ErgoEmacs keybindings improves GNU Emacs for people who did not grow up with emacs. User interface is based on common modern software interface familiar to most people today, such as using 【Ctrl+C】 key for Copy,【Ctrl+Z】 for undo, 【Ctrl+O】 for Open file, and also bundles many elisp packages that are not in GNU Emacs.

Standard Keyboard Shortcuts

Common keyboard shortcut are supported, so you don’t have to change your mindset when you switch in and out of emacs. The following are supported standard keys in Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. (Mac uses Cmd instead of Ctrl.)

Standard name Key press Emacs command name
Copy Ctrl+c kill-ring-save
Cut Ctrl+x kill-region
Paste Ctrl+v yank
Undo Ctrl+z undo
Redo Ctrl+Shift+z redo
Redo Ctrl+y redo
Open New File Ctrl+n new-empty-buffer
Open Ctrl+o find-file
Close Ctrl+w close-current-buffer
Save Ctrl+s save-buffer
Save As Ctrl+Shift+s write-file
Print Ctrl+p print-buffer
Select All Ctrl+a mark-whole-buffer
Find Ctrl+f search-forward

Standard shortcuts for cursor navigation are also supported. Example: 【Ctrl+Left】 ⇒ go to previous word, Home ⇒ beginning of line, 【⇧ Shift+Down】 ⇒ selecting text downward

Window/Tab Switching

The following are some new commands that let you easily switch windows or buffers.

Standard name Key press Emacs command name
Next Window 【Alt+`】 switch-to-next-frame
Previous Window 【Alt+~】 switch-to-previous-frame
Next Tab 【Ctrl+⇟PageDown▽】 next-user-buffer
Previous Tab 【Ctrl+⇞PageUp△】 previous-user-buffer
NA 【Ctrl+⇧Shift+⇟PageDown▽】 next-emacs-buffer
NA 【Ctrl+⇧Shift+⇞PageUp △】 previous-emacs-buffer

Shrink-whitespaces, compact/uncompact-block, toggle-letter-case

The following are new commands that combine the functionality of several similar commands into one. This way, you have one single command with one single shortcut to remember. They do what you want depending on context.

Name Shortcut Description
shrink-whitespaces 【Alt+w】 Takes out spaces/tabs around cursor
compact-uncompact-block 【Alt+q】 Hard Wraps or unwraps text u
toggle-letter-case 【Alt+/】 Change capitilzation (ALL, First,lower)

Banish Key Chords


Key chords (like 【Ctrl+x】) is the bane of keyboarding. There are 3 types of key shortcuts to invoke commands in software:

  1. Single key. Examples include: 【F1】, 【⇞ Page △】.
  2. Key chord: 【⇧ Shift+a】, 【Ctrl+c】, 【Ctrl+⇧ Shift+z】, 【Alt+F4】.
  3. Key sequence of single keys or chords. For example on Microsoft Windows, 【F10 e c】 for copy, or 【Alt+Space c】 to close window.

of these, in terms of efficiency and hand health (Repetitive Strain Injury), the single key is the best. Key sequence of single keys is second best. Key chord is the worst.

Key chord is the most hard on hand health, but is also conceptually the most convoluted.

I [Xah Lee] remember in around 1991, when i first learned about key chord on the Macintosh Classic. I thought, it’s strange. You have to hold ⌘ Cmd first, then press the key c, then, release c, then, release ⌘ Cmd. It must be in that specific order.

A more natural way is either key sequence, or real chords. That is, pressing several keys together but you don’t have to worry about which to hold or release first. Stenograph machines are like that.

Whence Did Key Chord Came From?

I suppose, when computer keyboard came, sans levels and gears, but habit stuck, and this evolved into “modifier” keys, with Bucky bits.

Now, thinking about this, i think Microsoft must be a genius, when they invented the key system on Windows, where Alt is used to invoke menu, and all command can be called by a sequence of key strokes. This is probably the best system given the PC keyboard. This system, lets you invoke any command, yet has menu counter-part, so it’s easy to see a list of them and also grouped by category. (emacs’s system of course is much more extensive than that.)

What Should a Keyboard Nerd Do with Key Chords?

BAN the them out of the universe.

But, there isn’t enough keys on keyboard. You only have 12 function keys, plus some others such as ↖ Home, ↓. But there are 10 times more commands in software. What to do?

For majority of commands, you should use a key sequence of single keys, instead. For example, 【F10 e c】. But Function keys are further away. So, you could start with a easy key such as 【▤ Menu e c】, and reassign most of your keys to key sequence. (you can make Caps Lock as your start key, whichever key on YOUR keyboard is easy to press.)

There are 26 letters in alphabet, plus 10 digits, so you have 36 key choices for the key. (ignore punctuation keys for the moment) If each of your command has 2 keys in a key sequence (not counting the starting key), then you have 36 × 36 = 1296 possible keys for commands. Quite enough!

Still, some commands are not suitable for key sequence. For example, moving cursor by word. You want to be able to hold down a key and have the cursor keep moving. You can’t do that with key sequences, because you need to release the key and press again to invoke the command again. Answer: use a single key. Retort: But F keys are far away and arrow keys are already used. Answer: key chord then.

Principles on Efficient Use of Key Chords

Key chord should be used only for commands that need to be repeated within a second (hold the key and let the command repeat). This includes moving cursor, paging, switching tab/window.

Key chord should use no more than one modifier. This saves your hand. So, key chord such as emacs interactive replace 【Alt+⇧ Shift+%】 or Mac’s redo 【⌘ Cmd+⇧ Shift+z】 should not be allowed.

more detail at Keyboard Shortcut Design: Repeatable vs Non-Repeatable Commands and Keys

If you survey commands in a editor, such as emacs, vast majority of commands are the non-repeating type. The repeating type are probably less than 5% of commands. Using 【Ctrl+‹letter/digit›】 key gives you about 36 spots. Adding Alt, you have 72 spots. And that’s more than enough for repeating commands. In practice, i estimate a programmer uses less than 30 repeating commands per day on average.

What About Sticky Keys?

I do not advocate the Sticky Keys feature for the handicapped. It’s not the same. Sticky Keys actually make things worse, because it’s a hack over key chords. When you press a sequence of keys, it has to guess whether you mean a sequence or chord (since emacs supports both). The end result is that it’s confusing to use, imprecise, and slows you down.

Keyboard Shortcut Design

This section discusses one criterion on the design of a keyboard shortcut system: Repeatable vs Non-Repeatable Commands and Keys. This is applicable in designing keybinding for emacs, vi, 3D modeling app, or any app that has hundreds commands that needs to map to keys.

Repeatable and Non-Repeatable Commands

In my keyboarding research, there’s a important discovery. Commands can be classified into 2 types:

  1. Repeatable commands. Commands that make sense to be repeated within a second. i.e. moving cursor by char, word, page. Page up/down. Delete by char, word. Expand selection, prev/next tab. You can hold down a key or a key-chord to repeat the command many times.
  2. Non-repeat commands. This is vast majority. i.e. starting find/replace, open file, close file, list buffers, call a shell command or start shell, describe-function, keyword expansion or completion, list-matching-lines, sort-lines, kill-buffer, switch-to-buffer, …

Repeatable and Non-Repeatable Keys

The Repeatable Commands must have keys that can be held down. Here’s example of repeatable hotkeys: F8, t, ⇟ Page ▽, ↓, 【Ctrl+t】, 【Ctrl+Alt+8】, ….

Non-repeatable hotkeys are basically keys that involves a sequence: 【Ctrl+x 2】, 【F8 F9】

So, when designing a shortcut system, one of the principle is for repeatable commands be on repeatable keys, else it’s a waste. (because you only have a few precious easy key spots, yet you have one hundred commands in common use.)

In GNU Emacs’s default keybinding, there are many such wastes. For example, all 【Ctrl+‹number›】 and 【Alt+‹number›】 are bound to digit-argument. The digit-argument is a non-repeat command, yet it sits on 20 EASY repeatable keys. (but most damaging is that digit-argument isn’t a frequently needed command, with respect to all commands and the relatively few easy-key-spots.)

Another bad example is forward-page 【Ctrl+x ]】. forward-page is a repeatable command, but it doesn’t have a repeating key. Imagine, if every time you need to ⇟ Page ▽ that you have to press 【Ctrl+x】 first. You couldn’t just hold it down.

But remember, this “Repeatable and Non-Repeatable key” is only a supporting criterion in keybinding design. It is not the most important criterion. The single most important criterion in designing a keyboard shortcut system is that most frequently used commands be mapped to the most easy-to-press keys.

Ergoemacs Key Chord Reduction

[Control+x] and [Control-c] reduction

For emacs, the most common prefixes are [Control-x] or [Control-c].

For QWERTY, an additional mapping of these keys have been made:

Similarly The Control-c keymap is rebound to [Menu] [j] for the modified [Control-c] keymap and [Menu] [­u] for the unchorded [Control-c] keymap. This is also true of the [Control-h] keymap. This is bound to [Menu] [h] for the normal Control-h keymap. It is also bound to [Menu] [y] for the unchorded Control-h keymap.

Movement without key-chords

One can enable movement without key-chords as follows:

Layouts Supported

Tips for adopting ErgoEmacs Keybindings

If you are a long time emacs user, you may find it painful to adopt this setup.

This difficulty is nothing special. It’s the same difficulty when you switching to dvorak after years of qwerty. Basically, it’s about changing muscle memory.

Where Did My Command Go?

The ergonomic-mode minor mode features the command where-is-old-binding, with shortcut “Ctrl+h o”. This command asks you to type a shortcut, and tells you which command it was bound in GNU Emacs, and the new shortcut for it under ErgoEmacs?.

Shortcut To Open Cheatsheet

You can open a cheatsheet by pressing [Control+h] [’]. On the first run, this will create a svg and (possibly) create a png based on the svg (if ergoemacs-inkscape points to the inkscape executable). Once these are created, the cheatsheet will be opened displaying all the keys based on your layout.

Gradual Adoption for an Emacs User

Here’s some tips that may help you adopt.

Level 1

If you find it too painful to switch, don’t use the whole package. Instead, start off with just the arrow key movements.

  (setq ergoemacs-variant "lvl1")
  (ergoemacs-mode 1)

Either put the above in your emacs init file (usually at “~/.emacs”), or customize ergoemacs-mode to set the variant to lvl1.

With only the above change, you will increase your emacs productivity, especially if you are a touch typist. These single char cursor moving commands are the top 4 most frequently used emacs commands by statistics, roughly accounting for 43% of commands that have a shortcut.

Once you used the above for a couple of weeks, you may add more keys to adopt.

Level 2

Adding keys for moving around words and deleting words.

  (setq ergoemacs-variant "lvl2")
  (ergoemacs-mode 1)

Level 3

Try to use the full ergoemacs mode.

  (setq ergoemacs-variant nil)
  (ergoemacs-mode 1)


The guru variant takes away the arrow keys and page up/page down keys.

  (setq ergoemacs-variant "guru")
  (ergoemacs-mode 1)


The Master variant takes away the backspace. This key is not particularly ergonomic, and can cause possible pinky issues. Changing this means that you may wish to try to get ergoemacs bindings everywhere.

  (setq ergoemacs-variant "master")
  (ergoemacs-mode 1)

Changing key layouts or adding variants

Globally defined keys

These keys are defined on the global keymap and should be retained regardless of the variant or layout used. However, these keys will not show up on keyboard documentation generated by ergoemacs. Additionally, these keys may be masked or remapped by other programs.

Ergoemacs defined keys

These keys are defined in the ergoemacs-keymap. When the layout changes by changing options, these keys are lost. However, you may create your own variant to allow these keys to be saved.

Adding a ergonomic key

Ergonomic keys can be added by:

  (ergoemacs-key "M-a" 'execute-extended-command "Execute")

This adds the Alt-a command to all keyboards based on the QWERTY layout. This only applies to the currently selected keyboard variant.

Note the last parameter is optional and allows Ergoemacs to document that this is an “Execute” command when generating keyboard layout diagrams.

Adding a fixed key

Fixed keys can be added by:

  (ergoemacs-fixed-key "C-o" 'ido-find-file "Open File")

This adds the fixed key to the currently selected emacs variant

Note the last parameter is optional and allows Ergoemacs to document that this is an “Open” command when generating keyboard layout diagrams.

Adding an ergonomic key map with fixed mappings

When you want to add an ergonomic keymap with fixed mappings such as the ergoprog variant you can add them as follows:

  (ergoemacs-key "M-m s" 'save-buffer "" t)

This converts the QWERTY M-m keybinding and the fixed keybinding s to save buffer

Creating a keyboard variant

Ergoemacs Keys System wide



In windows some of the ergoemacs keys are implemented system wide by assuming apps follow the CUA-style keys like CTRL-f for find, CTRL-h for replace. This also optionally implements:

Mac OS X

Developer information


All the layouts in ergoemacs are easy to generate. To add your own personal layout you just need to match the keybindings for your in a layout variable from ergoemacs-layout-XXX. For the US and UK layouts, the defining variable adds the layout:

  (defvar ergoemacs-layout-us
    '("" "`" "1" "2" "3" "4" "5" "6" "7" "8" "9" "0" "-" "=" ""
      "" ""  "q" "w" "e" "r" "t" "y" "u" "i" "o" "p" "[" "]" "\\"
      "" ""  "a" "s" "d" "f" "g" "h" "j" "k" "l" ";" "'" "" ""
      "" ""  "z" "x" "c" "v" "b" "n" "m" "," "." "/" "" "" ""
      ;; Shifted
      "" "~" "!" "@" "#" "$" "%" "^" "&" "*" "(" ")" "_" "+" ""
      "" ""  "Q" "W" "E" "R" "T" "Y" "U" "I" "O" "P" "{" "}" "|"
      "" ""  "A" "S" "D" "F" "G" "H" "J" "K" "L" ":" "\"" "" ""
      "" ""  "Z" "X" "C" "V" "B" "N" "M" "<" ">" "?" "" "" "")
    "US Engilsh QWERTY Keyboard")
  (defvar ergoemacs-layout-gb
    '("" "`" "1" "2" "3" "4" "5" "6" "7" "8" "9" "0" "-" "=" ""
      "" ""  "q" "w" "e" "r" "t" "y" "u" "i" "o" "p" "[" "]" ""
      "" ""  "a" "s" "d" "f" "g" "h" "j" "k" "l" ";" "'" "#" ""
      "" "\\"  "z" "x" "c" "v" "b" "n" "m" "," "." "/" "" "" ""
      ;; Shifted
      "" "¬" "!" "@" "#" "$" "%" "^" "&" "*" "(" ")" "_" "+" ""
      "" ""  "Q" "W" "E" "R" "T" "Y" "U" "I" "O" "P" "{" "}" ""
      "" ""  "A" "S" "D" "F" "G" "H" "J" "K" "L" ":" "@" "~" ""
"" "|"  "Z" "X" "C" "V" "B" "N" "M" "<" ">" "?" "" "" "")

This lists the keyboard positions from left to right for the unshifted and shifted states of he keyboard. After listing the keyboard descriptions it provides a description of the layout which is used for the customization variable ‘ergoemacs-keyboard-layout’. By simply defining your layout before ergoemacs-mode is loaded, you add it to the ergoemacs-keyboard-layout variable with its description.

Customizing/Saving the variables

You can customize the ergoemacs keybindings by typing M-x customize-group ergoemacs-mode


To generate keyboard binding diagrams and scripts that allow you to use ergoemacs elsewhere, please type M-x ergoemacs-extra. These scripts will be stored under the extras directory.

Note that if you use an alternative layout on a QWERTY keyboard (such as colemak), and use the portable colemak layout, to use ergoemacs keys use the us layout not the colemak layout. However, if you installed the colemak keyboard layout to your system, use the colemak not the US layout variant.

Updating Ergoemacs for the latest version of emacs

To tell if a key was a globally defined emacs key, ergoemacs needs to know what key was defined by emacs. This typically changes a little for each emacs version. This is due to renamed functions, or re-purposed keys. To update for the current version of emacs, you can type

  (ergoemacs-warn-globally-changed-keys t)

This is also done in the test suite. This can be accessed by ergoemacs-test command.

This was generated with OrgReadme. On updating the library, this page is likely to be replaced with updated content.