Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting Back to Where You Were in Emacs

When you do an interactive search in emacs (e.g.: C-s or C-r), the mark is set at the place you began your search. So when you're ready to go back to the editing you were doing when you started searching, a simple C-x C-x (exchange-point-and-mark) gets you back to where you were.

That's so second-nature to me that I am always a little surprised when C-x C-x doesn't take me where I expect, as can happen when you light one search off the end of another, or find yourself in another file. So here are a couple of tricks to try when C-x C-x fails you:

Double Undo: Usually the place you want to get back to is the place you've just been typing in the current file. So an undo -- C-x u -- will snap the window back to that spot as it undoes your recent typing. But you didn't want to undo that, so you have to "undo the undo". Successive C-x u commands just undo more and more, so first break the cycle by issuing some innocuous command -- I like to use C-n (next-line) -- followed by a second C-x u. In case that's confusing, the sequence is: C-x u C-n C-x u. Of course, that only works if you didn't change files while you were off searching.

Pop Global Mark: The command pop-global-mark -- C-x C-SPC -- is a power tool to center the window at a recent mark, no matter what file it was in. This is especially handy if your searching and grepping takes you across several files, or if you can't remember which file you were working in. Just keep popping marks until the file and location you want shows up. This command sometimes fails you, if the place you're trying to return to never had a mark set because you never started a search from there. If you know you're about to embark on a scavenger hunt and will want to return, set the mark explicitly -- C-SPC -- before you begin.

Oh yeah, don't forget point-to-register!

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