Join the celebration for our 30th anniversary!
including events in Boston and worldwide on October 3rd.

Skip to content, sitemap or skip to search.

Personal tools
Join now
You are here: Home Bulletins 1986 February What is GNU Emacs and do you want a copy?

What is GNU Emacs and do you want a copy?

by Richard Stallman Contributions Published on Jan 04, 2011 06:16 PM

GNU Emacs is a new implementation of the Emacs text editor. (Recently text editors have been called "word processors" among microcomputer users.)

Emacs is a kind of architecture for text editors, in which most editing commands are written in an interpreted language (usually Lisp) so that the user can write new editing commands as he goes. This allows Emacs to have editing commands that are more powerful or more adapted to individual uses than other kinds of editors.

Any particular editing command could be written in C, but with Lisp it is much easier for users to change the editing commands or to implement new editing commands. Users can also exchange their adaptations and extensions of Emacs. The result is a library of extensions that continues to grow.

GNU Emacs boasts an especially clean Lisp system for writing editing commands, and an already large library of extensions.

GNU Emacs is written in C, designed for a Unix or Unix-like kernel. It includes its own Lisp interpreter which is used to execute the portion of the editor that is written in Lisp.

It is a fairly large program, around 525k on vaxes or 68000s, to which must be added space for the files you are editing, undo buffers, Lisp libraries loaded, and Lisp data such as recently killed text, etc. This is not really a problem on a timeshared machine because most of that 525k is shared, but on a personal computer there may be nobody to share with. Thus, GNU Emacs probably could not be used on an IBM PC clone for lack of memory, unless you want to implement virtual memory in software within Emacs itself. Perhaps on an 80286 with 1 meg of memory you can win using their memory management.

In general, a 32-bit machine with either a meg of real memory or virtual memory can probably run GNU Emacs, as long as a suitable Unix system call environment is provided, simulated or imitated.

Document Actions

The FSF is a charity with a worldwide mission to advance software freedom — learn about our history and work. is powered by:


Send your feedback on our translations and new translations of pages to