21.4 Minibuffer History

A minibuffer history list records previous minibuffer inputs so the user can reuse them conveniently. It is a variable whose value is a list of strings (previous inputs), most recent first.

There are many separate minibuffer history lists, used for different kinds of inputs. It’s the Lisp programmer’s job to specify the right history list for each use of the minibuffer.

You specify a minibuffer history list with the optional history argument to read-from-minibuffer or completing-read. Here are the possible values for it:


Use variable (a symbol) as the history list.

(variable . startpos)

Use variable (a symbol) as the history list, and assume that the initial history position is startpos (a nonnegative integer).

Specifying 0 for startpos is equivalent to just specifying the symbol variable. previous-history-element will display the most recent element of the history list in the minibuffer. If you specify a positive startpos, the minibuffer history functions behave as if (elt variable (1- startpos)) were the history element currently shown in the minibuffer.

For consistency, you should also specify that element of the history as the initial minibuffer contents, using the initial argument to the minibuffer input function (see Initial Input).

If you don’t specify history, then the default history list minibuffer-history is used. For other standard history lists, see below. You can also create your own history list variable; just initialize it to nil before the first use. If the variable is buffer local, then each buffer will have its own input history list.

Both read-from-minibuffer and completing-read add new elements to the history list automatically, and provide commands to allow the user to reuse items on the list (see Minibuffer Commands). The only thing your program needs to do to use a history list is to initialize it and to pass its name to the input functions when you wish. But it is safe to modify the list by hand when the minibuffer input functions are not using it.

By default, when M-n (next-history-element, see next-history-element) reaches the end of the list of default values provided by the command which initiated reading input from the minibuffer, M-n adds all of the completion candidates, as specified by minibuffer-completion-table (see Minibuffer Commands that Do Completion), to the list of defaults, so that all those candidates are available as “future history”. Your program can control that via the variable minibuffer-default-add-function: if its value is not a function, this automatic addition is disabled, and you can also set this variable to your own function which adds only some candidates, or some other values, to the “future history”.

Emacs functions that add a new element to a history list can also delete old elements if the list gets too long. The variable history-length specifies the maximum length for most history lists. To specify a different maximum length for a particular history list, put the length in the history-length property of the history list symbol. The variable history-delete-duplicates specifies whether to delete duplicates in history.

Function: add-to-history history-var newelt &optional maxelt keep-all

This function adds a new element newelt, if it isn’t the empty string, to the history list stored in the variable history-var, and returns the updated history list. It limits the list length to the value of maxelt (if non-nil) or history-length (described below). The possible values of maxelt have the same meaning as the values of history-length. history-var cannot refer to a lexical variable.

Normally, add-to-history removes duplicate members from the history list if history-delete-duplicates is non-nil. However, if keep-all is non-nil, that says not to remove duplicates, and to add newelt to the list even if it is empty.

Variable: history-add-new-input

If the value of this variable is nil, standard functions that read from the minibuffer don’t add new elements to the history list. This lets Lisp programs explicitly manage input history by using add-to-history. The default value is t.

User Option: history-length

The value of this variable specifies the maximum length for all history lists that don’t specify their own maximum lengths. If the value is t, that means there is no maximum (don’t delete old elements). If a history list variable’s symbol has a non-nil history-length property, it overrides this variable for that particular history list.

User Option: history-delete-duplicates

If the value of this variable is t, that means when adding a new history element, all previous identical elements are deleted.

Here are some of the standard minibuffer history list variables:

Variable: minibuffer-history

The default history list for minibuffer history input.

Variable: query-replace-history

A history list for arguments to query-replace (and similar arguments to other commands).

Variable: file-name-history

A history list for file-name arguments.

Variable: buffer-name-history

A history list for buffer-name arguments.

Variable: regexp-history

A history list for regular expression arguments.

Variable: extended-command-history

A history list for arguments that are names of extended commands.

Variable: shell-command-history

A history list for arguments that are shell commands.

Variable: read-expression-history

A history list for arguments that are Lisp expressions to evaluate.

Variable: face-name-history

A history list for arguments that are faces.

Variable: custom-variable-history

A history list for variable-name arguments read by read-variable.

Variable: read-number-history

A history list for numbers read by read-number.

Variable: goto-line-history

A history list for arguments to goto-line. This variable can be made local in every buffer by customizing the user option goto-line-history-local.