emacs isearch of current word

Perm url with updates: http://xahlee.org/emacs/modernization_isearch.html

Emacs Incremental Search Suggestions

Xah Lee, 2010-05-29

This page document a problem with emacs's incremental search feature, with suggested solution.

Emacs's isearch has some problems. Suppose you have this line:

the delete-current-file is quite useful to me.

and your cursor is on the second dash. You want to search the next occurance of the word “delete-current-file”. You have to first move your cursor to the beginning of the word, then press a key for isearch, then another key to select “delete”, another to extend selection to “current”, another to “file”, then press isearch again to find the next occurrence. That's 7 operations. In GNU emacs, it's “M-b M-b C-s C-w C-w C-w C-s”. In vim, it's just a single key press.

highlight-symbol minor mode

Today i found several solutinos to this. I think one of the best is the package highlight-symbol by Nikolaj Schumacher, at: nschum.de highlight-symbol.

Note that Nikolaj Schumacher has contributed to the extend-selection command in ErgoEmacs, and has wrote several other elisp packages. His code i trust.

To install, place the package at your emacs library load path, for example:


Create the “.emacs.d” dir if it doesn't exist already.

Then, put the following in your emacs init file then restart emacs.

(require 'highlight-symbol)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f10>") 'highlight-symbol-at-point)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f11>") 'highlight-symbol-next)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f12>") 'highlight-symbol-prev)

Then, F10 will highlight all occurrences of the current word. F11 again removes the highlights. F12 will move cursor to the next occurrence, and F11 for previous.

(If you want other hotkeys, see: How to Define Keyboard Shortcuts in Emacs)


Another solution is a command isearch-forward-at-point. from platypope.org blog.

When you want to start isearch on the current work, just call isearch-forward-at-point. You can give it a hotkey too.

;; I-search with initial contents.
;; original source: http://platypope.org/blog/2007/8/5/a-compendium-of-awesomeness
(defvar isearch-initial-string nil)

(defun isearch-set-initial-string ()
  (remove-hook 'isearch-mode-hook 'isearch-set-initial-string)
  (setq isearch-string isearch-initial-string)

(defun isearch-forward-at-point (&optional regexp-p no-recursive-edit)
  "Interactive search forward for the symbol at point."
  (interactive "P\np")
  (if regexp-p (isearch-forward regexp-p no-recursive-edit)
    (let* ((end (progn (skip-syntax-forward "w_") (point)))
           (begin (progn (skip-syntax-backward "w_") (point))))
      (if (eq begin end)
          (isearch-forward regexp-p no-recursive-edit)
        (setq isearch-initial-string (buffer-substring begin end))
        (add-hook 'isearch-mode-hook 'isearch-set-initial-string)
        (isearch-forward regexp-p no-recursive-edit)))))

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