Emacs Notes

Emacs is a very feature-laden editor. As such, it can be hard to remember all of the various features that are very useful, but perhaps, not frequently used. I thought I would create a list of some features I have learned and did not want to forget.

Show a list of all currently opened buffers

C-x C-b

When there are dozens of buffers open, it can be difficult to switch to the correct one. This command will list them all, and allow you to go directly to the buffer you wish to edit.

Display current function name

M-x which-function-mode

This will add the name of the function that the cursor is currently in to the status bar at the bottom of the page. I have found this pretty useful when exploring unknown code, or long documents with hundreds of functions. I don’t enable this all the time though because I have found it can sow the responsiveness in larger documents.

Show invisible characters

M-x whitespace-mode

Sometimes its nice to see if a document is using spaces or tabs. Enabling white-space mode makes it clear the type of indentation being used, as well as making other whitespace sins apparent. This is particularly useful when you work on a file that’s been passed around multiple editors and is not consistently indented.

Along with this, you can easily remove whitespace present on the end of the lines by selection a region and using the following command:

M-x delete-trailing-whitespace

Easy alignment

M-x align-regexp

This is actually a command I do use frequently. I like to have things lined up as I feel that it improves legibility. This command, when run on selected text, will align the text to the matching user input. For example, I can use this to align multiple lines on an equal sign.

Selection, Etc.

C-x space

Mark. This begins a selection by marking where you cursor is and highlight to where you move your cursor thereafter


Copy. This will copy the marked region


Cut. This will cut the marked region


Yank. This will paste the kill buffer contents at the location of the cursor

Rectangular Commands

C-x r k

Rectangular cut/kill. Make a selection across multiple lines, then run this command. It will kill the rectangular region of text that was selected

C-x r y

Rectangular yank/paste. This command will paste the rectangular area of text killed by the command above.

C-x r t

Make a selection across multiple lines, then run this command. As you type, it will insert the text on each line you selected in the column that you began/ended with. If you start and end in different columns, it will replace the text in those columns on each line.

Navigational Hot Keys

Moving within the buffer can be tedious without some hotkeys to speed things up.


Go to end of document


Go to beginning of document

M-g M-g

This brings up the ‘goto line’ prompt for quickly going to a specific line

M-g tab

Similarly, this brings up the ‘move to column’ prompt


Page down


Page up


Center cursor/cursor position in window


Search for term. Use the combination repeatedly to find the next instance of the search term


Search in reverse. As with the previous command, repeatedly using the combination will take you to previous instances of the search term.

Formatting Hotkeys


Make word capitalized from cursor position to end of word


Make word lowercase from cursor position to end of word


Make word uppercase from cursor position to end of word

Window Navigation

C-x 1

Return to single view

C-x 2

Split pane horizontally

C-x 3

Split pane vertically

C-x o

Move cursor to other pane/view

C-x left

Switch buffer to preceding buffer

C-x right

Switch buffer to next buffer

File Handling

C-x C-f

Find a file to open/edit


Also of note, when opening a file, you can use the above syntax to open a file on a remote machine.

C-x k

Kill buffer (close file)

Keyboard Macros

Keyboard macros allow you to create a set of commands that you can repeat in order to speed up repetitive tasks.


This will begin your macro recording. Every keystroke and command until you do will be recorded until you stop recording


This will stop the macro recording. Once you have stopped recording, every time you press F4 it will repeat your whole macro.

mg; The Emacs Like Editor

Sometimes you don’t want to install an 80 MB text editor on your machine. Sometimes you want something lightweight, but just don’t want to use ‘vim’. For those times, you have ‘mg’ (micro gnu). It’s a very small binary (200k on my current install) that gives a similar experience to Emacs. It has the familiar interface, keybindings and most of the essential features. Obviously the exotic commands are missing, but the fundamentals are there. I’d much rather be stuck using this than vim, vi, or nano.

Closing thoughts

While not a comprehensive list, these are some of the commands I wish I had known when starting out with Emacs. There are so many, and while I like Emacs a lot, my main gripe with it is the lack of discoverability with commands. As a last tip, the following command will show you all of the available key shortcuts:

C-h b

Happy editing!


Jenkins 503 Error on CentOS 7

My Jenkins install was whining at me to upgrade to the newest release (2.57) for security reasons. I finally relented, and updated the jenkins.war file only to be greeted with this wonderful error:

Problem accessing /. Reason:
    Service Unavailable

Not terribly informative. My first Google perusal revealed that it was probably an error with Jetty, and so I checked jetty configurations. No luck there there though.

I looked at the Jenkins log (/var/log/jenkins/jenkins.log), and found this:

WARNING: Failed to delete the temporary Winstone file /tmp/winstone/jenkins.war
May 01, 2017 12:29:43 PM org.eclipse.jetty.util.log.JavaUtilLog info
INFO: Logging initialized @923ms
May 01, 2017 12:29:43 PM winstone.Logger logInternal
INFO: Beginning extraction from war file
May 01, 2017 12:29:43 PM org.eclipse.jetty.util.log.JavaUtilLog warn
WARNING: Empty contextPath
May 01, 2017 12:29:43 PM org.eclipse.jetty.util.log.JavaUtilLog info
INFO: jetty-9.2.z-SNAPSHOT
May 01, 2017 12:29:44 PM org.eclipse.jetty.util.log.JavaUtilLog info
INFO: NO JSP Support for /, did not find org.eclipse.jetty.jsp.JettyJspServlet
May 01, 2017 12:29:44 PM org.eclipse.jetty.util.log.JavaUtilLog warn
WARNING: Failed startup of context w.@18d4479b{/,file:/var/cache/jenkins/war/,STARTING}{/var/cache/jenkins/war}

Looks like I am having trouble writing/removing files. So, I check permissions and users, but nothing looks out of the ordinary there.

I also use my Google-fu to see if I can get any clue on the last warning there. The only similar issues I can find are related to missing font-packs. That doesn’t make too much sense, but I try it any way. No avail.

Finally, I tried upgrading my Java install to 1.8 from 1.7. I looked through the Jenkins release notes, and I didn’t see anything overtly saying that Java 8 is the new requirement, but I did see some notes about Java 9 being supported, and Java 7 being the minimum for slaves.

I followed the instructions here to install Java 8, and what do you know? Success! So there you go. If you upgrade your Jenkins and see this error, try upgrading to Java 8!


MediaWiki on CentOS 7

I’ve set up a few installations of MediaWiki in the past on different operating systems. It’s not the type of thing I do a lot, but when I do, It’s usually not too much trouble.

I was migrating an old MediaWiki installation from a Windows 2007 server to CentOS 7. I figured it would be pretty routine. It turns out there were a couple little hiccups along the way that I figure I should document to help me out in the future.

The first problem I ran into is that CentOS 7 doesn’t ship with a new enough version of of PHP for the current release of Media Wiki.

Uninstall built in version of PHP

yum erase php
yum erase php-common

Install yum repo for newer PHP release

rpm -Uvh https://dl.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/epel-release-latest-7.noarch.rpm
rpm -Uvh https://mirror.webtatic.com/yum/el7/webtatic-release.rpm

Install PHP packages

yum install php55w* --skip-broken

This allowed MediaWiki to run finally, and I was able to create a new LocalSettings.php. From there I restored the SQL database without any issue. Don’t forget to install MariaDB.

yum install mariadb-server mariadb

To import the old SQL data to the new DB, first creat a DB with the same name, and then pupolate it with the sql file.

# Get into mysql shell
mysql --password=********
# Create DB with same name as old DB
mysql> CREATE DATABASE my_wiki;
# Exit shell

# Import old SQL data to new DB
mysql --password=******** my_wiki < /wiki.sql

I also copied over the images directory from the old installation.

The next issue I had is permissions. SELinux wasn’t even on my mind, and provided all sort of permission problems. I ran the following commands on my html directory where MediaWiki is installed in an attempt to fix everything.

sudo chown apache:apache -R /var/www/html/

find . -type f -exec chmod 0644 {} \;
find . -type d -exec chmod 0755 {} \;

sudo chcon -t httpd_sys_content_t /var/www/html -R
sudo chcon -t httpd_sys_rw_content_t /var/www/html/images/ -R

At this point, MediaWiki is running, but I couldn’t see any images, or upload any files. I tweak settings in LocalSettings.php but to no avail. I enabled logs and better error messages by adding these lines to LocalSettings.php

$wgShowExceptionDetails = true;
$wgDebugLogFile = "/var/log/mediawiki/debug-{$wgDBname}.log";

When I upload a file using MediaWiki, I get the error:

Could not create directory "mwstore://local-backend/local-public/1/1e".

The log file shows the following error:

[FileOperation] mkdir(): Permission denied
[FileOperation] FSFileBackend::doPrepareInternal: cannot create directory /1/1e

I am unable to upload images, so I Google the error message and check my settings. Almost all of the sites talking about this error suggested permission issues with the images folder. I checked my permissions over, and over again with no luck. The rest fo the sites talked about having the $wgTmpDirectory set correctly, which I’m pretty sure I did.

$wgEnableUploads = true;
$wgUseImageMagick = true;
$wgImageMagickConvertCommand = "/usr/bin/convert";
$wgTmpDirectory = '/var/www/html/images/temp';

What bothers me is that the error message in the log looks like it is trying to mkdir at the root level, however MediaWiki switches a lot between url paths (relative) and absolute. It wasn’t clear. The next debugging step was using strace to see what the OS was doing. I attached strace to one of the apache processes and uploaded a file, and lo:

mkdir("/temp", 0777)                    = -1 EACCES (Permission denied)

It is trying to use my root directory as the images fodler location, even though I have a different tmp directory specified in my settings file.

It turns out that there are default setting in the img_auth.php file that don’t appear to be correct. They get automatically set based on the environment. I chose to explicitely set them in the LocalSettings.php document instead.

# Redefining Upload Directory and Path from img_auth.php
$wgUploadDirectory = '/var/www/html/images';
$wgUploadPath = '/images';

Finally. My images instantly start working and I can upload files again. Thank goodness! This wasn’t a difficult thing, but it is surprising that I couldn’t find any help on the internet for this specific problem. And since I don’t install/perform maintenance on MediaWikis very often, there is a lot of stuff I have to relearn. So here it is, some notes on this issue for my future self, in case I ever need it.

© 2007-2015 Michael Caldwell