Emacs: Xah Fly Keys

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

2018-10-27 new Emacs: Xah Fly Keys for Russian Layout

2018-10-09 new. subreddit discussion forum. https://www.reddit.com/r/xahflykeys/

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


Download at https://github.com/xahlee/xah-fly-keys

Also on MELPA http://melpa.org/#/xah-fly-keys

MELPA Install

[see Emacs: How to Install Packages Using ELPA, MELPA]

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

(require 'xah-fly-keys)

(xah-fly-keys-set-layout "qwerty") ; required if you use qwerty

;; possible layout values:
;; "qwerty"
;; "qwerty-abnt"
;; "qwertz"
;; "dvorak"
;; "programer-dvorak"
;; "colemak"
;; "colemak-mod-dh"
;; "workman"

;; dvorak is the default

(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)

(xah-fly-keys-set-layout "qwerty") ; required if you use qwerty

;; possible layout values:
;; "qwerty"
;; "qwerty-abnt"
;; "qwertz"
;; "dvorak"
;; "programer-dvorak"
;; "colemak"
;; "colemak-mod-dh"
;; "workman"

;; dvorak is the default

(xah-fly-keys 1)

What Does Command Mode Do?

xah fly keys layout qwerty
xah-fly-keys command mode layout

When in command mode:

Key to Activate Command Mode

The command to activate command mode is Alt+x xah-fly-command-mode-activate and Alt+x xah-fly-command-mode-activate-no-hook.

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 the right side.)

Command Mode Visual Indicator

xah fly keys command mode 2018 01 30
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.)

Key to Activate Insert Mode

The command to activate insert mode is Alt+x xah-fly-insert-mode-activate.

When in command mode, 【f】 activates insertion mode.

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

Insert Mode Visual Indicator

xah fly keys insert mode 2018 01 30
xah-fly-keys in insert mode

Leader Key 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.

Globally, the leader key is the F9 key. For example, 【F9 f】 is switch-to-buffer. No need to switch to command mode first.

Here's example of frequently used ones.

Use Which-Key-mode to Help Learn Leader Sequence

When learning xah-fly-keys, i recommend using which-key at https://github.com/justbur/emacs-which-key

With which-key on, when you press a leader key, subsequent keys and commands are displayed.

emacs which key mode
emacs which-key-mode.

Emac's M-x

When in command mode:

NEVER Need to Press Meta

Any emacs command that has a Meta keybinding also have a keybinding without Meta in xah-fly-keys.

For example:

To find the key, Alt+x describe-key, then press the meta key combination. Emacs will print all its keybinding.

Standard Control Key Shortcuts

The following standard keys are supported by default. (they can be disabled. See Emacs: Xah Fly Keys Customization)

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.

Xah Fly Keys Tutorial

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 advantage2 keyboard 80711-s289x216
Kinesis/Ergodox layout for xah-fly-keys
UHK 20181214 split 0dfd2-s289x216
xah-fly-keys with Ultimate Hacking Keyboard
Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard-3246-s289x217
xah-fly-keys with Truly Ergonomic Keyboard

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 also supports standard {Open 【Ctrl+o】, Close 【Ctrl+w】, New 【Ctrl+n】, …} keys familiar to everyone. People who never use emacs can use it right away, without knowing any emacs keys.

ergoemacs-mode supports over 10 keyboard layouts, including: {QWERTY, Dvorak, Colemak, German, French, …}.

ergoemacs-mode is flexible. It provides many key set “themes”. You can also design your own.

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 highly recommend ergoemacs-mode.

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

ergoemacs layout us
ergoemacs mode. Use Alt as the primary key for emacs commands.

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 time when learning vi for the first time.

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

Does xah-fly-keys work in terminal?


xah-fly-keys chat Forum


created the subreddit on 2018-10-07. Post your questions, answers, experiences, wishlist, comparisions, criticisms, or your blogs about it there.

Why I Created It

See Emacs: Xah Fly Keys History

see also: on vi Keybinding vs Emacs Keybinding

Xah-Fly-Keys Testimonial

从evil到xah-fly-keys 最近写了好几个月的C,强度比较大,感觉手指开始有点不太舒服。一直都用的 evil,以前也一直想着换到 `xah-fly-keys' ,干脆这次试下它。

[xah-fly-keys 使用总结 By Pengpengxp. At https://pengpengxp.github.io/emacs/summary_of_xah_fly_keys.html ]

xah fly keys testimonial 2017 09 12 30453
xah fly keys testimonial 2017-09-12

Thanks for xah-fly-keys. I think I would never adhered to Emacs if it was not for that. It's one of that things that after knowing you can't live without it. — Alex O. 2017-11-08

Then I found xah-fly-keys. This is a modal set of keybindings for Emacs, that is, the keybindings consist of pressing keys in succession rather than holding down modifier keys. It's quite good, quite good.

… I'm pretty settled on xah-fly-keys now, …

[Writing to think 2: Write harder, the editor caper By Jaredj. At http://j.agrue.info/the-editor-caper.html ]

[Writing to think 2: Write harder, the keyboard caper By Jaredj. At http://j.agrue.info/the-keyboard-caper.html ]

yay! “Hello! Been using your fly-keys for almost two weeks now and I find them super convenient and…” — Arkady. (2018-03)

Coincidentally, I started using Xah Fly Keys a week ago and found this tutorial / reference to be super useful - thanks! —Sean O'Reilly. (2018-03-31)

xah-fly-keys praise 2018-08-20 88070

Emacs Pinky

  1. Microsoft sculpt ergonomic keyboard 73760-s328x191
    Best Keyboards for Emacs
  2. Why Emacs Keys are Painful
  3. How to Avoid Emacs Pinky
  4. Emacs Command Frequency Statistics
  5. Swap CapsLock and Control
  6. Famous Programers with RSI
  7. My Typing/RSI Experience 1992 to 2017
  8. Hand Health: vi Esc Key Syndrome
  9. Emacs, RSI, My Experiences
  10. Using Voice to Code Faster than Keyboard 📺
  11. ergoemacs mode
  12. Xah Fly Keys

If you have a question, put $5 at patreon and message me.
Or Buy Xah Emacs Tutorial
Or buy a nice keyboard: Best Keyboards for Emacs


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