fill-column, an Example Variable

The variable fill-column illustrates a symbol with a value attached to it: in every GNU Emacs buffer, this symbol is set to some value, usually 72 or 70, but sometimes to some other value. To find the value of this symbol, evaluate it by itself. If you are reading this in Info inside of GNU Emacs, you can do this by putting the cursor after the symbol and typing C-x C-e:


After I typed C-x C-e, Emacs printed the number 72 in my echo area. This is the value for which fill-column is set for me as I write this. It may be different for you in your Info buffer. Notice that the value returned as a variable is printed in exactly the same way as the value returned by a function carrying out its instructions. From the point of view of the Lisp interpreter, a value returned is a value returned. What kind of expression it came from ceases to matter once the value is known.

A symbol can have any value attached to it or, to use the jargon, we can bind the variable to a value: to a number, such as 72; to a string, "such as this"; to a list, such as (spruce pine oak); we can even bind a variable to a function definition.

A symbol can be bound to a value in several ways. See Setting the Value of a Variable, for information about one way to do this.