Bastien Guerry

Computers and freedom

Tutorial introduction to searching in Emacs

Go to the main Info buffer with C-h i. Hit d to make sure you are at the top-level of the Info documentation, and go at the beginning of the buffer with M-<.

Perform an incremental search for "lisp" with C-s lisp.


Hit RET to deactivate the search and the highlighting of search matches.

Hit C-r to search backwards.

Now hit C-s C-s to search for the last search string again.

Hit M-e to edit the search string. Delete "lisp" in the minibuffer prompt, type "mode" and RET to reenter the search loop.


Hit M-p. Your cursor will be back in the minibuffer prompt and you can hit M-p and M-n to cycle through previous search strings, and RET to search the selected string again.

Go back to the beginning of the Info buffer with M-<.

Hit C-s to start the search.

Hit C-q C-j to search for the newline character.

C-q is used to insert C-j and RET literally: if you don't use C-q, typing C-j and RET in the search prompt will exit the prompt.

Hit C-g to abort the search.

Hit C-s and search for mail.

Notice that both "Mail" and "mail" will be matched: the search is not case sensitive.

Hit C-u C-SPC to go back to your position before your search.

While in the search loop, hit M-c (or M-s c) to toggle case sensitivity: you will notice that now only "mail" is highlighted.

While in the search loop, hit M-s SPC to toggle "match spaces loosely": when matching spaces loosely, you can search for a string like "mail   client" (with three hard spaces) and still match the "mail client" string.


Still in the search loop, M-s w will perform word-based searches. For example, word-based search for "mail" will not match "email".

Now try searching for maii instead of mail and then hit DEL to edit the search string by deleting the last character.

Hit C-s and search again for "mail".

Hit RET on the first occurrence and go one word backward with M-b.

Now hit C-s C-w to search for the word at point (it should be "mail").

Try again with C-s C-w C-w to search for several words at point.

Hit C-s C-M-y to search for the character at point.

Hit C-M-y C-M-y to add the next two characters to the search string.

Hit C-M-w to remove the last character from the search string.

Exit the search with C-g.

Info buffers are read-only by default: hit M-d on a word to copy it. In normal buffers, you would use C-M-SPC to mark the "sexp" under cursor (here, the "sexp" is simply a word), then M-w to copy it (i.e. to "add it to the kill-ring).

Now hit C-s again, then C-y to paste (i.e. "yank") the text in the search area.

Hit C-s C-M-i. This will displays a new window with a list of possible completions for the current search string.


Hit M-< and C-s to search for "mail".

Now hit M-s o to list lines where "mail" occurs.


Hit C-s and M-r (or M-s r) to switch to regular expression search.

Go to an org-mode buffer. Hit M-TAB to cycle through visibility status and stop when in the OVERVIEW mode (everything is folded).

Search for hidden text: the matched string is automatically unfolded when the cursor moves to it.

Exit the search.

Still in this org-mode buffer, hit M-TAB to fold the subtrees and hit C-s M-s i to search for visible text only. Invisible text won't be matched.

In any buffer, hit C-s C-h b to browse the search options.

Things I wish I knew sooner:

  • C-s M-e to edit the search string
  • C-s M-w to search for word at point
  • C-s M-r to toggle search by regular expressions
  • C-s M-s o to run occur on the current search string
  • C-s C-M-i to complete the current search string
  • C-s a-test-string M-x to replace the matched string in the buffer

Enjoy, and check the Emacs manual for more.

And you, what are your Emacs search "ahah!" moment?

Thank martijntje for his suggestions.

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