: Learning GNU Emacs, 3rd Edition

12.8.6 Inserting Version Control Headers

12.8.6 Inserting Version Control Headers

Most version control systems encourage you to embed in your file one or more magic strings that get automatically updated at check-in, check-out, and revert time. The purpose of these strings is to carry automatically inserted information about the current revision number of the file, who last modified it, and when it was last checked in.

These header strings largely duplicate within the file the version information that VC puts on the mode lineand the rest of that information you can get with C-x v l (for vc-print-log). This feature might not seem very useful, but (in particular) embedding a version string can make it possible to mine version-control information out of a compiled binary program.

Further, you may frequently view version-controlled files through something other than Emacs. If so, you won't have an Emacs mode line displaying version control information, and there is some value in having the magic headers visible in the file. Accordingly, VC provides you with a command to insert them. (Note that what VC inserts are correctly formatted placeholders for the headers; the actual values get filled in by the underlying version control system each time you commit the file.)

If you type C-x v h (for vc-insert-headers) while visiting a registered and editable file, VC tries to determine from the syntax of the file how to insert the version control header(s) as a comment and then do so. VC knows about C and Java code, and nroff/troff/groff code especially, and can usually deduce the right thing from Emacs' comment-start and comment-end global variables (set by each major mode) so it can insert HTML comments, for example. It falls back to #-to-n comments (like those used by shell, awk, Perl, tcl, and many other Unix languages) if it can't figure out anything better to do. This command is also smart enough to notice if you already seem to have version control headers present in the file and will ask you for confirmation before inserting a redundant set.

One special behavior with respect to C code is worth mentioning. C files don't actually get version headers put in comments by default. Instead, Emacs generates a string initialization for a static dummy variable called vcid. This action is taken so the header will actually be generated into the corresponding object file as a string, and you can use the strings command (if you've got a Unix-like environment) to see which versions of its sources a binary was generated from.

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