33.19.6 Stickiness of Text Properties

Self-inserting characters, the ones that get inserted into a buffer when the user types them (see User-Level Insertion Commands), normally take on the same properties as the preceding character. This is called inheritance of properties.

By contrast, a Lisp program can do insertion with inheritance or without, depending on the choice of insertion primitive. The ordinary text insertion functions, such as insert, do not inherit any properties. They insert text with precisely the properties of the string being inserted, and no others. This is correct for programs that copy text from one context to another—for example, into or out of the kill ring. To insert with inheritance, use the special primitives described in this section. Self-inserting characters inherit properties because they work using these primitives.

When you do insertion with inheritance, which properties are inherited, and from where, depends on which properties are sticky. Insertion after a character inherits those of its properties that are rear-sticky. Insertion before a character inherits those of its properties that are front-sticky. When both sides offer different sticky values for the same property, the previous character’s value takes precedence.

By default, a text property is rear-sticky but not front-sticky; thus, the default is to inherit all the properties of the preceding character, and nothing from the following character.

You can control the stickiness of various text properties with two specific text properties, front-sticky and rear-nonsticky, and with the variable text-property-default-nonsticky. You can use the variable to specify a different default for a given property. You can use those two text properties to make any specific properties sticky or nonsticky in any particular part of the text.

If a character’s front-sticky property is t, then all its properties are front-sticky. If the front-sticky property is a list, then the sticky properties of the character are those whose names are in the list. For example, if a character has a front-sticky property whose value is (face read-only), then insertion before the character can inherit its face property and its read-only property, but no others.

The rear-nonsticky property works the opposite way. Most properties are rear-sticky by default, so the rear-nonsticky property says which properties are not rear-sticky. If a character’s rear-nonsticky property is t, then none of its properties are rear-sticky. If the rear-nonsticky property is a list, properties are rear-sticky unless their names are in the list.

Variable: text-property-default-nonsticky

This variable holds an alist which defines the default rear-stickiness of various text properties. Each element has the form (property . nonstickiness), and it defines the stickiness of a particular text property, property.

If nonstickiness is non-nil, this means that the property property is rear-nonsticky by default. Since all properties are front-nonsticky by default, this makes property nonsticky in both directions by default.

The text properties front-sticky and rear-nonsticky, when used, take precedence over the default nonstickiness specified in text-property-default-nonsticky.

Here are the functions that insert text with inheritance of properties:

Function: insert-and-inherit &rest strings

Insert the strings strings, just like the function insert, but inherit any sticky properties from the adjoining text.

Function: insert-before-markers-and-inherit &rest strings

Insert the strings strings, just like the function insert-before-markers, but inherit any sticky properties from the adjoining text.

See Inserting Text, for the ordinary insertion functions which do not inherit.