters C-y and C-w can be used in incremental search to grab text from the buffer into the search string. This makes it convenient to search for another occurrence of text at point. C-w copies the word after point as part of the search string, advancing point over that word. Another C-s to repeat the search will then search for a string including that word. C-y is similar to C-w but copies all the rest of the current line into the search string. Both C-y and C-w convert the text they copy to lower case if the search is currently not case-sensitive; this is so the search remains case-insensitive.
The character M-y copies text from the kill ring into the search string. It uses the same text that C-y as a command would yank. See section Yanking.
When you exit the incremental search, it sets the mark to where point was, before the search. That is convenient for moving back there. In Transient Mark mode, incremental search sets the mark without activating it, and does so only if the mark is not already active.
To customize the special characters that incremental search understands,
alter their bindings in the keymap
isearch-mode-map. For a list
of bindings, look at the documentation of
C-h f isearch-mode RET.
Incremental search on a slow terminal uses a modified style of display that is designed to take less time. Instead of redisplaying the buffer at each place the search gets to, it creates a new single-line window and uses that to display the line that the search has found. The single-line window comes into play as soon as point gets outside of the text that is already on the screen.
When you terminate the search, the single-line window is removed. Then Emacs redisplays the window in which the search was done, to show its new position of point.
Emacs also has conventional nonincremental search commands, which require you to type the entire search string before searching begins.
To do a nonincremental search, first type C-s RET. This enters the minibuffer to read the search string; terminate the string with RET, and then the search takes place. If the string is not found, the search command gets an error.
The way C-s RET works is that the C-s invokes incremental search, which is specially programmed to invoke nonincremental search if the argument you give it is empty. (Such an empty argument would otherwise be useless.) C-r RET also works this way.
However, nonincremental searches performed using C-s RET do
search-forward right away. The first thing done is to see
if the next character is C-w, which requests a word search.
Forward and backward nonincremental searches are implemented by the
commands may be bound to keys in the usual manner. The feature that you
can get to them via the incremental search commands exists for
historical reasons, and to avoid the need to find suitable key sequences
Word search searches for a sequence of words without regard to how the words are separated. More precisely, you type a string of many words, using single spaces to separate them, and the string can be found even if there are multiple spaces, newlines or other punctuation between the words.
Word search is useful for editing a printed document made with a text formatter. If you edit while looking at the printed, formatted version, you can't tell where the line breaks are in the source file. With word search, you can search without having to know them.
Word search is a special case of nonincremental search and is invoked with C-s RET C-w. This is followed by the search string, which must always be terminated with RET. Being nonincremental, this search does not start until the argument is terminated. It works by constructing a regular expression and searching for that; see section Regular Expression Search.
Use C-r RET C-w to do backward word search.
Forward and backward word searches are implemented by the commands
commands may be bound to keys in the usual manner. The feature that you
can get to them via the incremental search commands exists for historical
reasons, and to avoid the need to find suitable key sequences for them.
A regular expression (regexp, for short) is a pattern that denotes a class of alternative strings to match, possibly infinitely many. In GNU Emacs, you can search for the next match for a regexp either incrementally or not.
Incremental search for a regexp is done by typing C-M-s
isearch-forward-regexp). This command reads a search string
incrementally just like C-s, but it treats the search string as a
regexp rather than looking for an exact match against the text in the
buffer. Each time you add text to the search string, you make the
regexp longer, and the new regexp is searched for. Invoking C-s
with a prefix argument (its value does not matter) is another way to do
a forward incremental regexp search. To search backward for a regexp,
use C-M-r (
isearch-backward-regexp), or C-r with a
All of the control characters that do special things within an ordinary incremental search have the same function in incremental regexp search. Typing C-s or C-r immediately after starting the search retrieves the last incremental search regexp used; that is to say, incremental regexp and non-regexp searches have independent defaults. They also have separate search rings that you can access with M-p and M-n.
If you type SPC in incremental regexp search, it matches any sequence of whitespace characters, including newlines. If you want to match just a space, type C-q SPC.
Note that adding characters to the regexp in an incremental regexp search can make the cursor move back and start again. For example, if you have searched for `foo' and you add `\|bar', the cursor backs up in case the first `bar' precedes the first `foo'.
Nonincremental search for a regexp is done by the functions
re-search-backward. You can invoke
these with M-x, or bind them to keys, or invoke them by way of
incremental regexp search with C-M-s RET and C-M-r
If you use the incremental regexp search commands with a prefix
argument, they perform ordinary string search, like
isearch-backward. See section Incremental Search.
Regular expressions have a syntax in which a few characters are special constructs and the rest are ordinary. An ordinary character is a simple regular expression which matches that same character and nothing else. The special characters are `$', `^', `.', `*', `+', `?', `[', `]' and `\'. Any other character appearing in a regular expression is ordinary, unless a `\' precedes it.
For example, `f' is not a special character, so it is ordinary, and therefore `f' is a regular expression that matches the string `f' and no other string. (It does not match the string `ff'.) Likewise, `o' is a regular expression that matches only `o'. (When case distinctions are being ignored, these regexps also match `F' and `O', but we consider this a generalization of "the same string," rather than an exception.)
Any two regular expressions a and b can be concatenated. The result is a regular expression which matches a string if a matches some amount of the beginning of that string and b matches the rest of the string.
As a simple example, we can concatenate the regular expressions `f' and `o' to get the regular expression `fo', which matches only the string `fo'. Still trivial. To do something nontrivial, you need to use one of the special characters. Here is a list of them.
Note: for historical compatibility, special characters are treated as ordinary ones if they are in contexts where their special meanings make no sense. For example, `*foo' treats `*' as ordinary since there is no preceding expression on which the `*' can act. It is poor practice to depend on this behavior; it is better to quote the special character anyway, regardless of where it appears.
For the most part, `\' followed by any character matches only that character. However, there are several exceptions: two-character sequences starting with `\' that have special meanings. The second character in the sequence is always an ordinary character when used on its own. Here is a table of `\' constructs.
The constructs that pertain to words and syntax are controlled by the setting of the syntax table (see section The Syntax Table).
Here is a complicated regexp, used by Emacs to recognize the end of a sentence together with any whitespace that follows. It is given in Lisp syntax to enable you to distinguish the spaces from the tab characters. In Lisp syntax, the string constant begins and ends with a double-quote. `\"' stands for a double-quote as part of the regexp, `\\' for a backslash as part of the regexp, `\t' for a tab and `\n' for a newline.
"[.?!]\"')]*\\($\\|\t\\| \\)[ \t\n]*"
This contains four parts in succession: a character set matching period, `?', or `!'; a character set matching close-brackets, quotes, or parentheses, repeated any number of times; an alternative in backslash-parentheses that matches end-of-line, a tab, or two spaces; and a character set matching whitespace characters, repeated any number of times.
To enter the same regexp interactively, you would type TAB to enter a tab, and C-j to enter a newline. You would also type single backslashes as themselves, instead of doubling them for Lisp syntax.
Incremental searches in Emacs normally ignore the case of the text they are searching through, if you specify the text in lower case. Thus, if you specify searching for `foo', then `Foo' and `foo' are also considered a match. Regexps, and in particular character sets, are included: `[ab]' would match `a' or `A' or `b' or `B'.
An upper-case letter anywhere in the incremental search string makes the search case-sensitive. Thus, searching for `Foo' does not find `foo' or `FOO'. This applies to regular expression search as well as to string search. The effect ceases if you delete the upper-case letter from the search string.
If you set the variable
all letters must match exactly, including case. This is a per-buffer
variable; altering the variable affects only the current buffer, but
there is a default value which you can change as well. See section Local Variables.
This variable applies to nonincremental searches also, including those
performed by the replace commands (see section Replacement Commands) and the minibuffer
history matching commands (see section Minibuffer History).
Global search-and-replace operations are not needed as often in Emacs as they are in other editors(2), but they are available. In addition to the simple M-x replace-string command which is like that found in most editors, there is a M-x query-replace command which asks you, for each occurrence of the pattern, whether to replace it.
The replace commands normally operate on the text from point to the
end of the buffer; however, in Transient Mark mode, when the mark is
active, they operate on the region. The replace commands all replace
one string (or regexp) with one replacement string. It is possible to
perform several replacements in parallel using the command
expand-region-abbrevs (see section Controlling Abbrev Expansion).
To replace every instance of `foo' after point with `bar', use the command M-x replace-string with the two arguments `foo' and `bar'. Replacement happens only in the text after point, so if you want to cover the whole buffer you must go to the beginning first. All occurrences up to the end of the buffer are replaced; to limit replacement to part of the buffer, narrow to that part of the buffer before doing the replacement (see section Narrowing). In Transient Mark mode, when the region is active, replacement is limited to the region (see section Transient Mark Mode).
replace-string exits, it leaves point at the last
occurrence replaced. It sets the mark to the prior position of point
replace-string command was issued); use C-u
C-SPC to move back there.
A numeric argument restricts replacement to matches that are surrounded by word boundaries. The argument's value doesn't matter.
The M-x replace-string command replaces exact matches for a single string. The similar command M-x replace-regexp replaces any match for a specified pattern.
replace-regexp, the newstring need not be constant: it
can refer to all or part of what is matched by the regexp.
`\&' in newstring stands for the entire match being replaced.
`\d' in newstring, where d is a digit, stands for
whatever matched the dth parenthesized grouping in regexp.
To include a `\' in the text to replace with, you must enter
`\\'. For example,
M-x replace-regexp RET c[ad]+r RET \&-safe RET
replaces (for example) `cadr' with `cadr-safe' and `cddr' with `cddr-safe'.
M-x replace-regexp RET \(c[ad]+r\)-safe RET \1 RET
performs the inverse transformation.
If the first argument of a replace command is all lower case, the
commands ignores case while searching for occurrences to
case-fold-search is non-
case-fold-search is set to
nil, case is always significant
in all searches.
M-x replace-string RET foo RET bar RET
replaces a lower case `foo' with a lower case `bar', an
all-caps `FOO' with `BAR', and a capitalized `Foo' with
`Bar'. (These three alternatives--lower case, all caps, and
capitalized, are the only ones that
If upper-case letters are used in the replacement string, they remain
upper case every time that text is inserted. If upper-case letters are
used in the first argument, the second argument is always substituted
exactly as given, with no case conversion. Likewise, if either
case-fold-search is set to
replacement is done without case conversion.
If you want to change only some of the occurrences of `foo' to
`bar', not all of them, then you cannot use an ordinary
replace-string. Instead, use M-% (
This command finds occurrences of `foo' one by one, displays each
occurrence and asks you whether to replace it. A numeric argument to
query-replace tells it to consider only occurrences that are
bounded by word-delimiter characters. This preserves case, just like
case-replace is non-
as it normally is.
The things you can type when you are shown an occurrence of string or a match for regexp are:
query-replace, so if you want to do further replacement you must use C-x ESC ESC RET to restart (see section Repeating Minibuffer Commands).
Some other characters are aliases for the ones listed above: y, n and q are equivalent to SPC, DEL and RET.
Aside from this, any other character exits the
and is then reread as part of a key sequence. Thus, if you type
C-k, it exits the
query-replace and then kills to end of
To restart a
query-replace once it is exited, use C-x
ESC ESC, which repeats the
query-replace because it
used the minibuffer to read its arguments. See section Repeating Minibuffer Commands.
See also section Transforming File Names in Dired, for Dired commands to rename, copy, or link files by replacing regexp matches in file names.
Here are some other commands that find matches for a regular
expression. They all operate from point to the end of the buffer, and
all ignore case in matching, if the pattern contains no upper-case
case-fold-search is non-
In addition, you can use
grep from Emacs to search a collection
of files for matches for a regular expression, then visit the matches
either sequentially or in arbitrary order. See section Searching with Grep under Emacs.