: Learning GNU Emacs, 3rd Edition Editing .emacs Editing .emacs

The great thing about configuring a text editor is that you can use the editor itself to make the changes. You can visit the .emacs file just as you would any other file. The only thing to watch out for is where you are. Some folks put backup copies of this file in strange places. You want to edit the file that came from your home directory. If you're unsure of where you are, you can use the full name ~/.emacs which Emacs translates to the proper directory.

Note also that .emacs is not required. If you haven't had any reason to customize Emacs, it might not exist. But you should feel free to create it when you're ready to start tailoring your environment. (Making your first change via Custom will also create .emacs if it doesn't exist.)

The best way to deal with this file really is to find an example file and make small changes to it. Use those ;; comments liberally. If you're going to change a line in your .emacs file, make a copy of it first:

;; Turn off font-lock
;;(global-font-lock-mode t)
(global-font-lock-mode nil)

That way you can easily get back to a known, working version of your .emacs file. If things get really bad, just start over. Rename your current .emacs file and then copy and paste small chunks of it at a time.

For changes required by modules and other packages, the documentation for those modules usually includes example lines for insertion into your .emacs. For example, the JDEE site includes a sample .emacs file that can be used as-is or appended to an existing file. (And if you want to get fancy, you can leave the JDEE sample in a separate file and simply include a load-file call from your .emacs file. More on load-file can be found in the Elisp documentation.)

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