Prompted by this question about why hjkl are the keys used to move the cursor around in VIM, what did the keyboard / terminal look like that emacs was written on?


2 Answers 2


(Your question must be about the keyboard, not the terminal, I think.)

Emacs was written by multiple people, from the outset. And at that time there were multiple kinds of keyboards (but they were generally QWERTY). Emacs was developed on keyboards similar to those on which vi was developed.

The essential difference between vi and Emacs, and the reason that keys such as h, j, k, and l are not used for cursor motion, is that Emacs, unlike vi, is not modal (in the sense of having an insert and a command mode). In Emacs, h, j, k, and l naturally insert themselves (in the typical case).

In contexts where you cannot insert text, keys such as h, j, k, and l often do run commands (other than self-insert). It's not like the designers of Emacs were crazy about promoting odd key sequences. Emacs uses complex key sequences because the simplest keys (a, b,...) are used for self-inserting.

(Dunno why people somehow seem to lose sight of this, or it just doesn't occur to them.)


Perhaps this link is a better answer to your question. The original system was a DEC PDP-10. Not sure if the SpaceCadet keyboard was custom or DEC-supplied, but it appears to be a big influence in much Emacs keyboard lore, such as Meta, Super, Hyper, and Alt keys.


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