Emacs can display text written in scripts, such as Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew, whose natural ordering for horizontal text display runs from right to left. Furthermore, segments of Latin script and digits embedded in right-to-left text are displayed left-to-right, while segments of right-to-left script embedded in left-to-right text (e.g., Arabic or Hebrew text in comments or strings in a program source file) are appropriately displayed right-to-left. We call such mixtures of left-to-right and right-to-left text bidirectional text. This section describes the facilities and options for editing and displaying bidirectional text.
Text is stored in Emacs buffers and strings in logical (or reading) order, i.e., the order in which a human would read each character. In right-to-left and bidirectional text, the order in which characters are displayed on the screen (called visual order) is not the same as logical order; the characters’ screen positions do not increase monotonically with string or buffer position. In performing this bidirectional reordering, Emacs follows the Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm (a.k.a. UBA), which is described in Annex #9 of the Unicode standard (http://www.unicode.org/reports/tr9/). Emacs currently provides a “Non-isolate Bidirectionality” class implementation of the UBA: it does not yet support the isolate directional formatting characters introduced with Unicode Standard v6.3.0.
If the value of this buffer-local variable is non-
default), Emacs performs bidirectional reordering for display. The
reordering affects buffer text, as well as display strings and overlay
strings from text and overlay properties in the buffer (see Overlay Properties, and see Display Property). If the value is
nil, Emacs does not perform bidirectional reordering in the
The default value of
bidi-display-reordering controls the
reordering of strings which are not directly supplied by a buffer,
including the text displayed in mode lines (see Mode Line Format)
and header lines (see Header Lines).
Emacs never reorders the text of a unibyte buffer, even if
bidi-display-reordering is non-
nil in the buffer. This
is because unibyte buffers contain raw bytes, not characters, and thus
lack the directionality properties required for reordering.
Therefore, to test whether text in a buffer will be reordered for
display, it is not enough to test the value of
bidi-display-reordering alone. The correct test is this:
(if (and enable-multibyte-characters bidi-display-reordering) ;; Buffer is being reordered for display )
However, unibyte display and overlay strings are reordered if their parent buffer is reordered. This is because plain-ASCII strings are stored by Emacs as unibyte strings. If a unibyte display or overlay string includes non-ASCII characters, these characters are assumed to have left-to-right direction.
Text covered by
display text properties, by overlays with
display properties whose value is a string, and by any other
properties that replace buffer text, is treated as a single unit when
it is reordered for display. That is, the entire chunk of text
covered by these properties is reordered together. Moreover, the
bidirectional properties of the characters in such a chunk of text are
ignored, and Emacs reorders them as if they were replaced with a
U+FFFC, known as the Object Replacement
Character. This means that placing a display property over a portion
of text may change the way that the surrounding text is reordered for
display. To prevent this unexpected effect, always place such
properties on text whose directionality is identical with text that
Each paragraph of bidirectional text has a base direction, either right-to-left or left-to-right. Left-to-right paragraphs are displayed beginning at the left margin of the window, and are truncated or continued when the text reaches the right margin. Right-to-left paragraphs are displayed beginning at the right margin, and are continued or truncated at the left margin.
By default, Emacs determines the base direction of each paragraph by looking at the text at its beginning. The precise method of determining the base direction is specified by the UBA; in a nutshell, the first character in a paragraph that has an explicit directionality determines the base direction of the paragraph. However, sometimes a buffer may need to force a certain base direction for its paragraphs. For example, buffers containing program source code should force all paragraphs to be displayed left-to-right. You can use following variable to do this:
If the value of this buffer-local variable is the symbol
left-to-right, all paragraphs in the
buffer are assumed to have that specified direction. Any other value
is equivalent to
nil (the default), which means to determine
the base direction of each paragraph from its contents.
Modes for program source code should set this to
Prog mode does this by default, so modes derived from Prog mode do not
need to set this explicitly (see Basic Major Modes).
This function returns the paragraph direction at point in the named
buffer. The returned value is a symbol, either
right-to-left. If buffer is
nil, it defaults to the current buffer. If the
buffer-local value of the variable
nil, the returned value will be identical to that value;
otherwise, the returned value reflects the paragraph direction
determined dynamically by Emacs. For buffers whose value of
nil as well as unibyte
buffers, this function always returns
Sometimes there’s a need to move point in strict visual order, either to the left or to the right of its current screen position. Emacs provides a primitive to do that.
This function moves point of the currently selected window to the buffer position that appears immediately to the right or to the left of point on the screen. If direction is positive, point will move one screen position to the right, otherwise it will move one screen position to the left. Note that, depending on the surrounding bidirectional context, this could potentially move point many buffer positions away. If invoked at the end of a screen line, the function moves point to the rightmost or leftmost screen position of the next or previous screen line, as appropriate for the value of direction.
The function returns the new buffer position as its value.
Bidirectional reordering can have surprising and unpleasant effects when two strings with bidirectional content are juxtaposed in a buffer, or otherwise programmatically concatenated into a string of text. A typical problematic case is when a buffer consists of sequences of text “fields” separated by whitespace or punctuation characters, like Buffer Menu mode or Rmail Summary Mode. Because the punctuation characters used as separators have weak directionality, they take on the directionality of surrounding text. As result, a numeric field that follows a field with bidirectional content can be displayed to the left of the preceding field, messing up the expected layout. There are several ways to avoid this problem:
U+200E, LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK, or LRM, to the end of each field that may have bidirectional content, or prepend it to the beginning of the following field. The function
bidi-string-mark-left-to-right, described below, comes in handy for this purpose. (In a right-to-left paragraph, use
U+200F, RIGHT-TO-LEFT MARK, or RLM, instead.) This is one of the solutions recommended by the UBA.
displayproperty or overlay with a property value of the form
(space . PROPS)(see Specified Space). Emacs treats this display specification as a paragraph separator, and reorders the text on either side separately.
This function returns its argument string, possibly modified,
such that the result can be safely concatenated with another string,
or juxtaposed with another string in a buffer, without disrupting the
relative layout of this string and the next one on display. If the
string returned by this function is displayed as part of a
left-to-right paragraph, it will always appear on display to the left
of the text that follows it. The function works by examining the
characters of its argument, and if any of those characters could cause
reordering on display, the function appends the LRM
character to the string. The appended LRM character is made
invisible by giving it an
invisible text property of
(see Invisible Text).
The reordering algorithm uses the bidirectional properties of the
characters stored as their
(see Character Properties). Lisp programs can change these
properties by calling the
However, doing this requires a thorough understanding of the
UBA, and is therefore not recommended. Any changes to the
bidirectional properties of a character have global effect: they
affect all Emacs frames and windows.
mirroring property is used to display the
appropriate mirrored character in the reordered text. Lisp programs
can affect the mirrored display by changing this property. Again, any
such changes affect all of Emacs display.