How can I permanently rebind keys?

I'd like to rebind C-i, C-j, C-k, and C-l to act like the arrow keys. However, when using

(global-set-key (kbd "C-l") 'forward-char)

it will only do so for the session; the bindings don't persist after restarting Emacs.

Is there some way to automatically do this every time on startup or via a config file or something?

  • 4
    Welcome to Emacs.SE. As a general rule, please do a little background research before posting a question -- googling emacs config file will return the manual page for the init file as the first hit.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 12:45
  • 3
    Well, I upvoted both the question and @Dan's comment. (I'm not completely sure why, but it felt right. ;-)). Such a newbie question should be OK for this site, I think. But such a comment is also helpful, to try to steer people to ask Emacs first. IOW, the question is a natural one, and we cannot fault newbies for not yet knowing how to ask Emacs itself for the answer.
    – Drew
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 17:02
  • @Drew That was the exact reasoning why I added the answer. We want this site to be useful to all emacs users: newbie to advanced. No one should go back unanswered as long as the question is emacs related :) Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 17:27
  • 1
    @kaushalmodi: And I'm glad to see that someone else (you, most likely) upvoted the question, which had several downvotes initially). It's not a great question, but it is certainly a reasonable question for a newbie to have.
    – Drew
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 17:38
  • Thank you to everyone who posted or upvoted for the pretty kind welcome to the community, despite the newbie question. I'm indeed a first-time emacs user (who knew), and had the great urge to change the keybindings at ~30% into the help-with-tutorial. While Dan's post (as well as other posts here) clearly solves the problem, I was for some reason stuck with always googling sth around key bindings, and although learning lots of other things in the process, I couldn't find a working answer. I hope this helps anyone who might get stuck in his googling/thought process in the same way as me.
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 21:56

2 Answers 2


As @Dan mentioned in his comment to your question above, you can do that by putting your customizations in a config file like ~/.emacs.d/init.el.

But I would recommend not overriding the C-i C-j C-k C-l keys as they serve some core functions like joining lines, killing text, etc.

Try out evil-mode instead if you need vim-style navigation.

I got used to C-b C-n C-p C-f keys by installing hardcore-mode.

  • +1 re: suggestion to rely only on C-b, C-n, C-p and C-f to move cursor. Before I got used to these shortcuts, I didn't quite appreciate just how much faster you can manipulate text/code/etc when your hands don't have to leave the "default position". (Though one of the temporary side effects is that you'll occasionally open a slew of new windows in your web-browser)
    – iceman
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 16:00
  • That's an interesting use of "default" finger position. Usually people mean the "home" row, i.e., "JKL;". Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 18:38

I use a similar cursor movement layout to what you want (IJKL, making for an inverse T), and absolutely love it. I got the initial idea from Xah Lee's ErgoEmacs keybinding project, now moved to Github: https://ergoemacs.github.io/

The only drawback is that when I first start using a new mode, I may have to clean up its keymap to follow my pattern, but this is fairly rare and a one-time-only operation.

  • You may find stackoverflow.com/questions/683425/… useful for never needing to modify other keymaps to prevent conflicts.
    – phils
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 3:24
  • Ah, so that's why ErgoEmacs uses a minor mode too. I thought it was too heavy weight for just a few keys, didn't think that it would also fix conflicts with other major modes. On the other hand, this way I get a closer look at each new mode and have to decide whether there are any of its keybindings that I should adopt into my scheme. :-) Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 16:55

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