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Note: a full explanation can be found in the GitHub wiki.


Purpose (“window-purpose” on MELPA) provides a new window management system for Emacs, which gives you a better control over where Emacs displays buffers.

With Purpose, each buffer has a configurable “purpose” and each window can interactivaly be dedicated to a certain “purpose”. When you dedicate a window (C-c , d), Purpose makes sure that this window will be used only for buffers which have the same purpose as the buffer that is currently displayed in that window. The purpose of a buffer can be customized via the variables purpose-user-mode-purposes, purpose-user-name-purposes, purpose-user-regexp-purposes and purpose-use-default-configuration (see the wiki).

Supported Emacs Versions

Purpose is tested with Emacs versions 24.3, 24.4 and 24.5. Backward-compatibility for earlier versions might be added in the future - if you want such support, contact me.


Activate Purpose

Manually: M-x purpose-mode

In your init file: elisp (require 'window-purpose) (purpose-mode)

Configure Purpose

Manually: M-x customize-group purpose. Look at: - “Purpose User Mode Purposes”: recognize purpose according to major mode - “Purpose User Name Purposes”: recognize purpose according to buffer name (for exact names) - “Purpose User Regexp Purposes”: recognize purpose according to buffer name (for name patterns) - “Purpose Use Default Configuration”: toggle default configuration on/off

In init file: elisp (add-to-list 'purpose-user-mode-purposes '(<major-mode> . <purpose>)) (add-to-list 'purpose-user-name-purposes '(<name> . <purpose>)) (add-to-list 'purpose-user-regexp-purposes '(<pattern> . <purpose>)) (setq purpose-use-default-configuration t) ; not really necessary, default is t (purpose-compile-user-configuration) ; activates your changes

Useful Commands

| Key | Command | | :———- | :———————————————————————————————————————— | | C-c , b | purpose-switch-buffer-with-purpose: switch to a buffer with the same purpose as the current one | | C-u C-x b | switch-buffer-without-purpose: switch to a buffer, but don't use Purpose for it. Handy for changing the current layout. | | C-c , d | purpose-toggle-window-purpose-dedicated | | C-c , D | purpose-toggle-window-buffer-dedicated | | C-c , 1 | purpose-delete-non-dedicated-windows | | | purpose-save-window-layout: save current layout to file | | | purpose-load-window-layout: load layout from file | | | purpose-reset-window-layout: reload previously loaded layout |

Example: Simple Python Layout

How to get a simple and persistent layout for coding in Python that looks like this:

simple python layout

step 1: configuration

(add-to-list 'purpose-user-mode-purposes '(python-mode . py))
(add-to-list 'purpose-user-mode-purposes '(inferior-python-mode . py-repl))

step 2: change window layout

If you have a previously saved layout, you can load it with purpose-load-window-layout and skip step 2 and step 3.

  1. open a Python file
  2. C-c , d (purpose-toggle-window-purpose-dedicated) so window is dedicated (“[py]” in the status bar will change to “[py!]”)
  3. C-x 1 (delete-other-windows)
  4. C-x 2 (split-window-below)
  5. C-c C-z (python-shell-switch-to-shell)
  6. C-c , d so window is dedicated
  7. C-x o (other-window) to select the python file's window
  8. C-x ^ (enlarge-window) until you like the sizes of the windows

step 3: save window layout

M-x purpose-save-window-layout

Using Purpose

Dedicating windows

Dedicating a window limits which buffers will be displayed in it. There are two types of window dedication: buffer-dedication and purpose-dedication.

Use purpose-toggle-window-buffer-dedicated to dedicate a window to its buffer. This window will not display any other buffer while it is buffer-dedicated. A “#” in the mode-line next to the window's purpose indicates that the window is buffer-dedicated.

Use purpose-toggle-window-purpose-dedicated to dedicate a window to its purpose. This window will only display buffers with the same purpose. A “!” in the mode-line next to the window's purpose indicates that the window is purpose-dedicated.

Switching buffers

When switching buffers, Purpose will display the new buffer in the correct window, according to the current configuration.

Use switch-to-buffer to switch to any buffer. The buffer will be displayed according to the current purpose-configuration.

Use purpose-switch-buffer-with-purpose to switch to another buffer with the same purpose as the current buffer.

Use purpose-switch-buffer-with-some-purpose to select a purpose and then switch to a buffer with that purpose.

Use switch-buffer-without-purpose to switch to any buffer. The buffer will be displayed using Emacs' original behavior. This is useful when you want to change the window layout.

Use purpose-set-window-purpose to switch the purpose of the current window. If there is a buffer with the chosen purpose, that buffer will be displayed in the current window. Otherwise, a dummy buffer will be created and used.

Changing layout

Purpose lets you save, load and reset the window layout.

Use purpose-save-window-layout to save the current window layout to a file.

Use purpose-load-window-layout to load a window layout from a file.

Use purpose-reset-window-layout to reset the window layout to the latest layout that you loaded.

You may want to store all your layouts in a directory, and change the value of purpose-default-layout-file to point to that directory.

You can delete all non-dedicated windows by using purpose-delete-non-dedicated-windows.

Customizing Purpose


With purpose-preferred-prompt, you can choose whether you want Purpose to use IDO or Helm when it needs information from the user. By default, when both IDO and Helm are enabled, Purpose prefers IDO.

Changing purpose configuration

Purpose lets you define your own purposes. You can do so by using the variables purpose-user-mode-purposes, purpose-user-name-purposes and purpose-user-regexp-purposes. You can also deactivate the default purpose configuration if it bothers you, by setting purpose-use-default-configuration to nil.

Changing display rules

If you want, you can the rules of how certain buffers are displayed. To do so, use the variable purpose-special-action-sequences. Let's explain this with an example. The following code makes all help buffers appear in a separate frame. This means you will get a “popup” frame for help buffers.

(setq pop-up-frames t) ; allows emacs to popup new frames
;; give help buffers the 'popup-frame purpose
(add-to-list 'purpose-user-mode-purposes
             '(help-mode . popup-frame))
;; new rules for buffers with the 'popup-frame purpose
(add-to-list 'purpose-special-action-sequences

Using Purpose with other packages

See Integration With Other Packages for information about how some packages relate to Purpose.