One of the things I miss from vim is being able to type in a substitution command that will work over multiple lines, for example:


The above command substitutes "foo" for "bar" starting with the first line containing "begin" and ending with the next line after that containing "end".

Is there a way to do something similar in emacs?

4 Answers 4


evil provides a stripped-down version of ex, so it's probably best to presume that it's not an exact drop-in. However, the example you provided works out of the box, provided that point is prior to the first line (ie, the begin line in your example).

  • In vim the search would also start at point, so that sounds like what I was looking for. Thanks! Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 13:46

Here is one way of doing it that uses built-in functionality only:

  1. With point in the line that contains first occurrence of begin, press C-SPC.

  2. Move to next occurrence of end:

    C-s end RET

  3. Replace foo with bar:

    M-% foo RET bar RET !

This makes use of the fact that query-replace will work on the active region instead of the whole buffer if there is one.

Of course, you can also define a custom command:

(defun replace-from-to (beg end str repl)
  (interactive "sBegin: \nsEnd: \nsString: \nsReplacement: ")
    (goto-char (point-min))
    (let ((start-pos (search-forward beg))
          (end-pos (search-forward end)))
      (replace-string str repl nil start-pos end-pos))))

This command will always search from the beginning of the buffer, so point can be after begin/foo/end when you invoke it.

Set up a key binding for it via:

(global-set-key (kbd "C-c r") 'replace-from-to)

In general, this is something that you would use narrow-to-region for.

You move the cursor (for example, by searching) to the beginning of the region and press C-SPC, then move to the end of the region and type M-x narrow-to-region. Now you can issue any search and replace commands that you want and they will only apply to narrowed part of the buffer. Once you're done, type M-x widen to restore the buffer content.

  • 4
    If begin/end are delimiters in a programming language, you can likely use C-M-Space to run mark-sexp to select the region in one command.
    – dgtized
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 6:56
  • 1
    Default bindings: C-x n n (narrow-to-region) and C-x n w (widen).
    – itsjeyd
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 7:26

Nine years late, but I was looking for something like this, too. I wanted to be able to run sed-style regex commands in emacs the way I do from the ex command line in vim. evil-mode's ex-like functionality sort of hits the spot, as mentioned above, but I don't really want to use evil. Running sed commands on selected regions or buffers is all I really need. So I tossed together a package this morning that does this. You can find it at https://github.com/oblivia-simplex/emacs-sedition.git, or install it with straight.el (or any other use-package extension that lets you pull from git repos). Once I've had a chance to kick the tires a little, I'll publish it on MELPA.

Here's the function that does all the work:

    (defun sedition ()
      "Pipe the contents of the region to the unix tool sed.
When called interactively, `REGION-BEGINNING' and `REGION-END'
refer to the beginning and end points of the active region.
If no region is active, they are set to the beginning and end of
the current buffer."
      (let* ((in-region (use-region-p))
         (start (if in-region (region-beginning) (point-min)))
         (end (if in-region (region-end) (point-max)))
         (prompt (if in-region
                 (format "sed (region %d-%d): " start end)
                   "sed buffer: "))
             (command (read-string prompt nil 'sed--command-history))
         ;; generate-new-buffer will create a unique name with this prefix
         ;; the initial space hides it from list-buffers and buffer-menu
         ;; commands
         (tmpbuffer (generate-new-buffer " *sed*"))
         (exitcode (call-process-region start
                        nil ;; don't delete anything yet
        ;; We only want to perform any action on the region/buffer
        ;; if the command succeeded, so check the exit code here.
        (cond ((zerop exitcode)
           (delete-region start end)
           (goto-char start)
           (insert-buffer-substring tmpbuffer))
          ((= exitcode 127)
           (message "sed: command not found"))
          ((= exitcode 1)
           (message "sed: error in command '%s'" command))
          ((stringp exitcode)
           (message "sed: %s" exitcode))
          (t (message "sed: exited with code %d" exitcode))
        (kill-buffer tmpbuffer)))

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