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21.11 Quitting

Typing C-g while a Lisp function is running causes Emacs to quit whatever it is doing. This means that control returns to the innermost active command loop.

Typing C-g while the command loop is waiting for keyboard input does not cause a quit; it acts as an ordinary input character. In the simplest case, you cannot tell the difference, because C-g normally runs the command keyboard-quit, whose effect is to quit. However, when C-g follows a prefix key, they combine to form an undefined key. The effect is to cancel the prefix key as well as any prefix argument.

In the minibuffer, C-g has a different definition: it aborts out of the minibuffer. This means, in effect, that it exits the minibuffer and then quits. (Simply quitting would return to the command loop within the minibuffer.) The reason why C-g does not quit directly when the command reader is reading input is so that its meaning can be redefined in the minibuffer in this way. C-g following a prefix key is not redefined in the minibuffer, and it has its normal effect of canceling the prefix key and prefix argument. This too would not be possible if C-g always quit directly.

When C-g does directly quit, it does so by setting the variable quit-flag to t. Emacs checks this variable at appropriate times and quits if it is not nil. Setting quit-flag non-nil in any way thus causes a quit.

At the level of C code, quitting cannot happen just anywhere; only at the special places that check quit-flag. The reason for this is that quitting at other places might leave an inconsistency in Emacs's internal state. Because quitting is delayed until a safe place, quitting cannot make Emacs crash.

Certain functions such as read-key-sequence or read-quoted-char prevent quitting entirely even though they wait for input. Instead of quitting, C-g serves as the requested input. In the case of read-key-sequence, this serves to bring about the special behavior of C-g in the command loop. In the case of read-quoted-char, this is so that C-q can be used to quote a C-g.

You can prevent quitting for a portion of a Lisp function by binding the variable inhibit-quit to a non-nil value. Then, although C-g still sets quit-flag to t as usual, the usual result of this—a quit—is prevented. Eventually, inhibit-quit will become nil again, such as when its binding is unwound at the end of a let form. At that time, if quit-flag is still non-nil, the requested quit happens immediately. This behavior is ideal when you wish to make sure that quitting does not happen within a “critical section” of the program.

In some functions (such as read-quoted-char), C-g is handled in a special way that does not involve quitting. This is done by reading the input with inhibit-quit bound to t, and setting quit-flag to nil before inhibit-quit becomes nil again. This excerpt from the definition of read-quoted-char shows how this is done; it also shows that normal quitting is permitted after the first character of input.

     (defun read-quoted-char (&optional prompt)
       "...documentation..."
       (let ((message-log-max nil) done (first t) (code 0) char)
         (while (not done)
           (let ((inhibit-quit first)
                 ...)
             (and prompt (message "%s-" prompt))
             (setq char (read-event))
             (if inhibit-quit (setq quit-flag nil)))
           ...set the variable code...)
         code))
— Variable: quit-flag

If this variable is non-nil, then Emacs quits immediately, unless inhibit-quit is non-nil. Typing C-g ordinarily sets quit-flag non-nil, regardless of inhibit-quit.

— Variable: inhibit-quit

This variable determines whether Emacs should quit when quit-flag is set to a value other than nil. If inhibit-quit is non-nil, then quit-flag has no special effect.

— Macro: with-local-quit body...

This macro executes body forms in sequence, but allows quitting, at least locally, within body even if inhibit-quit was non-nil outside this construct. It returns the value of the last form in body, unless exited by quitting, in which case it returns nil.

If inhibit-quit is nil on entry to with-local-quit, it only executes the body, and setting quit-flag causes a normal quit. However, if inhibit-quit is non-nil so that ordinary quitting is delayed, a non-nil quit-flag triggers a special kind of local quit. This ends the execution of body and exits the with-local-quit body with quit-flag still non-nil, so that another (ordinary) quit will happen as soon as that is allowed. If quit-flag is already non-nil at the beginning of body, the local quit happens immediately and the body doesn't execute at all.

This macro is mainly useful in functions that can be called from timers, process filters, process sentinels, pre-command-hook, post-command-hook, and other places where inhibit-quit is normally bound to t.

— Command: keyboard-quit

This function signals the quit condition with (signal 'quit nil). This is the same thing that quitting does. (See signal in Errors.)

You can specify a character other than C-g to use for quitting. See the function set-input-mode in Terminal Input.