How can I easily reload file-local variables, after I have changes their values in the file buffer?

I know a work around

Save and close the file and re-open.

But this is pretty cumbersome.

  • 1
    M-: (hack-local-variables)
    – gigiair
    Jun 24, 2019 at 7:01

3 Answers 3


I stumbled myself over a way to do this when looking at the Elisp code in files.el:

M-x normal-mode

This command re-applies the local file variable list by calling the function hack-local-variables. However normal-mode does a lot of other stuff too, so this is not just re-reading the local variables...

  • This is what the documentation suggests: " Use the command ‘M-x normal-mode’ to reset the local variables and major mode of a buffer according to the file name and contents, including the local variables list if any"
    – JeanPierre
    Jun 24, 2019 at 7:16

I use quite often hack-local-variables to set the file local variables without side-effect (such as re-loading the major mode). giglair already suggested that in his comment.

Warning: It does not reset local variables. That means if you remove a variable from the list of local variables this variable is still bound (and set to the old value) after running hack-local-variables. I think that could be the reason why it is just a function and not an interactive command.

You can easily turn hack-local-variables into an interactive command with the following advice:

(defun hack-local-variables-make-interactive (&rest _args)
  "Just add the `interactive'-specification to `hack-local-variables'."

(advice-add 'hack-local-variables :before #'hack-local-variables-make-interactive)

I most often need hack-local-variables in Orgmode files. Therefore I wrote a context-aware binding for C-c C-c. It runs hack-local-variables when it is in a Local Variables section of an Orgmode document.

(require 'subr-x)
(require 'org)

(defun org+-ctrl-c-ctrl-c-local-variables (&optional noerror)
  "Run `hack-local-variable' when we are in the \"Local Variables\" section.
If the Local Variables section is not found and NOERROR is nil or omitted
this function signals a user error."
  (interactive "P")
    (when-let ((heading (condition-case nil
                  (org-back-to-heading t)
                  (when (looking-at "\\*[[:space:]]")
                (cons (point)
              (error nil)))
           (heading-pos (car heading))
           (heading-tags (cdr heading))
           (re "^[[:space:]]*\\(#+\\)?[[:space:]]*\\(local[[:space:]]+\\(variables\\)\\|\\(end\\)\\):[[:space:]]*$")
          (save-excursion (re-search-backward re heading-pos t))
          (match-string 3)))
           (in-comment (match-string 1))
          (re-search-forward (format "%s\\|^\\*+[[:space:]]" re) nil t)
          (match-string 4))))
      (if (and local-variables-start local-variables-end
           (or in-comment
           (member "noexport" heading-tags)))
        (message "Hacked local variables")
    (user-error "Local Variables not found")

(add-to-list 'org-ctrl-c-ctrl-c-hook #'org+-ctrl-c-ctrl-c-local-variables)

I just use find-alternate-file which is bound to C-x C-v by default. C-x C-v Ret is lightning fast for me. revert-buffer will also work, but M-x revert-buffer Ret is more typing.

Both of these options will reset local variables. For instance, if you have indent-tabs-mode: nil in your local variable list and you remove it outright, save, find-alternate-file or revert-buffer your buffer, indent-tabs-mode will now be set to t (assuming you haven't changed its default elsewhere of course.) Note: I only confirmed this with file-local variables, and not directory-local variables.

@drew brings up a good point. If you're not careful, or use these functions non-interactively you can overwrite unsaved changes in your buffer. Also, if you have unsaved changes, using these functions can break your flow. find-alternate-file will ask to save your buffer, and revert-buffer will ask to overwrite your unsaved changes. As you develop muscle memory and good editing habit, you'll find it gets in your way less and less.

  • That's generally what I do too (I have <f5> bound to reverting without confirmation). But of course reverting can lose other changes too, so you might want to save the buffer or some other things before doing it.
    – Drew
    Jun 24, 2019 at 14:18

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