sh-mode won't care if indent-tabs-mode is on, it will still insert spaces instead of tabs! Can this be fixed?

  • What you describe doesn't match my experience, so please give more details, otherwise people will assume it's a misunderstanding of yours, or some local misconfiguration.
    – Stefan
    Oct 3, 2018 at 1:36
  • Can you reproduce the problem starting from emacs -Q ?
    – phils
    Oct 3, 2018 at 1:54
  • Just press tab, then delete and you'll delete spaces, not tabs. As for me a tab is 4 spaces wide, meaning it is as big as for spaces but only a single press of backspace will delete all these 4 spaces (1 tab)
    – Suppboi
    Oct 3, 2018 at 2:45
  • 1
    That's a different question then. You'll find that a tab was inserted into the buffer, regardless of what the backspace key does.
    – phils
    Oct 3, 2018 at 4:32

1 Answer 1


I'm going to guess that tab-width and sh-basic-offset are not aligned.

indent-tabs-mode will only use tabs to indent up to multiples of tab-width, as otherwise it would indent too much.

That said, I find tabs bad for shell script indentation, as copying and pasting code from a script into a shell running in a terminal can be problematic. I would recommend using spaces for shell scripts for this reason.

Edit: In this instance it was the backspace behaviour which was causing confusion.

C-hkDEL tells me:

DEL (translated from <backspace>) runs the command
backward-delete-char-untabify (found in sh-mode-map), which is an
interactive compiled Lisp function in ‘simple.el’.

It is bound to DEL.

(backward-delete-char-untabify ARG &optional KILLP)

Delete characters backward, changing tabs into spaces.
The exact behavior depends on ‘backward-delete-char-untabify-method’.
Delete ARG chars, and kill (save in kill ring) if KILLP is non-nil.
Interactively, ARG is the prefix arg (default 1)
and KILLP is t if a prefix arg was specified.

Follow the link provided there and set backward-delete-char-untabify-method to nil so that it deletes a single character (which should be a tab) each time.

  • both them hos is 4
    – Suppboi
    Oct 3, 2018 at 1:30
  • In that case, I can't reproduce your problem. indent-tabs-mode works fine for me in sh-mode (and I used to use tabs in shell scripts a long time ago, so it was working in versions of Emacs as far back as I recall).
    – phils
    Oct 3, 2018 at 1:52
  • Answer updated to explain what backspace is doing.
    – phils
    Oct 3, 2018 at 4:39
  • good looking out. Should I change the title? If so any suggestions?
    – Suppboi
    Oct 3, 2018 at 13:29
  • 1
    Your warning against tabs seems ok in general, but if the script uses a heredoc input with the <<- operator tabs MUST be used for it to function correctly.
    – nolandda
    May 16, 2019 at 3:59

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