I've been recently persuaded and coached to take the jump from vi to emacs. But one question sits funny. Why would one prefer to use the ESC- sequence for Meta- commands rather than ALT-key combinations. The symmetry is compelling (to me) toward the ALT- side. In particular using ALT-{digits} for C-u {digit} seems really nice. Do ESC-apists use that shortcut?

Now I'm a deep retro-computing enthusiast. Difference Engine, ENIAC, pdp/1, 7904. But realistically, I expect be running in an xterm for the forseeable future. Is there advantage to using ESC in preference to ALT as a habit-forming decision beyond the (seemingly remote) possibility of having to use an ALT-deficient setup sometime somewhere?

  • (1) Some terminals or other Emacs environments don't easily support a Meta key (e.g. Alt). (2) Some people find ESC sometimes handier, at least for some key sequences. (I use it for C-x ESC ESC, for instance, instead of C-x M-ESC.) – Drew Jun 30 '16 at 14:10
  • Not an answer to the question, but just a comment on a related issue: I use the graphical version of Emacs and have configured the escape key to be a separate/independent modifier. That is controlled by the meta-prefix-char -- I set it to nil when Emacs loads. It needs to be changed to nil at the outset because some keymaps that load thereafter in my personal setup check to see the value of the meta-prefix-char. – lawlist Jun 30 '16 at 15:18
  • For what it's worth, in 12 years with Emacs I don't recall ever using the ESC key – Tyler Jul 1 '16 at 19:41

Emacs has a lot of keybindings. I have never used a system where some Emacs keybindings did not clash with the underlying system. Every window manager intercepts a different set of keybindings, so the keystrokes don't even reach Emacs.

Using ESC is a fallback for when you can't type Alt-something directly in Emacs.

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