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How to Evaluate

Whenever you give an editing command to Emacs Lisp, such as the command to move the cursor or to scroll the screen, you are evaluating an expression, the first element of which is a function. This is how Emacs works.

When you type keys, you cause the Lisp interpreter to evaluate an expression and that is how you get your results. Even typing plain text involves evaluating an Emacs Lisp function, in this case, one that uses self-insert-command, which simply inserts the character you typed. The functions you evaluate by typing keystrokes are called interactive functions, or commands; how you make a function interactive will be illustrated in the chapter on how to write function definitions. See Making a Function Interactive.

In addition to typing keyboard commands, we have seen a second way to evaluate an expression: by positioning the cursor after a list and typing C-x C-e. This is what we will do in the rest of this section. There are other ways to evaluate an expression as well; these will be described as we come to them.

Besides being used for practicing evaluation, the functions shown in the next few sections are important in their own right. A study of these functions makes clear the distinction between buffers and files, how to switch to a buffer, and how to determine a location within it.