Emacs: Edit Tables

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page shows you how to use emacs's “table” feature. This feature will let you format tabular data by ASCII drawing. Then you can interactively create and edit tables with emacs commands to insert/delete column/row. You can also convert it to HTML or LaTeX formats.

Creating a Table

Creating a New Empty Table

To create a table, call table-insert. (To call a command by name, type 【Alt+x】)

It'll ask you these questions: {Number of columns, Number of rows, Cell width, Cell height}. You can just press Enter ↵ key to accept the default. You can change the values for each later. The result will look like this:

|     |     |     |
|     |     |     |
|     |     |     |

Press Tab ⇥ or 【⇧ Shift+Tab ⇥】 to go to neighbor cells.

Creating a Table from Comma Separated Values

If you already have a table data, such as Comma Separated Values (CSV) from spreadsheets, or even from a existing HTML table, you can create a table from that.

Let's say you have this comma separated values:


Select the whole text, then call table-capture. It'll ask you these questions:

Emacs will then change it to this:

|     |A    |B    |C    |
|1    |1a   |1b   |1c   |
|2    |2a   |2b   |2c   |
|3    |3a   |3b   |3c   |

In the minibuffer prompt, to enter a tab character (ASCII 9), type 【Ctrl+q Tab ⇥】. To enter a newline character, type 【Ctrl+q Ctrl+j】.

Note: In a emacs buffer, newlines are always represented by the Line Feed char (“\n”, LF; ASCII 10). You don't have to worry about what OS you are using. 〔►see Emacs: Newline Representations ^M ^J ^L

Using Table Menu

emacs table
Use the Menu!

Once you have created a table, you can use the menu to do things. The menu 〖Table〗 will appear when your cursor is on a table cell.

If you prefer using commands, you can type 【Alt+x table-】 then press Tab ⇥ to see a list of all commands.

Some of the most useful are:

Generating Output

To generate output for your table, pull the menu 〖Table ▸ table-generate-source〗 or call table-generate-source. Then, you can choose one of HTML, LaTeX, or cals (a XML based one).

To output to space delimited values, call table-release.

Note: emacs's table feature is not very robust. If you work with importing/exporting actual spread sheets or address books, with hundreds of rows or columns, emacs table feature does not handle it well.

(info "(emacs) Text Based Tables")

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