1.7 Variables

In Emacs Lisp, a symbol can have a value attached to it just as it can have a function definition attached to it. The two are different. The function definition is a set of instructions that a computer will obey. A value, on the other hand, is something, such as number or a name, that can vary (which is why such a symbol is called a variable). The value of a symbol can be any expression in Lisp, such as a symbol, number, list, or string. A symbol that has a value is often called a variable.

A symbol can have both a function definition and a value attached to it at the same time. Or it can have just one or the other. The two are separate. This is somewhat similar to the way the name Cambridge can refer to the city in Massachusetts and have some information attached to the name as well, such as “great programming center”.

Another way to think about this is to imagine a symbol as being a chest of drawers. The function definition is put in one drawer, the value in another, and so on. What is put in the drawer holding the value can be changed without affecting the contents of the drawer holding the function definition, and vice versa.