I'm a new Emacs user so its possible that I've misunderstood something. I'm looking for a function that automatically changes my current key bindings depending on the current major mode.

My approach was the following:

(add-hook 'org-mode-hook
  (lambda ()
    (define-key evil-normal-state-map (kbd "C-c r") 'mark-done-and-archive))

(add-hook 'clojure-mode-hook
  (lambda ()
    (define-key evil-normal-state-map (kbd "C-c r") 'cider-restart))

Consider the following scenario:

  1. Open a new org-file in emacs, "C-c r" is now bound to mark-done-and-archive.
  2. Open a new clj-file in emacs, "C-c r" is now bound to cider-restart.
  3. Switch back to my org file using for example ivy-switch-buffer or windmove-right, "C-c r" is still bound to cider-restart, even though the current major mode is org-mode.

I'm looking for something that redefines the key bindings on every window/buffer switch to the ones I defined for that particular mode.

  • Mode hooks are run whenever you create a buffer with a certain mode or switch modes. You're setting a global keymap instead of the keymap for the mode you're in. I don't know how normal mode in evil works, so I don't know if commands starting with C-c are taken from the major mode keymap instead of the evil's major mode keymap.
    – user12563
    Oct 12, 2017 at 9:42
  • 2
    I think what you're looking for is local keymaps. Every well-behaved Emacs major mode, as well as some minor modes, come with their own keymap. The key to your solution is modifying the mode's local keymap, not evil-normal-state-map, which is active globally. See the FAQ for some examples.
    – Basil
    Oct 12, 2017 at 9:50
  • This indeed did the trick, thank you both for clarifying this.
    – lsund
    Oct 12, 2017 at 10:28
  • @Basil: Please consider posting your comment as an answer, so it can be accepted. Comments can be deleted anytime, and this good question has a good answer, which can help people.
    – Drew
    Oct 12, 2017 at 15:47
  • Thanks @Drew, will write something up later. I often opt for a comment first because a) I don't always have the time for what I expect of an answer; b) it helps clarify what OP is looking for.
    – Basil
    Oct 12, 2017 at 15:53

1 Answer 1



  • I am not an evil user so my understanding of evil-normal-state-map may be inaccurate
  • There exist naughty Emacs modes in the wild which do not follow all of the standard conventions described in this answer; such cases can be considered bugs and ought to be disciplined

I'm looking for a function that automatically changes my current keybindings depending on the current major mode.

You're in luck! This is a fundamental design feature of Emacs modes[1] and their interplay with keymaps[2, 3]. The key to achieving your desired behaviour simply lies in knowing which keymap to customise[4] and when / how[5].

In summary of the manual nodes linked in the footnotes, it is useful to note:

  • Every buffer has a single major-mode and any number of minor modes enabled at a time
  • All modes are (generally) independent of one another and of any other buffer's modes
  • Enabling a major mode in a buffer automatically enables its associated keymap for that buffer[6]; this is also true of some, but not all, minor modes
  • Enabling any mode runs its dedicated mode hook[7]

AIUI, evil-normal-state-map is the keymap of a global minor mode, meaning it can be (and usually is) active in multiple buffers, irrespective of their major-mode. Furthermore, though keymaps of both major and minor modes may not always be active, the variable that holds them (in this case evil-normal-state-map) is a global definition. This means that modifying evil-normal-state-map (from any buffer) will affect all buffers which have that minor mode enabled. This explains your reported behaviour when switching between buffers. See (elisp) Active Keymaps for a more detailed and technical explanation of this.

So, in order to bind the same key to different commands in org-mode and clojure-mode buffers, you should instead be customising the local (major mode) keymap in the corresponding mode hook:

(add-hook 'org-mode-hook
          (lambda ()
            (local-set-key (kbd "C-c r") #'mark-done-and-archive)))

(add-hook 'clojure-mode-hook
          (lambda ()
            (local-set-key (kbd "C-c r") #'cider-restart)))

which is equivalent to

(add-hook 'org-mode-hook
          (lambda ()
            (define-key org-mode-map (kbd "C-c r") #'mark-done-and-archive)))

(add-hook 'clojure-mode-hook
          (lambda ()
            (define-key clojure-mode-map (kbd "C-c r") #'cider-restart)))

This, however, will cause the same (redundant) operation to be performed every time one of these major modes is enabled. Since the two mode maps are global variables, a single modification after they are defined and before they are used for the first time will suffice:

(with-eval-after-load 'org
  (define-key org-mode-map (kbd "C-c r") #'mark-done-and-archive))

(with-eval-after-load 'clojure-mode
  (define-key clojure-mode-map (kbd "C-c r") #'cider-restart))


  1. (emacs) Major Modes
  2. (eintr) Keymaps
  3. (elisp) Keymap Basics
  4. (emacs) Rebinding
  5. (emacs) Init Rebinding
  6. (emacs) Local Keymaps
  7. (emacs) Hooks
  • Awesome answer. Just what a emacs-newbie needs!
    – lsund
    Oct 16, 2017 at 14:44

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