Recommendations for a Buffer Menu

I recommend BufferSelection, because it is easy to understand and still has configurations. I don’t need the power of IbufferMode. – AlexSchroeder

I recommend BufferMenuPlus, because it is straightforward and lets you do multiple operations to multiple buffers, at once. – DrewAdams

I recommend BufferSelection, because it is simple and works really well, perfect for BufferSwitching. – LinhDang

Recommendations for Name-Based Switching

I recommend IswitchBuffers, because it is easy to understand. I don’t need the power of InteractivelyDoThings, which does the same thing for opening files, and many unrelated things besides. – AlexSchroeder

I recommend ‘icicle-buffer’ – see Icicles - Buffer-Name Input. You can:

  • cycle among candidate buffers using arrow keys
  • regexp-match to narrow the set of candidates
  • filter candidates based on their content, mode, whether visiting files
  • include RecentFiles as candidates, whether or not they are currently visited in a buffer
  • include files from the FileNameCache, whether or not…
  • visit a bookmarked buffer, whether or not… (requires Bookmark+)
  • kill candidate buffers on the fly

Nothing is simpler or quicker. You are not limited to cycling: you can also use completion. And you can open a new, non-existant buffer. – DrewAdams

Ido with ‘C-x b’ includes name-based searching and quick selection with arrow keys and the enter key. – DThompson

quick-buffer-switch can be used with Ido. quick-buffer-switch allows buffer limitation using predicate functions. Some of them are predefined, such as switching among buffers:

  • visiting files, directories
  • ERC channels
  • buffer running processes
  • etc…

Content-based switching

These libraries let you switch among buffers and files based on matching their content, not just their names:

Cycling Among Buffers

There are several libraries that let you cycle among buffers:

Switching Between Two Recently Used Buffers

With the “switching” or “buffer flipping” technique, the challenge is to do as little buffer-switching as possible. That is, you would like the buffers you switch between most to be near to each other. One solution is to sort buffers in the order they were visited. Then the most-recently-used buffer is always just below the current one. You hit a problem, though, when you want to switch between two buffers which are further apart in the stack. Imagine you are at the first buffer. As you move through the stack, each buffer is visited and gets put on top, so by the time you get to the target buffer there are a bunch of buffers between you and the first. If you want to go back, you have to switch through them again.

A solution without this problem is demonstrated by Microsoft Windows. On this platform, ALT-TAB lets you switch through windows (”Frames” in Emacs lingo) to pick the one you want, then pulls that window to the top. This comes much closer to the ideal of stacking in order of use because it distinguishes between “using” and “switching” – unlike the simple model described above. Several approaches provide something similar for Emacs buffers:

      (global-set-key (kbd "M-o")  'mode-line-other-buffer)
      (defun switch-to-previous-buffer ()
      (switch-to-buffer (other-buffer (current-buffer) 1)))

I have this (or something similar) bound to F1 and it is really handy. Saves me from the Ctrl-key sickness also… 😊 – MaDa

Wrt the stack-order “problem” mentioned above and in the bullets below: No problem: You don’t change the stack order just by cycling buffer names in the minibuffer; you change the order only when you visit a buffer. – DrewAdams

Flipping Buffers in Two Frames

In Emacs you can do many things at once in multiple frames (outside Emacs frames are sometimes called “windows”). For instance: If you have multiple screens on your machine you can open individual Emacs frames for each screen. Each frame contains its own buffers and of course each frame can be split into Emacs windows.

I wrote the following bit of Emacs lisp in order to switch the contents of two open frames. This is very useful for me at work since I use a two monitor setup. Sometimes I want to edit whatever is on the other monitor on my “main” monitor and vise-versa.

(defun switch-buffers-between-frames ()
  "switch-buffers-between-frames switches the buffers between the two last frames"
  (let ((this-frame-buffer nil)
	(other-frame-buffer nil))
    (setq this-frame-buffer (car (frame-parameter nil 'buffer-list)))
    (other-frame 1)
    (setq other-frame-buffer (car (frame-parameter nil 'buffer-list)))
    (switch-to-buffer this-frame-buffer)
    (other-frame 1)
    (switch-to-buffer other-frame-buffer)))

Transposing Two Buffers

If you have a window split showing two buffers, you can transpose the two buffers:

(defun transpose-buffers (arg)
  "Transpose the buffers shown in two windows."
  (interactive "p")
  (let ((selector (if (>= arg 0) 'next-window 'previous-window)))
    (while (/= arg 0)
      (let ((this-win (window-buffer))
            (next-win (window-buffer (funcall selector))))
        (set-window-buffer (selected-window) next-win)
        (set-window-buffer (funcall selector) this-win)
        (select-window (funcall selector)))
      (setq arg (if (plusp arg) (1- arg) (1+ arg))))))

See also TransposeFrame

See also buffer-move.el written by Lukhas (also on GitHub).

– e1f via retroj who suggests that ‘C-x 4 t’ is a logical binding for the function

May I suggest using cl-plusp instead of plusp in the function above. plusp produces error at least on Emacs 24.5.1 (lubuntu 16.4).


Question: I really like TextMate’s “Go To File” (Navigation > Go To File, or Command-T) functionality. How can I replicate it in emacs? None of the buffer switching techniques above come close to touching it. Of course, TextMate’s “GTF” only works if you have a “project” loaded – but I’d want the emacs equivalent to work underneath some directory that I’ve specified. – DavePeck

Did you look at FileSets feature? --RuslanKosolapov
Icicles supports and adds to Emacs filesets, and it gives you TextMate’s “fuzzy” file-name completion.

Question: Is there a way to find out that the user has switched to a buffer, i.e., someting like switch-to-buffer-hook? The manual seems to say no, which is surprising. I would like to set some frame-specific variables according to the buffer which has been selected…. JoergVolbers

If you don’t need to know when the switch was made, and you just need to know the current buffer, use function ‘current-buffer’. You might also want to look at variable ‘major-mode’ and the hooks ‘change-major-mode-hook’ and ‘after-change-major-mode-hook’. The last of these is in Emacs 22 only. – DrewAdams

Thank you for the fast reply, but what I want to do is to catch, so to speak, the switch-event. My aim is to set the font (via set-frame-font) according to the biggest current buffer’s major-mode. I already wrote a small defun which hooks itself in ‘window-configuration-change-hook’:

  (if (one-window-p) (set-frame-font (get-fontname-according-to-major-mode)))

Unfortunately, the condition (one-window-p) does not filter out displaying the menu and tooltips. Also, some resizing events trigger this function. But all I want is to change the frame font if one switches to another buffer… Maybe I should advice switch-buffer, but that seems to be a rather unelegant way.

What you want is ‘buffer-list-update-hook’. The buffer list is updated whenever you switch windows or buffers.

Question: I don’t like how emacs handles showing the same buffer in two windows at once: if I switch away from that buffer, then (a) switching back to that buffer moves point to its location in the other window, and (b) I can’t switch back with “C-x b RET” because it isn’t the “default” target. Are there any packages that remember the location of point when switching buffers and/or allow me to quickly switch back to a buffer even if another window is viewing it?

I’m not sure what you mean, but you can just switch windows, using, e.g., ‘C-x o’ (‘other-window’). Each window showing a buffer has its own window-point.

If you use Icicles, then, in Icicle mode, ‘C-u C-x o’ gives you a multi-command that lets you choose a window (or a frame) by its buffer name (with numeric suffix to distinguish multiple windows for the same buffer). You can also cycle among windows whose buffers match a given pattern. If you also use library crosshairs.el, then it’s easier to see which window is selected as you cycle. – DrewAdams

What I mean is this. Load a file and split the main window (‘C-x 2’). Move point in one of the windows around, for instance by pressing C-v a few times. Now each window has its own point. Now, type ‘C-x b’ in one window and switch to another buffer in it. Now, type ‘C-x b’ and switch back to the buffer you were previously viewing (the one that’s available in the other window). Point will be moved to its location in the other window.

This comes up a lot for me when I’m working on two parts of a file at once. I split the window and scroll each half until it’s showing the part that I want. Then I start working in one of the windows – but sometimes I want to refer to another file temporarily. If I just switch to a new file in the window I’m using, I have to move point back to where I just was, which is a bit annoying. The only solution I’ve found is to split the window again, switch buffers in the active half, and then delete the split when I’m done. It works, but it takes more keypresses and it means I don’t have as large a viewing area.

For exactly this use case there is pointback-mode: http://stud4.tuwien.ac.at/~e0225855/pointback/pointback.html

This functionality is also provided by both Rebound and winpoint.el.

I’m often facing the same problem (working on part 1 of a single file in window1 and part 2 of the same file in window2, switching temporarily to another file in window2 and wanting to switch back to part 2 of the single file in window2). I noticed that many commands which read from the MiniBuffer, like ‘execute-extended-command’ (‘M-x’) or ‘switch-to-buffer’ (‘C-x b’), for example, record (on the execution stack) the window configuration (maybe using something like ‘save-window-excursion’). So I often use this very simple trick. First, check ‘enable-recursive-minibuffers’ is T, then, from inside window2, type:

  • ‘M-x’ (or ‘C-x b’ or any similar command),
  • ‘C-- C-x o’ WITHOUT ANY RETURN to go back to window2 (this lets the ‘M-x ’ prompt in the MiniBuffer),
  • switch to the most recent buffer with ‘C-x b RET’ (or select one from the menu) in window2,
  • do whatever you want (even commands like ‘M-x something RET’),
  • when you are done, ‘C-x o’ to switch back to the MiniBuffer (or click inside it),
  • ‘C-g’ to abort the MiniBuffer command,
  • and, like magics, it restores the window configuration, i.e. part 2 in window2.

This “trick” does not require any external module! HTH – JackDuthen

Question I would like to have buffers sticked to the frames, i.e. when I use C-x b, then I see only buffers that belongs to current frame. This could be convenient when work on different projects simultaneously and do not want to mix buffers. Somebody has an idea? – konsy

Yes. Use Icicles. Using ‘icicle-buffer’ (bound to ‘C-x b’ in Icicle mode, by default) with a negative prefix argument will do what you want: ‘C-- C-x b’.

And with a positive prefix arg (e.g. ‘C-u C-x b’), only buffers visiting files are candidates. – DrewAdams

Thanks for the answer. Just for the record - there is a small package that allows to do that without icicles - flobl.el. Very handy. – Konsy

This functionality is also provided by the FrameBufs package.