Emacs: Xah Fly Keys

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

What's New

Xah Fly Keys is more efficient than vim, or any keybinding set in history.

xah-fly-keys.el is a modal editing mode for emacs, like vi, but the design of key/command choice is based on command frequency statistics and ease-of-key score. Most frequently used commands have most easy keys.

If you have hand pain from using emacs, consider using Xah Fly Keys. Never need to press Ctrl+x and never need to press Meta anymore.

xah fly keys kinesis 2017 09 60363
Xah Fly Keys and Kinesis keyboard, from a friend

Video Intro

If you like to watch a video intro, here it is.

intro to xah fly keys


MELPA Install

[see Emacs: Install Package with ELPA/MELPA]

After you installed from MELPA, put the following in your init:

(require 'xah-fly-keys)

;; specify a layout
(xah-fly-keys-set-layout "qwerty")

(xah-fly-keys 1)

Manual Install

Put the file xah-fly-keys.el in ~/.emacs.d/lisp/

Put the following in your emacs init:

(add-to-list 'load-path "~/.emacs.d/lisp/")

(require 'xah-fly-keys)

;; specify a layout
(xah-fly-keys-set-layout "qwerty")

(xah-fly-keys 1)

Supported layouts

Possible layout values: • adnw • azerty • azerty-be • beopy • bepo • carpalx-qfmlwy • carpalx-qgmlwb • carpalx-qgmlwy • colemak • colemak-mod-dh • colemak-mod-dh-new • dvorak • koy • neo2 • norman • programer-dvorak • pt-nativo • qwerty • qwerty-abnt • qwerty-no (qwerty Norwegian) • qwertz • workman

I recommend also add the following in your init file:

;; make typing delete/overwrites selected text
(delete-selection-mode 1)

;; disable shift select
(setq shift-select-mode nil)

What Does Command Mode Do?

When in command mode:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z , . ' \ / = - [ ] ; ` Xah Fly Keys command mode layout other-frame unsplit split select ¶ S Line S word S quote M-x insert ⌦¶ ⇤↖ ⇥↘ ⌦w reformat ⌦␣⌫ ⌫w mark undo →word ←word ␣ins Case isearch paste cut copy cmt ←( →) goto() next win leader key Cmd Mode
Alt+x xah-fly-command-mode-activateAlt+Space
Activates command mode.

By default, it has the following keys:

Alt+Space or Home or F8 or ▤ Menu (the menu key is the key on Microsoft keyboards, usually besides right Ctrl)

When in command mode, the cursor shape is a black rectangle ▮ (Does not work in some text terminal), and the first character in emacs status bar (aka mode line) displays lowercase c.

xah fly keys command mode kzFvv
Xah Fly Keys in Command Mode

Insert Mode

When in insert mode, keys insert characters. (or, whatever a letter key does in the current major mode. For example, in dired, m marks a file.)

Alt+x xah-fly-insert-mode-activate
Activate insert mode.

When in command mode, f activates insertion mode.

When in command mode, Space Space also activates insertion mode.

When in insert mode, the cursor shape is a I-beam ⌶ (does not work in some text terminal) and the first character in emacs status bar (aka mode line) displays i.

xah fly keys insert mode 8c6Xy
Xah Fly Keys in Insert Mode

Leader Key Sequence for Commands

You NEVER need to press Ctrl+x. For example,

The first key in a key sequence we call it the “leader key”. For example, the Space is the leader key in Space f.

When in command mode, the Space is a leader key.

Here's example of frequently used ones.

There are about 200 commands with leader key sequence. Most frequently used commands have 2 keys Other commands have 3 keys. Some rarely used have 4.

List All Leader Key Sequence

To list all leader key sequence commands and keys, switch to command mode, then press Space Ctrl+h

xah fly keys leader keys 2021-05-17

Emacs M-x

When in command mode:

NEVER Need to Press Meta

Any emacs command that has a Meta (Alt) keybinding also have a keybinding without Meta in Xah Fly Keys.

For example:

If you are familiar with a emacs key, such as Alt+f, to find the new key in xah fly keys, Alt+x describe-key, then press the meta key combination you know. Emacs will print the key of xah fly keys if it is on.

Standard Control Key Shortcuts

The following standard keys are supported by default. (they can be disabled.)

It is not necessary to use these key shortcuts. These commands all have keys that do not need Ctrl.

The only time you need to press Ctrl key are:


When in command mode, n starts isearch-forward.

When in isearch:

Dired Mode, Org Mode, Single Keys

In plain GNU Emacs, in some modes, typing a letter key does not insert letter, but runs a special command. For example, in dired, m for mark, u for unmark.

With Xah Fly Keys, when in insert mode, typing letter key will do whatever of that mode's commands.


Emacs: Xah Fly Keys Tutorial


Emacs: Xah Fly Keys Customization

Batman Keyboards

Xah Fly Keys is designed for any keyboard. I made sure it works well for • normal PC keyboards, • Apple Keyboards ⌨, • Laptop Keyboards, and works well in both text terminal or graphical user interface.

If you have a batman keyboard, much merrier.

Here's suggested optimal configuration.

Kinesis keyboard layout d14 2020-03-20 b3nqt
Kinesis/Ergodox layout for xah-fly-keys

uhk xah-fly-keys dvorak 2020-01-06 h6zrz-s388x161
xah-fly-keys with Ultimate Hacking Keyboard

truly ergonomic keyboard xah fly keys layout 55098 numlock layer-s334x187
xah-fly-keys with Truly Ergonomic Keyboard

Xah Gergo Layout

Frequently Asked Questions

How does it compare to ergoemacs-mode?

ergoemacs-mode remaps the most frequently used emacs commands to use Alt+key, with key choice based on frequency of command call.

ergoemacs-mode is part of FSF GNU Emacs, in ELPA repository. (but you should probably download the version from MELPA, because it's usually more up-to-date.)

If you don't like modal ways, I recommend ergoemacs-mode.

https://ergoemacs.github.io/ (ergoemacs-mode is lead by Matthew Fidler.)

How does it compare with evil-mode?

evil-mode lets you use vim keys in emacs. It has large number of users, and with the advantage that you'll be able to use both emacs and vim.


How long does it take to learn Xah Fly Keys?

It'll take the same amount of time if learning vi for the first time.

If you practice 2 hours per day, about a month to be fluent.

Does Xah Fly Keys work in terminal?


How to setup xah-fly-keys in doom emacs

Download xah-fly-keys, and place it at


in the file .doom.d/init.el, comment this out:

(evil +everywhere)

in the file .doom.d/config.el , add the following (change it suitably):

(require 'xah-fly-keys)
(xah-fly-keys-set-layout "qwerty")
(xah-fly-keys 1)

(setq doom-leader-key "<f1>")

Chat Forum


Emacs: Xah Fly Keys History

See also: on vi Keybinding vs Emacs Keybinding


Xah Fly Keys Testimonial

Xah Fly Keys