In Emacs terms, narrowing the buffer means that you restrict yourself from accessing anything but a certain part of the current buffer. The rest of the buffer is invisible, unreachable, ineditable (inedible, so to speak).

This is useful when you want to work on one part of the buffer only, while making sure you can’t mess up the other parts of it. The most common way to narrow the buffer is ‘C-x n n’ which calls narrow-to-region.

This is very often used in EmacsLisp code. It is used whenever a large file is loaded into memory and only part of it is visible at any given moment. Examples: Reading a mail file and displaying one mail at a time; reading an info file and displaying one node at a time.

A similar effect could be achieved by using text properties, but narrowing is much easier to use.

In order to undo narrowing, use ‘C-x n w’ which calls the function widen.

Note to Emacs Lisp hackers: The use of widen in EmacsLisp programs to “temporarily” move to sections of the file, that some calling code has narrowed away, usually points to some design problems. Widening may confuse the calling code.

See Also:

CategoryGlossary CategoryRegion