Reading Info manuals in Emacs: Learning Emacs with Emacs

November 19, 2022

The best tutorial to learn to GNU Emacs is in Emacs itself. It is the GNU Emacs Manual, shipped with Emacs as an Info manual. To read Info manuals, there is the Info package. And it's extremely easy to use.

Press C-h i or Control-h + i to start Info in Emacs. If you know how to use the stand-alone Info package, you'll feel at home.

If you're new to Emacs and prefer mouse over keyboard, you can use mouse. But I'll focus on keyboard, because that's more efficient. I'll try to make easy it for the new Emacs users to grasp.

After you start Info, you'll see the following text at the beginning, to help be familiar with Info:

This (the Directory node) gives a menu of major topics.
Typing "q" exits, "H" lists all Info commands, "d" returns here,
"h" gives a primer for first-timers,
"mEmacs<Return>" visits the Emacs manual, etc.

In Emacs, you can click mouse button 2 on a menu item or cross reference
to select it.

As it suggests, if you're new to Info, you should definitely check out the h key. Press h and you'll get a nice tutorial to help you get started.

To open a manual, press m and type the manual you want to open. TAB can be used for completion. Press enter when you're done. For example, to open the GNU Emacs Manual, press m Emacs RET (m then type Emacs, followed by enter or return).

In the first node of a manual, you'll see a menu of chapters, and you can press m to jump to one of them too.

Actually, you can press m on any node (or page) to jump to an item in the menu. The first node, Info director, has a menu of manual, and you just selected one with m.

To scroll up, press the key SPC, or space. This will scroll up, and if you're already at the bottom, it'll take you to the beginning of next node. its opposite is DEL, or backspace. It'll scroll down and take you to the end of previous node if you're already at the top.

If you want to go to the beginning of next node without scrolling, press the key n. Likewise, to go to the beginning of previous node, press p.

If you feel lost, you can always go to the very first node, or the directory node, with d. Or if you want to go to first node of the current manual, try t.

Info also maintains a history. You can get the history menu with L. But why someone would need a menu of history just to go to the previously viewed node, when there's a key to do that. Try l, it'll take you to the previous node you looked at. r is the opposite, it'll take you to the next node on history. And interestingly, l and r are placed next to each other in the Dvorak keyboard layout, and I like it.

These are just the few keys you need to remember. Just kidding. Just remember how to start Info (C-h i or Control-h + i), and if you ever can't remember something, press H, it'll list of all available keys. Only these two things to remember. And don't forget you can also use your arrow key if you wish.

Now as you know how to read the Info manual, go and read the GNU Emacs Manual within Emacs to learn Emacs!