Emacs: What's Hook?

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

What's a hook?

A hook is a variable, its value is a list of functions (lisp symbols or lambda).

Each hook is designed to “run” when some event happens. When a hook “run”, all functions in that hook are called.

For example,

There are hundreds of hooks. Each major mode usually have at least 1 hook, designed to run when the mode is loaded. 〔►see List of Emacs Hooks

A hook is similar to the concept of events in other systems. Adding function to a hook is similar to adding event handlers. (note: emacs lisp manual also uses the term “event”, but that is lower level events to emacs, not events from emacs.)

Examples of Using Hook

Here's example of turning on line number only for some modes:

(add-hook 'emacs-lisp-mode-hook 'linum-mode)
(add-hook 'js-mode-hook 'linum-mode)
(add-hook 'css-mode-hook 'linum-mode)
(add-hook 'html-mode-hook 'linum-mode)
(add-hook 'nxml-mode-hook 'linum-mode)

Here's example of use variable-width font for some modes:

;; use variable-width font for some modes
(add-hook 'nxml-mode-hook 'variable-pitch-mode)
(add-hook 'emacs-lisp-mode-hook 'variable-pitch-mode)
(add-hook 'js-mode-hook 'variable-pitch-mode)
(add-hook 'css-mode-hook 'variable-pitch-mode)
(add-hook 'html-mode-hook 'variable-pitch-mode)

〔►see Emacs: Avoid Lambda in Hook

How to List All Hooks?

List of Emacs Hooks

How to find the name of hook?

How to find the name of hook?

Most major modes have a hook. If a mode's name is “xyz-mode”, its hook by convention is named “xyz-mode-hook”.

First, be sure you load the mode first. Some hook many not show when the mode isn't loaded or initialized.

Call describe-variable, then try to type a name you guessed, press Tab ⇥ for completion.


  1. call apropos-variable
  2. type “-hook”, press Enter ↵.

Note: A major mode may have more than 1 hook.

How to See the Value of a Hook?

How to see the value of a hook?

Call describe-variable, then type the hook name, to see its current value.

How to Remove a Function in a Hook?

How to remove a hook?

;; remove a hook
(remove-hook 'html-mode-hook 'xyz-function-name)

How to Bind Keys for Major Mode?

See: Emacs: Change Major Mode Keys

;; example of binding keys only when html-mode is active

(defun my-html-mode-config ()
  "Modify keymaps used by `html-mode'."
  (local-set-key (kbd "C-c w") 'my-bold-word)
  (local-set-key (kbd "C-c C-p") nil) ; remove a key
  (local-set-key (kbd "<C-right>") 'my-html-skip-tag-forward)
  (local-set-key (kbd "<C-left>") 'my-html-skip-tag-backward)
  ;; more here

;; add to hook
(add-hook 'html-mode-hook 'my-html-mode-config)

Emacs Customize Topic

  1. How to Set Emacs's User Interface
  2. Emacs: How to Install Packages Using ELPA, MELPA
  3. How to Install Emacs Package Manually
  4. Emacs: How to Define Keys
  5. Emacs: M-x customize Tutorial
  6. Emacs: Set File to Open in a Major Mode
  7. Organize Emacs Init File in 5 Minutes
  8. Emacs: Byte Compile Elisp Files
  9. Emacs: What's Hook?
  10. Emacs: Set Environment Variables within Emacs
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