I want to interactively search and replace in all (or, preferably, a regexp subset of) my buffers (not files).


  • Being a pack-rat sort of guy, I never delete my buffers until I'm sure I don't need them anymore (e.g. new project), or until the system crashes and I lose them. So I know that all the files I've modified (the targets of the search and replace) are in a buffer somewhere.
  • The files are strewn all over creation so I can't use Dired.
  • There are 10k files in scope, so I'd prefer to avoid file-based operations (though I've already wasted so much time on this I've eclipsed the amount of time I would have saved not using the file-based approach).

What I'm doing now

Right now I'm using multi-occur-in-matching-buffers and repeating a query replace for each matching file.

I'm told Icicles will do this, but reading the manual, I can't make heads or tails of how to do it. (I used M-99 M-x icicle-search; I get prompted for a "context", which I can't find a definition for in the manual and furnishes as a completion a list of previous mini-buffer entries, which doesn't make sense to me.) Icicles is far more than I need, but if I have to use it, I will.

Things I've tried

  • I tried tags-query-replace but it doesn't work; I always get zero matches, even though it ends bringing up a buffer with a match in plain sight.
  • I've read the FAQ (see responses above).

I may end up having to use file-based operations (which are annoying because I have to find and reload each file manually)

Since Icicles supposedly does what I want I thought I'd throw the question out. The other option is to use the Refactor facility in our IDE but that wouldn't be Emacs!! ❤

  • 1
    mark your buffers in ibuffer, then use Q or I, after doing the replacement, save unsaved buffers in ibuffer
    – Muihlinn
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 12:13
  • @Muihlinn Good enough, thank you! Feel free to post as an answer; otherwise I will. I hadn't even heard of ibuffer. Commented May 29, 2020 at 14:52

1 Answer 1


Ibuffer is what you're looking for.

  • M-x ibuffer
  • Mark your buffers any way you prefer: using m to mark them manually, % g by regexp content-matching, * M to mark by major mode, or whatever other option which suits your fancy -err needs.
  • Use Q to make a regexp search and replace on marked buffers or I for plain search and replace.
  • Do the replaces, then go back to ibuffer
  • S will save the marked buffers.

There are more ways to achieve the same using other popular tools, but ibuffer is powerful, fit your needs, comes with emacs and can do a lot more than this pretty much effortlessly.

To learn more about it, press ? on a ibuffer buffer.

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