Why Emacs has Buffers – Mastering Emacs

June 8, 2022

Why Emacs has Buffers – Mastering Emacs:

If you’re new to Emacs, you may wonder why you read and write text from buffers as opposed to, you know, files or documents. There’s the fact that it’s not skeuomorphic, and thus the term lacks the spark that connects it to a real-life concept. Most people have heard of files and documents in real life, and the term buffer is instead a capacious term with little grounding to most people.

To computer scientists and programmers alike, however, the term buffer has meaning and purpose; it’s still an unsatisfactory answer, even if it is the real reason why Emacs uses the term buffer. And just leaving it there – that a buffer is a chunk of memory and used as a means of shuttling data to and fro peripheral hardware, like your disk – does not go far enough in explaining why. All editors use buffers internally.

In Emacs, the buffer is the focal point of nearly all user (and machine!) interactions. You read and you write, and you do so in a structure that tugs at its roots in computer science, but it’s so much more than that. And that’s really what I want to talk about, as it will go a long way towards explaining why Emacs and Emacs Lisp is the way it is.

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