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2.4.3.1 Basic Char Syntax

Since characters are really integers, the printed representation of a character is a decimal number. This is also a possible read syntax for a character, but writing characters that way in Lisp programs is not clear programming. You should always use the special read syntax formats that Emacs Lisp provides for characters. These syntax formats start with a question mark.

The usual read syntax for alphanumeric characters is a question mark followed by the character; thus, ‘?A’ for the character A, ‘?B’ for the character B, and ‘?a’ for the character a.

For example:

?Q ⇒ 81     ?q ⇒ 113

You can use the same syntax for punctuation characters. However, if the punctuation character has a special syntactic meaning in Lisp, you must quote it with a ‘\’. For example, ‘?\(’ is the way to write the open-paren character. Likewise, if the character is ‘\’, you must use a second ‘\’ to quote it: ‘?\\’.

You can express the characters control-g, backspace, tab, newline, vertical tab, formfeed, space, return, del, and escape as ‘?\a’, ‘?\b’, ‘?\t’, ‘?\n’, ‘?\v’, ‘?\f’, ‘?\s’, ‘?\r’, ‘?\d’, and ‘?\e’, respectively. (‘?\s’ followed by a dash has a different meaning—it applies the Super modifier to the following character.) Thus,

?\a ⇒ 7                 ; control-g, C-g
?\b ⇒ 8                 ; backspace, BS, C-h
?\t ⇒ 9                 ; tab, TAB, C-i
?\n ⇒ 10                ; newline, C-j
?\v ⇒ 11                ; vertical tab, C-k
?\f ⇒ 12                ; formfeed character, C-l
?\r ⇒ 13                ; carriage return, RET, C-m
?\e ⇒ 27                ; escape character, ESC, C-[
?\s ⇒ 32                ; space character, SPC
?\\ ⇒ 92                ; backslash character, \
?\d ⇒ 127               ; delete character, DEL

These sequences which start with backslash are also known as escape sequences, because backslash plays the role of an escape character; this has nothing to do with the character ESC. ‘\s’ is meant for use in character constants; in string constants, just write the space.

A backslash is allowed, and harmless, preceding any character without a special escape meaning; thus, ‘?\+’ is equivalent to ‘?+’. There is no reason to add a backslash before most characters. However, you must add a backslash before any of the characters ‘()[]\;'’, and you should add a backslash before any of the characters ‘|'`#.,’ to avoid confusing the Emacs commands for editing Lisp code. You should also add a backslash before Unicode characters which resemble the previously mentioned ASCII ones, to avoid confusing people reading your code. Emacs will highlight some non-escaped commonly confused characters such as ‘’ to encourage this. You can also add a backslash before whitespace characters such as space, tab, newline and formfeed. However, it is cleaner to use one of the easily readable escape sequences, such as ‘\t’ or ‘\s’, instead of an actual whitespace character such as a tab or a space. (If you do write backslash followed by a space, you should write an extra space after the character constant to separate it from the following text.)

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