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38.9.1 Managing Overlays

This section describes the functions to create, delete and move overlays, and to examine their contents. Overlay changes are not recorded in the buffer's undo list, since the overlays are not part of the buffer's contents.

— Function: overlayp object

This function returns t if object is an overlay.

— Function: make-overlay start end &optional buffer front-advance rear-advance

This function creates and returns an overlay that belongs to buffer and ranges from start to end. Both start and end must specify buffer positions; they may be integers or markers. If buffer is omitted, the overlay is created in the current buffer.

The arguments front-advance and rear-advance specify the marker insertion type for the start of the overlay and for the end of the overlay, respectively. See Marker Insertion Types. If they are both nil, the default, then the overlay extends to include any text inserted at the beginning, but not text inserted at the end. If front-advance is non-nil, text inserted at the beginning of the overlay is excluded from the overlay. If rear-advance is non-nil, text inserted at the end of the overlay is included in the overlay.

— Function: overlay-start overlay

This function returns the position at which overlay starts, as an integer.

— Function: overlay-end overlay

This function returns the position at which overlay ends, as an integer.

— Function: overlay-buffer overlay

This function returns the buffer that overlay belongs to. It returns nil if overlay has been deleted.

— Function: delete-overlay overlay

This function deletes overlay. The overlay continues to exist as a Lisp object, and its property list is unchanged, but it ceases to be attached to the buffer it belonged to, and ceases to have any effect on display.

A deleted overlay is not permanently disconnected. You can give it a position in a buffer again by calling move-overlay.

— Function: move-overlay overlay start end &optional buffer

This function moves overlay to buffer, and places its bounds at start and end. Both arguments start and end must specify buffer positions; they may be integers or markers.

If buffer is omitted, overlay stays in the same buffer it was already associated with; if overlay was deleted, it goes into the current buffer.

The return value is overlay.

This is the only valid way to change the endpoints of an overlay. Do not try modifying the markers in the overlay by hand, as that fails to update other vital data structures and can cause some overlays to be “lost”.

— Function: remove-overlays &optional start end name value

This function removes all the overlays between start and end whose property name has the value value. It can move the endpoints of the overlays in the region, or split them.

If name is omitted or nil, it means to delete all overlays in the specified region. If start and/or end are omitted or nil, that means the beginning and end of the buffer respectively. Therefore, (remove-overlays) removes all the overlays in the current buffer.

— Function: copy-overlay overlay

This function returns a copy of overlay. The copy has the same endpoints and properties as overlay. However, the marker insertion type for the start of the overlay and for the end of the overlay are set to their default values (see Marker Insertion Types).

Here are some examples:

     ;; Create an overlay.
     (setq foo (make-overlay 1 10))
          ⇒ #<overlay from 1 to 10 in display.texi>
     (overlay-start foo)
          ⇒ 1
     (overlay-end foo)
          ⇒ 10
     (overlay-buffer foo)
          ⇒ #<buffer display.texi>
     ;; Give it a property we can check later.
     (overlay-put foo 'happy t)
          ⇒ t
     ;; Verify the property is present.
     (overlay-get foo 'happy)
          ⇒ t
     ;; Move the overlay.
     (move-overlay foo 5 20)
          ⇒ #<overlay from 5 to 20 in display.texi>
     (overlay-start foo)
          ⇒ 5
     (overlay-end foo)
          ⇒ 20
     ;; Delete the overlay.
     (delete-overlay foo)
          ⇒ nil
     ;; Verify it is deleted.
     foo
          ⇒ #<overlay in no buffer>
     ;; A deleted overlay has no position.
     (overlay-start foo)
          ⇒ nil
     (overlay-end foo)
          ⇒ nil
     (overlay-buffer foo)
          ⇒ nil
     ;; Undelete the overlay.
     (move-overlay foo 1 20)
          ⇒ #<overlay from 1 to 20 in display.texi>
     ;; Verify the results.
     (overlay-start foo)
          ⇒ 1
     (overlay-end foo)
          ⇒ 20
     (overlay-buffer foo)
          ⇒ #<buffer display.texi>
     ;; Moving and deleting the overlay does not change its properties.
     (overlay-get foo 'happy)
          ⇒ t

Emacs stores the overlays of each buffer in two lists, divided around an arbitrary “center position”. One list extends backwards through the buffer from that center position, and the other extends forwards from that center position. The center position can be anywhere in the buffer.

— Function: overlay-recenter pos

This function recenters the overlays of the current buffer around position pos. That makes overlay lookup faster for positions near pos, but slower for positions far away from pos.

A loop that scans the buffer forwards, creating overlays, can run faster if you do (overlay-recenter (point-max)) first.