There are three primitives that create a new subprocess in which to run
a program. One of them,
make-process, creates an asynchronous
process and returns a process object (see Asynchronous Processes).
The other two,
create a synchronous process and do not return a process object
(see Synchronous Processes). There are various higher-level
functions that make use of these primitives to run particular types of
Synchronous and asynchronous processes are explained in the following sections. Since the three functions are all called in a similar fashion, their common arguments are described here.
In all cases, the functions specify the program to be run. An error
is signaled if the file is not found or cannot be executed. If the
file name is relative, the variable exec-path contains a list
of directories to search. Emacs initializes exec-path when it
starts up, based on the value of the environment variable PATH.
The standard file name constructs, ‘~’, ‘.’, and ‘..’,
are interpreted as usual in exec-path, but environment variable
substitutions (‘$HOME’, etc.) are not recognized; use
substitute-in-file-name to perform them (see File Name Expansion).
nil in this list refers to
Executing a program can also try adding suffixes to the specified name:
This variable is a list of suffixes (strings) to try adding to the
specified program file name. The list should include
"" if you
want the name to be tried exactly as specified. The default value is
Please note: The argument program contains only the name of the program file; it may not contain any command-line arguments. You must use a separate argument, args, to provide those, as described below.
Each of the subprocess-creating functions has a buffer-or-name
argument that specifies where the output from the program will go. It
should be a buffer or a buffer name; if it is a buffer name, that will
create the buffer if it does not already exist. It can also be
nil, which says to discard the output, unless a custom filter
function handles it. (See Filter Functions, and Read and Print.) Normally, you should avoid having multiple processes send
output to the same buffer because their output would be intermixed
randomly. For synchronous processes, you can send the output to a
file instead of a buffer (and the corresponding argument is therefore
more appropriately called destination). By default, both
standard output and standard error streams go to the same destination,
but all the 3 primitives allow optionally to direct the standard error
stream to a different destination.
All three of the subprocess-creating functions allow to specify
command-line arguments for the process to run. For
call-process-region, these come in the form of a
&rest argument, args. For
make-process, both the
program to run and its command-line arguments are specified as a list
of strings. The command-line arguments must all be strings, and they
are supplied to the program as separate argument strings. Wildcard
characters and other shell constructs have no special meanings in
these strings, since the strings are passed directly to the specified
The subprocess inherits its environment from Emacs, but you can specify overrides for it with process-environment. See System Environment. The subprocess gets its current directory from the value of default-directory.
The value of this variable is a string, the name of a directory that
contains programs that come with GNU Emacs and are intended for Emacs
to invoke. The program
movemail is an example of such a program;
Rmail uses it to fetch new mail from an inbox.
The value of this variable is a list of directories to search for
programs to run in subprocesses. Each element is either the name of a
directory (i.e., a string), or
nil, which stands for the default
directory (which is the value of default-directory).
See executable-find, for the details of this search.
The value of exec-path is used by
start-process when the program argument is not an absolute
Generally, you should not modify exec-path directly. Instead,
ensure that your
PATH environment variable is set appropriately
before starting Emacs. Trying to modify exec-path
PATH can lead to confusing results.