1 Introduction

Most graphical user interface toolkits provide a number of standard user interface controls (sometimes known as “widgets” or “gadgets”). Emacs doesn’t really support anything like this, except for an incredibly powerful text “widget”. On the other hand, Emacs does provide the necessary primitives to implement many other widgets within a text buffer. The widget package simplifies this task.

The basic widgets are:


Areas of text with an associated action. Intended for hypertext links embedded in text.


Like link, but intended for stand-alone buttons.


An editable text field. It can be either variable or fixed length.


Allows the user to choose one of multiple options from a menu, where each option is itself a widget. Only the selected option is visible in the buffer.


Allows the user to choose one of multiple options by activating radio buttons. The options are implemented as widgets. All options are visible in the buffer, with the selected one marked as chosen.


A simple constant widget intended to be used in the menu-choice and radio-button-choice widgets.


A button item only intended for use in choices. When invoked, the user will be asked to select another option from the choice widget.


A simple ‘on’/‘off’ switch.


A checkbox (‘[ ]’/‘[X]’).


Create an editable list. The user can insert or delete items in the list. Each list item is itself a widget.

Now, of what possible use can support for widgets be in a text editor? I’m glad you asked. The answer is that widgets are useful for implementing forms. A form in Emacs is a buffer where the user is supposed to fill out a number of fields, each of which has a specific meaning. The user is not supposed to change or delete any of the text between the fields. Examples of forms in Emacs are the forms package (of course), the customize buffers, the mail and news compose modes, and the HTML form support in the w3 browser.

The advantages for a programmer of using the widget package to implement forms are:

  1. More complex fields than just editable text are supported.
  2. You can give the users immediate feedback if they enter invalid data in a text field, and sometimes prevent entering invalid data.
  3. You can have fixed sized fields, thus allowing multiple fields to be lined up in columns.
  4. It is simple to query or set the value of a field.
  5. Editing happens in the buffer, not in the mini-buffer.
  6. Packages using the library get a uniform look, making them easier for the user to learn.
  7. As support for embedded graphics improve, the Widget library will be extended to use the GUI features. This means that your code using the Widget library will also use the new graphic features automatically.