I was researching editors and I ended up stumbling upon Spacemacs and the fact that it uses the spacebar instead of traditional modifier keys. The documentation claims that this lowers the user's risk of RSI. Okay that seems reasonably plausible I guess, but it raises the question of how do you type the space character, " " if the key has a different meaning? I don't see how you could avoid needing to do that.

Surprisingly, I am unable to find the answer in the documentation. This FAQ doesn't have the answer either. I'm guessing that it's somehow obvious if you use the program, since it's apparently not a commonly asked question, but I don't want to install the program just to find out. Hence I'm asking the question here.

1 Answer 1


Spacemacs uses evil-mode which is a VI emulation layer. Evil-mode adds VI modal editing to spacemacs. In a nutshell modal editing has different modes where keybindings do different things. This is partly so that keybindings can remain short and easy to remember.

In essence, the answer to your question is that you enter the space character by switching to insert state (Note that in emacs they actually use the term state instead of mode so as to not conflict with emacs modes). In insert state pressing a key inserts that key as text. This is the exact behavior "normal" modeless editors that you're used to where space just inserts space.

In normal-state, a state typically used for navigating text space is where spacemacs uses space as a modifier key as you mention.

This is only possible because spacemacs is modal. If it were not, you'd be right and there'd be no way to insert space.

If you wish to learn more details about the specifics about evil, I highly recommend noctuid's evil guide.

Also, this might be easier to understand once you try it. Try installing spacemacs (or for that matter you could use VI or VIM) and type i. i is the character that switches from normal state (the state you'll likely most often be in) to insert state.

  • I was under the impression that the spacebar was involved in changing modes. If that is not the case, how do you leave insert mode? If one of the traditional modifier keys is used for this, then that casts doubt on the claim that Spacemacs would reduce the risk of RSI.
    – Ryan1729
    Nov 1, 2019 at 4:36
  • 1
    The spacebar is not involved in changing modes (though you could use it to do that). You leave insert mode by pressing the escape key. Nov 1, 2019 at 4:39
  • Ah. Now it all makes sense.
    – Ryan1729
    Nov 1, 2019 at 4:41
  • Note that if you haven't used a modal editor this is something that can be difficult to grasp. To really get it I recommend trying Emacs for a week without spacemacs (or you could try spacemacs without evil-mode), then trying spacemacs with evil-mode. When you notice how complex emacs bindings are compared to spacemacs, you'll see what I mean. Nov 1, 2019 at 4:42

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