Emacs supports a wide variety of international character sets, including European variants of the Latin alphabet, as well as Chinese, Devanagari (Hindi and Marathi), Ethiopian, Greek, IPA, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Russian, Thai, Tibetan, and Vietnamese scripts. These features have been merged from the modified version of Emacs known as MULE (for "MULti-lingual Enhancement to GNU Emacs")
The users of these scripts have established many more-or-less standard coding systems for storing files. Emacs internally uses a single multibyte character encoding, so that it can intermix characters from all these scripts in a single buffer or string. This encoding represents each non-ASCII character as a sequence of bytes in the range 0200 through 0377. Emacs translates between the multibyte character encoding and various other coding systems when reading and writing files, when exchanging data with subprocesses, and (in some cases) in the C-q command (see below).
The command C-h h (
view-hello-file) displays the file
`etc/HELLO', which shows how to say "hello" in many languages.
This illustrates various scripts.
Keyboards, even in the countries where these character sets are used, generally don't have keys for all the characters in them. So Emacs supports various input methods, typically one for each script or language, to make it convenient to type them.
The prefix key C-x RET is used for commands that pertain to multibyte characters, coding systems, and input methods.
You can enable or disable multibyte character support, either for Emacs as a whole, or for a single buffer. When multibyte characters are disabled in a buffer, then each byte in that buffer represents a character, even codes 0200 through 0377. The old features for supporting the European character sets, ISO Latin-1 and ISO Latin-2, work as they did in Emacs 19.
However, there is no need to turn off multibyte character support to use ISO Latin-1 or ISO Latin-2; the Emacs multibyte character set includes all the characters in these character sets, and Emacs can translate automatically to and from either of these ISO codes.
To edit a particular file in unibyte representation, visit it using
find-file-literally. See section Visiting Files. To convert a buffer in
multibyte representation into a single-byte representation of the same
characters, the easiest way is to save the contents in a file, kill the
buffer, and find the file again with
To turn off multibyte character support by default, start Emacs with the `--unibyte' option (see section Initial Options), or set the environment variable `EMACS_UNIBYTE'.
The mode line indicates whether multibyte character support is enabled in the current buffer. If it is, there are two or more characters (most often two dashes) before the colon near the beginning of the mode line. When multibyte characters are not enabled, just one dash precedes the colon.
When multibyte characters are enabled, character codes 0240 (octal) through 0377 (octal) are not really legitimate in the buffer. The valid non-ASCII printing characters have codes that start from 0400.
If you type a self-inserting character in the invalid range 0240 through 0377, Emacs assumes you intended to use one of the ISO Latin-n character sets, and converts it to the Emacs code representing that Latin-n character. You select which ISO Latin character set to use though your choice of language environment (see below). If you do not specify a choice, the default is Latin-1.
The same thing happens when you use C-q to enter an octal code in this range.
All supported character sets are supported in Emacs buffers whenever multibyte characters are enabled; there is no need to select a particular language in order to display its characters in an Emacs buffer. However, it is important to select a language environment in order to set various defaults. The language environment really represents a choice of preferred script (more or less) rather that a choice of language.
The language environment controls which coding systems to recognize when reading text (see section Recognizing Coding Systems). This applies to files, incoming mail, netnews, and any other text you read into Emacs. It may also specify the default coding system to use when you create a file. Each language environment also specifies a default input method.
The way to select a language environment is with the command M-x set-language-environment. It makes no difference which buffer is current when you use this command, because the effects apply globally to the Emacs session. The supported language environments include:
Chinese-BIG5, Chinese-CNS, Chinese-GB, Cyrillic-Alternativnyj, Cyrillic-ISO, Cyrillic-KOI8, Devanagari, English, Ethiopic, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Latin-1, Latin-2, Latin-3, Latin-4, Latin-5, Thai, Tibetan, and Vietnamese.
Some operating systems let you specify the language you are using by setting locale environment variables. Emacs handles one common special case of this: if your locale name for character types contains the string `8859-n', Emacs automatically selects the corresponding language environment.
To display information about the effects of a certain language
environment lang-env, use the command C-h L lang-env
describe-language-environment). This tells you which
languages this language environment is useful for, and lists the
character sets, coding systems, and input methods that go with it. It
also shows some sample text to illustrate scripts used in this language
environment. By default, this command describes the chosen language
You can customize any language environment with the normal hook
set-language-environment-hook. The command
set-language-environment runs that hook after setting up the new
language environment. The hook functions can test for a specific
language environment by checking the variable
Before it starts to set up the new language environment,
set-language-environment first runs the hook
exit-language-environment-hook. This hook is useful for undoing
customizations that were made with
For instance, if you set up a special key binding in a specific language
set-language-environment-hook, you should set
exit-language-environment-hook to restore the normal binding
for that key.
An input method is a kind of character conversion designed specifically for interactive input. In Emacs, typically each language has its own input method; sometimes several languages which use the same characters can share one input method. A few languages support several input methods.
The simplest kind of input method works by mapping ASCII letters into another alphabet. This is how the Greek and Russian input methods work.
A more powerful technique is composition: converting sequences of characters into one letter. Many European input methods use composition to produce a single non-ASCII letter from a sequence that consists of a letter followed by accent characters. For example, some methods convert the sequence 'a into a single accented letter. These input methods have no special commands of their own; all they do is compose sequences of printing characters.
The input methods for syllabic scripts typically use mapping followed by composition. The input methods for Thai and Korean work this way. First, letters are mapped into symbols for particular sounds or tone marks; then, sequences of these which make up a whole syllable are mapped into one syllable sign.
Chinese and Japanese require more complex methods. In Chinese input
methods, first you enter the phonetic spelling of a Chinese word (in
chinese-py, among others), or a sequence of portions
of the character (input methods
chinese-sw, and others). Since one phonetic spelling typically
corresponds to many different Chinese characters, you must select one of
the alternatives using special Emacs commands. Keys such as C-f,
C-b, C-n, C-p, and digits have special definitions in
this situation, used for selecting among the alternatives. TAB
displays a buffer showing all the possibilities.
In Japanese input methods, first you input a whole word using phonetic spelling; then, after the word is in the buffer, Emacs converts it into one or more characters using a large dictionary. One phonetic spelling corresponds to many differently written Japanese words, so you must select one of them; use C-n and C-p to cycle through the alternatives.
Sometimes it is useful to cut off input method processing so that the
characters you have just entered will not combine with subsequent
characters. For example, in input method
sequence e ' combines to form an `e' with an accent. What if
you want to enter them as separate characters?
One way is to type the accent twice; that is a special feature for entering the separate letter and accent. For example, e ' ' gives you the two characters `e''. Another way is to type another letter after the e---something that won't combine with that--and immediately delete it. For example, you could type e e DEL ' to get separate `e' and `''.
Another method, more general but not quite as easy to type, is to use
C-\ C-\ between two characters to stop them from combining. This
is the command C-\ (
toggle-input-method) used twice.
C-\ C-\ is especially useful inside an incremental search, because it stops waiting for more characters to combine, and starts searching for what you have already entered.
input-method-verbose-flag control how input methods explain what
is happening. If
input-method-highlight-flag is non-
the partial sequence is highlighted in the buffer. If
input-method-verbose-flag is non-
nil, the list of possible
characters to type next is displayed in the echo area (but not when you
are in the minibuffer).
describe-input-method). By default, it describes the current input method (if any). This description should give you the full details of how to use any particular input method.
To choose an input method for the current buffer, use C-x
RET C-\ (
set-input-method). This command reads the
input method name with the minibuffer; the name normally starts with the
language environment that it is meant to be used with. The variable
current-input-method records which input method is selected.
Input methods use various sequences of ASCII characters to stand for
non-ASCII characters. Sometimes it is useful to turn off the input
method temporarily. To do this, type C-\
toggle-input-method). To reenable the input method, type
If you type C-\ and you have not yet selected an input method, it prompts for you to specify one. This has the same effect as using C-x RET C-\ to specify an input method.
Selecting a language environment specifies a default input method for
use in various buffers. When you have a default input method, you can
select it in the current buffer by typing C-\. The variable
default-input-method specifies the default input method
nil means there is none).
Some input methods for alphabetic scripts work by (in effect) remapping the keyboard to emulate various keyboard layouts commonly used for those scripts. How to do this remapping properly depends on your actual keyboard layout. To specify which layout your keyboard has, use the command M-x quail-set-keyboard-layout.
To display a list of all the supported input methods, type M-x list-input-methods. The list gives information about each input method, including the string that stands for it in the mode line.
Users of various languages have established many more-or-less standard coding systems for representing them. Emacs does not use these coding systems internally; instead, it converts from various coding systems to its own system when reading data, and converts the internal coding system to other coding systems when writing data. Conversion is possible in reading or writing files, in sending or receiving from the terminal, and in exchanging data with subprocesses.
Emacs assigns a name to each coding system. Most coding systems are
used for one language, and the name of the coding system starts with the
language name. Some coding systems are used for several languages;
their names usually start with `iso'. There are also special
emacs-mule which do not convert printing characters at all.
In addition to converting various representations of non-ASCII characters, a coding system can perform end-of-line conversion. Emacs handles three different conventions for how to separate lines in a file: newline, carriage-return linefeed, and just carriage-return.
The command C-h C (
information about particular coding systems. You can specify a coding
system name as argument; alternatively, with an empty argument, it
describes the coding systems currently selected for various purposes,
both in the current buffer and as the defaults, and the priority list
for recognizing coding systems (see section Recognizing Coding Systems).
To display a list of all the supported coding systems, type M-x list-coding-systems. The list gives information about each coding system, including the letter that stands for it in the mode line (see section The Mode Line).
Each of the coding systems that appear in this list--except for
no-conversion, which means no conversion of any kind--specifies
how and whether to convert printing characters, but leaves the choice of
end-of-line conversion to be decided based on the contents of each file.
For example, if the file appears to use carriage-return linefeed between
lines, that end-of-line conversion will be used.
Each of the listed coding systems has three variants which specify exactly what to do for end-of-line conversion:
These variant coding systems are omitted from the
list-coding-systems display for brevity, since they are entirely
predictable. For example, the coding system
The coding system
raw-text is good for a file which is mainly
ASCII text, but may contain byte values above 127 which are not meant to
encode non-ASCII characters. With
raw-text, Emacs copies those
byte values unchanged, and sets
nil in the current buffer so that they will be interpreted
raw-text handles end-of-line conversion in the usual
way, based on the data encountered, and has the usual three variants to
specify the kind of end-of-line conversion to use.
In contrast, the coding system
no-conversion specifies no
character code conversion at all--none for non-ASCII byte values and
none for end of line. This is useful for reading or writing binary
files, tar files, and other files that must be examined verbatim. It,
The easiest way to edit a file with no conversion of any kind is with
the M-x find-file-literally command. This uses
no-conversion, and also suppresses other Emacs features that
might convert the file contents before you see them. See section Visiting Files.
The coding system
emacs-mule means that the file contains
non-ASCII characters stored with the internal Emacs encoding. It
handles end-of-line conversion based on the data encountered, and has
the usual three variants to specify the kind of end-of-line conversion.
Most of the time, Emacs can recognize which coding system to use for any given file--once you have specified your preferences.
Some coding systems can be recognized or distinguished by which byte sequences appear in the data. However, there are coding systems that cannot be distinguished, not even potentially. For example, there is no way to distinguish between Latin-1 and Latin-2; they use the same byte values with different meanings.
Emacs handles this situation by means of a priority list of coding systems. Whenever Emacs reads a file, if you do not specify the coding system to use, Emacs checks the data against each coding system, starting with the first in priority and working down the list, until it finds a coding system that fits the data. Then it converts the file contents assuming that they are represented in this coding system.
The priority list of coding systems depends on the selected language environment (see section Language Environments). For example, if you use French, you probably want Emacs to prefer Latin-1 to Latin-2; if you use Czech, you probably want Latin-2 to be preferred. This is one of the reasons to specify a language environment.
However, you can alter the priority list in detail with the command M-x prefer-coding-system. This command reads the name of a coding system from the minibuffer, and adds it to the front of the priority list, so that it is preferred to all others. If you use this command several times, each use adds one element to the front of the priority list.
Sometimes a file name indicates which coding system to use for the
file. The variable
file-coding-system-alist specifies this
correspondence. There is a special function
modify-coding-system-alist for adding elements to this list. For
example, to read and write all `.txt' files using the coding system
china-iso-8bit, you can execute this Lisp expression:
(modify-coding-system-alist 'file "\\.txt\\'" 'china-iso-8bit)
The first argument should be
file, the second argument should be
a regular expression that determines which files this applies to, and
the third argument says which coding system to use for these files.
You can specify the coding system for a particular file using the
`-*-...-*-' construct at the beginning of a file, or a local
variables list at the end (see section Local Variables in Files). You do this by
defining a value for the "variable" named
coding. Emacs does
not really have a variable
coding; instead of setting a variable,
it uses the specified coding system for the file. For example,
`-*-mode: C; coding: latin-1;-*-' specifies use of the Latin-1
coding system, as well as C mode. If you specify the coding explicitly
in the file, that overrides
auto-coding-alist is the strongest way to specify
the coding system for certain patterns of file names; this variable even
overrides `-*-coding:-*-' tags in the file itself. Emacs uses this
feature for tar and archive files, to prevent Emacs from being confused
by a `-*-coding:-*-' tag in a member of the archive and thinking it
applies to the archive file as a whole.
Once Emacs has chosen a coding system for a buffer, it stores that
coding system in
buffer-file-coding-system and uses that coding
system, by default, for operations that write from this buffer into a
file. This includes the commands
write-region. If you want to write files from this buffer using
a different coding system, you can specify a different coding system for
the buffer using
set-buffer-file-coding-system (see section Specifying a Coding System).
When you send a message with Mail mode (see section Sending Mail), Emacs has
four different ways to determine the coding system to use for encoding
the message text. It tries the buffer's own value of
buffer-file-coding-system, if that is non-
it uses the value of
sendmail-coding-system, if that is
nil. The third way is to use the default coding system for
new files, which is controlled by your choice of language environment,
if that is non-
nil. If all of these three values are
Emacs encodes outgoing mail using the Latin-1 coding system.
When you get new mail in Rmail, each message is translated automatically from the coding system it is written in--as if it were a separate file. This uses the priority list of coding systems that you have specified.
For reading and saving Rmail files themselves, Emacs uses the coding
system specified by the variable
default value is
nil, which means that Rmail files are not
translated (they are read and written in the Emacs internal character
In cases where Emacs does not automatically choose the right coding system, you can use these commands to specify one:
The command C-x RET f (
specifies the file coding system for the current buffer--in other
words, which coding system to use when saving or rereading the visited
file. You specify which coding system using the minibuffer. Since this
command applies to a file you have already visited, it affects only the
way the file is saved.
Another way to specify the coding system for a file is when you visit
the file. First use the command C-x RET c
universal-coding-system-argument); this command uses the
minibuffer to read a coding system name. After you exit the minibuffer,
the specified coding system is used for the immediately following
So if the immediately following command is C-x C-f, for example, it reads the file using that coding system (and records the coding system for when the file is saved). Or if the immediately following command is C-x C-w, it writes the file using that coding system. Other file commands affected by a specified coding system include C-x C-i and C-x C-v, as well as the other-window variants of C-x C-f.
C-x RET c also affects commands that start subprocesses, including M-x shell (see section Running Shell Commands from Emacs).
However, if the immediately following command does not use the coding system, then C-x RET c ultimately has no effect.
An easy way to visit a file with no conversion is with the M-x find-file-literally command. See section Visiting Files.
default-buffer-file-coding-system specifies the
choice of coding system to use when you create a new file. It applies
when you find a new file, and when you create a buffer and then save it
in a file. Selecting a language environment typically sets this
variable to a good choice of default coding system for that language
The command C-x RET t (
specifies the coding system for terminal output. If you specify a
character code for terminal output, all characters output to the
terminal are translated into that coding system.
This feature is useful for certain character-only terminals built to support specific languages or character sets--for example, European terminals that support one of the ISO Latin character sets. You need to specify the terminal coding system when using multibyte text, so that Emacs knows which characters the terminal can actually handle.
By default, output to the terminal is not translated at all, unless Emacs can deduce the proper coding system from your terminal type.
The command C-x RET k (
specifies the coding system for keyboard input. Character-code
translation of keyboard input is useful for terminals with keys that
send non-ASCII graphic characters--for example, some terminals designed
for ISO Latin-1 or subsets of it.
By default, keyboard input is not translated at all.
There is a similarity between using a coding system translation for keyboard input, and using an input method: both define sequences of keyboard input that translate into single characters. However, input methods are designed to be convenient for interactive use by humans, and the sequences that are translated are typically sequences of ASCII printing characters. Coding systems typically translate sequences of non-graphic characters.
The command C-x RET x (
specifies the coding system for sending selected text to the window
system, and for receiving the text of selections made in other
applications. This command applies to all subsequent selections, until
you override it by using the command again. The command C-x
RET X (
set-next-selection-coding-system) specifies the
coding system for the next selection made in Emacs or read by Emacs.
The command C-x RET p (
specifies the coding system for input and output to a subprocess. This
command applies to the current buffer; normally, each subprocess has its
own buffer, and thus you can use this command to specify translation to
and from a particular subprocess by giving the command in the
By default, process input and output are not translated at all.
file-name-coding-system specifies a coding system
to use for encoding file names. If you set the variable to a coding
system name (as a Lisp symbol or a string), Emacs encodes file names
using that coding system for all file operations. This makes it
possible to use non-ASCII characters in file names--or, at least, those
non-ASCII characters which the specified coding system can encode.
nil, Emacs uses a default
coding system determined by the selected language environment. In the
default language environment, any non-ASCII characters in file names are
not encoded specially; they appear in the file system using the internal
Warning: if you change
file-name-coding-system (or the
language environment) in the middle of an Emacs session, problems can
result if you have already visited files whose names were encoding using
the earlier coding system and cannot be encoded (or are encoded
differently) under the new coding system. If you try to save one of
these buffers under the visited file name, saving may use the wrong file
name, or it may get an error. If such a problem happens, use C-x
C-w to specify a new file name for that buffer.
A font for X Windows typically defines shapes for one alphabet or script. Therefore, displaying the entire range of scripts that Emacs supports requires a collection of many fonts. In Emacs, such a collection is called a fontset. A fontset is defined by a list of fonts, each assigned to handle a range of character codes.
Each fontset has a name, like a font. The available X fonts are defined by the X server; fontsets, however, are defined within Emacs itself. Once you have defined a fontset, you can use it within Emacs by specifying its name, anywhere that you could use a single font. Of course, Emacs fontsets can use only the fonts that the X server supports; if certain characters appear on the screen as hollow boxes, this means that the fontset in use for them has no font for those characters.
Emacs creates two fontsets automatically: the standard fontset and the startup fontset. The standard fontset is most likely to have fonts for a wide variety of non-ASCII characters; however, this is not the default for Emacs to use. (By default, Emacs tries to find a font which has bold and italic variants.) You can specify use of the standard fontset by starting Emacs in this way:
emacs -fn fontset-standard
A fontset does not necessarily specify a font for all character codes. If a fontset specifies no font for a certain character, or if it specifies a font that does not exist on your system, then it cannot display that character. It will display an empty box instead.
The fontset height and width are determined by the ASCII characters
(that is, by the font used for ASCII characters in that fontset). If
another font in the fontset has a different height, or a different
width, then characters assigned to that font are clipped to the
fontset's size. If
highlight-wrong-size-font is non-
a box is displayed around these wrong-size characters as well.
Emacs creates a standard fontset automatically according to the value
standard-fontset-spec. This fontset's name is
or just `fontset-standard' for short.
Bold, italic, and bold-italic variants of the standard fontset are created automatically. Their names have `bold' instead of `medium', or `i' instead of `r', or both.
If you specify a default ASCII font with the `Font' resource or
the `-fn' argument, Emacs generates a fontset from it
automatically. This is the startup fontset and its name is
fontset-startup. It does this by replacing the foundry,
family, add_style, and average_width fields of the
font name with `*', replacing charset_registry field with
`fontset', and replacing charset_encoding field with
`startup', then using the resulting string to specify a fontset.
For instance, if you start Emacs this way,
emacs -fn "*courier-medium-r-normal--14-140-*-iso8859-1"
Emacs generates the following fontset and uses it for the initial X window frame:
With the X resource `Emacs.Font', you can specify a fontset name just like an actual font name. But be careful not to specify a fontset name in a wildcard resource like `Emacs*Font'---that wildcard specification applies to various other purposes, such as menus, and menus cannot handle fontsets.
You can specify additional fontsets using X resources named `Fontset-n', where n is an integer starting from 0. The resource value should have this form:
fontpattern should have the form of a standard X font name, except for the last two fields. They should have the form `fontset-alias'.
The fontset has two names, one long and one short. The long name is fontpattern. The short name is `fontset-alias'. You can refer to the fontset by either name.
The construct `charset:font' specifies which font to use (in this fontset) for one particular character set. Here, charset is the name of a character set, and font is the font to use for that character set. You can use this construct any number of times in defining one fontset.
For the other character sets, Emacs chooses a font based on fontpattern. It replaces `fontset-alias' with values that describe the character set. For the ASCII character font, `fontset-alias' is replaced with `ISO8859-1'.
In addition, when several consecutive fields are wildcards, Emacs collapses them into a single wildcard. This is to prevent use of auto-scaled fonts. Fonts made by scaling larger fonts are not usable for editing, and scaling a smaller font is not useful because it is better to use the smaller font in its own size, which Emacs does.
Thus if fontpattern is this,
the font specification for ASCII characters would be this:
and the font specification for Chinese GB2312 characters would be this:
You may not have any Chinese font matching the above font specification. Most X distributions include only Chinese fonts that have `song ti' or `fangsong ti' in family field. In such a case, `Fontset-n' can be specified as below:
Emacs.Fontset-0: -*-fixed-medium-r-normal-*-24-*-*-*-*-*-fontset-24,\ chinese-gb2312:-*-*-medium-r-normal-*-24-*-gb2312*-*
Then, the font specifications for all but Chinese GB2312 characters have `fixed' in the family field, and the font specification for Chinese GB2312 characters has a wild card `*' in the family field.
The function that processes the fontset resource value to create the
fontset is called
create-fontset-from-fontset-spec. You can also
call this function explicitly to create a fontset.
See section Font Specification Options, for more information about font naming in X.
The ISO 8859 Latin-n character sets define character codes in the range 160 to 255 to handle the accented letters and punctuation needed by various European languages. If you disable multibyte characters with `--unibyte', Emacs can still handle one of these character codes at a time. To specify which of these codes to use, invoke M-x set-language-environment and specify a suitable language environment such as `Latin-n'.
Emacs can also display those characters, provided the terminal or font
in use supports them. This works automatically. Alternatively, if you
are using a window system, Emacs can also display single-byte characters
through fontsets, in effect by displaying the equivalent multibyte
characters according to the current language environment. To request
this, set the variable
to a non-
If your terminal does not support display of the Latin-1 character
set, Emacs can display these characters as ASCII sequences which at
least give you a clear idea of what the characters are. To do this,
load the library
iso-ascii. Similar libraries for other
Latin-n character sets could be implemented, but we don't have
There are three different ways you can input single-byte non-ASCI characters characters:
(set-input-mode (car (current-input-mode)) (nth 1 (current-input-mode)) 0)
iso-translto turn the key C-x 8 into a "compose character" prefix for entry of non-ASCII Latin-1 printing characters. C-x 8 is good for insertion (in the minibuffer as well as other buffers), for searching, and in any other context where a key sequence is allowed. The ALT modifier key, if you have one, serves the same purpose as C-x 8; use ALT together with an accent character to modify the following letter.