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Searching in Buffers with Occur Mode

by mickey on July 20th, 2011

The Emacs M-x occur (also bound to M-s o) command is a useful replacement for GNU grep, when your only requirement is searching open buffers in Emacs. Like grep, the occur command will take a regular expression and print, in a separate buffer, all the lines that match the expression. One really nifty thing about occur is that it will preserve the faces (the colors, or syntax highlighting, if you will) in the displayed matches.

The default command, M-x occur, will only search the active buffer, but its cousins M-x multi-occur and M-x multi-occur-in-matching-buffers will search the buffers you specify, or all buffers that match a given regexp pattern, respectively.

There’s a few helper commands that will make your life easier, such as occur-rename-buffer that renames an *Occur* output buffer so it includes the names of the buffers it searched. Useful if you want to search for different things. This command is also bound to r in the *Occur* buffer itself.

You can also re-run the occur command by pressing g in the output buffer. (Note: this is actually a standard, of sorts, used by most interactive buffers including dired, compile and grep.)

Another useful feature is its support for the compilation mode commands next/previous-error (M-g M-n and M-g M-p respectively), as they enable you to cycle through the list of occur matches from within the source buffer itself.

In a similar vein, you can enable follow mode in the *Occur* buffer by pressing C-c C-f, and future calls to M-n and M-p in the *Occur* buffer will automatically jump to the correct match in the source buffer.

Making Occur a little more useful

My only complaint about occur is that it does not let you quickly search a set of buffers that match a specific major mode — arguably a common use case if you’re a programmer. The code seen below will search all open buffers that share the same mode as the active buffer.

  1. Very useful indeed. Thanks!

  2. I would like to add that you can start occur from isearch. This is quite a common use case: you start searching for something in the current buffer and only then realize that you get too many hits, so that paging through the results with isearch becomes cumbersome. M-s o is also bound in the isearch-mode-map and will start occur with the current search term.

    Now I’ll go and write a function that starts multi-occur-in-this-mode from occur. :-)

    • Here it is:

    • Anonymous permalink

      Instead of using M-s o, I find it easier to use C-o which can be accomplished with this piece of code:

      I think I found it in technomancy’s emacs start kit and I use it all the time.

      • I used that code for a long time, too, but it’s now much easier. If you prefer C-o as a key binding, you could strip that down to:

        • mickey permalink

          I think the default functionality provided by C-o is too useful to be overriden. A better choice might be the less useful M-o face stuff.

          • Anonymous permalink

            mickey: I don’t understand what functionality you’re referring to.

            If you’re talking about the

            then that functionality is still preserved since the code given by Anselm (thanks for the tip btw, I didn’t knew isearch provided that function in a easy to use wrapper) since it only binds the

            combination when you are already inside a search.

            I just tried in my emacs (with the

            flag) and

            doesn’t seem to do anything while searching, except to quit the search and call


            Do you have anything else bind to

            in the

            ? Because I’m always on the lookout for things others find “too useful” in emacs. :)

  3. Phil Hudson permalink

    What I want is a standard, consistent, robust way of editing matching lines in place in the *occur* buffer and saving them, and/or some non-interactive global regex search and replace in buffers/files matching a regex/mode. I recently found that grep-ed' fails (silently) with TRAMP /sudo: files. I'm trying wgrep’ now instead, but I only found that by accident a day after I gave up googling and searching emacswiki for a replacement.

    • Phil permalink

      I really love that idea for both occur and grep (I used wdired all the time), and it looks like Emacs 24 will provide on the occur front at least, and might be generalised to deal with the grep case as well: bug#8463: 24.0.50; [PATCH] Direct Edit in *Occur* Buffer.

      • mickey permalink

        Yeah I remember reading about that a while back. I hope it makes it in in emacs 24, but we’ll see. I think extending the concept of indirect buffers (which is a buffer that “points” to all of, or a portion of, the text in another buffer) so multiple buffers can be referenced from one “master” buffer would be a cleaner way of solving this problem generally.

    • Lukas permalink

      The package manager in Emacs 24 (M-x list packages) comes with all-mode which I think is what you’re looking for.

      • Lukas permalink

        What I meant was the package manager offers a package “all” which you have to install. Load it with M-x all-mode and use the command “all” like you would “occur”.

  4. Aankhen permalink

    Thanks for this. I don’t use occur like I should. I reach for grep at the command line instead. Time to change that! I just need to drill it into my fingers now.

    get-buffers-matching-mode could be written in a functional style like this:

    The functionality is the same; it’s just another way of approaching the problem.

    As an aside, I really like the look of your blog. The choice of fonts in particular is very classy, IMO. Is it all part of the theme?

    • Phil permalink

      Aankhen: There are still plenty of good reasons to use grep, but for goodness sakes do that within Emacs as well! I find that M-x rgrep in particular gets heavy usage.

      • Aankhen permalink

        Phil: Yes, I try to remember to use it within Emacs. I forget more often than not. :-(

        mickey: Yup, I’m seeing Constantia and Consolas here. Huge fan of the latter, heh.

    • mickey permalink

      Hi Aankhen, thanks for the suggestion! That’s why I love Emacs: there’s more than one way to skin a cat.


    • mickey permalink

      I think so; but the font is entirely dependent on your operating systems’ fonts, so you may well see a different one entirely :-)

      I seem to recall changing them to Microsoft’s “new” font series (Consolas, Constantia, etc.) as I use them on both windows and linux.

  5. François permalink

    “My only complaint about occur is that it does not let you quickly search a set of buffers that match a specific major mode — arguably a common use case if you’re a programmer”
    To do this, I first use ibuffer to select/filter the buffers I’m interested in, then run occur directly from the *ibuffer* buffer using the ‘O’ key binding.

  6. Sean Bryant permalink

    I notice you’re a fan of using setq to add to customizable variables.
    Why not M-x customize-group or M-x customize-variable the variables.

    That way people could get in the habit of working with, instead of against the customize interface.

    What do you think?

  7. Eric J permalink

    This was just what I was looking for! Thanks!

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