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25.1 Visiting Files

Visiting a file means reading a file into a buffer. Once this is done, we say that the buffer is visiting that file, and call the file “the visited file” of the buffer.

A file and a buffer are two different things. A file is information recorded permanently in the computer (unless you delete it). A buffer, on the other hand, is information inside of Emacs that will vanish at the end of the editing session (or when you kill the buffer). Usually, a buffer contains information that you have copied from a file; then we say the buffer is visiting that file. The copy in the buffer is what you modify with editing commands. Such changes to the buffer do not change the file; therefore, to make the changes permanent, you must save the buffer, which means copying the altered buffer contents back into the file.

In spite of the distinction between files and buffers, people often refer to a file when they mean a buffer and vice-versa. Indeed, we say, “I am editing a file”, rather than, “I am editing a buffer that I will soon save as a file of the same name”. Humans do not usually need to make the distinction explicit. When dealing with a computer program, however, it is good to keep the distinction in mind.