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22.7 Active Keymaps

Emacs contains many keymaps, but at any time only a few keymaps are active. When Emacs receives user input, it translates the input event (see Translation Keymaps), and looks for a key binding in the active keymaps.

Usually, the active keymaps are: (i) the keymap specified by the keymap property, (ii) the keymaps of enabled minor modes, (iii) the current buffer’s local keymap, and (iv) the global keymap, in that order. Emacs searches for each input key sequence in all these keymaps.

Of these usual keymaps, the highest-precedence one is specified by the keymap text or overlay property at point, if any. (For a mouse input event, Emacs uses the event position instead of point; see Searching Keymaps.)

Next in precedence are keymaps specified by enabled minor modes. These keymaps, if any, are specified by the variables emulation-mode-map-alists, minor-mode-overriding-map-alist, and minor-mode-map-alist. See Controlling Active Maps.

Next in precedence is the buffer’s local keymap, containing key bindings specific to the buffer. The minibuffer also has a local keymap (see Intro to Minibuffers). If there is a local-map text or overlay property at point, that specifies the local keymap to use, in place of the buffer’s default local keymap.

The local keymap is normally set by the buffer’s major mode, and every buffer with the same major mode shares the same local keymap. Hence, if you call local-set-key (see Key Binding Commands) to change the local keymap in one buffer, that also affects the local keymaps in other buffers with the same major mode.

Finally, the global keymap contains key bindings that are defined regardless of the current buffer, such as C-f. It is always active, and is bound to the variable global-map.

Apart from the above usual keymaps, Emacs provides special ways for programs to make other keymaps active. Firstly, the variable overriding-local-map specifies a keymap that replaces the usual active keymaps, except for the global keymap. Secondly, the terminal-local variable overriding-terminal-local-map specifies a keymap that takes precedence over all other keymaps (including overriding-local-map); this is normally used for modal/transient keybindings (the function set-transient-map provides a convenient interface for this). See Controlling Active Maps, for details.

Making keymaps active is not the only way to use them. Keymaps are also used in other ways, such as for translating events within read-key-sequence. See Translation Keymaps.

See Standard Keymaps, for a list of some standard keymaps.

function current-active-maps \&optional olp position

This returns the list of active keymaps that would be used by the command loop in the current circumstances to look up a key sequence. Normally it ignores overriding-local-map and overriding-terminal-local-map, but if olp is non-nil then it pays attention to them. position can optionally be either an event position as returned by event-start or a buffer position, and may change the keymaps as described for key-binding.

function key-binding key \&optional accept-defaults no-remap position

This function returns the binding for key according to the current active keymaps. The result is nil if key is undefined in the keymaps.

The argument accept-defaults controls checking for default bindings, as in lookup-key (see Functions for Key Lookup).

When commands are remapped (see Remapping Commands), key-binding normally processes command remappings so as to return the remapped command that will actually be executed. However, if no-remap is non-nil, key-binding ignores remappings and returns the binding directly specified for key.

If key starts with a mouse event (perhaps following a prefix event), the maps to be consulted are determined based on the event’s position. Otherwise, they are determined based on the value of point. However, you can override either of them by specifying position. If position is non-nil, it should be either a buffer position or an event position like the value of event-start. Then the maps consulted are determined based on position.

Emacs signals an error if key is not a string or a vector.

(key-binding "\C-x\C-f")
⇒ find-file